A part of me was sad that I would never get to write another word about Breaking Bad. I even started wondering what I would have to do to do so. Would I have to start back at start and give it a, what, fourth run through? Fortunately, Breaking Bad had just enough in it to posit the “it was all a dream” theory.
And, let’s cut the bullshit. It wasn’t.
First, the lesser known, Emily Nussbaum, then the lesserest known Norm Macdonald put forth the it was all a dream. Both, probably, for look at me points. I would like to blindly theorize like the theorist and say they, Emily more than Norm, probably went into this episode writing this article. Emily’s was probably already written with the dream thread before Felina was ever aired (simply filling in episode details afterwards).
Because I read Emily’s article with extreme skepticism, not just the idea, but her actual conviction in writing such an article other than to be the one who came up with the idea, I will begin with her argument.
Emily: “I mean, wouldn’t this finale have made far more sense had the episode ended on a shot of Walter White dead, frozen to death, behind the wheel of a car he couldn’t start? Certainly, everything that came after that moment possessed an eerie, magical feeling—from the instant that key fell from the car’s sun visor, inside a car that was snowed in”
Vince Gilligan: “Well the whole point of the teaser for us in the writer’s room was, “What is he doing, is he praying? Who’s he praying to? Is it god? Is it the devil? Who would a guy like Walter White pray to? And lo and behold, this prayers are answered, and the key is kind of magically waiting for him atop the visor.”
That doesn’t sound much like Gilligan thinks or meant that Walt is dead at this point (Norm puts forth another way around this later).
Emily: “Even within this stylized series, there was a feeling of unreality—and a strikingly different tone from the episode that preceded this one. In “Granite State,” after all, each of the show’s action-hero fantasies were punctured, then deflated.”
Interesting that Walt rigging a machine gun in his trunk “feels” any less unreal than, oh say, a meth train robbery, Walt throwing down that loaded fake meth only to escape uninjured, a giant magnet truck… Do I keep going? If anything, it falls in line.
Emily: “In “Granite State,” after all, each of the show’s action-hero fantasies were punctured, then deflated. Walt’s new identity doesn’t leave him safe in the Bahamas, with WiFi, free to plan his comeback. He’s trapped in New Hampshire, paying ten thousand dollars for an hour of poker—alone, powerless, sick.”
If this is all a dream sequence then why isn’t Walt flying around shirt off, with a juggy Skyler on his back on a B-52 shaped like a unicorn just dropping bombs on nazi’s not just of today but of generations past? This is quite a detailed dream for Walt to not even get a word in with his son…
Emily: “Badger and Skinny Pete agree to participate in this plan, rather than, say, turn Walt in to the police and get a huge reward. We never see how Walt managed to find Badger and Skinny Pete in the first place, without being noticed. The unifying element of this episode is that Walter himself is never noticed, not during a drive across the country after the cops descend on that unfinished Dimple Pinch, and not in his own home town, despite how we’ve been told, again and again, that Walt is now a wanted criminal, with his face all over the papers in Albuquerque, and on national television, and that if he goes out in public, he’ll be caught immediately.”
We also never saw Walt walk to the car from the bar. Does this mean he floated there, or busted through a wall, or transported? The show also never showed us how Walt managed to poison Brock, but we accepted it.
Couldn’t Badger and Skinny Pete turned Walt in at any point before. Sure, not for the same price, but “Heisenberg” was well known to police forces, at least Hank, for awhile now. They had plenty of chances to cash in. Also, do you really turn in the most dangerous man in the world? Has he not murdered everyone who has wronged him? Great plan. Also, Walt rewarded handsomely, anyway.
As for the last point, a lot has been made of Walt walking around unnoticed. Is it just me or does Walt look like a completely different person emaciated, bearded, new glasses, wild attire? Whatever photos the media was circulating looked little like Walt that last episode.
Emily: “The Schwartzes, who are two Bill Gates–level celebrities, have no effective security measures in their house; they push no panic button in the many minutes before Walt indicates that there are assassins outside.”
