Spoilers for Breaking Bad
Walter White lost control of his life a long time ago when he had to compromise between keeping his job at a potentially multi-billion dollar company or providing for his new family with what little money he could salvage from selling his shares. From then on, he continued to settle and give away bits of himself until there was nothing left. He eventually finds an outlet after going on a ride along with his DEA agent brother-in-law (Hank) and serendipitously running into one of his old students, Jesse Pinkman, narrowly escaping a major drug bust. Walt uses his newfound connection in Jesse to begin a meth operation: Hank provided the matches, Jesse provided the gasoline, and Walt made a fire.
But what does it all mean? Was there a higher purpose behind Walt’s reuniting with his once troublesome student? Or seeing the amount of money people in the drug trade make? One of the most overlooked themes of the show is the role destiny and fate play in the increasingly bizarre world Walt and co. find themselves in. At several points throughout the series, many of the major players wonder (or subtly allude to) the idea that everything they’re doing might be for a reason. Jesse’s grief over killing Gale manifests itself in his wondering whether or not there’s a purpose to life if there’s no justice. Skyler anonymously grants Ted the exact amount of money he’s indebted to the IRS, leading him to completely misinterpret the “sign” and go on a needles spending spree. During the episode “The Fly,” the series’ focal point, Walt recounts the story of how he’d met Jane’s father in a chance encounter at a bar. The chemist and rationally inclined Walt has to gaze in awe at the astronomical improbability of such an occurrence–and even then so close to Jane’s inevitable demise. Jesse discounts it as a coincidence, but he isn’t privy to the same information the audience is: that Walt was directly responsible for Jane’s death.
Characters playing God runs prominently through this theme as well, creating a suspicious or frustrated reaction from the cast when they feel the results of their actions appear to be too manufactured. Skyler has to snap some sense into Ted by explaining she is the “guardian angel” he’d originally attributed to his imaginary aunt. When Ted refuses to see reason, the problem sorts itself out in the darkly comic scene where Huell and Kuby come to force Ted to do the right thing, and in trying to escape, paralyzes himself from the neck down. On the other side of the same coin, Jesse’s world unravels when he realizes he’ll never be held accountable for the terrible things he’s done, prompting him to throw all his blood-money out of his car before crashing into a park. By the time Walt admits to Jesse that he’s the reason Jane died, it’s all Jesse can take–he slumps, defeated in the knowledge that nothing matters because Heisenberg already controls the fates of everyone around him. Tempting as this idea may seem, the episode “Ozymandias” shows just how mortal and vulnerable Walt truly is as he’s confronted not only by death, but his own powerlessness and inability to protect the ones he loves. The episode ends with the great Heisenberg driving off into the sunset on the precipice of a soul searching journey. Relieved of the responsibilities tying him to his old life, Walt eventually ends this period of deep reflection with a higher understanding of what he has to do.
The series’ last episode, “Felina,” begins with a tense scene of Walt almost getting caught by the police in the front seat of a stolen car. “Just get me home…” he begs to an unseen higher power, “just get me home and I’ll do the rest.” The sirens pass; Walt’s prayer is answered. He punches the roof and the excess snow falls off as “El Paso,” (the only cassette in the car) plays, telegraphing his quest over the next few weeks. Everything, from the song to the police going by to the look on Walt’s face, has an air of pointed direction. Even during his encounters with the Schwartzes, his wife, and various other parties innocent and guilty, he acts almost as if possessed by some force greater than him. Walt’s dry monotone and barely concealed rage mixed with weary resignation could be chalked up to his time in isolation, but I believe it shows a passiveness that comes only to the truly wise: things will happen as they may, and Walt is simply an avatar of cosmic justice, setting things into motion the way they ought to and tying up any and all loose ends. He even gave Jesse the opportunity to enact the revenge he so desperately craved, allowing Jesse the freedom to choose his independence rather than simply handing it to him. Walt acts with purpose, and it’s left to the audience to wonder if something really is guiding him. In the wake of so much violence and destruction Walt ends the series with a look of contentment, departing this world with an enlightened understanding that he’d finally fulfilled his mission.