I kind of think it’s unfair to say Wilmer Flores was crying. The 24-year-old Mets middle infielder, after finding out he’d apparently been traded to Milwaukee, clearly had been crying. There’s the red eyes and all, the wiping his face with his sleeve. Between innings, he probably gave himself a minute in the clubhouse for the real sadness. But at this point, he was mostly just tearing up — the kind of thing you’d expect a literal kid to do after finding out the team that brought him to United States from Venezuela as a 16-year-old just to play baseball had decided to ship him off.

Imagine if you had just been fired from the only job you’d ever had (in a foreign country, surrounded by people who speak a hard language you’ve only just learned) … and then had to go right back out there and play shortstop on television.


This was July 29. Immediately after the game ended, the Mets announced the deal had fallen through and Flores would not be traded after all. Hilarity ensued on Twitter. Hot takes were spewed left and right. A narrative quickly developed: The heartless Mets not only publicly embarrassed a young player but also failed to put him out of his misery. The next day, he’d have to put the uniform back on of the team who, for three hours or so, no longer wanted him.

You probably know the rest of this story. Two nights later, in a crucial game against the first-place Washington Nationals, Flores stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th, the game tied 1-1. What happened next literally would have been too far-fetched for a movie script: The same guy who had been crying on SportsCenter 48 hours earlier slugged a game-winning home run. The Mets, after struggling to stay afloat most of the year, went 35-17 over the next two months before clinching a division championship (just their second since 1988) on Sept. 26. It’s been a once-in-a-generation sort of roller coaster season and it has an absurdly obvious turning point.

Wilmer Flores is not a great baseball player. Right now, he’s probably barely a decent baseball player. He’s not even the best-hitting shortstop on his own team. I’ve always loved the poem “Casey At the Bat” and I cite it often when superstars fail to come through in high-leverage situations. It’s kinda my emotional ace in the hole during incessant debates about “clutch” in sports. Casey, of course, strikes out as the winning run (which seems, uh, familiar). The powerful, fearsome, robotic, arrogant Casey fails in the critical moment. In all these senses, Wilmer that night was the anti-Casey.

Fan affection is a tricky thing. Matt Harvey went from hero to villain because his agent said something dumb and Matt didn’t deny it quite as firmly as he maybe should have. Mets fans were indignant in 2007 when Tom Glavine, after giving up seven runs in the first inning of the final, crucial game of the season, said he wasn’t “devastated.”

As a general trend, we fans think players ought to care more than they do. They want to win, of course, but they don’t feel the same kind of loyalty to one team that fans do. Nor should they — players regularly get traded, cut, designated for assignment, and cast aside after they get hurt. It’s a business for the team; so should it be for the players. They’re expected to handle all adversity with the same professionalism we do for our employers. Honestly, it shouldn’t bother us so much when pro athletes put in good, honest labor during the season, collect their paycheck, and move on with their lives. Lord knows I wouldn’t like it if thousands of people reviled my personal character because I had a bad day at my job.

Of course, that doesn’t make our experience any easier. Fandom means perpetual disappointment. If one judges success as winning a championship, even enormously successful organizations like the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Lakers fail a whole lot more often than they succeed. Being a fan of a moribund franchise like the Mets teaches you to handle winning with temperance and reservation at best — at worst, it teaches you abject pessimism and causes you to tweet that your team is “embarrassing” after losing a meaningless game mere days after clinching a division championship for the sixth time ever.

Fans can be silly. We take this whole sports thing way too seriously. We use words like “painful” and “heartbreaking” after a ball doesn’t roll the direction we wanted it to, and we expect a bunch of guys whose actual livelihood depends on their performance and who can get cast aside the moment they’re no longer excellent to care about team loyalty as much as we do.

But then there are Moments. Times that transcend the normal, mundane onward progression that typifies baseball and for once surpass the artificial narratives we readily ascribe. Players who seem to care about our team as much as we do.

There’s Mike Piazza — who had an equally successful career in Los Angeles but now only tweets about the Mets — in the first game in New York after 9/11 swatting a ball so high and so far we still watch it 14 years later because sometimes life sucks so bad that baseball is exactly the right kind of distraction. There’s Johan Santana, throwing pitch after pitch after pitch until his arm maybe literally falls off, just to secure a milestone that has happened 293 times and our rational selves tell us shouldn’t matter THAT much but oh man, does it ever.

