In the tragic culmination to Jesse and Jane’s short-lived bond, Walt is given signs from above just as he’s rid of cancer (for now) and as chickens – this time for real – come home to roost.
* Unless confirmed by members of the Breaking Bad creative team via interviews, podcasts, etc. the following observations are intended for speculation and theorizing.
Warning: This article contains Spoilers from Breaking Bad Seasons 1-5.
KARMALAND #1: Worlds Colliding
There comes the first realization signal, of what it’s all led to: the episodic flash-crumbs lead us to the final clue as the 737 collides with another plane over Albuquerque, leaving Walt all terrified and clueless in its wake. Whether the ramifications all start to make sense right away in “No Mas” or much later in “Fly” is debatable, but one thing’s for sure; Walt’s ambitious turf expansion business has directly and indirectly led to Jane’s death, Jesse’s seemingly eternal dismay, Donald’s misery and the death of the 167 passengers on the sky-high grand-scale of his moral choices.
From one father to another, death glides over as the children (Jesse and Jane) get caught in the crossfire.
True to the show’s style first established in the pilot cold open, from the details it zooms out to reveal the big picture. The flashforward format further highlights the deterministic nature of the consequences of Walt’s actions. What goes around comes around, or at least that appears to be what the karmaesque collision suggests: taking the oddly perfect timing to coincide around Jane’s death and Walt’s role in it.
The ending of “ABQ” is perhaps the first time we see the unstoppable ripples of Walt’s decisions truly catch up to him and his family, but it will not be the last, as similar grim conclusions follow in his season 5A reign over the meth empire. Perhaps the universe of the show is trying to get something across this time too, much like the resurfacing painting in 5.08, that karma strikes back as predictably and precisely as explosive reactions would.
The all-seeing eye of Walt’s karmaesque wonderland ominously floats in the pool, perhaps whispering to Walt, “Look at me!” in 3.01, that is, imagining if the show stepped into the surreal domain. Of course the eyeball doesn’t drift past the pool filter and stays to haunt Walt’s conscience.
” In simple terms, we just wanted a giant moment of showmanship to end the season. And what better way than to have a rain of fire coming down around our protagonist’s ears, sort of like the judgment of God? It seemed like a big showmanship moment, and to visualize, in one fell swoop, all the terrible grief that Walt has wrought upon his loved ones, and the community at large. “ ~ Vince Gilligan on the ABQ ending – Alan Sepinwall interview, 2009
The damage is irreversible. Did the disaster came out of the blue? Well, for one thing, yes it did, but one could argue that it was Walt’s greed which started it all. There was no solidly justified reason for Walt and Jesse to start over again when they’d defeated Tuco. But truly, what had changed? Maybe it was Walt’s newfound ambition that took charge and changed everything: expanding their business, leading to Combo getting caught in the war, to Jesse’s drug-fused mourning, devouring Jane in the process, causing Jesse to miss the deal of his life, then Walt holding on to Jesse’s share for the kid’s own good apparently, then greed transferring over to Jane as she blackmailed Walt, and him bringing the duffel bag-full of cash, and then out of fatherly care (?) coming back to talk some sense into his misguided son, Jesse, and well… [gasps for air]… you know the rest.
“Dad, it’s money.” The trail of greed is tightly captured on the shot of the belt on the money bag in one familiar image to the Breaking Bad fan: a bag-full of cash, and the indications it brings. The symbolism grew more striking in the shots of blood-stained bills in 2.07 and 2.10. In the karmaesque wonderland, will money earned on the misery of others bring you any salvation? Hell, no…and yes, at least it pays for your college (see 5.16)! But apart from that bonus, just consider the role Walt’s meth money (surpassing the originally planned 737 G in 2.01) play throughout the series: it incriminates Hank through medical bills, but then finally lures Heisenberg out into a trap in the final season. Perhaps Walt and Skyler should have discarded the enticing cube of blood money in the first place before it leading to their downfall. However, as Walt grows richer and more powerful, Jesse’s conscience is ever awake, causing him to slip in and out of addiction, perhaps a great metaphor for his spiritual suffering.
Walt’s kind of predestined downfall in ABQ is masterfully foreshadowed in typical Breaking Bad fashion as we are earlier introduced to a shot of Walt’s cell phone stashed in the toilet as it threatens to flush down the fragile fortress of lies he’s built all this time. Later on we see another indicative shot of the tank lid open reinforcing the phone element, until in the end, Skyler finally confronts Walt with his lies and all is lost (for now). The foreshadowing and payoff play similarly to Hank’s big moment of – mineral-(in)disposal – realization in 5.08 where we had earlier caught a glimpse of Leaves of Grass in the bathroom with Walt seemingly indifferent towards it.
Now why these two incriminating items appeared in the Whites’ bathroom of all places? Well, there’s the secrecy about the cell phone, but what about the Whitman book? Did part of Walt subconsciously want to be caught or rather recognized, much like the way he got Hank back on track in “Shotgun” (“This genius of yours, maybe he’s still out there.”)? Or was he so indifferent towards the book which could incriminate him and equally so desensitized to the darkness it held? And that being, Gale’s life that was taken to pave the path for his rule. From another point of view, this is the same bathroom in which we’ve seen Walt physically transform, and of course I’m referring to the chemo hair loss plus the nausea leading to the iconic badass bald n’ goatee look, plus the surgery scar we see in 4.06 and 5.08. The bathroom is perhaps the place where one is most vulnerable or rather exposed, and in Walt’s case bare before our eyes (literally!). It’s where he collapses due to exhaustion on a couple of occasions (1.02 and 5.10) and where his big secret is revealed to Hank. And of course let’s not forget about the other crucial bathroom in the series, at the clinic, where he pours his rage onto his reflection following the news of remission.
Havoc in heavens! Two planes and two worlds of Walter the family man and Heisenberg the drug lord collide, the debris of which rain over the pool of reflections, as lies are exposed to Skyler, and Walt can no longer completely leave work at work. “Hellfire rained down on my house!” (3.02) The consequences later go beyond Walt’s buried money stash in the final season; where in another set of episodic flashforwards we’re introduced to the remains of the White residence. Here we get glimpses of a similar hellish side of this business, particularly in the ruins where Jesse’s found, as Walt travels to the darkest pits of his karmaesque world symbolizing the damage he’s brought into it.
Is Walt to blame for manufacturing the purest meth on the market, possibly leading to such terrible sights as this place? Are these junkies the potential victims of the likes of Walt, or of their own weakness? Are they all basically, quite figuratively, Jesses caught in the middle? What disturbed the Karmaland gods to cast the seemingly random Wayfarer fire? In the end (5.16), the White residence becomes a faint reminder of its tragedy, looking much like the crack house here, fenced from the rest of the world. The reminder of the man who lost everything in To’hajiilee. Was the air collision a prelude to Heisenberg’s greater downfall?