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Let’s not kid ourselves, Breaking Bad fans. Someone is going to die before these final eight episodes play out. Likely more than one person. Maybe more than we can, at this point, even imagine.
One of them, however, might not be Walter White.
Before the start of season five, I had a chance to sit down with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan for a live on-stage interview in San Francisco. Throughout the run of Breaking Bad, Gilligan and I have talked often (and at various functions I’ve been able to talk to some of the series writers, including most recently Peter Gould – who wrote Sunday’s episode and will write the penultimate episode before Breaking Bad goes into the history books forever).
These conversations have a universal theme: Any character can go, because that’s life. All decisions based on the fate of the characters and the direction of the show are based on what serves the series in the finest, truest possible way — not what will make people happy. (This might be a good point to mention that Gilligan was a huge fan of The Sopranos ending, as was I, but he has no interest in duplicating something that has already been done.)
In the interview I did with Gilligan, we joked about exactly what he’s capable of. If you don’t know this truism, you should: Gilligan is one of the genuinely nicest people you will ever meet. And that’s not borne from one or two aw-shucks years. This guy has delivered one of television’s top tier dramas over five seasons with countless promotional events along the way and has never once, in the parlance of choice, been a dick.
He does possess, however, the ability to write the darkest and most awful moments you might witness on a small screen, so don’t think his real-life persona will in any way save the life of someone on the show. I joked in the interview I did with him that I wouldn’t be surprised if he even killed off Baby Holly. I was not joking. (But given that Holly is the name of Gilligan’s longtime girlfriend, odds are the baby survives). Everybody else? No mercy.
Here then, the people who could die and my partially educated take on the likelihood:
Walter White: He would certainly seem to be the odds-on favorite, would he not? The man has lung cancer and that is not going away. In the season five opener, with the flash forward sequence, Walt is heard subtly coughing. It’s back. But beyond health, there is the issue of karma. No series in the history of television has ever taken a likable, sympathetic lead character and, through the course of the subsequent seasons — and with malice and intent — made him so completely dark, vile and unsympathetic. As we saw in the season five flash-forward, reiterated Sunday, Walt’s fortunes have turned. He’s got himself a big gun – for defense, one would assume. Logic tells us drug kingpins live relatively short lives. So Walt seems a logical candidate to be killed — either by Jesse, Skyler, Hank or even by his own hand (the ricin – the Chekhov’s gun of Breaking Bad). Think about the inherent unfairness — for audience pay-off — if Walt decides to dose himself with the ricin. It robs everyone of revenge. Payback won’t be a bitch — it will be an impossibility. And Walt will still be the one who decides. As a critic, I would love that creative decision.
But what about this scenario — one that I would most love to see: Walt lives. He survives whatever hell that’s coming his way. He will die “naturally” from the cancer, not as some kind of comeuppance for his behavior. I believe this to be a distinct possibility. I would also like to see this Walt-lives scenario happen because some of the greatest works of art involve a lack of closure, a gray existential vacuum that haunts. I’m thinking specifically of the Anton Chigurh moment of truth in No Country For Old Men.
Jesse: If no one is safe, neither is Jesse, although his character has served, in a series with so few people to care about, as the character that the audience most sympathizes with. There’s a fervent desire in the zeitgeist that Jesse come out of this harrowing nightmare alive, and perhaps even the one who knocks at Walt’s door for the last time (mimicking the killing of Gale, anyone?). But I don’t think Jesse dies. I’m not expecting happiness or hugs, either.
Walter Jr.: This has, for years, been my pick for one of the endgame moments of Breaking Bad. I believe the sins of the father will be visited upon the son. I don’t believe Walter Jr. will somehow start smoking meth, suffering from what his father has wrought in a long-ago hatched plan to save his son and family. But he could be collateral damage, most definitely. Beyond the guessing, part of me thinks that Walter Jr. must die. Nothing can hurt Walt more — no bullet to the head, no cancer — more than someone in his family dying. And at this point, I don’t think Skyler dying would adversely damage Walt’s now twisted take on life. Only Walter Jr — or Baby Holly — could gut Walt into unending physical and mental anguish. Make it happen.
Skyler: Look, fans for some reason have never liked her. I doubt Gilligan will give them the pleasure of seeing someone who is, all told, exponentially less loathsome than Walt, die on screen. She could do the killing, sure. But I don’t see her being killed — unless the carnage goes full blown across the cast. But she won’t be a solo fallout casualty. No way.
Hank: It’s no spoiler for any up-to-date fan to know that the inevitable will occur in the final eight episodes — Hank and Walt will face off, perhaps in eight heavyweight championship battles. The entire season, from pilot to episode eight of season five — meaning, where we last left off — has been building to the showdown between drug kingpin Heisenberg and his DEA brother-in-law. Conventional wisdom seems to think that Hank will take down Walt and perhaps be the man who kills him, ala Tuco. But these are the messed up minds of the Breaking Bad writers we’re dealing with here, so my early belief — having seen only Sunday’s episode — is that we can’t employ traditional thinking to any of what we’re about to see — to any potential scenario. I don’t believe Hank either gets or kills Walt. I believe Hank goes down before the finale.
Those are my picks, my assumptions and yes, I’m willing to change them based on each subsequent episode. Others could die, certainly. Hell, they could all die. But these are the major players, the ones with the most vulnerability going forward.
And no, Saul will not die. He’s got a spin-off series very close to happening.
(By the way, in case you missed it, I reviewed – sans spoilers — Sunday’s episode with thought about what has made Breaking Bad so great to this point.)
But lastly, I want to reinforce this possibly screwed-up desire: I wish, with all of my critical fibers, for Walter White to survive the end credits.
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