Breaking Bag: Paste's Breaking Bad Mailbag (9/20)
Josh and Shane will be running a Breaking Bad Mailbag each Friday so we can all get our BB fix before the new episode airs. To get in on the action, send your questions, theories, rants, and whatever else to BreakingPaste@gmail.com—or leave them in the comments—and stay tuned for the email exchange recaps on Mondays.
It’s a bittersweet Friday for Josh and I. We’re at the peak of Waltmania, which is exciting and great, but this is also our second-to-last Breaking Bad mailbag ever. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? (Say yes, or you’ll hurt our feelings) We received a lot of good questions about the show this week, but so far nobody has gone to an existential place, as in: What are we doing to do with ourselves when the adventures of Walter White are over? Will we go outside? Will we sit around chanting the name “Heisenberg” until the apocalypse? I’m up for either, but frankly, the outside has weather and bugs, so maybe it’s better just to chant. Anyway, with two shows remaining, and Walt on the lam, we’ll start with a couple questions about a character who is very much not enjoying the perks of a great escape.
My bet is that Jesse will prove to have been a good student and figure out a way while cooking to poison Todd and then escape.
In the way that the writers have foreshadowed events in opening scenes throughout the run of BB, I think Jesse’s line about smoking in the RV, “I’m not stupid. Duh!,” is a hint to how Todd is going to go out. I believe Jesse will figure out a way to blow up the meth lab with Todd, the Nazis and himself in it.
When Jesse saw the picture of Andrea and Brock, I thought he winced in more of a vengeful way than a fearful way. Do you think he could be considering bombing out the lab with phosphine like Walt did with Krazy-8 and Emilio in the pilot episode? It could be Jesse’s last chance to be a hero, but he’ll need a gas mask. With the other Jack gang it could be possible with them refusing to wear the gas masks earlier. He could be saving numerous other people with that action, which would bring Walt back to town for somebody else than we expect right now.
—Sean E., Montana
I like this sequence of emails because while they all essentially the same thing, the level of specifics increase each time. Larry just thinks he’s going to poison them, Scott stepped it up a notch by remembering a moment of possible foreshadowing, and Sean knows EXACTLY HOW IT WILL BE DONE, right down to the name of the chemical. I like to think it’s because he’s from Montana, where the people don’t have a ton of distractions keeping them from figuring out the precise methods by which a TV character could bomb a meth lab. Plus, he analyzed facial expressions (I agree that Jesse’s wince was more vengeful than fearful), earlier hints from the show, and the after-effects. Well done, Sean. Send us a picture of your Beautiful Mind-style bulletin board when you get a chance.
On a serious note, these emails represent a stark change in tone from Breaking Bad fans. Last week, there was some collective wishful thinking happening about Walt and Jesse’s relationship. A lot of people speculated that Walt would come back for Jesse and kill the rednecks, or even that he’d secretly slipped him something in their brief melee. Those notions got flipped on their heads when Walt outed Jesse in the desert and gave that sinister nod to end his life. Of all the crazy crazy shit that happened last week, including the death of Hank, I think that one surprised the most of us. Deep down, we wanted them to reunite, and we didn’t really stop believing until Vince Gilligan made us. Now, the truth is clear—the only person who will save Jesse is Jesse himself.
Or Marie. Whoa.
I have friends who gave up quickly on Breaking Bad after an episode or two because they didn’t really like any of the characters. It’s wild to think back to Season One—how Jesse was an idiot punk kid, no matter what said to the contrary. And now, the only happy ending any of us can see doesn’t involve Walt or his family. We all just want Jesse to live, to get revenge on every villain Walt didn’t already blow up (including Walt). But life for Jesse, even if he gets out of this, is life with all the demons he had before. What does a happy ending even really look like for Jesse? I believe that anyone can experience redemption, but I fear any redemption for Jesse is going to be wrapped up in self-sacrifice. So maybe Scott really is on to something.
Remember how Marie wanted to make sure that Skyler got rid of all of those DVDs Walt made with his fake confessional implicating Hank?
