Walter White lived a life defined by neutral colored clothing and teaching basic chemistry to a classroom of students that didn’t give a damn about what he had to say and could never understand what he wanted to say, but this is the place where Mr. White summarized Breaking Bad and gave his most important lesson:
"It is growth, then decay, then transformation."
Walt was growing from the first moment he was on screen, in his undies, recording a message for his family. Growing into a second life — a split personality — he could never imagine would become the infamous man named Heisenberg. International meth dealer, murderer of DEA agents, destroyer of families.
He grew, and he grew, and he grew — oh, how far Walter and Heisenberg took one another. The cancer had gone into remission and he amassed $80 million worth of greenbacks. A mound of money that Skyler White had “no earthly idea” how to quantify and Huell turned into a day-bed. No matter how uncomfortable those hard, tightly packed stacks of money felt against his back it was a thrill he couldn’t shy away from.
That stiff bed provided more satisfaction to Huell than it ever has, and possibly ever will, to the traumatic duo of Walt and Heisenberg.
The two peaked — they reached their goal and had nothing left to achieve. His money was made — the era of Mr. Blue Sky had come to an end. From using Badger, Skinny Pete and Combo as drug peddlers on enemy corners to Lydia blowing Europe’s hair back, they did it. Mr. White was back in control, Heisenberg could go into hibernation.
He climbed to the top of the mountain and became the world’s finest meth cook. An achievement he could never lay claim to as Walter White but his buddy Heisenberg could hang his pork pie hat on. The growth had stopped, there was nothing left to wait for but decay.
Five-and-a-half seasons of Breaking Bad have been about the growth of a meth
business empire. The decay has come swift and without mercy for both Walter and Heisenberg over the final half-act of the series. The calculated professor of destruction finally began losing.
Heisenberg lost his partner in Jesse Pinkman, his empire to neo-Nazis and wide-eyed student of Mr. Heisenberg in Todd, and what had kept him alive this long — his fast-acting, problem-solving brain — to the emotions of Walter White.
Walter lost his only confidant and pseudo-son in Jesse, his brother-in-law and justification that Heisenberg’s an ay-ok kind of guy to associate with so long as family wasn’t hurt, and then lost the fruits of his labor. Seven barrels of Walter White’s money taken away. Seven plaques commemorating Heisenberg’s ultimate accomplishment of creating an empire stripped.
The money mattered to Walt because he wanted to provide for his family. The money mattered to Heisenberg because it was proof of his power.
Then, Walter lost what he had always claimed to be fighting for — his family. Skyler, Flynn and Holly White were gone. All that was left for Walt was to run. He was hiding Heisenberg, a monster that left ASAC Schrader missing his days of tagging trees, and everybody knew.
Heisenberg was Walter. Walter was Heisenberg. They lost it all when their worlds collided. The cancer was back, but the decay wasn’t complete. Out of a travelling propane truck and into New Hampshire, the two had emerged from the womb the Vacuum-guy provided as one. Blinded by the light of a new, fabricated life surrounded by pure white snow. Nothing left but to sit and rot in a cabin while anxiously waiting to read month-old newspapers and find his vein for chemotherapy.
Finally, Walter’s desperation built enough strength for one last hail mary out. He would ship his little bundles of justification to Walt Jr. like a box of “I’m sorry” chocolates to the family he left behind. Maybe if he could find a way to still provide money to his family there’d be reason to try and fight the decay. His finger too small to wear his wedding band, his connection to life costing $10,000 an hour, his pork pie hat hanging like a trophy of past glories that could never be relived. Buried in the secrets held in the desert with Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez.
Walter found out what we knew — money could never bridge the distance between Albuquerque and the horrible deeds that forced him to become Mr. Lambert. It was over. The mighty Heisenberg reduced to giving up to the DEA for the second time in the span of three episodes after fighting and manipulating for survival through five-and-a-half seasons.
Walter turned himself in again and sat at the bar, waiting for the handcuffs to be slapped on his wrist once again. No last meal, but one last drink. The fire that had propelled him to become an internationally recognized drug kingpin was but smoldering wreckage. He reached the rock bottom of his life while Jesse sat handcuffed at the bottom of a pit. Both helpless to the circumstances around them, broken and given up.
The decay was complete.
There they were. Gretchen and Elliot. Belittling Walter White’s achievements for the world to hear. The name? That’s all Walter White contributed to Grey Matter?
The transformation began. You could see it boiling in Walter’s face. Whistling like Gale Boetticher’s boiling tea kettle, bubbling like a beaker during a chemical reaction. The way he squeezed the life out of an already-lifeless napkin. The fire was re-lit, only needing a spark to ignite the rubble.
Walter White underwent a transformation as police surrounded the dingy bar. The final progression in this story. Whatever it is that returns to New Mexico won’t be the frantic, helpless man trapped in a downward spiral we witnessed through the final episodes. That man is gone, left behind on the empty stool and half-empty glass.
Grey mattered after all.