BREAKING BAD TV Talk: The Sentimentality Of Walter White

With just three hours left in the series, "To'hajiilee" finally breaks Walt's heart.

Statistically speaking, at least one person who watched To'hajillee, tonight’s Breaking Bad, will not be alive to see the conclusion of the cliffhanger. Poor bastard. Poor Hank, most likely.

I never want to second-guess the creators of Breaking Bad, who have a wonderful history of paying off set-ups in unexpected ways, but giving Hank the chance to call Marie - and say “I love you” - feels like a bit of closure for the couple. I can’t think of many ways that both of our heroic DEA agents come out of this firefight alive.

If Hank does die, his death comes right after a career highpoint, in which he really outmaneuvered the criminal genius Heisenberg. His two fake photos were both brilliant and both perfectly calculated for maximum impact; with his back to the wall Hank truly came through. He did come through at the expense of poor Huell, however; with his misshapen head and always put-upon attitude, Huell has long been a favorite character of mine, and watching him freak out at the thought of being targeted for execution was actually sort of sad.

Hank’s outsmarting of Walter is even more impressive when you realize that he deftly sidestepped Walt’s latest scheme, keeping Jesse from ever learning that Mr. White had visited his ex and the little previously poisoned boy. That was a desperation move on Walt’s part and it didn’t pay off; revisiting that piece of manipulated ground was useless and only showed how completely on the ropes Walt is now that he’s lost Jesse.

His loss of control is reflected in the sudden appearance of the Nazis at the end of the episode. Walt has certainly been in situations that went ass up, but he’s always managed to salvage things and come out on top. This time it feels like he’s awakened a force that he cannot control, just as he cannot control Jesse anymore and just as he cannot control Hank. The Nazis are only one facet of the forces he cannot control; returning to the site of that first RV camping spot shows us that everything that’s happening now was set in motion way back then.

It also shows the surprising sentimentality at the heart of Walter White. He would argue that he came back to that reservation, to that almost exact same spot where he parked the RV, because the rationale for cooking there is a strong rationale for burying money there, but he’s creating emotional synchronicity for himself. He started his empire there, and that’s where he’s hiding his earnings. That sentimentality has been coming to the fore as he has dealt with the slow realization of Jesse’s betrayal, and the moment when he saw Hank get out of the SUV was one where Walt’s heart truly broke. It wasn’t just that he saw the end of the road, it was that Jesse was the one who had ended it.

I know that Walter White is the heel, that this is a show about a man becoming a villain and about pondering whether he was always a bad guy or whether circumstances made him a bad guy, but even with all of that in mind it’s important to remember that he’s not ALL bad guy. He’s stubborn and prideful and wrathful and greedy, but he really does want to provide for his family. He really does care about Jesse. And I think he really is sorry about Brock, and very certain he did the right thing.

In the end that’s why I still love Walter White - the complexity the show’s writers have given him. That moment hiding behind the rock, a tear in his eye, was real. He wasn’t manipulating anyone, and he wasn’t putting on a show. Somehow Walt thought that just maybe, when it was all said and done, he and Jesse could be buddies again. And that was the moment when he realized it could never happen. I think that’s the first moment that leads to the guy we saw in the flash forwards - the guy we’re probably going to get to know in the next few hours.