And there’s Wilmer Flores. Yeah, he hit an important home run; lots of guys do. The part I watch over and over is how, after rounding third, Flores grabs the part of his jersey that says “METS.”


He cared.

The early church and sexual ethics

I don’t care how bad you think our modern culture is, let me assure you: It’s nothing like first-century Rome. What we call “pornography,” people of Rome simply called “life.” For instance, it wasn’t uncommon to have pictures of men having sex with boys painted on water pitchers served at the dinner table. “And in Zeus’s name we pray, Amen…please pass the water, mom.” If I went into detail about the sexual practices of ancient Rome, and the frankness in which they talked about it, the parental block on your household internet would prevent you from reading this blog. What I’ve seen in the Roman world would make Miley look like a nun swinging from a wrecking ball and Lady Gaga a priest…or a nun (minus the wrecking ball).  However you slice it, our kids are much, much safer today than they would have been going to school in the first-century. I can only imagine how weird the early Church must have been viewed. Like an Amish community living in downtown Vegas.

Preston Sprinkle, “Homosexuality in Ancient Rome & Why it Matters.”

The Gospels and the gospel

The Gospels clearly present Jesus’s life and teaching as focusing on the coming reign of God inaugurated and opened by his sin-forgiving sacrificial death and his death-defeating resurrection. As documents that present history as consummated in him, the Gospels help us see that to present the “good news” to people means providing an understanding of God’s whole in world in the world as completed in Jesus the Christ. “The gospel” is not just a message about the forgiveness of sins but rather a whole worldview. Thus, while it is certainly not wrong to think of the gospel in terms of God-man-Christ-response, it is better to conceptualize the present it in salvation-historical categories of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. The Gospels certainly help us see this broader perspective.

Reading the Gospels Wisely, JTP, p. 255. This seems to have implications for theodicy, too. Christians can’t really point to a “God-man-Christ-response” gospel to answer questions about the goodness of God in light of suffering and injustice in the world. It’s just too small. But a more robust gospel helps us understand that God is working through Jesus Christ to remake the world: proclaiming “liberty for the prisoners, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). God is dealing with sin on a cosmic level, not just sins on a personal level. It certainly includes that guilt/righteousness dynamic, but it goes further than that. It has more expansive effects. Or, perhaps it’s better to say the reverse: his cosmic plan to showcase Jesus by fixing the world includes personal effects (cf. Eph 1:11-14).

Stop it, J.K. Rowling

I’m too young to hate the Star Wars: Special Editions. When they were released in 1997, I was eight years old and pretty much just excited to see Star Wars in the theater. I was also pretty excited to see all the bits of “new Star Wars” — not only scenes that were digitally touched-up and “improved” with CGI but also the insertion of entirely new scenes. The films — particularly A New Hope — were extensively revised after-the-fact. Lots of smart guys have comprehensively detailed all the changes to the classic films, offering their criticism.


This is mostly fine. I love the Star Wars movies and think that if anything can be done to preserve the watchability of the films for future generations, it should be done. CGI enhancements make Star Wars feel newer than it actually is. You are welcome to decide for yourself whether you like this fact or not. I do. If I ever have children (God help them), I want them to watch Star Wars and enjoy it, not roll their eyes at how dated everything looks like me and my siblings did when our dad made us watch The Last Starfighter.

But not all of the changes were aesthetic improvements. There were plenty of narrative changes too. One of the issues that comes up among SW nerds is the problem of “retconning,” or changing established elements to improve continuity. The way George Lucas did this was usually appalling: replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christiansen looking all kinds of creepy, changing Boba Fett’s voice from the great Jason Wingreen to the lamentable guy from the prequel films, and of course the “Han Shot First.”

While I would argue these changes were not really necessary, the main problem is philosophical: Collectively, we remember certain things. Changing those things thirty years later doesn’t fool anyone. Each change fails to improve the viewing experience for old and new fans alike.


