Despite the number of terrible things Walter White has done over the course of five seasons on Breaking Bad, the formerly meek high school chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin still has viewers who cheer him on in his disastrous journey.
But Sunday's episode —which to this viewer's eye was the last step in Walt's transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface — certainly has to bring an end to all of that, right? Probably not.
Yes, Walt (Bryan Cranston) was undoubtedly responsible for the circumstances that ultimately led to the death of Hank (Dean Norris) and his partner Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) at the hands of neo-Nazi Jack (Michael Bowen) and his crew. And yes, Walt not only handed Jesse (Aaron Paul) over to be totured and killed by Todd (Jesse Plemons), but he also spitefully twisted the knife by confessing that he watched Jesse's ex Jane (Krysten Ritter) die instead of saving her. And yes, finally, Walt wrestled his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) to the floor with a butcher knife before kidnapping Baby Holly and leaving the house.
As awful as any one of those things may be, Walt defenders can still point to a couple redeeming moments. Walt did beg — and offer $80 million of his buried cash — for Jack to spare Hank's life. After kidnapping his own daughter on impulse, Walt did leave Holly in safe hands before leaving town. And he delivered a scathing Heisenberg rebuke to Skyler that was actually meant to ensure the police would put all the blame for Walt's criminal activity squarely on his shoulders.
Are these last glimmers of humanity anomalies, or is there still a chance for redemption for Walter White? TVGuide.com chatted with co-executive producer and "Ozymandias'' author Moira Walley-Beckett to dissect the episode.
Breaking Bad postmortem: Is it all over for Walt?
Creator Vince Gilligan has said this is the best episode of the entire series, and I think I have to agree. Should we even bother watching the last two?
Moira Walley-Beckett: [Laughs] It's pretty incredible, unreasonable praise. I think that he feels as proud of this episode as I do. So much happens in it. Some of its parts are so extraordinary. ... But I think he's being overboard with his kudos and his praise. ... [It] takes nothing away from the next two episodes. They are massive, and the finale is going to leave the Breaking Bad legacy that we all really hoped for.
While the previous episodes all built to one big moment, you're right that this episode had major moments throughout. Was it always intended to happen that way?
Walley-Beckett: The episodes preceding [this one] were laying a lot of tracks for the plot, the things that had to happen. This was an ultimate "chickens coming home to roost" episode. We knew that Hank was going to die, and this is where it fell out. We knew we wanted Walter Jr. to find out. We knew we wanted to disassemble the family, and we knew we wanted to permanently fracture the relationship between Walt and Jesse — for that moment anyway. There was a lot that we needed to do in this episode because we knew what was coming next, and we had to plan for that. So, this episode wound up really crowded with incredible events.
Let's start with Hank's death. It seemed a bit inevitable from the previous episode, but how did you decide how it would play out?
Walley-Beckett: We felt that Hank deserved to go out like the honorable man that he was — that he would go out with grace and with dignity and give nothingto Walt. [The fact] that Walt's begging on his behalf, it's nothing that Hank would have ever done, and Hank wasn't grateful for it. Hank has always been a guy who knows the score and knows the lay of the land. So it was really, really important to us to make sure that Hank got to go out with dignity. We all actually talked about the dialogue, in terms of the, "My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go f--- yourself." We only get one f--- a season, and this is where we wanted to use it for sure.
As you said, Walt basically begs for Hank's life. Were you and the writers trying to purposely keep a glimmer of redemptive quality in Walt?
Walley-Beckett: One of Walt's primary motivators for the entire series is family. For Walt to offer up everything that he made, in terms of money — that he would be willing to have done all of this for nothing, which as previously stated, he just couldn't live with — in order to save Hank we felt was a really monumental moment within the character. Nothing is ever black and white, nothing is ever a straight line with any of the characters. I think that Walt surprised himself in that moment.
If that was a moment of good in Walt, he quickly shatters it when he transfers all the blame for Hank's death onto Jesse. It's not enough to have Jesse killed, but he has to tell him that he let Jane die.
