Chemistry is the study of transformation, and this week in the penultimate episode of the series, we watched the transformation of Walter White finally reach completion. This extended episode walked us through the large chunk of missing time evident in the cold open from the first episode of the season. Walt spends months in hiding while the lives of almost everyone else he’s ever come in contact with over the course of the series are irrevocably changed for the worst. What did we learn this week? Walter White is the villain of his own story. Don’t agree? Still holding out hope that there will be redemption on deck for next week’s finale?
The episode opens with the Vacuum Repair Man, played by Robert Forster (a/k/a Max Cherry from Jackie Brown), who does actually repair vacuums when he’s not “disappearing” people, bringing Saul into hiding and providing him with a new identity. This is the first of many lives we’ll see ruined tonight, all directly traceable back to Walter White. Saul’s lawyer days are over (guess we know why the new series was announced as a prequel), but he’s still able to give a last bit of advice to Walt, still holed up in the vacuum store’s secret room due to the massive manhunt underway for him. Ever the voice of reason Saul, attempts to talk Walt off the ledge: “Can I give you a nickel’s worth of advice? For old times’ sake? You really worried about your wife and kids? Don’t leave. Some people would say, not me, but some people would say you’re leaving her high and dry.”
“Some people would be ignorant on the facts. Some people wouldn’t know that as far as the police are concerned, Skylar is a blameless victim,” Walt counters.
It’s a weak argument because it’s wrong, as Saul explains: There’s a whole lot the DEA’s gonna do to her if Walt just disappears. They’ll RICO Act the kids, move them out of the house, they’ll find the condo he was using as Heisenberg and they’ll lose that, too. “Mike was no dummy, but everytime he tried to get his nest egg to his granddaughter, the feds were all over it,” Saul reminds Walt.
So what exactly is Saul suggesting? He wants Walt to turn himself in, just be a man and face the music, take full responsibility for his crimes and hope, pray that the DEA goes easy on Skyler and the kids as a result. Plus, he’s already dying of cancer and he’d be “the John Dillinger of the metropolitan detention center,” adds Saul. Walt makes a valiant try at intimidating Saul, but collapses in a coughing fit instead, as Saul makes his escape to start his new life.
Things are no better for the widow Marie; the DEA agent guarding her reassures her that they’ll find her husband’s body before pulling up to find her home has been ransacked. Not much of a surprise, seeing as this was the confession Todd beat out of Jesse in the prior episode. Marie is quickly whisked off to a secure location as the DEA agents sweep the house.
Meanwhile, Uncle Jack and the Nazis watch Jesse’s tearful confession video, happy to poke fun at sensitive Jesse until they hear him retell Todd’s shooting of the boy after the train robbery. Suddenly Jack’s on his feet headed for Jesse’s cage, but Todd’s quick to stop him. He wants the meth that only Jesse can cook and he wants it for a reason that instantly becomes clear to Jack, who is set for life now that he robbed Walt… Todd’s trying to impress Lydia. Turns out Nazi Jack is a bit of a softy, declaring, “the heart wants what the heart wants.”
Jesse makes the most of the limited time Todd’s crush on Lydia has bought him, using the paperclip from the photo of Andrea and Brock to work at unlocking his shackles. Jesse seems to have found a second wind, a true desire to make it out alive. More on that in a bit…
First, let’s discuss Skyler, who reacts to her conversation with the DEA in a manner that echoes Walt’s doctor visit back in season one. Basically, they confirm everything Saul had laid out to Walt. They’re going to leverage everything they can until they find Walt. Skyler is in a lot of trouble, and not just with the law. A calm but threatening Todd shows up to threaten Skyler and Holly. He makes Skyler promise not to mention that she saw Lydia at the car wash in her conversations with the DEA before eventually leaving a terrified mother and child.
Surprisingly, we learn it was Lydia herself that send Todd to Walt’s former home, only she wasn’t expecting Todd to suddenly grow a conscience about killing Skyler. She’s so worried about keeping herself out of trouble that she tells Todd (who has clearly come dressed in his nicest clothes mistakenly thinking they were on a date) that she’s no longer going to be buying their meth. However Todd, who’s got no game with women, knows exactly what this particular woman wants to hear: “We got 92%”
New Hampshire seems nice enough, as Walt… er… Mr. Lambert is set up in a small cabin secluded in the mountains with two copies of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium as his only source of entertainment. The transformation process continues here as Walt sheds more of his old life and personality. He’s on the run, out of control and his family is lost to him. His confidence wavers, as he realizes he’s imprisoned himself in New Hampshire and that the only thing keeping him there is himself.
It’s at this point the show begins to work really hard to remind you just who the bad guy really is. Walter White’s always claimed all his crimes and transgressions were for the good of his family, but after choosing to run away it has becomes clear this is another of the many lies he tells himself. Walt White is a sick man, no we’re not talking about the cancer, he’s sick in the head. It might have always been there, it might be the reason a man as smart as him ended up teaching chemistry while his peers and former partners ran off with a company he helped begin (Grey Matter, remember them? Good because they’ll pop up again in a few).
