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Monday, August 12, 2013

Breaking Bad: Who's the ricin for?

Sunday's premier of Breaking Bad was all-around excellent. A+, A+, A+. But rather than discuss the various merits (Star Trek!) and shocker moments of the episode this week, let's get a little more specific. Let's talk about the ricin, a.k.a. Chekhov's gun. WARNING: The below contains major spoilers for the episode. 

One of Breaking Bad's bolder choices has been its use of flash-forwards, a la Lost. In this episode's flash-forward, we see Walt return to his now-abandoned home. He has hair on his head (indicating either the cancer is in remission, or that he's given up on treatments), he's alone, and he's frantic. The word "Heisenberg" is spray-painted on his living room wall, and his neighbor drops her bag of groceries, in shock, when she sees him. 

All of this points to the fact that Walt's identity has been exposed in the near future, which we already had an inkling of in the season 5 opener flash-forward, in which Walt is using a fake ID and storing up weapons. By the end of the flash-forward, we see Walt retrieve the ricin cigarette he's hidden in an electrical outlet. 

And so now we have the murder weapon: once it shows up, it has to be used. But who's it for? Walt's identity is revealed and he's got plenty of guns, which suggests he intends to poison someone who doesn't expect harm. Here are some theories/predictions/speculation: 



1. Hank - This one is an obvious guess on the surface, but has problems. Firstly, Walt's confrontation with Hank came way earlier than we suspected. By this episode's close, Walt has already threatened Hank, cautioning him to "tread lightly." It's not far-fetched to think he'd hurt Hank, but it's hard to imagine their relationship is good enough at this point for Walt to casually slip Hank poison. And as Walt's identity as Heisenberg already seems to be known at this point, he wouldn't have cause to go after Hank. 

2. Jessie - Walt's been manipulating Jessie for a long time, and the use of ricin suggests he intends to manipulate someone into their death rather than using brute force. At this point Walt is on the run from the authorities, which means either 1) Jessie is also on the run, or 2) Jessie is the reason Walt is on the run, and has confessed to their crimes out of guilt. If the latter, poisoning Jessie may be a good way of either punishing the betrayal or removing someone who can testify against his family (presumably Walt is too far gone to save, but Jessie does have knowledge of Skyler's involvement, which Walt may want to silence). 

3. Skyler - I can't find a motive here, but Breaking Bad seems to be slowly and steadily building up Skyler, and it wouldn't surprise me if Walt's ultimate transformation into "bad" was completed via a betrayal from his wife, pitting the two against one another. Walt's original motive for cooking meth (providing for his family) has long vanished, replaced by a less easily-satiated desire to conquer. Walt seems to have settled back into the role of a family man in this episode, but he does so clumsily and unconvincingly - as awkward as Walt was at playing the "bad guy" in season 1, he is now just as awkward at being a good guy. If the "bad" version of Walt wins out, protecting his family may no longer be a concern.

I dislike this theory for a few reasons. Most importantly, I believe by the time this flash-forward transpires, Skyler will already be dead. In an interesting discussion here, it's mentioned that Walt picks up little habits of the people he's killed, like cutting off his sandwich crusts (Crazy 8), brewing coffee with lab equipment (Gale), and driving a Volvo (Gus). In the first flash-forward of season 5, we see Walt arranging his bacon into the shape of his age, like Skyler did for him the year before. This may be an overanalysis, but it's a clever observation. 

4. Himself - Which leads me to my final and favorite theory: the ricin is for himself. Walter White is most likely going to die by the time this show ends. Why not by his own hands? The poison would give him 3-5 days to carry out whatever final acts he has planned, and could mimic a natural death from his cancer.

What do we think? Any other theories? 
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