The thing I keep coming back to about the altered Greedo/Han scene is that — unlike some of the above changes — it wasn’t necessary for chronological continuity. For Lucas, it was necessary for character continuity. George had an idea in mind of what he wanted Han Solo to be. This is fine, of course. As the creator, Lucas has the authority to render his characters however he would like. If he wants Han to be a scoundrel, he should be a scoundrel. If he wants Han to be a good guy, he should be a good guy. Lucas apparently thought Han shouldn’t be a cold-blooded killer, so he had him shoot Greedo only in self-defense.

The problem with the change, though (and I’m hardly the first to note this), is that it conflates the character Han ended up being (the guy who sacrificially cares about his friends) with the character he was at the beginning (the guy who only cares for his own interests). There’s an undeniable character progression in the original version: he’s a selfish scoundrel, then a hero. In the “Special Edition,” he is a man with standards. Lucas actually flattened Han Solo into a less dynamic and less compelling character.

This discussion has bounced around the internet for years. I only bring it up now because of a concerning trajectory in another popular SF/Fantasy series:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling says in the interview. “For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.” (CNN)

“Today I would just like to say: I’m really sorry about Fred. *Bows head in acceptance of your reasonable ire*” (Independent)

Now, to be fair, in neither instance does Rowling actually say she is going to change her work. That’s probably a lot more difficult in literature than film anyway. Neither does she says she wishes she could change it.

But her line of reasoning in both cases is just wrong and a little alarming for those of us with SW PTSD. It just isn’t necessary.

I remember going to the theater as an eight-year-old and my mom telling me that the changes to the Star Wars films in their special editions only added, and didn’t remove, material. “They put new scenes in,” she said, “but didn’t take anything away.”

Now let me ask: was that really true?



I’ve long felt like there’s been an essay about coffee in me, but I’ve never actually tried to write it. I want to write about how my own coffee ritual, while shared with several fellow coffee nerds, is nothing like the broader American coffee experience. I love the process of guiding an oddly-colored, unpleasant-smelling bean from its humble origin to a rich, explosively flavorful cup of coffee. It feels like magic every time.

Most Americans do not drink their coffee this way. Coffee to them is merely fuel, a precise dosage of energy designed to keep them busy, readily available at various recharging stations from Speedway to Starbucks, easily altered by cream/sugar/caramel/chocolate/all manner of non-coffee things that artificially mask the coffee’s charred bitterness, like that lady you met one time who thought spearmint gum would cover her cigarette breath. So when people ask me why I bother roasting (or grinding immediately before brewing, or using a French Press, or storing my coffee in mason jar instead of a plastic coffee can), I usually tell them that I like coffee, not just caffeine.

So yeah, I want to write that, but this post is not going to be that attempt. Maybe someday. I am reading a book, however — Home Coffee Roasting: Romance and Revival by Kenneth Davids, and this paragraph says something approaching that idea:

By the mid-twentieth century, Americans thought of ‘coffee’ as granulated brown stuff that came from a can rather than the dried seeds of a tree requiring only a few relatively simple procedures to transform it into a beverage. As happened in the twentieth century with so many other foods and manufacturers, the actual facts about coffee’s origin (it consists of vegetable matter that has been dried, roasted, and ground by human beings) were replaced by market-driven substitute facts (coffee is brown granules produced by the complex machinery of an all-knowing corporation).

Now here comes the part where I expand an isolated comment I read into an Underlying Cultural Problem, because that’s what bloggers do. So:

We all like getting things. That’s not an “American” feeling so much as a human feeling, but it’s probably more sharply felt in the States for a variety of reasons (opulence or greed or success or whatever). Point is, it’s not just that we like receiving, but that we like receiving as quickly and conveniently as possible — one of the various ways our coffee consciousness has been shaped by American commerce.

This is just as true for those of us who cook microwave dinners as for those who brew coffee in a Keurig. Or, closer to home for me, those who come across a difficult problem in the Scriptures and open their Study Bible or erudite commentary set to solve it, rather than digging into the biblical text themselves.

