(Spoilers for Breaking Bad, so go watch the whole series if that still counts as spoilers for you.)
Great TV — great TV finales especially — will open up plenty of discussion and interpretation well after the credits roll. While some divisive finales may deserve second chances, Breaking Bad nailed it with its series closer. Walter White ensured that his ill-gotten money would actually do some good, finally confessed that he broke bad for no one other than himself, took care of the lingering baddies, and had a cathartic and sacrificial death. And it all went off without a hitch!
But does that sound a little too good to be true? Pretty much right after the episode aired three years ago, some fans cooked up a theory: What if nearly the entire finale was the fantasy of a dying Heisenberg?
Over the series’ six seasons, Walt is always moving “one step forward and two steps back,” with almost all of his brilliant plans inevitably causing larger consequences. Breaking Bad teaches us that there are no perfect solutions, so why would it stop with the finale? Every play Walt makes in that episode is pulled off flawlessly. He’s the most wanted man in America, and yet he drives across country in a stolen car, moves around his hometown, and visits his wife without a hitch. Walt poisons the right Stevia packet to take out Lydia and kills all the Nazis in one enclosed room with his machine-gun trunk. He frees an imprisoned Jesse, thereby relieving a little more of his guilt and allowing him to die a somewhat heroic death.
The theory suggests that all these perfect moves take place in Walt’s mind. At the beginning of the episode, he’s surrounded by cops in a snow-blanketed car, and that’s where the fantasy starts. Walt envisions an ending that would befit the great Heisenberg, one without a messy arrest or a labored death from cancer. It’s an interesting theory that makes a lot of sense, even if creator Vince Gillian debunked it himself. But that’s the beauty of a good finale: It’s left up to the viewer’s interpretation. And who doesn’t like contemplating one of the best shows of all time years after its ending?