Breaking Bad: When Antihero Ends and Villain Begins

Warning: Do not read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad Season 5, Ep. 1 – “Live Free or Die”. 

Recent years have seen the rise of the antihero (blame Tony Soprano) and Breaking Bad is just one of many banking in on this trend, though admitedly much better than most. I have written extensively on antiheros (here), but never on Walter White. Perhaps that is because he hardly fits into the antihero mold any longer. Breaking Bad has always been a story of transformation; the transformation of Walt from a law abiding, cautious, but loving family man into a ruthless, manipulative criminal.

Starting with the second season and Walt’s actions, or more accurately inaction, with Jane in order to manipulate Jesse, the hero title has been harder to hang on Walt’s head, anti or not.  After his behavior last season, most notably that business with poisoning a child, it seems the gray area has officially faded away. The transformation is complete and the every day guy has become the very evil he once fought to protect his family from. This final season (the first 8 episodes airing this summer and the last 8 next summer) poses the question every western before it has asked; will good win out over evil?

It’s not looking too good for the side of evil. The season premiere opened at some unknown time in the future with a bearded Walt alone on his birthday at a Denny’s. He also has a fake ID and purchases an illegal gun. Not looking like his choices lead him to a great ending. Hopefully we’ll get back to this flash forward in the next eight episodes and not have to wait an entire year to see what exactly leads Walt to this point.

After that brief teaser we were thrown back into the present of where last season left off. Gus has been blown up and Walt thinks he’s won. Of course he’s wrong. He realizes, a bit late, that the security tapes Gus used to watch him work might very well be used to bury him. So he and Jesse turn to the one person who actually understands the way this twisted world works, Mike. Mike probably should have shot Walt when he had the chance, although that would have been an anti-climactic season. He’s going to regret it though because the one thing Walt is good at is destroying the lives of those around him. But for now Mike has been sucked into Jesse and Walt’s partnership and together they scheme to destroy the laptop with the incriminating evidence (using Jesse’s idea).

Meanwhile, what I thought was the best death scene since Mrs. Blankenship on Mad Men turned out instead to be the best paralyzing scene, probably ever. Ted is still alive and for a hot second it seemed like this could spell real trouble for the Whites. However Ted made it clear he never wanted to discuss what happened again and essentially let Skylar off the hook. At first I thought this mini plot point was a waste. Why introduce a problem and then solve it in the next scene? But I realize now it served an entirely different purpose.

Walt’s tragic flaw is his arrogance, which often leads him to underestimate people. It also leads him to think he’s much bigger and badder than he actually he is. When Saul informed him of what Skylar had done to help Ted (and more importantly her family), Walt took that opportunity to threaten Saul. Saul stands as the sole person who knows the lengths Walt has gone to in order to manipulate Jesse and has decreasingly little reason to remain loyal to Walt.  Saul is the one thread that could unravel the teetering peace Walt thinks he’s won and he still can’t stop himself from pulling on it.

The one person Walt should never have underestimated is Gus. Gus was everything that Walt thinks he is; smart, careful, and powerful. He took endless precautions to protect himself while he was alive and it is so incredibly naïve for Walt to think he didn’t take just as many precautions in the event of his death. Gus knew for quite some time that Walt was gunning for him and had plenty of time to ensure if he were taken down, Walt would go down with him. The laptop may be destroyed, but I have full faith that the numbers for the Cayman Island account is just the tip of the iceberg of trouble Gus is still going to be causing this season.

It seems like everyone is beginning to see Walt’s true colors; Skylar is terrified of him (and what she knows barely scratches the surface of his depravity), Mike has never trusted him, Saul is getting fed up, and once these dominos fall, Jesse will be forced to see he’s been working with the devil.

As is always the case in Breaking Bad, the situation all the characters find themselves in is precarious to say the least. And with Walt showing no signs of returning to his quiet life, the pieces won’t be left standing for long. The transformation of average Joe to king is completed, but now its time for the king to fall. And I can’t wait.

– Devin Mainville

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