This is convicting: I don’t just like coffee, I love making coffee: I embrace the whole process from raw, inedible bean to robust, steaming French Press. Yeah it takes longer, but it’s worth it — not just because the coffee is better, but because I did it. Similarly, the biblical concepts I most treasure are ones I didn’t borrow from Piper, Grudem, Carson, or any other Bible type. Those are the ideas that actually make sense in my head and not in a stale, let-me-remember-this-guy’s-argument kind of way. I feel the truth as much as a know it. I can taste it.

Vince Gilligan is probably smarter than you

Hey: spoilers. If you haven’t watched the “Breaking Bad” finale yet, do yourself a favor and close this tab.

If you’ve seen the finale, first read these thoughtful criticisms by Emily Nussbaum and Ross Douthat. Essentially, the argument is sound: “Breaking Bad” built a word of justice and moral reckoning, only seeming to let Walt win in the end by bullying Gretchen and Elliot into giving the money to his family (against their will!) and having a series of deeply implausible things go just right (having keys fall out of the sun visor inexplicably, walking around Denny’s and his old house without getting caught despite being the most wanted man in New Mexico, the Nazi’s not checking his trunk before letting him inside, etc. etc.). This has led some to suggest that the entire last episode is the fantasy of a sick, dying man in a cancer coma, freezing to death in the stolen New Hampshire Volvo. In the fantasy, he floats about like a ghost, imagines he’s basically Mike Erhmentraut in his visit to Gretchen and Elliot, finally confesses his true motivation to his wife, gets to see his children one more time, kills his enemies, dies a hero (of sorts) in a meth superlab. It’s kind of convincing.

Then, read this piece by Alan Jacobs and Alistair Roberts’ brilliant explication in the comments. Here’s a part of it:

Walt, who started off the show denying the existence of a soul, comes to believe in a moral fate. In ‘Fly’, Walt ponders what would have been the perfect moment to quit cooking meth without facing the consequences of his actions. He suggests that it was that evening, before he went into the bar.

At the end of ‘Granite State’, for the second time, Walt enters into a bar alone. By now, Walt has come to the conclusion that the universe isn’t just random chance, but that moral reckoning must be made. The ‘prayer’ that he prays in the car at the beginning of the finale is plea bargaining with his imminent fate: if fate will permit him to act as its instrument, he can go out without the sacrifice of his pride. When we consider the power that moral fate has already demonstrated in Breaking Bad’s universe and to Walt himself, I don’t think that it is a stretch to believe that Walt could think it powerful enough to make the most jerry-rigged plan work out perfectly.

Read Roberts’ whole post.

Sin, Consequences, and Hell in ‘Breaking Bad’

[Ed. So with Breaking Bad ending this Sunday, and with last week’s excellent episode bouncing around in my head, I wanted to write something somewhat comprehensive about the show. I took the major spoilers and put them in the footnotes, but the central theme and image still is a spoiler and there’s no way around it. I tried to talk about it generally, but that only helps so much. I wrote this with two groups of people in mind: (1) People who love the show like me and can’t stop reading stuff about it as they get jazzed for the finale on Sunday night, and oh yeah are entirely caught up; (2) people who don’t know anything about the show, probably won’t watch it, but want to know why people keep tweeting/writing Facebook posts about it. If you really think you’re going to watch the show, you should just not read anything and watch it already! Anyway: on with the show.]


The TV show Breaking Bad is such a great thing. It’s one of my favorite things. It just won an Emmy for Best Drama and some are arguing that might be the best television show ever, so I know it’s not just me.

A quick, (mostly) spoiler-free summary of the show [Ed. if you’re a fan, you’re welcome to skip the next two paragraphs because you already know it all]:

Walter White is an overqualified high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant 40-year-old wife and a teenage son with cerebral palsy. He’s on the wrong side of the American dream: a genius who makes a living getting bratty kids to learn the periodic table and working at a car wash after school hours to make ends meet. As if this isn’t enough, halfway through the first episode Walt learns he has terminal lung cancer. Deciding he wants to leave a nest egg for his family, Walt teams up with a former student who knows the Albuquerque, New Mexico drug trade and, using his chemistry acumen, starts producing top-shelf methamphetamine.

