The Ghost of Walter White (How Breaking Bad Really Concluded)

By: Chris Thompson and Michael Shields

In hindsight, there might have been much more at play in the Breaking Bad Finale then we realized….

In Breaking Bad’s series finale “Felina” it seemed as if everything was tied up in a neat little package. On the surface, Walt appeared to ease through the finale effortlessly, eventually finding his peace. He hatches a way to pass his fortunes on to his family while sticking it to Elliot and Gretchen. He finally obtains his redemption with Skyler by admitting the motivations for his transgressions, thus enabling one last encounter with his daughter and a fleeting glance at his son. He kills all the bad guys, free’s Jesse (physically and mentally), and dies surrounded by the objects of his desires, his true love. But, what if there is much more to the story than meets the eye? What if we all missed the point entirely?

In Across the Margin’s recap of Breaking Bad’s final episode, a poignant idea was presented…..

“It was almost too good to be true. It was almost like a dream. In fact, the episode had a unique feel to it in that Walt, a man who’s clock we all knew was ticking down, moved through the episode like a ghost. Like he was already gone, gliding over all and tying up loose ends as tight as he could. He effortlessly drifts about, inconspicuous to all who surround him. Whether confined in a snow-capped car with police red and blues haloing around him, or snaking silently into the home of his wife and former friends, or seeping into the cafe with Lydia and Todd, he is able to move openly and freely about the world that is so intently seeking him out. It was eerie, yet gorgeous. “Just get me home…..I’ll take care of the rest.”

….and ever since this idea was brought to my attention1, I cannot get it out of my head. It makes too much sense. I believe there is ample room for interpretation within this idea, so much so in fact that it begs to be explored further. With the episode’s cold opening (literally), there may have passed a moment where something significant occurred, where a potentially monumental incident slipped over all our heads. A moment where Walter White may have actually died2….

Cold openings are important, if not emotional, in Breaking Bad. If you take this one on the surface – there really isn’t anything to it. In fact it’s kind of sluggish in comparison to some of the more amazing ones throughout the series. But taking “Felina’s” opening scene as something else- well, it’s the dopest cold opening of all time!

Walt enters the snowed-in Volvo desperate, broken and feeble, yet motivated for closure by Elliot and Gretchen’s Charlie Rose interview. He is sick, coughing, and struggling to do something a genius such as him should be able to do with ease – hotwire a car. Then the interior of the Volvo fills with the flashing hues of a patrol cars lights. And it is at that precise moment in the car, after the red and blue lights had faded, that things started to go uniquely right for Walt. All of a sudden the keys are in the visor like in Terminator 2, just begging to be used. Then Walt strikes the window like it’s a jukebox and the snow cleanly falls off, bathing the car in light. And like that, Walt is off running.

But what if – just what if – at that very moment, instead of speeding away to meet his destiny, Walt passed away, merging with the great beyond (Or, was potentially arrested…)? What if everything moving forward from that instance in the car was just a fantasy, a fantasy about what he would have done to tie up all those loose ends? To fix what he had broken. “Just get me home – I will do the rest”…..a dying man’s prayer, a regret-filled individuals fictional attempt to make things right. This is an incredible thought, but not so crazy considering the tone of the episode, and how smoothly its events unfolded3.

It is important to take a look at how re-invigorated Walt becomes once those keys hit his hands. He is no longer a weak and feeble dying man. As the words to Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” fill the vehicle Walt is reborn4. He is renewed, an entirely different being. There is a change there, one that isn’t so subtle upon looking back, and one that casts the remainder of the episode in an entirely different light.

Critic’s are lampooning the idea that Vince Gilligan and company tied up the ending to Breaking Bad too neatly, that they essentially forced the ending. “Those people can take a flying fuck at the mooooon!”5, as the finale was perfect. BUT…maybe the show’s conclusion is open to more interpretation than it is being given credit for? Maybe Vince, genius that he is, left us with two endings? One that satisfies the closure that so many crave, done so in classic Breaking Bad dramatic fashion, and another that resonates on a deeper level, offering those who thrive on interpretation, an additional way to experience the show’s conclusion.

Suggesting that the finale of Breaking Bad was merely a window into the mind of Walter White offers a way for fans to appreciate the ending on an entirely different level. Everything seemed to click for Walt and he appeared a man at peace, a huge departure from the near-persistent damage-control filled existence he experienced previously. His ability to hide in plain sight was in stark contrast to his forced isolation in “Granite State”.