Do they trigger the panic button telepathically, or…? Again, Im sure by now they have discovered just how dangerous Walt is/was. What move do you make to not get yourself killed in this moment?
Emily: “No one spots Walt when he enters Skyler’s home, either—or when he leaves. No one notices when Walt goes to see his son for the last time, even though you’d imagine that area would be flooded with surveillance. Walt is not noticed even when he steps inside a brightly lit, crowded Albuquerque restaurant, where he sits down with Lydia and Todd. I mean, it’s not as though the man’s a master of disguise: he’s got hair again, so he looks similar to the way he looked back when he was a teacher at a local high school—and in fact, he’s even more noticeable, because he looks homeless, ragged, and Unabomber-like. Has Walt magically hacked everyone’s cell-phone cameras?”
Because I have already argued this I will go on to say that Breaking Bad has a history of things going Walt’s way. In the first episode shots are fired as he attempts to keep Crazy-8 and Emilio in the RV. But, the shots are just a tad too high. Walt presses his luck with Tuco how many times, and Tuco, known for his highly violent temper lets things slide with Walt specifically… Just about every episode is a study in thing’s leaning Walt’s way.
Emily: “So many moments felt peculiarly underlined: we see the ricin stirred into Lydia’s tea in a dream-like closeup, and then we also get to hear Walt on the phone with Lydia, rubbing it in, letting her know that she’s dying. The things that we never see in this episode are the painful things, many of them involving children: Lydia’s daughter bereaved, Brock as an orphan.”
Many things were underwritten before we ever saw them. It took a keen eye to discover these moments and apply them moving forward. Of course the ricin was seen coming if you were looking for it. What roles did Brock and Lydia’s daughter play? How important were they to the story of Walt? Is Breaking Bad about fringe children characters, or Walt? What good would have those scenes done for the story of Breaking Bad?
Emily: “Of course, there’s the climactic sequence, which rivals any of Walt’s earlier mastermind plots: Walt builds a fantastic remote-controlled super-gun that kills almost all of his Nazi enemies. Even though Lydia has told the Nazis that Walt is back, and the Nazis are planning to kill him, they let him in. They don’t shoot him immediately. Indeed, they have a whole conversation with him. O.K., that might happen, and it often does happen, whenever people meet their enemies in television shows, only to fatally underestimate them. But in what universe would Uncle Jack, heretofore so pragmatic and unflappable, get so incredibly offended at Walt calling Jesse his partner? In what world would he then pull Jesse out of his cage, so that Walt could see that he was suffering? In Walt’s dreams, that’s where. Or at least, that’s how it felt to me.”
The nail was already hit on the head. “On television shows”. Again, Walt has time and again sidestepped danger, in fact, Walt, “is the danger”. And, again, this is quite a silly dream that he spends hours rigging a gun to his car… Dreams are rather much larger than meticulous riggings such as Walt’s final 24 hours.
Emily continues with a few more scenes that in her mind point to 90% of the episode being a figment of Walt’s dead imagination. I would hate to repeat that dreams are usually much larger and less meticulous, as well as the Felina riding the previous 61 episodes coattails and styles…
I will leave Emily with this: “The tenderer, more emotional scene came earlier. That would be the lovely and beautifully filmed sequence in Skyler’s kitchen, in which Walt gets his redemption, as well as his say. He offers Skyler those lottery numbers—so that she can get closure on Hank’s death, and give Marie closure, as well. In addition, Skyler will have new evidence to offer the cops. Walt lies to her about his money being gone, so that she’ll be able to accept the dirty cash when it eventually comes to Walt, Jr., as a trust fund. Most miraculously, he drops the insistence that everything he’s done has been for his family. “It was for me,” he admits to Skyler. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really—I was alive.” Then he strokes baby Holly’s head, as Skyler looks on, in loving silence.”
Literature, or maybe art in general, the good kind at least, is measured in character development. Walt has come a long way. He has taken on many persona’s and repeated many “it was for the family” mantra’s… His last few words to Skyler is evidence of just why we enjoyed this show. Let’s enjoy them for what they represent, wonderful writing and character development, instead of making leaps of internet look at me “conclusions”.
