As last night’s episode ended abruptly amidst a firefight between the family Todd and the DEA (i.e., Gomez and Schrader), my mind immediately went back to the future.
To bearded Walt.
You know, Walt at the diner in episode one of this season. Walt with the automatic weapons in the trunk. Walt at the start of this second half of season five – episode nine – entering the abandoned White residence, retrieving the ricin.
These glimpses of the future help to inform our perspective on the present, especially as the great Revelation, the Apocalypse of Walt, has now begun to unfold. In a way, we at least know a little bit about how the story ends. Namely, it does not end in handcuffs in the back of Hank’s SUV because, well, Walt is still bald and goateed.
And it does not end the way Hank, in last night’s intense episode (is any episode not intense?), thought it would, with a phone call to Marie and a vindicated declaration: “Honey, I got him. Dead to rights.”
My conversation partner, Zac, is correct in pointing out the possibility that Walt may have experienced a moment of redemption in this episode when he called off the strike in the desert, but that the mechanisms of his madness are already too far gone, gears grinding away, to stop on a dime. But I would add to Zac’s perspective a futuristic reminder: the Walt we see may not be the actual Walt, even when he seems to be acting authentically. Because the Revelation is not over. It is the bearded Walt who will show us the truth. Yes, Walt is indeed a “lying, evil scumbag” as Jesse so viscerally summarizes in his epic phone call, but the real tragedy and what, I believe, will prevent this from being a story of redemption for Walter White is the degree to which he continues to be a lying evil scumbag to himself.
The star of last night’s episode, however, was not really Walter at all. If, as I surmise, the grand narrative of Breaking Bad will really end up being about Jesse Pinkman, episode thirteen was undoubtedly all about…Todd Alquist. Todd is, of course, played by Jesse Plemons, known most for his role as Landry on another beloved TV series, Friday Night Lights. And he plays Todd with the same kind of innocence and earnest as Landry except that Todd just so happens to be dedicated to the family business of killing, hustling, and all around thuggery. And he’s dedicated to his future as the heir apparent to the legendary Heisenberg.
The episode opens with Todd in a new meth lab completing a cook as his uncles and Lydia, from the Madrigal megacorporation, look on. The purity of the cook is up from the previous operation, you know, now that the previous operation has been sufficiently cleansed. It’s getting better. But Todd’s work is still not good enough for Lydia’s discerning customers in Europe. And, it’s not blue. And that’s not acceptable because, “Blue is our brand.”
The significance of Todd in this final Revelation is precisely that he is the yang to Jesse Pinkman’s yin. He, like Jesse, is in awe of Walter, relating to him as something of a father figure or at least hero. And, like Jesse, he is committed to perfecting the art of the cook as Heisenberg’s devoted apprentice. But, where the two part ways is precisely in how they reflect the essence of Walter White. Jesse could admire and imitate Walt only so far before his maturing psyche began to reveal a deep-rooted conscience that vomited up all of the manipulation, deception, and deathdealing, essentially ripping his soul in two and forcing him to side with the good (or die trying). Last night, Jesse demonstrated his departure from the Way of Heisenberg in stark relief, venting months of pain and anger back onto his abuser during that epic phone call, setting the trap for his abuser’s capture. But Todd remains the devoted servant, his own mild manner housing the same sinister interior as his master.
And even in Walt’s moment of redemption, calling off the strike on Jesse because his Brother-in-law Hank arrived at the scene, Todd knew better.
Todd is the mirror image of Walter White, without the self-deception and hypocrisy.
And he represents a terrifying vision in this great Revelation.
Am I too hard on Walt? Is there something redeemable here, even if it is not realized in the final three episodes of Vince Gilligan’s magnum opus? Perhaps, but it’s not likely.
Indeed, as Walter raced to the scene of the “seven barrels worth” of money buried in the desert, alternatively growling and begging on the phone with Jesse, we got a glimpse of just how far gone this character truly is. So much so that not even Jesse can get him right, still thinking he’s just a “greedy asshole.”
It’s so much worse than that.
What did you think of Sunday’s episode?