Predictably, this gets his competitors uppity about this new player stepping into their territory, and Walt is forced to use science, shady lawyers, and straight-up violence to defeat his enemies, protect his very unaware family (at first, he doesn’t even tell them he has cancer), and keep the authorities (including his DEA agent brother-in-law) from tracking him down. He adopts a trade name for the drug world — Heisenberg, which just invites thematic reflection, right? — in an attempt to compartmentalize his new criminal life from his family life (his “real” self with “pure” motives). Of course, of all the lies Walt tells, the worst is the one he tells himself: that he can actually keep his two selves separate.

The best thing I can say about Breaking Bad is that it makes me think differently about my life. During this last season, I’ve kept myself awake in bed wondering why I still kinda root for Walt, who commits increasingly-indefensible acts of violence against those around him — sometimes actual physical violence against his enemies, and other times more subtle, emotional abuse by deceiving and manipulating his family and friends. But every time you’re ready to give up on Walt and call him capital-E Evil, the show writers remind you of the reason you empathized with him in the first place — his genuine love for his family.

The internet yells at people like me who still pull for Walt. Critics scold us for ignoring all the bad stuff Walt’s done, and I have to say I’ve been forced to wrestle with the dark places in my heart that really do long to break bad (we all have them [1]).

But I’ve realized that I don’t root for Walt to get away with it — and plot-wise that’s pretty much impossible, since every bad decision or evil action by any character has been followed by an attendant consequence [2] (like bullets shot into the air, they have to land somewhere [3]). This unflinching moral character is what makes the show connect to Christian audiences, I think.

No, I don’t hope Walt escapes. That goes against the grain of the entire show, and wouldn’t make it any different from what our generally nihilistic, amoral popular culture tells us about reality. I’ve realized that I long for Walt’s redemption — a sudden, decisive change in thinking, a complete about-face represented by a single, comprehensive, selfless act like turning himself in and (for once) not shifting responsibility or self-justifying. In other words, something a lot like the first stages of Christian conversion — when one looks unflinchingly at their debilitating sinfulness (Rom. 1-3:20) before turning to the cross (Rom. 3:21-26).

Is that even possible in the Breaking Bad world? I don’t think so. There’s no religion in the White household or anywhere else, but more fundamentally there’s nothing resembling transformative grace. The closest we get, I think, is surprisingly in the character of Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s former F student-turned-junkie-turned methamphetamine business partner, and the second-most nuanced character in the series. Unlike Walt, whose moral sensibility has dissolved over time, Jesse’s slowly emerged from behind his rough, wannabe-drug lord facade. You can see it in his tenderness around children, his desire to be a responsible provider for his girlfriend and her son, but especially his sensitivity to his own sinfulness, perhaps most acute in a memorable scene from season 4.

At the end of season 3, Jesse did something to protect him and Walt [4], but Jesse knows that regardless of his intentions, what he did was truly evil. In the video below, Jesse wants to confess to his rehab group, but veils his real sin by telling the group he’s killed dogs — still bad, but not something too serious to reach the police. While Walt justifies and excuses his actions [5], and despite the counselor repeatedly feeding him “accept who you are” garbage, Jesse owns his sin (there’s mild language): [Ed. WordPress doesn’t let us embed videos now? Okay then, watch it here. Here’s a transcript.]

Counselor: So the truth is, we can’t change the past, what’s done is done. We gotta own our actions, but putting ourselves on trial, acting as our own judge, jury, and executioner — it’s not the answer. Because a lot of the time, all that judging does is just ensure that we’re gonna repeat the cycle. Right? We’re not here to sit in judgment.

Jesse: Why not? I mean, if you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point? Alright, this whole thing is about self-acceptance?

Counselor: Kicking the h*ll out of yourself doesn’t give meaning to anything.

J: So I should stop judging and accept?

C: It’s a start!

J: So no matter what I do, hurray for me because I’m a great guy? It’s all good? No matter how many dogs I kill, I just do an inventory and accept? I mean, you back your truck over your own kid, and you like, accept? What a load of crap.

C: Hey, Jesse, I know you’re in pain —

J: Hey, you know what? You know why I’m here in the first place? It’s to sell you meth! You’re nothing to me but customers! You okay with that? Huh? You “accept”?

