“I’ll be what I am. A solitary man.” – Neil Diamond
“I am going to get you where you really live” – Jesse Pinkman
As we careen towards the end of the masterful fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, it’s unclear exactly how the story is going to end. It has long been accepted that the most likely end of the Walter White story arc would be Walt’s death. His death would be the natural end to a story which begins with Walt’s cancer diagnosis/death sentence. After last night’s episode (the 12th – you can read Andy Greenwald’s excellent re-cap of the episode on Grantland) I no longer think that we are going to see Walt die. I could be way off (and probably will be, Jesse has a point in his observation that the “opposite of what you expect to happen” will be the reality when Walt is involved), but I believe that Walt’s “death” will be metaphorical – and, actually, more devastating to watch than his actual death would be. We will see “Walter White” die: Walter White the family man, the guy who reminds us of our high school science teacher, the breakfast slinging good dude, the guy who gets picked on by the sports-car driving jerks of the world, but quietly plugs along living his life in quiet desperation. I think we will be left with Heisenberg: The calculating, narcissistic, psychopath who poisons kids, blows up nursing homes, punches paper towel holders, and has himself become a sports-car driving jerk.
The Heisenberg flash-forwards we have seen this season all show him alone – living the life of a solitary man. A family man does not spend his birthday solo, at a roadside diner, making small talk with the waitress. Bryan Cranston looks like a hermit who has stumbled down from the mountain to get some hot coffee and bacon in his belly. I half expected Brian Dennehy to drive up and say “Give you a ride out of town drifter?” during those scenes. He doesn’t look like a guy who has left Skylar and Walt Jr for a couple days to settle some scores or go back to Albuquerque to retrieve a ricin vial. He looks like a guy who is all alone, and is comfortable in that solitude.
When Jesse sees the bald guy and thinks he is a hitman, and then comes alive (or snaps, depending on how you look at it) and threatens Walt, he says he is going to get him “where he really lives.” I do not think that phrase bodes well for Skylar and Walt Jr. I have a hard time seeing Vince Gilligan being able to come up with a reasonable justification for Jesse killing either Skylar or (particularly) Walt Jr in cold blood, but I have the dreadful feeling that they will be the collateral damage from Walt’s ascension in the criminal underworld. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen though – Jesse has been a husk of a person for the past 6-8 months of time in the storyline. Walt has totally destroyed him, and everything he loved and believed in. It is not that outrageous to think that Jesse may go after Skylar or, worse, Walt Jr., particularly if he finds out that Walt stood by and let Jane die. When we meet Jesse he is already a criminal – having ‘broke bad’ long before his first minutes upon the screen. Maybe it’s not the gigantic leap it first seems to think that Jesse would be capable of using violence as payback. Watching a kid die that is disabled, kind, caring, and in love with the most important meal of the day would be wrenching, poignant television. When people choose to break bad, like Walt has done, and begin treating other people as disposable pawns, reading each situation and attempting to manipulate outcomes to be personally favorable despite horrific consequences for others, bad things happen.
It could be that there is a less severe comeuppance in the cards for Walt, like Jesse exposing who he really and truly is (Heisenberg) to Walt Jr, causing Walt Jr. to go full-Flynn and tag the inside of the house in a juvenile rage session. That may be the most palatable outcome – that Walt ends up alone (and sufficiently cowed) in New Hampshire (where people are friendly but private – no need to wave to Carol every morning when you go to pick up the paper Walt!) as Walt Jr. and Skylar are Less Than Zeroing their way through sad empty lives and oil drums full of cash in Southern California.
I believe that we will indeed witness the death of Walter White – but the man’s heart will still be beating. His justifications, manipulations, and lies will have created the perfect world for him – A solitary man with no messy emotional connections to anyone. A man that is, for all intents and purposes, dead.