Now on to Norm “they dont call me irrelevant for nothing” Macdonald. Norm says much of the same as Emily, supposedly, not having read Emily’s posts. A lot of his tweets are rehashing her arguments but he does bring up a few new ideas.
Norm: “It’s all Walt’s fantasy. How did he get the ricin into Lydia’s packet of Stevia?”
Walt is a fairly accomplished man, creating the most pure meth the world has ever seen. He has ways of getting things done. Simply getting a Stevia packet, poking a minute hole, then injecting the packet full of ricin via needle in would do just fine. And the thing about that plan? That’s coming from someone that isn’t a chemist! Imagine what Walt could do. Walt also explicitly states that Lydia is like clockwork, meeting in the same place, same time. Putting the packet there was possibly the easiest part.
Norm believes that “He doesn’t possess this imagination. His fantasy is what he intended to do. But we know Walter White never pulls anything off without a hitch.”
One half of Gus’s face would like to argue that last point. Again, a lot of things tend to go Walt’s way.
Now for the main problem with this whole argument.
Why would the writer’s, producer’s… hell anyone involved in this episode create an episode with such a shitty ending? And such an understated transition from life to dream sequence on top of that?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for the writer’s, etc, to make this more blatant if that was indeed the intention?
Did Walt really intend to get shot by his own weapon, dying and saving someone he didn’t know was alive? I’m sure that wasn’t the exact plan…
Norm: “And the gun kills everyone and somehow everyone is there. This tells us this is the fantasy of a sick, dying man”
No one was there that wasn’t in previous nazi scenes. One argument I have made in the aftermath of the series finale is that this really isn’t the last of the nazi’s. Someone’s uncle or cousin or son or ex-cellmate (and probably more than just one relative or member) was not there. This would leave the White family still in danger.
Norm: “The important thing to remember about the song El Paso was that the guy singing it was DEAD.”
One thing to keep in mind is that not all works of art are entirely derivative. It is, indeed, possible, to be inspired and deviate from other pieces. If this was not possible, people would just keep writing Don Quixote over and over and over and over again, without changing a word.
At some point some Jeremy Martin adds: “Wait a minute. There’s no way a car that old has a remote controlled trunk. Your on to something.”
I also don’t believe that a car that old comes with a machine gun in the back. Or RV’s come with meth labs… Is it that necessary to show Walt rigging the entire trunk? The whole season would have just been us watching Walt engineering the trunk gun.
A little later someone is really upset that the snow on the window is undisturbed. Leaving the director’s, producer’s and writers no room for error without coming up with wild ass theories.
When a tweeter asks Norm if he saw Vince address it not being a dream specifically Norm says “Never trust the writer Logan. He said what he had to say in the series”.
And this is the entire reason I am typing word 2,257… you may disagree with every retort I have put forward heretofore, but let me say this, I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing. Maybe not the smartest career decision, but now’s not the time to get into that. One of the first lessons we learned is not that you don’t “trust a writer”, it’s that the writer has no control over what the public believes to be true once they have taken in your work.
What kind of sense would it make to never trust a writer? Why would authors or producers or actors or any artist ever be interviewed about their work if we were to never trust them? When the artists says they never intended such an interpretation that is exactly what they mean.
The problem with this theory, and you can apply this to conspiracy theorists in general, is that there is no changing their mind and everything is suspicious. Even the evidence blatantly against their theory becomes suspicious and supports their theory. “Isn’t it suspicious that it makes too much sense?” they will ask.
I will leave it to this. I am not able to keep anyone from drawing their own conclusions but I would ask that your conclusion is genuine and, more importantly, intelligent and based on reason (Walt would have wanted it that way).
Just to prove how easy it is to bring forth such sorry theories I will leave you with a taste of your own medicine Emily/Norm: try proving that Walt ever wakes up from surgery in season 2…
If you need me I will be hiding behind the “it’s just my opinion” shield Emily has already set up for easy deflections to easy attention.