Breaking Bad is one of those shows that will go down in history. No other drama has ever featured a main character with so much duality. Like a modern day Jekyll and Hyde, Walter White became his alter-ego Heisenberg. The two men occupied the same space with similar goals, but different intentions. The show’s finale looks like the return of Heisenberg.
And the body count looks to be impressive.
The evolution of Walter to Heisenberg has been long and hard. When White used his inner Heisenberg, he took charge and took out the opposition. He was cold blooded and he used Walt’s knowledge to further his meth career. White was the family man who started cooking meth to leave a cash legacy for his family. He waited resolutely to die from cancer and his prize was taking care of his family.
But when Walt discovered the darker, angrier part of himself, his goals changed. Slowly, subtly – and not so subtly – Walt learned that as Heisenberg he could kill, maim and plot his rise as the head meth kingpin of the Southwest. The two men existed side by side alternately coming forward to react as needed in different situations.
Heisenberg was in charge when Walt watched Jesse’s girlfriend Jane choke to death on her own vomit. But it was White who took care of Jesse and helped to get things back together. It was Heisenberg who orchestrated the death of Gus using Walter’s cleverness and knowledge.
The fact that Walter White was two different personalities made it easy for the audience to alternately root for each person as he appeared. Vince Gilligan’s experiment with making a show’s protagonist turn into the antagonist was not a success.
Because Walter White was likeable and the underdog at the show’s beginning. When he turned into Heisenberg as the show progressed we cheered his efforts on. Sure, some of the things that White did as his other self were heinous. Poisoning a child is nothing to cheer on. But we believe Walt later when he tells Jesse that Brock was never in any real danger. Or at least we want to believe.
Because despite the duality of White, he is still the underdog. Like a modern day New Mexico version of Job. His trials and tribulations have beaten him down. He is that “every man” whose luck runs from bad to worse. Then on his 50th birthday he discovers that he had lung cancer.
After losing at everything else in life, he stoically decides that the cancer will kill him, another loss for team White. But when his chance reunion with an old student, Jesse Pinkman, offers him a rare opportunity to win for once, he takes it in both hands.
The journey of Walter White and it’s effect on all those around him, is like a dark mirrored image of It’s a Wonderful Life.” Where Frank Capra’s sentimental holiday film shows a protagonist who is not aware of his gifts to his fellow men and women, Gilligan’s White suffers the same problem.
Walter White is no George Bailey. His life has affected everyone around him. But where Capra’s protagonist saves almost an entire town, Walter, in his determination to become the best and richest meth cook ever known in New Mexico, destroys all those connected to him.
Hank, the brother-in-law is dead, his wife Marie might as well be, she has been devastated by his death. Skyler, Walt Jr, and Holly are dead to him. Jesse has been caught in his own personal version of hell, where escape will result in Brock’s death.
The only people not ruined by their association with Heisenberg are Todd, his Uncle Jack, and Lydia. Not forgetting Gretchen and Elliot whose attempts to distance themselves from their old partner appears to have initiated their Heisenberg death sentence.
In Granite State, Heisenberg had left the building. The news that he son hated him and asked why he didn’t just “die already.” Killed his alter-ego dead. It is Walter White who calls the police and leaves the line open so he can be caught. But at the end of the episode, it is Walter who leaves. Heisenberg is in charge again and with the finale right around the corner the only question is just who will be left when the smoking machine gun finishes spitting death.
Gilligan has shown us that little teaser which indicates that Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg has returned for the finale. He has got an M-60 machinegun and the bottle of ricin. Implication is that the gun is for Todd, Uncle Jack, and perhaps Jesse. The Ricin? Gilligan has insured that we’ve noticed how inseparable Lydia is from her Stevia. A little ricin with that chamomile tea dear? Or has Walt saved the poison for his former partners? Gretchen and Elliot are definitely within his sights. So who will be the last man standing? Heisenberg or Walter White?
By Michael Smith