Hello one and all. Nick here. It’s been a while since I’ve written for the LAMB, but when Joel asked for somebody to tackle the final episodes of Breaking Bad–and I having just done a first-run marathon of all the seasons thus far–I put my name in the hat of potential writers. I was chosen to take the task, so here I am. And with the final stretch about to start, I felt it was time to tackle the inevitable recap post prior to going into the new stuff.
Breaking Bad is far more about the characters and their journeys and evolutions than the stories themselves. Because of this, I’m going to do a basic story recap of the whole show, but I’ll spend the characters section really going into my more personal insights.
Warning: Of course, this and all future Breaking Bad posts will be spoiler-heavy.
The Story Thus Far
(Note: This is just a straight summary of all the seasons thus far. If you want more personal discussion/ interpretation, skip to the next section.)
Walter White is a meek though brilliant high school chemistry teacher and family man. He has a loving wife, Skyler, and a teenage son with cerebral palsy, Walt Jr. And there’s another baby on the way! There’s also Skyler’s sister, Marie, and her DEA Agent husband, Hank.
Unfortunately, Walt discovers he has terminal lung cancer on his birthday. A proud man, he keeps this a secret from his family, which doesn’t help the beginning of his spiral. While on a ride-along with Hank, he gets the idea to start producing and selling Meth, and forces a partnership with an old student and current drug dealer, Jesse.
Jesse wants to keep things basic, but Walt has ambitions and needs to make hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his family after his death. This leads to working with a more dangerous drug pusher, Tuco, who is much crazier than Walt anticipated. Walt begins working under the name Heisenberg to help conceal his true identity, which turns out to be one of the smartest things he did since his Blue Meth formula is one of the purest ever seen, catching the eye of other drug lords and the DEA–including Hank.
After Tuco’s inevitable death, Walt and Jesse take to the streets themselves. But with Jesse’s friends getting arrested and killed due to Walt’s persistence at pushing boundaries, things become increasingly difficult. Walt hires a shady lawyer, Saul Goodman, who has numerous connections. He even gets Walt in contact with a more professional businessman to help control production and distrubution–Gus Fring. But the secrets and lies are becoming too much for Skyler, who demands to know what’s going on. And she does, inevitably, find out that Walt produces Meth. Repulsed, she demands a divorce.
Meanwhile, Jesse had been trying to move on with his personal life. After being kicked out of his former house by his parents–who owned it–Jesse takes up residence in a small apartment. He begins a relationship with Jane, the daughter of the landlord. As it turns out, Jane is a former drug addict trying to be on the mend. But her relationship with Jesse causes her to spiral herself, leading to an overdose and death, which Walt witnesses and does nothing to save her. This leads to Jane’s father, an air traffic controller, to have an episode at work and cause a disastrous mid-air collision, killing hundreds and sprinkling debris all over the city.
Also, Hank was glorified as a hero for Tuco’s death and promoted to the El Paso division to work directly against the cartels. But while he’s there, he witnesses a brutal slaying, an explosion, and the deaths and/or injuries of his fellow agents. He moves back home, but he’s now in a state of PTSD and refuses to talk about it.
From here, things don’t get any easier for anyone. Walt takes up a major deal with Gus to work in a super-lab with a man named Gale to produce large quantities of Blue Meth for 3 months and millions of dollars. But after Jesse gets out of rehab and attempts to start business up on his own, Walt’s ego gets the better of him. He demands Jesse replace Gale so he can keep him under his control. It doesn’t help that Hank is investigating both Heisenberg and Jesse, who seems to have at least tenuous links to Heisenberg (from Hank’s perspective). And on top of all that, Tuco’s cousins–a couple assassins–are out for Walt’s blood, mostly thanks to the direction of their uncle, Hector Salamanca.
Before the cousins can do anything, though, they’re spotted by Mike, Gus’ fixer/cleaner. Mike makes a call and Gus stops the hit, instead putting their focus on Hank, Tuco’s true killer. In the attack, Hank survives, but is badly injured and ends up needing extensive physical therapy in order to even walk again.
Jesse, meanwhile, has started getting his life back in some kind of order by seeing Andrea, another struggling addict he met at his rehab meetings. Though things get more complicated when he discovers it was not only her younger brother that killed one of his friends, but that Gus holds power over the gangs and dealers that were involved. Things spiral out of control, and Walt realizes Gus is going to have him and Jesse killed. He has one last resort: they have to be the only ones who know how to make Blue Meth. So Walt has Jesse kill Gale to win them some more time.
