Season 3 of Breaking Bad goes out with a bang (albeit a someone ambiguous bang), literally. As the screen goes black and the echo of gunfire hangs in the air, we are left to contemplate how Walt and Jesse got to this moment and where they are going from here.
The intro gives us a bit of back story, showing Walt (sporting a full head of hair) and a pregnant Skylar (sporting a full belly of Walter Jr.) house shopping. This scene serves as a sobering reminder of just how “bad” things have “broken” for Walt and his family. As the couple walk through what will become their home, Walt is unimpressed. He wants something bigger, with two more bedrooms. When Skylar reminds him of their budgetary constraints Walt responds, “Why be cautious? We have nowhere to go but up!”
Even in his worst nightmare Young Walt could have never imagined how much trouble Present-day Walt has caused. With the Heisenberg hat squarely on his bald head, Walt meets Gus in the desert to face the music. Although he is hardly negotiating from a position of strength, Walt gives Gus two options: He could kill Walt on the spot and try to track down and kill Jesse, or Walt could get back to cooking and Gus can forget about the whole mess with the murdered drug dealers. Walt prefers the second option and for the time being, Gus seems to agree.
Breaking Bad could just as accurately have been titled Breaking Point. It is a study in what human beings will do when they are backed into a corner, pushed to the limit. If you were diagnosed with terminal cancer, how far would you go to provide for your family? Would you manufacture illegal drugs? What would you do if someone you cared about was in danger? Would you intervene, even if that meant risking your own safety? What if your life was on the line? Could you murder a (relatively) innocent person?
Gale makes a triumphant return as Walt’s assistant cook. He is very eager to learn the ins and outs of Walt’s process, which raises a red flag. It is clear that it was Gus’ intention to have Gale take over after Walt’s inevitable death, which so many viewers assumed to be the case all along. Walt, who seems to be one step ahead of Fring a lot lately, assumes correctly that his run as Gus’ personal chef is close to an end and conjures up a contingency plan.
That plan, of course, is the murder of Walt’s assistant/replacement Gale. Walt knows that Gus cannot afford to have a production stoppage, even a temporary one, so if Gale is out of the picture Walt becomes irreplaceable. Jesse, who unlike Walt, has never taken another man’s life, is not very excited about this idea. He suggests that he can go on the run and Walt could go to the Feds for witness protection. “Never the D.E.A.,” Walt responds. My guess is that Walt would rather die than cause his family the humiliation that would be the result of a D.E.A. agent’s brother-in-law entering witness protection.
The original scheme was for Jesse to find out where Gale lives and then call Walt with the location so Walt can do the actual deed. A wrench is thrown into the plan when Walt is apprehended by Mike the Cleaner and brought to the lab to be “cleaned”. In a sad and pathetic sequence Walt pleads for his life and offers to give Jesse up in exchange for a reprieve. Mike seems amenable to this idea and gives Walt his cell phone to call Jesse and arrange a meet. Instead, Walt tells Jesse that he has been captured and that Jesse will have to murder Gale.
As I mentioned before, the final scene of the episode was a bit ambiguous, although show creator Vince Gilligan claims this was completely unintentional. The way the final shot was edited, the viewer is left to question whether or not Gale is dead. This is clearly a mistake in direction and editing and certainly worth grumbling about, however viewers shouldn’t use it as an excuse to hate on an otherwise excellent season. The only other thing I didn’t love about the finale is the absence of any semblance of closure with the Skylar and Hank story arcs.
The interesting thing about this latest turn of events for Walter is the question of whether, by having Gale killed, has the White character turned even more dark (see what I did there?) or has he started down the path toward redemption?