Walley-Beckett: That is exactly right. It was pretty cool for me, having written "Fly" with Sam Catlin and having Walt dance up to that moment when he's in a drug-induced haze of almost telling Jesse because his conscience is burdened. And then to get to drop it in here as this twist of the knife — Walt says it because it is the most damage he could do to Jesse in that moment. It's his way of killing him. Walt knows that this information will kill Jesse inside, and that's his goal in that moment because Jesse must pay for all of these events that have transpired. He now can lay the blame on Jesse in his mind.
For some reason, I've always thought about the flash-forward being about Walt coming back to save Jesse. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing he'd want to do after this episode.
Walley-Beckett: In that moment, [the relaitionship] s completely fractured. Essentially Walt just said, "Let Jesse die. And instead of killing him right here in front of me, you guys want to torture him for a day? You want to send him into the worst death possible? Fine by me." So, yeah, in that moment, Walt is done.
Walt Jr. also has his entire world turned upside down in this episode.
Walley-Beckett: It's tragic. It's absolutely Greek tragedy because Jr. refuses to believe. He refuses to believe until he simply can't. And after witnessing the fight with his mom and dad, and with the beautiful shot ... of Skyler and Jr. huddled on the floor and Jr. protecting his mother, Jr. does something that we don't see coming. It's where the scales drop from his eyes. He sees his father and believes, finally, that everything he's been told is true. Not only does he call the police, but he lies for his mother. He says to the police, "My dad pulled a knife on my mom." He knows perfectly well that's not the case, but that's a huge, huge turning point for Jr.
It's a tough moment for Walt, who's now been ratted out by his surrogate son and his real son.
Walley-Beckett: Yeah. It's a horrible moment of realizing for Walt. He's clung to family — all of this was for family. And as he's staring at them huddled and Jr.'s pulling out the phone, he sees that he's lost them. So, he takes the one person with him who he may not yet have corrupted. He snatches Baby Holly and goes because she's all he has left.
You don't see many fugitives making their great escapes with babies in tow.
Walley-Beckett: It's an absolutely spontaneous decision on Walt's part. He's got his barrel of money. He isn't thinking clearly, he hasn't thought ahead, and he's just taking what's left of his family and going. And then that incredibly pointed moment in the bathroom... when Baby Holly cries for her mama and he looks in her eyes, he knows he's doing the wrong thing. It's a turning point for him there.
You guys got an amazing performance out of that baby!
Walley-Beckett: We got so lucky. We had two young actresses who played Baby Holly, and you see them both in the episode. That scene in the bathroom... her mama is just standing right there. She was looking at her, and Bryan was playing the scene, and she just started saying, "Mama" and Bryan went with it. We got something more beautiful than we had ever hoped for.
That moment inspires him to make the call to Skyler. Even though he's so nasty, he's ultimately doing it to protect the family, right?
Walley-Beckett: That is exactly right. He calls to try to do the right thing by portraying himself as a monster and by saying that Skyler knew nothing. [He knows] that she would have the police there because of Holly. It's an incredible ploy on his part to have to play the monster of Heisenberg while he's being fundamentally Walt White. It is a huge gesture of love, and it's the final cutting of the umbilical cord of the family. That is what allows him to call [Saul's] disappear-er and go.
But again, even though we see Walt at his worst in this episode, we still see glimmers of humanity in that phone call. Can he be redeemed?
Walley-Beckett: That's the really cool fine line. Is he speaking how he truly feels? Is it an act? Is it all of the above? But emotionally, at the end, he's cut the umbilical cord to his family and everything he knows and everything that he's done all of this for. We'll see next week what transpires in terms of his thought process and emotional process.
Despite what we know of the flash-forward, right now he seems broken. Do you think he feels like he's lost, or does he already have a plan?
Walley-Beckett: I think it's debatable. Walter White, and Heisenberg, has certainly proven that he's always got a plan. He's always trying to think of another way. At the end of this episode, he's lost everything, [but] we'll see what happens in his mind after that.
Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Are you still rooting for Walt?