With how quickly everything went down in the last episode, I’m sure Skyler never had time to collect and destroy any extra copies. With two missing and presumed dead DEA agents and a missing drug kingpin (Walt) on the loose, the FBI and DEA are going to tear up the White’s house looking for evidence (although they do miss the ricin capsule!).
Those DVD copies are going to be found and analyzed (including also probably the original recording itself), and Walt’s “confession” on the phone while the FBI was listening in may end up NOT being accepted by the Feds as proof Skyler was not involved in Walt’s business. They will have Walt on camera making up one fake story, and they may likely take that into consideration when deciding to charge Skyler.
My guess is that is why the house is trashed in the flash forward: Skyler is sitting in jail/prison awaiting a trial, maybe Ted has also ratted her out for his injuries, Marie (sans Hank) now has both Flynn and Holly at her home, and the White house has simply been abandoned (since all of her assets and the car wash would have been seized by the Feds). The “Heisenberg” painted on the inside wall was just done by the same punk teens skateboarding in the empty pool.
Anyway, can’t wait for the last two episodes!
Interesting stuff from Greg, and I like it a lot. If it’s clear to the investigators that Walt made up the bogus Hank-is-corrupt story, couldn’t he also have been lying on the phone? The wild card here is Marie, because unless I’m mistaken, she’s one of the only people who knows about Skyler’s involvement, and her whole nice-sister act (!) might change into something a bit less forgiving now that she knows her husband is dead. And yeah, I guess Beneke could add some details too, but Marie’s the one who really has the goods. The one thing I won’t give you is that the skate punks spray-painted “Heisenberg,” and the only reason I’m holding out there is because I really, really want there to be a cult that springs up with Walt as their religious icon. It’s never been very likely, and even less so now, but I’m not giving up the dream, dammit!
Which brings me to another question, and Josh, maybe you have some insight here—are we in line for a Walt-free episode this week? Or at least way less Walt than usual? Or will we get the flash forward (“Three Months Later”) at some point within the episode? Between Skyler and Marie and Jesse, there are so many unresolved details, but you have to wonder how long we the viewers can tolerate an absence of Cranston.
These last two episodes are each going to be 75 minutes long, so I doubt this one will be completely Walt free. I think we’ll catch up to Future Walt by the end of Sunday night. The other (slim) possibility with that DVD, though, is that investigators buy the premise and Hank is discredited in death. I do know that none of us saw this coming.
What if Walt turns himself into the police/DEA (as some sort of tribute to Hank) and also leads them to the Peckerwoods… only to take the ricin to die before or during prison?
—R. Asim, Lahore, Pakistan
First off, thank you for emailing from Pakistan! I know it takes the exact same amount of effort as if you were from, say, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, but I’m happy that our mailbag has some international flavor anyway. It makes me feel sophisticated and worldly. You’ll have to write us again next week and let Josh and I know if it’s fair to say that we’re huge in Pakistan. Because until you deny it, I’ll be going around saying that for months.
As to your question, I can actually see that. It’s the least dramatic of all the predictions I’ve run across, and frankly it’s not as sexy as blowing up the Peckerwoods with an M-60 or watching Jesse bomb them all to bits with secret science, but it makes a lot of sense. Walt may realize that he’s far out of his element, and if he’s still feeling remorse for Hank—if he even can feel remorse, for anyone—then it might symbolically make sense to give himself up to the feds. Still, though, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s too easy somehow. Vince Gilligan loves fireworks as much as a dog hates them, and I don’t think we’ll be leaving without some bottle rockets and roman candles exploding all over our TV sets.
1. You mentioned, Shane, that the Marie petty thievery story-line could sink the show. Well, in a series where everything is intentional, there might not be anybody more dangerous than a kleptomaniac radiologist with the skills and access to steal any medication. One specific chemical comes to mind, “Saxitoxin. Derived from shellfish, produces a flaccid paralysis that leaves the victim conscious through a progression of symptoms. Death occurs from respiratory failure. That is definitely a contender.” Walt’s death comes at Marie’s hands.
2. Don’t forget about the bloody tissue that didn’t flush in the diner. The Nazis get caught for the murder of Declan’s crew.
