Saturday, October 5, 2013

This Albuquerque Journal Obituary For ‘Breaking Bad’s Walter White Is Kind Of Amazing

More than you might expect for a show that portrayed it as a metropolis largely devoid of anything but meth cooks, neo-Nazis, Drug Enforcement Agency employees, and delicious, delicious chicken, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s gotten a great deal out of its association with Breaking Bad. So it’s perhaps not surprising that New Mexico resident David Layman organized fans of the AMC drama, which ended its run last weekend, to place a paid death notice for Walter White in the Albuquerque Journal:

Credit: Albuquerque Journal
Credit: Albuquerque Journal

The obituary itself is a revealing little artifact. It’s nice to see that it suggests donations to drug abuse prevention organizations, an echo of Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz’s major donation. While that gift may have been a way for Walt’s Gray Matter co-founders to distance themselves from his meth empire, it’s also an acknowledgement of the damage Walt’s work cooking extremely pure drugs did on a major scale. Breaking Bad had characters who were meth users, and whose bodies and minds displayed evidence of that damage in ways that weren’t as endearing as Badger and Skinny Pete’s Star Trek fantasies in early seasons, like Wendy, a prostitute Jesse tries to convince to help him commit a murder. But those characters receded from the shows in later seasons, as did any real consideration of the human cost of the expansion of Walt’s ambitions, beyond the murders he committed or directly inspired.

Exploring the lives of the people Walt’s drugs destroyed by keeping around a character like Bubbles from The Wire would have required Breaking Bad to be a much bigger show than it ever really was. And its aperture narrowed in subsequent season to focus tightly on Walt’s moral state and the condition of his family, with Jesse Pinkman as the lone adjunct to that circle. But part of Walt’s moral state is his ability not to think about what the meth he cooks is doing to the people who use it, to see his business as essentially contained to his lab in all its gleaming metal and immaculate glass, to focus on the purity of his product rather than the decay it produces in the human body. And given that Breaking Bad seemed determine to preserve at least some sense of audience sympathy for Walter White, it might have been too much to tally up his body count for real, to make us face up to someone who–unlike Jesse or Skyler–had committed no transgression other than to use Walt’s product, and who was destroyed as a result.

And as for the idea that Walter White “will be greatly missed,” that’s a complicated question. Even though “Felina” didn’t quite work for me, I can’t stop thinking about Skyler, about Flynn, and about Holly. I can imagine a version of events where Skyler and Flynn misses Walter White, who may have been gone from them for good once he went on that ride-along with Hank, even as they hate Heisenberg and the memories that are tainted by the knowledge of what he did, like that car Walt brought home for Flynn. I can see Gretchen regretting the loss of the man she once loved, and Holly the father she never got to know, the fact–if she ever learned it–that she became a pawn in her father’s last gasp at preserving his family. But as a fan, I’m satisfied for Walter White to be gone.

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