With Gustavo Fring dead, thanks to the wits and desperation of Walter White, “Breaking Bad” begins at a time where Walter is pretty much the only potential heavyweight in the crime world. Fring was in fact the king of the castle for decades and Walter worked with the man to ensure delivery of his special meth as well as battle for his life. Over the months preceding Fring’s death, Walter’s use became less and less a necessity to Gustavo and soon Walter decided that he had to shoot first or find himself dead and buried.
With Fring out of the picture not only does “Breaking Bad” find Walter White in a position of freedom, but he’s also in a position to rise up the ranks without any obstacles. The transformation of Walter White from a fighting to save his own life to a man who has gradually built himself in to a king of the crime world is haunting and at most times compelling. The humble and rational White, we discover throughout the first portion of season five, has in fact died with Gus. The White we meet is free to do whatever he so pleases in the crime world and undergoes a metamorphosis that makes the character practically unrecognizable. White’s career in meth cooking was never one to root for, but at least he always found ways to convince the viewers that what he was doing was for the greater good and for the sake of his family.
Now White has no enemies, and is purely on a mission to claim the throne left abandoned by Gustavo, and he turns in to a mastermind over the course of the first half of season five that will inspire many a viewer to grow to despise him more and more with each passing episode. Gone is the rationalizing for his career and why he cooks meth. Walter White knows deep down that he has no need to continue lying to himself, so he’s no longer doing so. He’s a man who knows that what he does is illegal, dangerous, and incredibly damaging to innocent people, and he simply doesn’t care. So long as he’s able to acquire the money to keep him and his children living comfortably, he’ll step over anyone.
We saw it in the finale of season four where the writers subtly implied Walt set in motion Gustavo’s murder by poisoning Jessie’s potential step son and nearly killing the poor child. Walt almost has to face his deed when he meets Jessie’s stepson for the first time in the series and in a very awkward and somewhat demented moment sits in a room with the child quietly. This isn’t the first time Walt has murdered someone to manipulate Jessie in to working with or for him, as he did indeed allow Jessie’s drug addicted girlfriend to choke to death on her own bile. But while Walt was somewhat driven mad by this desperate act (as witnessed in the brilliant episode “Fly”), Walt seems to have no trouble stacking corpses to garner his rising wealth. He almost seems to enjoy it and rationalizes his misdeeds with so much delusion and egomania that it’s rather disturbing to witness.
What seems to be the unspoken thought process behind every character in the series who has been let in on Walt’s secret Meth operation is that Walt is building himself up as a king ruling a kingdom, and soon enough it destined for a colossal and painful downfall. The wind seems to be blowing in that direction and characters like Mike, and Walt’s wife Skyler know that deep down and are waiting for Walt to slip up eventually. Mike even warns Walt after a tense confrontation about profits “Just because you shot Jessie James, don’t make you Jessie James.” Sure, Walter White brought down one of the biggest and most intimidating crime boss in international history, but that doesn’t mean he’s destined to become the next crime mogul. In the premiere of season five we’re given a cryptic sequence in which Walt, now with a head of hair and without his goatee, enters in to a Denny’s and celebrates his birthday with his ritual breakfast of eggs and bacon and turns the bacon in to a 52.
We then learn he’s going under a new alias, and has acquired a massive fire arm. Could this mean that someone in his inner circle eventually turns on Walt now reducing him to a man on the lam with immense paranoia? Has the king finally realized that he has no one in his kingdom to fight for him? Or is he preparing for a war of some kind? The scene is mysteriously void of Jessie, Skyler, or Walt Jr.’s presence. Of course we won’t discover when this prologue took place because as the mid-season finale of “Breaking Bad” has occurred, we won’t be given any answers until the summer of 2013 when the series finally comes to a close. I imagine “Breaking Bad” will close the way “Scarface” does.
I think the scene where Walt and Walt Jr. are watching “Scarface” on the finale where Tony Montana has a stand off ending in his bullet tattered corpse is exactly how Walt will fare. A man who rose to the crime world from poverty, alienated his only family, decided to turn his back on crime thanks to a change of conscience, and was inevitably done in by his hubris. Sure, he was able to viciously murder nine men in jail thanks to his new contacts (a montage I still cringe at just thinking about) like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” but perhaps at the end of the day, Walt will reveal himself to be just a petty thug with a nice suit like Tony Montana. Over the course of the fifth and final season we’ve seen a change in character dynamic and the shift has been gradual and absolutely startling.
Jessie went from a punk drug dealer to a young man who is realizing now that he needs to end his life of crime before it’s too late, while Walt started as a man rationalizing his drug dealing as a means of keeping his family from going broke to now someone reaching for kingpin status in a pool filled with piranhas. The once meek and passive Walt is now an aggressive and incredibly slimy persona in this season willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in the meth business, and rationalizing every crime he commits. When shifty new partner Todd guns down an innocent boy after their Meth theft in the desert, Walt relies on his persona to help him quickly deal with the prospect that an innocent life has been taken. Once Skyler becomes a foil to Walt, he explains that he’ll pull off whatever he can to ensure his own well being, even committing her to an asylum for the rest of her life, due to her erratic behavior.
And of course, Walt, out of fear for his own safety, nervously murders Mike in the desert in the episode “Say My Name” and shows little remorse. In the next episode, with Mike’s body in the trunk of his car, he sternly explains–with the tone of a teacher advising a student–that the deed simply had to be done. Walt is the devil with wire rimmed glasses now, and he’s a taint on everyone he touches. Throughout the season he’s attempted to lure Skyler over to his way of life, to no avail, and has mercifully spared Flynn and his daughter from his criminal behavior.
The game of cat and mouse has continued though as Hank, once a lethargic man barely able to walk, has now found a renewed interest in this unraveling of the Fring empire, and has implemented his brilliant investigative skills all the way through, completely unaware that the source of the entire case that nearly killed him in the parking lot in season three is the man with a soft shell moping about his sister in law endlessly. Perhaps Hank just hasn’t caught on. Or maybe like Skyler, he just hasn’t been willing to consider the possibility that Walt is a part of this crime ring.
It’ll be a very long and excruciating wait until the summer of 2013 to watch the final five episodes of “Breaking Bad” unfold and learn what will become of the Emperor with no clothes. But after the final scene of the mid-season finale, it’s very much worth the wait to see the cat and mouse game continue on.