I haven’t had a chance to discuss Breaking Bad since the season ended a couple of weeks back. I had intended to do a follow-up podcast with Joey Bland, but happy life circumstances intervened on his end. I’m sure we’ll get to it down the road, but, for now, I have a theory that’s been simmering in the ol’ mental skillet for a while. And, really, any blog worth its virtual salt must include at least some unsolicited wild speculation on a critically-acclaimed television show, right? Here goes . . .
Season Five’s debut episode, “Live Free or Die,” began with a scene that takes place at some (then-)indeterminate point in the future. It is apparently Walt’s 52nd birthday, although that isn’t entirely certain, given that he is traveling incognito and with a false identity (including a forged driver’s license). Walt completes a transaction, through which he obtains a powerful M60 machine gun left in the trunk of a car at the restaurant / meeting place.
At one point during the scene, the gaunt-looking, disheveled Walt coughs a couple of times, removes a large bottle of pills from his person, and proceeds to take some. The obvious implication is that his cancer has returned, and the medication is something he’s taking to battle the effects of the deadly affliction while apparently on the run from his to-be-determined enemies. This would be consistent with the assumption that I’ve tossed out previously that Walt, in fact, has come out of remission, but has not informed his family or anyone else of that fact.
But what if what appears to be happening in that scene isn’t what’s happening at all?
After contemplating the season a great deal, and trying to connect the dots that will lead viewers to the point in the story arc at which we reach that scene on Walt’s 52nd birthday. While he may be suffering from cancer, I don’t think that’s the most pressing health problem Walt faces as he rearranges his bacon slices into a “52” configuration.
I think he’s dying from ricin poisoning.
Consider that ricin, and the idea of using it to kill someone, has been a recurring theme throughout the run of the series. To wit:
- In Season Two, Walt and Jesse hatch a scheme to eliminate Tuco by poisoning him with ricin. This fails.
- In Season Four, Walt convinces Jesse to try to use ricin to kill Gus Fring. Despite a couple of possible openings to put this plan into motion, Jesse never makes a direct attempt to do so, and the plan fails.
- Later in Season Four, Walt tricks Jesse into believing that Brock (the son of Jesse’s then-girlfriend) has been poisoned by Gus using ricin. It turns out that Walt poisoned Brock, but using non-lethal Lilly of the Valley. Once again, no one falls victim to deadly ricin poisoning.
- There’s also a lot of after-the-fact discussion about the ricin / Brock incident, including the revelation that Saul was in on the plot. Jesse also beats himself up over the fact that he can’t find his ricin-laced cigarette, which Walt remedies by planting it in Jesse’s house.
- Finally, in the Season Five finale, Walt meets with Lydia with the intention of getting rid of her just as he had all of Mike’s men, except, rather than using brutal prison murders to take her out, he brings ricin with him to the meeting. However, Lydia’s attractive business proposal causes Walt to reconsider her usefulness, and so he declines to poison her. He still keeps the ricin, however, and the show goes to the trouble of showing us that he carefully stores it away behind an electrical outlet.
In case you lost count, that’s four separate instances of someone possibly being poisoned by ricin, none of which came to fruition.
As a result (and by the principle of Chekhov’s gun), I think it’s very likely that somebody is going to be poisoned via ricin in the final season of Breaking Bad. Could be Hank. Could be Jesse. Could be another one of Walt’s enemies (like whoever comes calling to avenge Gus—if that even happens). Yet, it seems most likely to me that the victim will be Walt himself.
I could envision a scenario in which Walt is poisoned by Jesse, possibly because Jesse discovers Walt didn’t save Jane, or, more likely, because he discovers that Walt is the one who poisoned Brock. Thinking turnabout is fair play, and realizing Walt broke rule numero uno (don’t mess with kids), Jesse poisons Walt. Yet, rather than just having Walt die under mysterious, flu- or heart-attack-like circumstances, Jesse will taunt Walt by revealing that he has been poisoned by Walt’s own toxin of choice (while probably working a “BITCH!” in there somewhere).
Even wilder would be the idea that Walt “ricins” himself—perhaps as a means of avoiding the most painful, final days of his battle with cancer.
And, so, the pills we see Walt taking aren’t a cancer drug, but are, in fact, some kind of agent used to slow (but not stop) the inevitable effects of the ricin, ostensibly to give Walt just enough time to exact his revenge or otherwise tie up some loose ends.
There are a couple of other interesting tidbits to consider about ricin. First, this season had more than a few references to Scarface. Note that Tony Montana’s downfall coincides with his use of a white power (obviously recreational cocaine in his case) and climaxes when he wields a powerful firearm. This is just a “cute” parallel, but it’s one that the skilled writers of this show might be tempted to employ.
Secondly, ricin has also been a substance of great interest in . . . cancer research. It’s been proposed as a possible wonder drug to destroy cancerous cells. Ricin is actually not particularly fatal when merely ingested, but it’s extremely deadly when inhaled or injected. An interesting twist or coda to the end of the show would be Walt surviving ricin poisoning, while, at the same time, inhalation of the ricin inadvertently sent his cancer back into remission. A far-fetched theory, to be sure, but one that occurred to me as I thought about the ricin aspect.
If Walt doesn’t survive the series, I would imagine the final scene would be Walt killing Jesse, then dying almost immediately, or preparing to kill Jesse, but keeling over (possibly after a last-second change of heart about his former partner) before he can pull the trigger. As Joey and I talked about before, it seems like either Jesse kills Walt, cancer kills Walt, or no one kills Walt. That still appears to be a fairly safe bet. The ricin scenario fits that supposition nicely.
All of this could precede a coda along the lines of what Joey proposed in our original podcast, wherein we get a flashback to Jesse being in Mr. White’s class, and Mr. White trying to impart some wisdom to Jesse—wisdom that falls on deaf ears at the time, but which carries a double-meaning that snaps into focus as the series takes its final bow.
Or, all of that could be a red herring, and it could purely be the cancer. Whichever. See you next year, fans!!!