TV Club

Breaking Bad Season 5 mini-finale: The TV Club wraps up.

Death, many deaths I’ll sing.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jack (Michael Bowen) in AMC's Breaking Bad.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jack (Michael Bowen)

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Burning question answered: Mark Crummett tells me via Twitter that when Walt screwed in the power socket in his bedroom , he was hiding the ricin again.

New burning question: If Walt’s cancer is back, why does he have so much hair in the flash-forward? I agree that a recurrence is a more plausible explanation for Walt’s return to family man than love of said family. But is he going to get cancer, treat his cancer, and beat the cancer again, all before we get to his frenzied morning of bacon snapping and gun buying?

Matt, you are disappointed that in this mini-finale Vince Gilligan ostensibly shut down the Heisenberg Empire without giving its creator a single headache.  I imagine Walt cut a deal with Todd, thereby ensuring the future of his Crystal Blue Persuasion while also throwing a bone to Todd’s uncle and his Aryan comrades. (June, thank you for that excellent insider prediction that the Aryans will come back because one of them is played by an actor who’s too big for a walk-on. You really know your TV, honey.) I figure we’ll find out more about the buyout, or whatever it was, when we pick up next year. That the tidy fast-forwarding didn’t bother me in the meantime is a testament to how much I’ve grown to trust the writers’ room and Vince Gilligan. I have faith that every step we missed will make time for an even more intriguing nugget in the eight episodes left to us. Such is the slavish loyalty Breaking Bad inspires.

I do not buy the Hank cover-up thesis, for some of the reasons LisaK lays out in our comments: If Hank goes after Walt now, he’ll be able to explain why he didn’t put it all together earlier. After all, this is his nebbish chemistry-teacher brother-in-law we’re talking about. And sure, it sucks to put the father of your adored niece and nephew in prison—but not if you adore them so much that you’d be glad to have them move in with you.

Indicting Skyler would be hard, but surely the DEA can make a deal with her: immunity in exchange for her testimony against Walt. And I don’t see her agonizing over whether to give it—if Hank forces her hand but she can stay out of prison, or even do a relatively short sentence, she’ll relish the chance to put him away. Traditionally, the marital privilege, in the rules of evidence, limits the circumstances in which one spouse can testify against the other, for the sake of family harmony. In federal court, however, only the testifying spouse can invoke the privilege, according to a 1980 Supreme Court ruling. In other words, Skyler can refuse to testify against Walt, but Walt can’t stop her from speaking in court if she’s willing. After all, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist drily put it: “When one spouse is willing to testify against the other in a criminal proceeding—whatever the motivation—there is probably little in the way of marital harmony for the privilege to preserve.” Too true, and to me this all signals that unless Walt kills Skyler, he is out of luck.

There’s a deeper reason why Hank can’t go the cover-up route, though. Matt Zoller Steitz keeps calling Breaking Bad one of the most moral shows on television, “in which characters inevitably reap what they sow.” Hank’s role in the morality tale is to make Walt pay. It has to be that simple—it’s how they get there that will be marvelously complicated.  I think you’re right, June, that Walt is halfway hankering for the recognition that a DEA investigation would bring. I don’t think he wants to get caught, but wouldn’t the ultimate high for him be to see fear and respect in Hank’s eyes right before his brother-in-law is eliminated as a threat—i.e., offed? That would take the sting out of the memory of all the sobbing and sniffling Walt had to do for Hank along the way.

You guys have used up my favorite lines this week. So I’ll close with the Walt Whitman stanza from which the title of this episode is taken.

Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul—not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.

Breaking Bad has already sung of many deaths. These lines signal that we can look forward—with a true fan’s mix of dread and anticipation—to plenty more when we reconvene next summer.