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Can Walter White Give Us Closure?


Hey, tonight, if you need to reach me about between 9 and 10 P.M., don't even try. The phone will be off, email will go unchecked, doorbell ignored because tonight marks the end of Walter White's saga. He's the high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin on AMC's "Breaking Bad." And it is the last chance to see the moral equivocation Walt has mastered.


BRYAN LEE CRANSTON: (as Walter White) What I do, I do for my family. My money goes to my children, not just this barrel - all of it. I'm going to take back what is mine and give it to my children and then, and only then, am I through.

MARTIN: OK. But for me, I am not through until Time magazine's James Poniewozik has posted his recap. He joined me for a kind of precap to his recap. And I asked him how this saga is like to end.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK: I think I'm looking more for a sense that his actions - everything that he's done over these years - have had some kind of consequences. And that he is somehow able to see them in a way beyond the sort of very narrowly, self-absorbed, self-justifying lens that he's used to do that.

I think that that is one of the great things that "Breaking Bad" has done over the years, which is that it's taken a really exciting crime story and sort of played around with the way it's told it. And really show you in a way that these kinds of stories don't always; the larger consequences that these actions have beyond just the central characters that you're following.

MARTIN: So the big question that's been waged in comment threads on a lot of different websites is Walter White, A, a good man who did bad things or, B, just a very, very bad man? So have you made up your mind? Where do you come down?

PONIEWOZIK: The way I see it is that Walter White is a man who has become very evil, who has done horrible things, who has, you know, maybe gone past the point of forgiveness. But he started at a point where he was much like a lot of us. You know, I think one of the amazing things about "Breaking Bad" is that, yeah, he became a meth kingpin and he killed and he had, you know, the sort of despicable talent to do a lot of kind of grandiosely terrible things.

But the elements of his personality that he drew on and that - you know, the bitterness, the contempt, the hubris, the sort of sense of entitlement - you see over the course of the series that he kind of had that in him before he ever got cancer; before he ever started selling drugs. And it does sort of raise the question that most of us might not ever become like him. And we might say no, even if we were in that situation. But it's not as if none of us has the potential to do bad things, to make compromises.

MARTIN: So, spoiler alert here, people, if you're watching "Breaking Bad" on your DVRs or on Netflix. Because at this point, the series - it's pretty dark. A lot of bad things have happened and Walter is kind of out there, and his family has kind of abandoned him. And Jesse, his accomplice, is in a really bad place. I personally am craving something positive to happen, but that might not be the most compelling or satisfying ending.

Can you give me one prediction, James, is that you are really betting on? What do you think is going to happen?

PONIEWOZIK: I'll tell you what I think, and nobody bet money on this. And it all kind of comes down to like, what do you define it as positive...


PONIEWOZIK: ...you know, in the framework of this show. I suspect that the writers are contriving some way for Walter to go out, in a sense that there's a sense that he is, you know, quote-unquote, "being punished," accepting the consequences for his crimes. But there is some kind of - and I don't even know exactly what it's going to be, he saves somebody, he turns himself in for somebody.

I suspect there'll be some level of self-sacrifice where, you know, at the core of his arrogant soul he finally realizes, you know, there's something here that's bigger than me and I have done wrong, and I owe the world some kind of compensation.

MARTIN: We'll see. A matter of hours now. James Poniewozik of Time magazine, thanks so much, James.

PONIEWOZIK: Oh, sure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.