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Sonn: A last reflection on Walter White

BY BARRETT SONN | OCTOBER 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The following column contains “Breaking Bad” spoilers.

Sunday evening marked the end of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which was considered through most of its five seasons to be a member of the TV drama Pantheon.

It also marked the end of Walter White, who was, despite his many detractors, one of the easiest antiheroes to root for and even love in recent memory.

From the beginning, creator Vince Gilligan and Company made it clear that Walt’s transition would be from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” — and it worked to the point where I’m sure more college students have “Breaking Bad” posters than the famously cliché black-and-white “Scarface” posters.

The transition was convincing and visceral, and it’s not the first time a good person with good intentions has broken bad.

But we learned things in the final few episodes, and more importantly, we remembered scenes from seasons past. Perhaps, we learned, Walt was never a truly good person, and perhaps his intentions were more fueled by bad than good.

The last two episodes gave us a new insight into Walt and how he changed into Heisenberg. We always thought Walt was doing what he was doing for his family. It made the most sense and was also emphatically expressed by Walt numerous times throughout the series. Then comes the revelations when he talks to his wife, Skyler, for the last time. He really did it for himself. He felt good doing it. He felt alive.

Knowing that, we can go back to the beginning and really look at Walt with skepticism. And there were signs even back then that Walt, on the inside, was perhaps a little resentful and discontent with how his life had turned out. In fact, that’s not even a secret. It was clear.

But the key is that most of us forgot about that. We saw the scenes involving Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, Walt’s former friends and business partners, and then they disappeared for a while. 

We forgot. We forgot that Walt was a high-school chemistry teacher who was underperforming. And he knew it. He knew he should be living in a beautiful and spacious house like the Schwartz residence in the last episode. To make matters worse, he was portrayed as being an irrelevant member of the company Gray Matter Technologies by Elliott and Gretchen, when he was actually a cofounder.

To correlate Walt’s transition into evil with his cancer is acceptable. Walt needed money for cancer treatments, and he needed to make sure his family would be taken care of. In the beginning he thought he was doing it for his family.

I suppose he had an epiphany, or just accepted the truth, in the end. It was always in him, this brooding jealousy and envy, and a sequence of events that perfectly lined up led him to go and do egregious things like poison kids and organize synchronized prison deaths.

Remember, he made more money than his cancer and his family would ever need. But he never stopped. He justified that by explaining how he had suffered so much and wasn’t satisfied. He wasn’t ready to give up. He had to make up for lost time living in a different social and economic class than what he deserved.

In the finale, Walt looks at Walt Jr. through the window and open doorframe of a laundry room and finally realizes what a destroyer of worlds he is.

Then it all ends with Walt sprawled on the floor of a clean meth lab, with a head full of hair and clothes reminiscent of what Walt wore in the beginning of the series: khaki pants and jacket with a green shirt.

He had come full circle, finally having faced the truth. He understood what he had become, to the fullest. And we came away understanding that who we loved was a good person who had too much residual damage and who found a perfect sequence of events to try to resolve that damage, only to completely and utterly fail.


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