Norm MacDonald has been tweeting up a storm about the Breaking Bad finale this morning, specifically how he feels that the whole thing — what we all saw play out on our televisions — was a Walter White fantasy, a fantasy that starts in the snow-covered Volvo.
That said, while I still feel that the finale that aired on Sunday night was perfect, Norm’s tweeting got me to thinking about it, so much so that I decided to go back and watch the opening scene from that episode again, and now I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. (The episode is available for download on Amazon for $2.99 if any of you feel similarly inspired after reading this post.)
First, the tweets: Norm’s thoughts on the finale are scattered (imagine that) and interrupted by retweets and replies, but I’ve taken screengrabs of what I feel are the ones essential to making his point about this fantasy theory and embedded them below.
So here’s what I noticed when I, curiosity stoked by Norm’s tweeting, re-watched the opening scene earlier: at about a minute and a half in, there’s a shot where we see Walter in the process of trying to hotwire the car with a screwdriver he found in the glove compartment. In his somewhat frantic attempt to do this, he hurts his hand, and bellows “Ahhhhh!” in pain. Now, for this shot the camera is positioned down where the floorboard of the car would be, and after Walt hurts his hand he falls back into the seat and is briefly out of view of the camera. A couple of seconds later we see him again, with a camera shot focused on his face, and from that moment forward everything seems to go exactly as Walter White would want things to go, which, of course, makes me think there may be something to this theory. His “just get me home” prayer is immediately on its way to being answered as the cops leave without checking to see if one of the most wanted men in America is hiding in that car, a set of keys falls magically from the overhead visor, and the car starts without a hitch despite the fact that it’s apparently been sitting for a while in a freezing environment — and things continue to go swimmingly from there. In reality, this theory holds that Walt either died in that car or the cops found him there and arrested him (or killed him). What we see is how Walt’s sick mind hoped things would go if everything went according to plan.
In her review of the finale for the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum posited a similar theory.
From my perspective, at least as I write, shortly after the finale aired, if this episode in fact took place in reality, it was troubling, and yes, disappointing, if only because the story ended by confirming Walt’s most grandiose notions: that he is, in fact, all-powerful, the smartest guy in the room, the one who knocks. Anyone other than Walt becomes a mere reflection of this journey to redemption. (With the exception of Jesse, who had the most mysterious scene: a poetic fugue of his own, in which he created what felt like a small coffin.*) It’s not that Walt needed to suffer, necessarily, for the show’s finale to be challenging, or original, or meaningful: but Walt succeeded with so little true friction—maintaining his legend, reconciling with family, avenging Hank, freeing Jesse, all genuine evil off-loaded onto other, badder bad guys—that it felt quite unlike the destabilizing series that I’d been watching for years. If, instead, we were watching Walt’s compensatory fantasy, it was a fascinating glimpse into the man’s mind—akin to the one in the movie “Mulholland Drive,” a poignant, tragic attempt to fix a life that is unfixable.
Something to think about, I guess. I dare you to watch the opening scene again and not be at least somewhat taken by the possibilities here.