3. Holly gets a spinoff. A sitcom about playboy fireboys growing into firemen when they must join together to raise little Holly. This fall, on CBS, these men have faced their share of flames, but finally find the warmth in their heart.
1. I don’t think she has the guts.
2. I think that ship has sailed.
3. YES! And the pilot episode will be called “A Baptism by Fire(men).”
I’ve withheld from lashing out at Shane and Josh, whose weekly letters I otherwise greatly enjoy, about their bashing of Skyler, which has now somehow inexplicably devolved equally into a bashing of Anna-Gunn-the-actress. Not only does the widespread Skyler-bashing fail to consider that she is the victim of full-on abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, you name it—which is enough to warrant any perceived “bitchiness” she may convey), but for this to spiral into criticism of Anna Gunn is at once delusional, absurd, and completely unmerited.
I, for one, find Gunn to be a phenomenal actress—one of the strongest on the entire series. You guys go out of your way to praise Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul (the latter of whom Shane has recently anointed “the best damn actor on this show”), and I certainly agree that both deserves great praise. But the most riveting and chilling performance of “Ozymandias” belongs, hands down, to Anna Gunn. I’d advise you to rewatch the scene in which Skyler realizes that Walt has kidnapped Holly. The blood on her shirt, the unbearable look on her face, the sheer terror in her voice… It’s something only a mother (and a damned fine actress) could pull off, and it adds up to the finest moment of the finest episode in the history of series.
To be totally fair to Josh, the Anna Gunn and Skyler bashing is almost entirely on my end. He’s been far kinder about the whole thing, so I’ll respond to your critiques as best I can, because I’m your huckleberry.
First off, I’ll throw you a bone and agree that “Ozymandias” was absolutely the high point of Anna Gunn’s performance on the entire series. She was great, and I’m not afraid to admit it. That being said, I disagree with you and think that by and large, she’s been a pretty poor actress. Whether that’s her own fault, or just a product of her character’s sometimes-inexplicable motivation (we can pretty safely say that she gets lesser material from the writers than most of her co-stars) is a question I’ve considered, but that’s pretty impossible to answer. A little of column A, and a little of column B, I think? But the bottom line here is that the question of her talent is subjective. You think she’s great, I don’t, and neither of us will ever be able to prove our point.
HOWEVER, it gets very annoying when people tell me I’m supposed to like her character more because she’s endured abuse. In real life, I would (and do) feel sympathy for someone who has survived that kind of treatment. But listen: We’re talking about a television show. Depictions of anything, be it joy or pain or abuse or anger or whatever, can be done either well or poorly. This is art. Simply writing emotional abuse into a screenplay doesn’t mean I have to judge the product as anything other than art. Believe me, if you gave me 30 minutes and some Red Bulls, I could write a really bad one-act play with dark elements. And it would still be a really bad play, regardless of the darkness. Bad art is bad art, and on a basic critical level, it’s not more complicated than that. So this idea that’s been forced down our throats by a lot of Internet activisits—that if we call Anna Gunn a bad actor, it somehow means we’re condoning real life abuse—involves so many blind logical leaps that it doesn’t merit a response.
And yet I gave one anyway, because thank you for reading and writing in, and yes, she was great in the last episode.
1) Where is anyone and everyone who ever had a vested interest in Jesse’s life? I know you’re rooting for some Saul action in the final two episodes, but wouldn’t Badger and Skinny P be at least a little curious where the hell their friend has been?
2) What exactly is Lydia distributing in the Czech Republic while Todd figures out how to not burn batches like cakes? Has anyone done the math to figure out how much meth Walt would’ve needed to cook in order to make $80 million? And is that enough meth to sustain an entire industry of meth heads long after he retired from the business?
3) Are we really to believe that fire stations are so horribly “un-secure” that someone could sneak a baby into an unlocked fire engine, flick on the caution lights and escape into the night without notice? If that’s the case, then it’s harder to hijack a fire engine in Grand Theft Auto than it is in New Mexico.
4) On a scale from 1 to “I f***ed Ted,” where does Walt’s admittance of Jane’s death rank on the all-time list of dagger statements? Skyler may have wounded Walt with a knife, but that had to have been the one-thousandth nail in the emotional coffin of Jesse Pinkman.
