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MailTribune.com
  • We're all Walter White now

    Mourning the end of "Breaking Bad," the best show on television
  • There are days — more of them lately than I care to admit — when I wake up and stare at the chemicals underneath my sink. A terrible thought crosses my mind.
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  • There are days — more of them lately than I care to admit — when I wake up and stare at the chemicals underneath my sink. A terrible thought crosses my mind.
    I wonder if I could mix any of this stuff together and sell it for a profit at Hawthorne Park?
    Of course, I never go so far as to dump Drano, oven cleaner, juice from a Swiffer towel and Palmolive green dish soap into a container, mix it, condense it into powder form and divvy it up in tiny bags for sale. This is not behavior I can endorse.
    But I can certainly understand it.
    Walter White, the lead in "Breaking Bad," which is by far the best show on television and has been for some time, has taught me a lot of things.
    Not the least of which is that sometimes you have only yourself to depend upon. Sure, we all have these individual units of people who collect into this artificial construct known as a "family," but in the end, it's only you and the universe. Which doesn't care about you, by the way.
    "Breaking Bad" continues cooking its final batch this Sunday. We have eight more episodes to see what becomes of this sympathetic, pathetic, awful and, ultimately, real character, Walter White.
    Does Walter meet his end at the hands of a Mexican mafia conglomerate whose ire he's raised with his business savvy and high-quality, blue crystal meth? Does Walter's damaged-goods partner in crime Jessie finally have his crisis of confidence and turn his mentor in to the police? Maybe the cancer that infected his body in the first season makes a return to bring Walter low, the cruelest of ironies? Perhaps Walter triumphs in the end and stakes his claim to a massive, deadly drug empire that was birthed by the sheer force of his will?
    Or, and this is the most troubling of all potential endings, does Walter simply continue his life as it is. A life spent tucked away in some white-washed Albuquerque suburb, moving about the squat ranch houses and cul-de-sacs, conducting his terrible business hidden just beneath the surface of what once passed for the American Dream.
    If you haven't seen "Breaking Bad," then you're missing out on the most trenchant American story of the moment. Walter White's story is our story in the face of a financial crisis that saw the bad guys, i.e. the Wall Street scum and the government puke who aided and abetted them, skate off into the gilded paradise they rigged for themselves, while the rest of us sat on the curb like roofied frat boys after a three-day bender wondering what the hell hit us.
    Walter did the right thing, as far as those things go. He got the education. He got the high school chemistry teaching job. He collected these individual units of people into said artificial construction under a ranch-house roof and provided food and shelter for them. He bought a cheesy Pontiac Aztec that drove him to and from work and to the grocery store on the weekends.
    And the next thing you know, Walter White is the head of a murderous meth empire.
    I don't believe these things are mutually exclusive.
    One of the best critiques of Walter White I've read comes from Chuck Klostermann, writing for the Grantland website. Klostermann denies the idea that White's brush with cancer skewered his personality toward the violent and self-serving. Klostermann argues, rightly so I believe, that these selfish, violent tendencies were always within White and that his cancer was the catalyst of a morbid form of self-discovery.
    The murderous meth king was the person Walter White always was, but he had to suppress it as he made a futile attempt at the American Dream.
    The problem for the audience, myself included, is that we find ourselves pulling for Mr. White to win in the end. I want him to supplant the Mexican mafia goons and carve out his kingdom throughout the Southwest. I want him to defeat the DEA, who have done little to stem the flow of meth and murder that reigns supreme in Mexico and is now flowing across the border into ranchhouse-choked suburbs of Albuquerque.
    But I also want justice to find Walter White. I want him to pay for the terrible things he's done to those in his orbit. I want him to suffer for all the misery he's sown in society with that high-quality meth he and Jessie cook in the travel trailer.
    However, I have no clue what justice for Walter White would look like. It can't come from the DEA because its proven so ineffective and might have exacerbated the societal issues that flow together to create Mexican mafias and Walter Whites. It can't come from Jessie or a member of his family killing him because that would see them acting in a way befitting a Walter White.
    I don't know what's going to happen to Walter White, the same way I don't know what's going to happen to all of us — the rest of us who were left on the curb after THEY acted out of destructive self-interest and stuck us with the bill.
    But for now, let's just hope those kitchen chemicals in every home across the country remain where they belong, under the sink. But for how long, I can't say.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-760-3888 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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