During all of this, Skyler had been working in the finance department of a local business she used to work at. She has an affair with the owner, Ted Beneke, though breaks it off after she realizes she can’t deal with his illegal activities and lying on the books to show they’re making more money than they are. So she makes a deal with Walt to help him launder his money by buying out the old carwash Walt used to work at, despite Saul’s suggestions they look elsewhere. But Ted’s finances get worse and the government starts looking into him–and because her names are on his books, into her. She can’t have this, as she’s laundering money in her own business, so she fakes negligence to the IRS. Yet Ted still refuses to pay the money he owes, even after she gives him money from Walt’s stash. So she has Saul hire a couple goons to force him to send the money, leading to an accident that puts him in the hospital and almost kills him.
Jesse, feeling guilty from the cold-blooded murder he committed, hits rock bottom and no longer cares about his life or what happens. Gus has Mike take Jesse on as a kind of partner, and they form an unlikely friendship and respect for each other over time. Of course Gus’ true end game is to have Jesse take over as Walt’s cook and turn them against each other so he can get rid of Walt. Jesse has trouble seeing this at first, though it’s clear to Walt.
In survival mode, Walt demands Jesse try and kill Gus with a dangerous ricin poison, though Jesse never goes through with it. And when Andrea’s son is mysteriously poisoned and about to die, Jesse assumes Walt is to blame–after all, it has all the effects of ricin, and he’s the only one who knows of their small stash of it. But Walt cleverly points out that it’s Gus trying to pit them against each other so that Jesse will kill of Walt and Gus wouldn’t have to worry about getting his hands dirty. Together they plot to get rid of Gus once and for all, a plan that includes a bomb and Hector Salamanca, who loathes Gus even more than he loathes Walt. The plan works and Gus is killed. However, it turns out that it really was Walt who poisoned Andrea’s son, who is now just fine, using it as a catalyst to get Jesse back on his side.
But now there are many threads to clear up. Walt, Jesse, and Mike have to remove all ties to Gus now that the DEA is looking into him. This isn’t easy as Gus’ parent corporation, Madrigal, is now under fire, and their main distributor, Lydia, is panicked. Mike’s men are all put in prison, but their safety nets for their families were all drained by the DEA. She’s afraid they’ll spill everything and everyone will end up in prison.
Once the dust has settled, they begin a small partnership with Lydia and a new system of making meth–cook in houses about to be fumigated, working with a shady pest control company hooked up by Saul. But this doesn’t last as the DEA’s eyes on Madrigal grows stronger and their supplies are cut off. After a train robbery (and death of a child) that lands them with more than enough methylamine to let them cook for a year or more, Mike and Jesse want out. They realize they could sell the methylamine and turn a good profit to live on for the rest of their lives and not have to worry about the drug game–especially since the DEA is also tightening in on Mike himself.
But Walt refuses to sell his share but rather comes up with a plan to work with Declan, the man who wants the methylamine, instead. Jesse is still adamant about quitting, however, so Walt is forced to take on Todd, one of the fumigation guys, as a new partner. There are still loose ends, though. The DEA take down the man in charge of funding Mike’s men to stay quiet and start after Mike himself. When Mike tries to skip town, Walt panics and kills him.
Walt gets the names of Mike’s men and uses connections from Todd’s family to have them all killed within their prisons. Lydia then changes things up and decides to have the Blue Meth shipped to the Czech Republic instead, and Walt rakes in the money–more than he or Skyler can even pretend to launder. And after a few months of this, and a visual awakening from Skyler, Walt knows it’s time to end it. He retires from the business.
Unfortunately, it’s at this time that Hank discovers a book of poetry in Walt’s bathroom inscribed by Gale, and everything starts clicking together. Hank realizes the truth: Walt is Heisenberg.
Walt might be the main character, but he’s not the hero of the show. As the series begins, you feel sorry for him and want to see him succeed. As the show progresses, he’s clearly an antihero figure. But then things progress further, and he slips beyond antihero into full villain. It’s really a fascinating thing to follow a character’s dip into madness and villainy, especially when it’s your main character.
