It sure felt like we were in Walt’s world as this season’s last episode was all about Walter White. In his world everything seemed to break in his favor. However, the ending suggests that might be short lived as the final scene hung us off a cliff. What a way to make sure we tune in next year to catch the final eight episodes.
But Sunday’s finale gave viewers plenty to think about in the meantime.
Its Walt’s world, everybody else just lives in it. That’s exactly how I felt watching the final episode this season. Fresh off of murdering his former partner Mike (Jonathan Banks) in the previous episode, Walt (Bryan Cranston) had to both dispose of Mike’s body (with the usual acid-in-a-barrel funeral that has become a Walter White signature) and exterminate the nine 10 guys Mike was paying to keep quiet about Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and his meth operation. Walt got an assist from Todd (Jesse Plemons), who called on his prison-connected uncle to orchestrate a series of prison shankings and one fiery death, wiping out all of the DEA’s potential witnesses in two minutes flat.
Walt was only able to do so by getting the list of names from Lydia (Laura Fraser), who in an effort to keep herself alive, proposed Walt take his blue meth global. Lydia offered her years of expertise in creating distribution systems to create a way to move Walt’s product to the Czech Republic, which would instantly double his profits.
In one of the episode’s several montages, Walt and Todd cooked up batch after batch of meth to the tune of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (nice touch) and shipped it overseas with the help of Lydia, Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and others. By the time the song finished, a couple months had passed and Walt’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) had more money than she could launder at the car wash.
Skyler had so much money, in fact, that, after a chat with Marie (Betsy Brandt) about bringing the kids back home, Skyler decided to reason with Walt. She took him to a storage unit she had begun renting and showed him a huge stack of cash that she didn’t know what to do with. “How much is enough?” Skyler asked Walt. “How big does this pile have to be?”
Since Walt’s journey toward meth kingpin began because of his cancer diagnosis, it was fitting that the episode again saw Walt getting a full body scan check-up. However, just like last season, the audience isn’t privy to whether the cancer has returned or not. (Though we did get a shot of the paper towel holder Walt bashed in Season 2 after being told his cancer was in remission.)
But the result of that doctor’s visit perhaps dictated Walt’s next moves. Shortly thereafter, Walt visited Jesse (Aaron Paul), who appeared to have begun using since he and Walt parted ways in the last episode. The two reminisced about the old days of cooking meth in the RV before Walt finally headed out, noting that he’d left something behind for Jesse. The (goodbye?) gift: a duffel bag full of cash, presumably the $5 million Jesse was owed for the methylamine.
(It’s worth noting here that after Walt left, Jesse pulled a gun out of his waistband. The implication is that Jesse had armed himself in case Walt tried any funny business. Although we’re not sure Jesse knows Walt killed Mike, he does know Walt killed the guys in prison. Also, it’s a bit of callback to Walt’s earlier meeting with Lydia. When she left the table, Walt revealed that he had brought the ricin poison with him. We guess Lydia would have been a goner if not for international ambition.)
Jesse’s not about to rat anyone out; But Walter keeps lowering his tolerance for loose ends at the same time he keeps elevating his ability to deal with them and seemingly face no consequences.
It’s been that kind of year for Walter, who in eight episodes has vaulted from a man in danger on many fronts to a man confident he has outsmarted everyone and has the rewards to show for it.
In a remarkable scene, his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) takes him to a storage locker to see the stack of money he has made in just three months.
It’s about two feet high and six feet square. “It’s more than we could spend in 10 lifetimes,” she says, and then she asks the real question, which is, “How much is enough?”
She doesn’t know this is like asking Walter, “How high is up?”
She considers it a reasonable question, since she’s pretty sure that unless he extricates himself from the production of crystal meth, someone someday is going to come around and do very bad things to Walter and, worse, his family.
That’s why she arranged several weeks ago to have Uncle Hank the DEA agent and his wife Marie take care of Walter’s and Skyler’s kids.
They can’t come back, Skyler said, until Walt gets out of the business.
Now that he has enough cash to start buying debt from China, she asks, why would he stay in?
So sure enough, a few scenes later Walt tells her he is out of the business.
She seems to want to believe him, which is understandable.
Less understandable: The last scene suggested she does believe him.
If so, this is an uncharacteristic lapse for Skyler, who for most of this season has brushed aside all of Walt’s oily assurances.
At the very least, she has to understand that running an international multimillion-dollar crystal meth ring isn’t the kind of job you quit the way you leave your lifeguard chair when school resumes in September.
Nonetheless, Sunday night’s last scene has Walt, Skyler, their kids, Marie and Hank all sitting around the Whites’ backyard laughing and joking.
It’s Walt’s fantasy come true. He’s made the money, he’s beaten the dealers and now he has his family back. Splitting the family had been the only price of his success that seemed to bother him even a little.
He’s come a long way, and a lot of it in this season – or half-season, really, since technically next summer’s eight wrapup episodes are part of the same final season as this year’s eight.
Whatever the math, we now have a Walt who can order nine prison inmates murdered without feeling a thing other than pride that he had the juice to deliver the order.
Just a week earlier he had shot his former partner, Mike, and moments before Mike died Walt told him it was a mistake, that there really had been no need to shoot him at all.
Sorry, said Walt with the same shrug he might have given to a stranger whose latte he accidentally picked up at Starbucks.
So Walt finishes the year with a new executive partner who shares his all-consuming greed and some of his brains. She’s ideal because he’s convinced he’s just a little bit smarter and he has her on tape confessing to things that would destroy her life.
If all else fails, he can shoot her. In fact, she’d be a good pick in the Dead Pool.
Walter has also picked a up a new assistant, Todd (Jesse Plemons, a long way from “Friday Night Lights”). Unlike Jesse, Todd is untroubled by any semblance of conscience. He and Walter work well together.
So this year for Walter has been almost like going undefeated through an entire NFL season. Every ploy has worked. Most of the loose ends are six feet under. They’re hauling his money in in crates, as Bruce Springsteen sang.
Even creator Vince Gilligan is contributing to Walter’s giddy spirit. He choreographed one scene Sunday night to Nat King Cole’s “Pick Yourself Up” and made the nine prison murders into a kind of visual ballet.
While Walt watched the jail murder story on TV, he was bouncing his young daughter Holly on his knee, a scene with an eerie parallel to the one last week where Mike was watching his granddaughter Kaylee on the swings at the playground.
It’s all for the kids, y’know? We do it all for the kids.
And as if to clinch things, Gilligan wrote one whole long scene to the tune of Tommy James’s “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
You knew it was only a matter of time before that happened, and Sunday was the night.
The only small cloud in Walter White’s otherwise blue sky came in the final scene, when Hank went to use the facilities and idly picked up a book whose front page finally switched on the light that viewers have been waiting for.
Walt and Skyler are hosting Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie. Hank, who earlier in the episode was distraught at losing all his witnesses, had excuses himself to use the bathroom. Here he was perusing the White family’s toilet reading material, the book he had finds and picks up, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, a collection which features, among other poems, “Gliding Over All” – the episode’s title – and “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” the latter of which Walt once marveled over with his former lab assistant Gale Boetticher (David Costabile)
Sure enough, Gale had inscribed this copy, as a gift to Walt (or as he puts it, “my beloved W.W.”), which instantly cues a flashback to Hank going through Gale’s files, which also mentioned a W.W. That’s right – Hank now knows Walt is Heisenberg! How will Hank proceed? We’ll have to wait until next summer…