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Is death too good for Walter White?
As AMC's "Breaking Bad" begins its final eight episodes Sunday, the fate of its main bad boy remains a matter of fanciful conjecture. Neither the series creator, Vince Gilligan, nor Bryan Cranston -- who brilliantly plays Walter -- are giving up anything.
We have always been fascinated with reprobates, rouges, tyrants and gangsters, but our attraction to the terminally ill chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin has been something of a puzzlement. In a way, misfortune for the mild-mannered guy with glasses has unleashed his inner Scarface.
A little background: Knowing he was going to die and with no money to pay his mounting medical bills or leave to his family, Walter used the one talent he had -- chemistry -- to make his illegal fortune. His life in the drug trade, however, has turned him into a very nasty man, and not simply because he deals with nasty men.
Murder has become a common solution to a problem for Walter, and he has no compunctions about putting out a deadly drug into the world. Meanwhile, his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), has grown fearful and trapped by his evil life. Oddly, some fans see her as the bad guy (shrew?) for trying to hold Walter back.
During a recent Television Critics Association panel, Gilligan acknowledged that even he has trouble understanding Walter's particular "road to hell," even if it was originally paved with good intentions.
"I don't know whether it changed him or whether it revealed things that were already within him," Gilligan says. "The longer we did this show, the more I subscribed to the latter argument."
One of the reasons Walter has managed to appear somewhat sympathetic
No kidding. So messy that it's hard to think of the character as very human anymore. Like Scarface, he's enamored with what he does. Once a brilliant chemist, Walter ended up as a teacher after being cheated by some business partners, so resentment simmered in him for years before he turned to crime. Perhaps fans of the show identify with that resentment in some way, but that was four seasons ago and doesn't excuse all his choices. As his cancer has gone into remission, Walter has continued to spiral into a corrupt abyss.
Great television, but should there be some sort of a moral to the story? What should Walter's fate be?
Walk away? Live happily ever after? Become a hermit in the desert? Should there be some existential moment, like at the end of "The Sopranos," where everyone wonders what will happen to Walter?
Should he die? And if so, how? In a shootout? Poisoned by Skyler? Ravaged by the return of cancer? Or with some sort of comic irony, tripping over an untied shoelace like a clown and smashing into his meth-making equipment?
Gilligan has already made his choice, but struggled with the problem for six years.
"I am very proud of the ending. I can't wait for everyone to see it," he says. "But I am very cautious in my estimation of how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimate, but I think most folks are going to dig the ending."
Right after "Breaking Bad," AMC will introduce a new series, "Low Winter Sun," set in the crumbling city of Detroit. It stars Mark Strong and Lennie James as the detectives who kill a dirty cop. Immediately after, an internal affairs agent begins an investigation, putting them under pressure.
Atmospheric, with strong performances -- pun intended -- and even some humor woven in, "Low Winter Sun" is a welcome companion to "Breaking Bad." So if all bad things must end, at least something good is beginning.