The Breaking Bad Finale Mystery: Was It A Dream?

Media, Television

The neatness of the Breaking Bad finale has drawn intense scrutiny this week as has the question as to whether show creator Vince Gilligan tossed the world an unrealistic bone by letting Walter White get his revenge and die in his own way. In the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum wrote with disappointment that the show either copped out on the reality of Walter’s behavior and fate or came up with a blatantly unrealistic ending that betrayed the show’s foundation. During the week, comedian Norm MacDonald took to Twitter and issued an extended series of tweets regarding the “dream.”

So did the ending happen or had Gilligan ventured into the realm of the ambiguous allegory subject to the viewer’s interpretation?

The problem here stems from the individual viewpoint of the purpose of the show. Is it about redemption? Is it about a wasted life and living for the day? Is it about realizing that a life in which one will be remembered fondly by loved ones even if he’s a vanilla non-entity is superior than being remembered as the criminal mastermind and a monster?

All of the above?

The interpretation is the key.

In his final meeting with wife Skyler, Walter admitted that the decision to become a methamphetamine manufacturer and eventual kingpin wasn’t done to provide support for his family after he was gone. It was to be the best at something and make up for his failed life. He either threw away his opportunity to become a billionaire with Gray Matter or it was taken away from him. This too depends on whose viewpoint you believe, Walter’s or the Schwartzes.

I believe that deep down, Walter hated Hank Schrader or at least held some unexpressed animosity toward him for his supposed “important” work he did as a DEA agent and that he looked down an Walt as a bookish wimp. That’s not to say he wanted him dead, but that he took pleasure in outsmarting him for a year while functioning right under his nose and using the brother-in-law relationship to further and maintain his empire.

Did Walter want to get revenge on the neo-Nazis for stealing his money and killing Hank? Did he want to free Jesse out of guilt for Jane and the other ways in which he tormented his partner after the months-long bout of realization, loneliness and self-loathing that existed in his head while he was in the snowy cabin in New Hampshire? Or did he just want to do the things he said he still had to do with those things being securing his family’s future, killing Lydia, Jack Welker, Todd and their gang? Freeing Jesse, making peace with Skyler, seeing his son and daughter and dying in his beloved lab without spending one day incarcerated for his level of crimes that would have netted him ten life sentences were also part of the final acts of a dying man. Simultaneously, he was still outsmarting everyone as he did for much of his brief tenure as the world’s best meth cook and brutal businessman.

Was the paranoid, “everyone’s against me” aspect of Walter coming to light? It’s natural to feel anger and blame people closest to us for our own failures. Most don’t take the steps that Walter did and destroy everything in his path in an end-of-life crisis masquerading as providing for his family’s future. Perhaps Walter convinced himself that he was doing it for his family until the bitter end when he looked into the mirror in that car, saw the “colossal wreck” that the poem Ozymandias mentions and admits that he did it all to prove something to himself. He did. For better and mostly for worse.

In the end, the true analysis might come down to one word and its inflection. MacDonald uses Walter saying the phrase, “I was alive,” as evidence that he’s close to death and is literally saying that he’s gone from this world. That would be viable if the phrase was said as, “I was alive.” I recollect Walter saying it as, “I was alive,” as if to say, “For once I wasn’t behaving as others thought I should behave; for once I was living rather than functioning as an empty – dead – automaton. Rather than teaching, being the good, geeky family man and dying unremarkable and unremembered as little more than a testament to wasted potential, I lived.”

That might be the key. Or it might not. It could come down to your individual beliefs. Do you want the end to have the full closure and the badder of the bad guys getting their comeuppance? Do you want Walter dying alone and freezing in the snow? Confirmation bias comes into play here and that, plus the interpretation, ethics and morals of the individual, might be exactly what Gilligan had in mind when he started the show in the first place.




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