NO SPOILERS until the big red notice.
Actually, I take it back: BROAD THEMATIC SPOILERS AHEAD. No plot points, however.
Breaking Bad has become one of my favorite shows ever. Yours too, probably. But it didn’t start that way for me.
The first season was driven by its premise: what would happen if a kindly chemistry teacher had to cook meth to cover his medical bills? (Ok, so that spoiled the first episode for you. Really?) That season was a series of set pieces, the sort of things you’d imagine if you took that as your premise.
The next two seasons were driven (it seemed to me) by the escalating plot and by letting Walter grow into a role, as if the writers said, “What would happen if Walt became a Tony Montana, or a Tony Soprano, except really really smart?”
But in the last two seasons, the show became a living thing, driven not by premise, role, or plot. It has become emergent. And this is enabling it to explore themes — e.g., What is the nature of evil? Is there justice? Can we know ourselves? — without severing those themes from the people who are living through them.
[Still no spoilers] This is how the great dramas have worked. I’m reluctant to make the comparison, but there is no separating the character of King Lear, Macbeth, or Huckleberry Finn from the themes their works explore. Because the themes are worked through by highly specific people, it becomes impossible to decide exactly what the general lessons of the text are, which tells us something about the nature of morality. I like what Emma Smith says in her wonderful podcast lectures on Shakespeare: His plays unsettle questions.
Breaking Bad has become truly unsettling, and not just because of the violence or even because we can see ourselves in all of the characters. It is unsettling because it is pursuing themes through fully realized people in a world with no simple rules.
 I am here echoing a line of thought pursued variously by Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Murdoch, and others, often focusing on Jane Austen. E.g., Philosopher’s Beard, Rose Woodhouse responds, Gilbert Ryle pdf
How Breaking Bad won’t end [SPOILERS about the story so far!!!]
SPOILERS about the story so far!!!
SPOILERS about the story so far!!!
So, here’s how I think the show will end, where “I think” should be read as “I know I’m wrong.”
The most recent episode, Ozymandias, was one of the best hours of TV ever. But one thing bothered me about it: Gomie. We see his body in the dirt, but not his face. The episode didn’t spend a second on the death of the only (almost) unsullied Good Guy in the series.
Now, maybe that’s the point. But it felt wrong. So here’s certainly how the next two episodes won’t go (a.k.a, proof that I am not Vince Gilligan).
I do think Walt has bottomed out and has begun the turn. He’s done the thing that even he has defined as the worst possible: turning Jesse over for a slow death, after tormenting him with how easily Walt could have saved the love of Jesse’s life. (I will accept the argument that ever since Walt poisoned the kid, he’s been running in circles at the bottom of the moral barrel.) But Holly’s “Ma ma ma” (wow, that kid can act!) has made him see that he doesn’t have a family and doesn’t deserve a family. So, he begins to do the best thing he can for his family, which is to pretend to be as evil as he actually is by lying about it having been all his fault, which of course it was. (Genius scene.)
In the final two episodes, I think Walt continues to try to turn things around as best he can. I expect no more rank evil from him. But this show is better than most about showing the consequences of our actions. So, how about this:
This Sunday’s episode begins with Gomez’s family coming to grips with his death. The DEA tells them Walter White was the killer. They’re heartbroken.
Walt comes back from the Bad Guy Protection Service in order to try to set some things right with his family. But just as he is about to take the ricin himself, Ms. Gomez shows up with a gun, fires … misses … and kills Skyler. (Maybe Walt Jr. instead, but I’m not made of stone.) Fade out to twangy Breaking Bad music.
If anything like this happens, you all owe me ONE MILLION DOLLARS.