If Vince Gilligan taught us anything, it was that Breaking Bad was a show with layers. And Walter White was our tragic, anti-hero steeped in incredible depth. So why, as the series drew to a close, wouldn’t that be the case once again? Walt’s efforts in the end were a heartbreaking effort to fix a life that was too far broken. But would it not be a greater story still if it was all just a theater of the mind? And as Walt’s consciousness drifted away, we the viewer are treated to a glimpse of how he would have liked to have truly met his end?

  1. Thank you Chris Thompson, ATM’s Co-Editor and co-author of this piece. []
  2. It is important to note that we are merely presenting this possibility, we are in no way declaring that this is, in fact, what definitely happened. []
  3. At times it had the feeling of  A Christmas Carol, as Walt drifted about like the ghost of Heisenberg’s future. []
  4. The use of the song “El Paso,” driven home by the shot of the cassette tape supports this theory in many ways. “El Paso” shifts from past to present tense, and at times the protagonist telling the story is deceased. And, at the end of the song, the cowboy recounts (or hallucinates) that he is found by Feleena (the woman he desires and obsesses over), and he dies in her arms. Sound familiar? []
  5. – The late, great Kurt Vonnegut. []

7 Comments

  • This is a very interesting interpretation, but it still wouldn’t explain much of what happened. Prior to Walt’s supposed death in the cold open, he had no idea Blue Meth was still being made and that Jesse was the one manufacturing it, being held as a slave to Jack’s Neo-Nazi gang. Recall that he discovered this from “the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi” themselves (Badger and Skinny Pete) which is well AFTER his “death” in the cold open, as per this theory.

    Also, frankly, if this interpretation were valid or even intended by Gilligan and co. I would be sorely disappointed. Breaking Bad has always been highly grounded in realism, without lofty dream sequences as was found in The Sopranos or even, at times, Mad Men. We didn’t see Hank, Gale, Gus, or anyone else somehow live beyond death, and neither should we have, it’s just not the nature or intended meaning of Breaking Bad.

    All this said, I found this highly interesting and commend the man who came up with it (as flawed as it may be as an interpretation). Also, your site’s main assessment of “Felina” was brilliant!

  • Colin, Thank you.

    Like we alluded to in the piece – we are not buying it either. But we find it a fun thing to think about – and fun is ultimately the point.

    The only thing that compels us to even broach the subject is the cold opening. What was it about? It seems like the final cold opening (which they have been historically brilliant!) would be more than a quick look at Walt stealing a car. If there is nothing to the cold opening – which there probably isn’t – that is a very disappointing start to an otherwise amazing episode.

    PS- He did know the blue meth was still being made. It was discussed on the Charlie Rose Show (and if the blue meth was still out there Walt knows there is only one other man possible of manufacturing it – Jesse). He reaffirmed this thought from Skinny Pete and Badger!

    thanks again Colin!

    • Oh, that’s right (about the mention on Charlie Rose with Gretchen and Elliot). Forgot about that!

      HOWEVER…

      Walt shouldn’t (and wasn’t) surprised that the Blue Meth was still being made? Why? Because his second trainee (i.e. Todd) was still cooking Meth for Lydia and the Gang. He knew this, of course, as he had “left a viable operation” in this form.

      My guess is that Walt assumed that 1.) Todd is making Blue Sky, and even though its not nearly as pure and elicited a failed attempt from Lydia for Walt to cook for her/them again, Todd must still be cranking out product with the authorities assuming its the same stuff.

      Of course, when Badger and Skinny Pete mention that Blue Sky is still being made, Walt’s attention is then raised, knowing them to be two meth “connoisseurs” who would be aware whether it was up to the standard of Heisenberg’s 97-98% pure product. When they tell him it’s better than ever (despite reeling away from that comment! lol!), Walt THEN and only THEN (as I see it) knows Jesse is the cook behind the current Blue Meth. Since Walt saw Jesse permanently leave the business behind him (and then fall into the gang’s custody at his behest, the only conclusion left to make would be that Jesse was being held as the Nazi gang’s meth slave.