5) What is Marie going to do with all of Hank’s minerals?
Oh thank God, we needed a numbered question after that last rant.
1. Serious question: Why isn’t there a whole episode dedicated to a Badger and Skinny P rescue mission? I imagine Badger would model it after the raid on the death star.
2. Lydia is distributing blue rock candy and hoping like hell that the Czech drug culture isn’t super sophisticated yet. How long have they been free of Soviet rule again? The only Soviet drug was smuggled chocolate.
3. As someone’s who been around a number of volunteer fire stations, I can tell you that if anything, they depicted it as way too secure.
4. Surely the Jane death confession takes over as the extreme end of the scale, right?
5. Marie will spray paint the minerals blue and try to make a few bucks selling them to the Czechs.
Did anyone else notice the wolf run across the street right at the end of the episode as the car drove away down the road?
I thought it was just a mangy dog, not a wolf. But was it a symbol of Walt’s decline? Did it symbolize Jesse? Was it a symbol of a wolf? I hate symbolism. Josh, you take this one.
Since we’re in the Southwest, we’ll go with the symbolism of animal spirits. The wolf can symbolize strong instincts, intelligence, a love for freedom and a lack of trust. Walt is extremely intelligent, Jesse is yearning for freedom, and Saul doesn’t trust anybody. It can also symbolize loyalty, teamwork and compassion—so basically any symbolism you want to read into the end of the last episode, let the animal spirit be your guide. Of course, I thought it was just a dog, so what the hell do I know.
Jesse deserves the pleasure of taking Todd down after 1) seeing him shoot that kid (meddlesome though the little scamp might have been) by the train tracks and 2) getting tortured and forced into cooking under extreme duress. It would be fitting and more than a little satisfying, but this being Breaking Bad and all, I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’m still holding out hope that Walt and Jesse somehow patch things up and end the series as friends, too, though that now seems less likely than Jane rising from the grave and feasting upon Walt’s flesh in the finale, thus setting Breaking Bad up as a prequel to The Walking Dead.
But I do have a somewhat optimistic, if implausible, theory about how things end. We all know that Jesse has a soft spot for kids, right? So what if, in the end, all the Whites/Schraders end up dead or incapacitated except for Holly. And what if Jesse survives, too—and adopts Holly! Or perhaps simply grabs her and has Saul’s guy “disappear” them. Jesse then raises Holly the best he can, atoning for his own crimes and also for Walt’s—by helping Holly grow up into a morally upstanding citizen, purifying (“bleaching,” if you will) the White name. Insane? Yes. But is it really any more ridiculous than anything else that might happen?
I’m just imagining the AMC execs trying to pitch Vince Gilligan on ending his show as a prequel to The Walking Dead, and him screaming, “GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!” And then Cranston showing up in zombie makeup at the most awkward moment, and going, “Oh, uh…so we’re not doing it?”
Moving on, I like the Jesse-adopting-Holly idea, though I’m still not convinced he’s equipped with the sense of responsibility necessary to keep her alive for more than like a week. However, Dan’s email is the sign of a growing trend, which is to recognize Holly as the sneaky star of “Ozymandias.” This baby is taking the world by storm! She’s the nation’s darling! Mark my words, you’re going to see her getting all the huge infant roles for the next 1-3 years. You can’t teach that kind of acting ability. (Literally—she doesn’t speak or understand fluent English yet.)
Shane, I am completely with you about Holly. Tweeted it last night, how the hell did she perfectly nail those expressions!? The expression she gave in the fire truck, cowering and hiding behind the side of the seat, that look of just utter fear, it’s like she is completely aware of and understands who her father is and the situation she has now been put in. Sheesh, goosebumps. Can a baby win an Emmy??
I mean, an Emmy just to start with, I think. That performance was Oscar-worthy, and I don’t care if Oscars only go to movies. I’ll go so far as to say I can’t think of a baby that’s done a better job in any medium of art. If I found myself in Walt’s bombed-out house with a can of spray paint, I wouldn’t be painting “Heisenberg.” I’d be painting “Ma-ma-ma!”