After the Vacuum Repair Man has left him all alone, with the promise to return in a month, Walt finds the Heisenberg hat amongst his things and puts it on his head, strolling outside but stopping just before leaving the property, promising himself he’ll leave the next day. Of course, months later we find he still hasn’t left. If anything he’s living a rather comfortable life, getting supplies and a report on Skyler and the kids from the Vacuum Repair Man. Seems they’re just fine, living in an apartment while Skyler works as a dispatcher for a taxi company to support herself and the kids. He mentions the house was fenced off after he became a national news story and the place became something of a tourist attraction. Like we said… nothing he’s come in contact with is left unscathed in his wake.
Walt’s life is pathetic (he even pays Robert Forster $10,000 just to hang out with him for an hour), and he deserves every minute of it. At this point, there is nothing left to like about this character. He’s a sad, broken, bitter, jealous man with a fractured ego and a desire to prove something, whether it be that he’s smart enough, capable enough to provide, brilliant enough to fight his way to the top. Walt’s burning desire to leave a mark on the world, on his terms is what ultimately fuels him. As if to further hammer it home, episode writer/director Peter Gould has Walt’s wedding ring literally slip off his emaciated finger while he sleeps.
He’s looking failure in the face and it angers him. He’s pissed that he’s once again had a business for which he sees himself as being responsible ripped away from his control. He wants to prove that all his work was for a purpose. He also needs to justify his actions to himself, because above all else, Walt needs to believe he’s the hero of the story. So he packs a couple hundred grand into a box and heads to a bar a few miles from his New Hampshire home to call his son’s school.
Walt Jr. (now even called Flynn White in school) gets MVP for best character moment for a guy who mostly was about breakfast. He screams at Walt that he doesn’t want his money, he just wants him to leave them alone. His reaction is loud, visceral and startles Walt into more lame attempts at defending his actions, until he finally sighs and says, “It can’t all be for nothing…,” a declaration of arrogance. Walt’s not really concerned with getting the money to his family, it’s a fictional finish line he’s created to justify his psychosis, and Jr. doesn’t buy it for a second. His last words to Walt before hanging up on him are, “Why are you still alive? Why won’t you just die?!?”
Amazingly, it seems like that takes the final fight out of Walt, because the next call he makes is to the DEA. He drops the phone, allowing the number to be traced (and his location found) and then sidles up to the bar to have a drink while waiting for his arrest. If the show had ended on this beat it would have been arguable that Walter White was, ultimately a good man with the right intentions who got sucked down a horrible path, but it didn’t. Instead we’re treated to an appearance on the television above the bar, on the Charlie Rose show, from Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz. Gretchen used to date Walt… it seems Elliot stole her away and then the two of them ran off together, taking Grey Matter with them and leaving a bitter Walt to marry Skyler and “settle” for the life we find him living in the series opener.
Walt watches with a cold fascination as Gretchen talks about how the sweet, kind man she knew as Walter White was not the same person as this “Heisenberg” everyone talks about him being, and then Elliot tells Charlie Rose that Walt had very little to do with Grey Matter outside of suggesting the name. It’s this last bit that cements Walt’s status as ultimate heel. After weeks of speculation for why Walt would return to Albuquerque with a giant gun and a trunk full of ammo, we learned tonight that it’s not to avenge his murdered family, and it’s not to save Jesse, either… Walt’s going back to fuel his ego. We’re full-circle, as this has always been about Walt proving he’s better than his current lot in life. His exclusion from Grey Matter and their subsequent success in his absence served as fuel for the transformation in the first place. Sure, he’s the smartest guy Hank Schrader’s ever met, but he needs to prove it to the world. He’s going back to make sure that he dies fighting for what he referred to tonight as his “life’s work”: Grey Matter was stolen from him, and he’ll be dammed is he’ll let the same thing happen to Blue Meth. He’s gone before the police arrive, presumably to acquire an M60, making this next week the longest of all time as we wait to see how it all plays out.
WAIT! Recap guy! You mentioned Jesse was trying to get free… did he?
But then we was instantly captured again, beaten to a bloody pulp and forced to watch Todd put a bullet into Andrea’s head, in the most cold-blooded murder in the history of the series.
Yeah. It was rough. He’s then reminded by Jack that they could always come back and kill Brock too. Leaving us to wonder just what horrible fate Vince Gilligan has planned for Jesse and when Walt’s gonna get some of the same type of suffering, because he’s way more deserving of it.
- Please let Jesse have a quick death or a semi happy ending…
- Um… is Huell still waiting in that room for Hank and Gomez to come back?
- Was that the last appearance of Saul?
- Was it the last appearance of Marie?
- Anyone else get really, really, scared when Todd was in the White house? How about when he touched Skyler’s shoulder all creepy-like?
- No, really, please stop doing horrible things to Jesse.
One more week. All our questions are answered. Can’t happen fast enough!