      On another note, I feel that this revelation may have been the motivation behind Walt saving Jesse, after sending out a gang of killers to finish him off. In my mind, Walt wanted Jesse to die because he was risking Walt’s safety/freedom and then probably blamed him, in part, for Hank and Steve’s deaths, since he brought them out to the dessert in the first place (and sold him out). Walt, albeit evil, is not so evil, however, to consent to slavery or the extended psychological, physical torture imposed upon Jesse by the Neo-Nazis. Walt wasn’t sadistic, he just prideful…and nothing would harm his ego more than the gang stealing his formula by holding his longtime partner in slavery to continue making HIS beloved “baby blue” formula verbatim without reaping in any of the sub-cultural, psychological or monetary rewards. By the time Walt takes on the gang, it doesn’t matter what Jesse did to sell him out anyway, or any threat he might continue to pose – Walt knows his life is over (even before he’s hit with his own bullet) and probably thought over what Jesse did and may have concluded he wasn’t responsible for the deaths of Gomie or Hank, but rather, it was the gang, who refused to heed his command and took over his Empire and beloved product (and, again, the whole enslavement would be disgusting to Walt, even as evil as he is, both ethically and as a huge insult/injury to Walt personally and as the robbery of his Blue Sky product and empire). Walt surely “re-claimed” it, even if during his dying breaths!

      Also, I think if he didn’t know Jesse nearly as well as he did, that Walt probably would have killed him to prevent any possibility of Jesse continuing HIS meth empire after he dies (remember his hubris towered over all!). However, Walt knew Jesse damn well wouldn’t be cooking meth ever again, especially not after being made a “literal” slave to it’s making, and thus let him go.

      I am convinced Jesse is permanently out of crime, and I believe his dream/illusion of carpentry shown during his captivity IS his future, almost undoubtedly (especially since it was mentioned before as the one other activity he both excelled and took pride in before meth cooking, in Season 4):

      “And by the end of the semester, by like box number five, I had built this thing. You should have seen it. It was insane. I mean, I built it out of Peruvian walnut with inlaid zebrawood. It was fitted with pegas, no screws. I sanded it for days, until it was smooth as glass. Then I rubbed all the wood with tung oil so it was rich and dark. It even smelled good. You know, you put nose in it and breathed in, it was… it was perfect.”

      ^
      Just another testament to how perfect and continuous the finale was!

      • Amazing Jesse analysis Colin. I, too, prefer to picture Jesse out of crime, possibly in Alaska, with Brock by his side. No on deserves happiness more.

        The woodworking scene was absolutely brilliant, as is the quote you shared from “Kafkaesque”. Perfect and continuous indeed.

      • Late reply, but actually all throughout season 5b, Lydia kept saying they were having problems with production. So Walt knew they wanted him to correct it. It’s only when he hears on Charlie Rose that blue meth is still out there (and people think it’s him making it) that he realizes the only other person that could be producing it is Jesse.

  • I think that you’re on to something re the metaphysical feeling of this episode. It’s worth noting that all of the numbers on license plate of the car Walt steals are prime numbers. The first and last numbers are 3 and Walt uses pump 3 when he is refueling. 3 often represents the holy trinity (father, son, and holy ghost). These numbers also add up to another prime number, 23. 23 is associated with time and change, particularly seasonality and change of consciousness. Also, According to Rene Allendy, “the principle of organization 3, acting on the differentiation of the world in spirit and matter 20, to allow precisely the incarnation of the spirit in the matter, 2 + 3 = 5.” In “Felina”, Walt is finally able to reconcile his self with his actions (spirit with matter), thereby enabling him to achieve his will with much less resistance and greater precision.
    Gas is $3.89. 389 is yet another prime number.

  • The more I think about it, the more I believe the ghost theory.

    First of all, regarding the question of “How could Walt know Jesse was being held hostage?”…well…he never mentioned Jesse when he spoke about going back to kill the nazi guys. It was always about how they had his money and they took his life’s work. He also wanted to protect his family from them. I was under the impression that he thought Jesse was dead. Remember how he asked how his blue meth could possibly be out there again? And then he figured out it was Jesse?

    Also, when he said his last words to Skylar, they didn’t physically touch each other. I thought for sure at least a hug. And I don’t believe he touched his daughter either. This is reflective of a ghost situation. In fact, when Skylar is speaking to him, she does so as if she is talking to a ghost…a memory. She seems to be in mourning and not fully there. Also..how could he wander into the house without being noticed by police? How could he find Badger and the other guy without any problems? No problems. Doors easily open. Car keys fall into place. All is well. In fact, when building the gun contraption, he does so in the same spot in the desert where the money was buried…and Hank was killed….and where they cooked in the RV. This was a powerful place for him. A ghost would pick such a place…but not a man on the run and in hiding.

    I believe the dream Jesse experienced (making the wooden box) was a sign of his own death. I believe that was a sign that Jesse had died while a captive. (That is so sad when I think about it!)

    This all makes me want to go back and watch the finale again! So interesting! So amazing! The best show in the history of television and it has ruined every other show for me. I simply cannot watch anything else because how can it compare?!

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