It’s been said before, but there are many ties between Breaking Bad and MacBeth. The show is a definite tragedy, and our tragic ‘hero’ in Walt slips further into the brink of madness as his ego, paranoia, and greed for money and power take over his very being. He’s quite manipulative and, as the series progresses, it becomes clear he has no qualms about ruining everybody else’s lives (particularly Jesse’s) for his own betterment. Walt becomes a sociopath, a true monster, by the time the fifth season rolls around. And by this point you have gone from rooting for him to succeed to rooting for Hank to bring him down in the worst possible way. And the best part? It’s not because Walt is a poorly written character. It’s because he’s so brilliantly written that you need him to fail.
Jesse is, by far, the most tragic character on the show. While not completely the moral center, he becomes the character you desperately want to succeed. The basic idea of the show is the parallel journeys of Walt and Jesse in opposite directions. Walt descends to the lowest of the lows, while Jesse becomes a better person and gains a better life (or tries to).
But in the process of bettering himself, nothing ever goes right. His family seems to despise him for his past choices and won’t even listen to him once he finally ends up on the right path. Because he has no parental love, he looks for this acceptance and guidance from Walt–who constantly insults and berates him. And when Walt does compliment Jesse late in the series, it’s only as a tool of manipulation. One of his friends ends up dead. Hank beats Jesse so bad he ends up in the hospital. Jane, the first good thing in his life in a while, dies of an overdose. And although it’s Walt’s fault, Jesse rides the guilt and blame for it. Not only that, Walt allows Jesse to feel the guilt of the mid-air collision, as well, since Jane’s death was the reason behind her father’s distraction on the job. Then he finally gets something actually good and perfect in his life–Andrea and her son–and Walt nearly destroys that, as well, by poisoning the boy. He also manipulates Jesse into breaking it off with Andrea, symbolically destroying Jesse’s hopes for a good future and better life.
If there is any character one can hope comes out on top at the end of this show, it’s Jesse. And if I’m allowed to make a guess as to what happens–I think Jesse will kill Walt with the ricin. After all, that stuff has to be used on somebody eventually on this show, right?
Hank is one of the more fascinating and surprising characters of the show to me. In the first few episodes, I thought Hank was going to annoy me. I thought he was going to be the worst character on the show, and I was really worried about his inclusion. As it turns out, he’s one of the best. And not only that, he’s basically the true hero of the series.
Hank has been through a lot on the show, and he’s at his best when he’s playing detective and getting ever so close to figuring out Walt’s secret identity. To me, Hank was at his best in Season Four (which is when the show itself was at its best–it’s my personal opinion that Season Four of this show is one of the greatest seasons of television ever made). He’s a good person through and through, even if he has a mouth on him. He’s one of the two biggest moral centers of the show, as he’s one of the only two characters who isn’t doing anything wrong or doing anything to “break bad.”
And after his revelation, I can’t wait to see his interactions with Walt and Skyler and where it goes from here.
And so we’ve come to what I feel is the worst character on the show. I will get this out of the way now: I hate Skyler. I really, truly do. She is a terrible, horrible person. Do I understand that she wants to protect her family? Yes, of course. But the methods she uses and the way she reacts to basically everything is so off-putting and sometimes even revolting that I can’t help but loathe her. I always disliked her, but I think the moment dislike turned to hatred–and where she completely lost me from there–was when she’s still pregnant, prior to knowing Walt’s secret, and she smokes the cigarettes. Not only is there the whole baby issue with smoking, but her husband has lung cancer. There was so many things wrong with that moment for her as a person that I had trouble looking past it morally. And things just got worse from there. It seemed any time she spoke or reacted to Walt about anything, she got more and more unlikeable to me.
That being said, come Season 5 when her reactions become more subtle, and it becomes more about the legitimate protection of her family rather than petty selfishness, I could understand her slightly better. The hatred slimmed back down to mere dislike, as I was able to tolerate her more due to that mild understanding. But in the MacBeth of things, she’s the Lady MacBeth (even down to an ‘out, damn spot’ moment), which means she’ll have to pay her dues, as well.
There’s really not much to say about Saul. He’s a fun character and definitely a good source of comic relief in the show. What’s most fascinating about him is that, despite his weasely ways, he is generally a solid voice of reason. He’s almost Cassandra-esque in that he actually seems to know what’s best and knows how to navigate through things the right way, but nobody listens to him. If everybody would just listen to Saul and follow his advice, most of the drama could have been avoided.
Mike was my favorite character. Like Saul, if Walt would just listen to Mike, so many things could have been avoided. But Walt’s ego continued to get in the way. Mike, despite his line of work, is a good person. He’s a very classic type of character–something you’d see in The Godfather or the like. He knows his business and knows how to do it well. He knows when to leave things alone. He knows when to ask questions and when to just do what he’s told.
The best thing about Mike, however, was his relationship with Jesse. When it begins, you can tell Mike is annoyed by him. But as the days go on, Mike gains an affinity towards him, almost like a protector. He wants what’s best for Jesse, and he knows that if he stays with Walt, Jesse’s story will not end well. There’s a knowing, heartbreaking moment when Jesse looks at Mike and reminds him that he’s quitting, too. But Mike knows that’s not the case, that it won’t be so easy for him, and that Jesse is going to come to a tragic end at some point because of it. And he gives that whole thought in just a look.
Mike was just a great character, and what really cemented my newfound hatred of Walt–where I knew I wanted him to suffer–was when he senselessly killed Mike. And to make things worse, minutes later, as Mike is dying, Walt realizes how senseless it really was, that he could have just asked Lydia for the list of names. He was a great character with a tragic end.
Talk about a fantastic villain. Of all the major villains of the show–Tuco, the Cousins, Hector, Gus, and Walt himself–Gus is by far the best and most fun. He’s a wealthy businessman, so he’s able to use that as a front for everything he does. And his ties to helping the DEA was a great touch. He’s methodical, calculating. He’s like a master chess player, always 10 steps ahead. And not only will he beat you, but he’ll make you defeat yourself. And not only that, but he eventually becomes straight-up terrifying. The danger exudes from him, and you can feel with Walt or Jesse just being in his presence that something bad can happen at any second. But he has such a calm demeanor that you’re not sure if, how, or when. The best example of this is in the fourth season premiere where he silently walks around the super-lab, gets dressed in the gear, and slits his own man’s throat before rinsing off, de-robing, and leaving. It’s such a suspenseful and powerful scene that really puts into perspective what kind of man they’re dealing with.
But not only that, you understand where Gus is coming from, as well. You get to see his backstory through flashback, so he’s not just some one-dimensional villain. You understand where he came from what it took to get to this point and all the sacrifices he made.
And Walt, although slipping into madness himself, needed to be at the top of his game to beat him. It was a cat-and-mouse game of life and death, and Walt continually had to put Gus in Check before Gus Checkmated him. And the way Walt finally disposes of Gus was ingenious. Gus’ final moment, fixing his tie before falling over, was a bit cartoonish, but it was still pretty awesome and sent him out on a solid note. But the greatest part was after his death. You’d be set up this amazing, terrifying, and powerful villain. So when Skyler asks Walt what happened, and Walt responds with “I won,” it’s intensely more chilling, because you know that if Walt won against a character such as Gus, what that means to now be Walt. And that transition from Gus to Walt as primary villain is perfect.
Marie is the least of the characters on the show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. She just doesn’t have that much to do. Her story lines are the weakest and least interesting, and some (like the stealing) don’t really go anywhere. She’s more there to be used as a plot device when information needs to be leaked between Walt’s family and Hank. And while her character is supposed to be annoying, she’s at least written well enough to where she’s annoying, but in a bearable way. It’s hard to write a character that has to be annoying but doesn’t drag the show down because they annoy the audience. And she’s truly written well enough to where you feel sorry for her when Hank is acting out from either his PTSD or depression.
If Hank is the first moral center of the show, Walt Jr. is the second. He’s the symbol of naivety and innocence on the show (well, him and his baby sister, I suppose). He’s often lost and confused about what’s going on with his parents, and that really destroys him inside. So while Walt is doing everything he can to provide for his son, his actions are just making things worse. Walt Jr. really takes a leap forward as a character when he sets up the donation fund website to help pay for his father’s treatments, though not realizing Walt has all the money he needs for it. To make things worse, Walt uses the website as a laundering tool, which makes Walt Jr. feel good about himself, but could destroy him if he ever found out the truth. Out of all the characters on the show, Walt Jr. has the most to lose, because he has the furthest to fall when the truth comes out.
So that’s about it for this long-winded recap. I’ll be giving my thoughts on the first episode of the new season in a couple days. And we hope to have every new review up within 24-48 hours of each new episode’s premiere. What do you think of the show, stories, and characters thus far? What do you think is going to happen next? How’s it all going to end? Leave a comment below to let us know!