C: No.

J: [Pause] About time.

Jesus might have said to Jesse here that he was not far from the kingdom. He knows he’s done horrible things, he knows he can never make it right, and he knows that no one can ever fix his shattered conscience. But there’s no grace. No gospel. Without hope, Jesse tragically spirals downward.

In “Granite State,” five seasons of Walt’s psychological abuse and manipulation of Jesse has finally taken hold, reaching rock bottom in a horrifying way I won’t ruin for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. It’s heartbreaking.

[Ed. Okay, here’s where I get spoiler-y.]

Meanwhile, Walt is holed up in a New Hampshire cabin with nothing but his thoughts and his $11 million in a 55-gallon barrel. Walt has been rushing to cook, cover his tracks, and kill his way past cancer for over a year now, ostensibly doing anything necessary to provide for his family before he dies, never allowing himself a moment to consider the ramifications of his actions. And now there’s nothing to do but consider. Walt has no choice but to think about what he’s done, while Jesse’s been thinking about his actions for three seasons; both are now trapped in a hell of their own making.

Apart from all the usual things we praise about Breaking Bad (the acting, cinematography, thrilling hands-at-your-mouth moments, the morality play with distinct biblical resonances like the unavoidable consequences of sin, Walt’s inflated ego and Shakespearean folly along with our strange and consistent empathy with him), an underrated thing it does well is create powerful images that stick with us. The pink teddy bear, the toy eyeball, the porkpie hat, the box cutter, the fly, the painting, the pizza on the roof — there are numerous examples. They’re interesting, unique, compelling, and carry a depth of symbolic meaning for nerds like me to plumb. As far as narrative images go, they’re ideal — they accomplish all these things without being forced (things like that painting and mirrors get really subtextual).

Last week’s penultimate episode of the series, “Granite State,” [6] has one of my favorite images in Breaking Bad. For reasons I won’t go into, Walt ends up alone in snowy New Hampshire cabin [7], cancer finally ravaging his body and no news from Albuquerque except scattered newspaper clippings. He’s pathetic.

In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel The Great Divorce, souls condemned to Hell/Purgatory are permitted a bus trip for an excursion into Heaven. One of the themes is the “smallness” of Hell and its inhabitants — no one can lift even a single blade of grass because it’s too heavy, and the point of view of each of the visitors is so myopic that they can’t stop making excuses long enough to see the beauty of Heaven around them. Their self-absorption overwhelms them. Consider Tim Keller’s reflection on this in The Reason for God:

“The people in Hell are miserable, but Lewis shows us why. We see raging like unchecked flames their pride, their paranoia, their self-pity, their certainly that everyone else is wrong … All their humility is gone, and thus so is their sanity. They are utterly, finally locked in a prison of their own self-centeredness, and their pride progressively expands into a bigger and bigger mushroom cloud. They continue to go to pieces forever, blaming everyone but themselves. Hell is that, writ large.”

The idea of a vacation alone in the woods of New Hampshire, with a warm cabin and two acres of land all to myself, sounds rather wonderful. A character tells Walt that “it’s kind of beautiful,” but Walt dismisses this. This “excursion” is hell for him. [8] He’s slowly shriveling, and we’re struck by how suddenly helpless and small he seems. Heisenberg has faded, all that’s left is his cancer-ridden body and the soul he sold to the meth trade. Sure, he tells someone that “he’s made mistakes” but then he says that things happened he “never intended,” and talks about how it was always for good reasons. He can’t stop lying — even to himself.

Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad’s creator and show runner, has not resisted some of the religious themes behind his show (though he’s far from religious himself):

“If there’s a larger lesson to Breaking Bad, it’s that actions have consequences,” Gilligan said during lunch one day in his trailer. “If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end.”

He paused for a moment and speared a few tater tots in a white plastic-foam tray perched on his lap.

“I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something,” he said between chews. “I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen,” he went on. “My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’ ”

If Breaking Bad is all about justice, Walt disintegrating alone in some wilderness cabin — his meth formula copied, his family ruined, and his money worthless — is it.



[1] As a side note it’s rather amazing that a secular show could make a robust and compelling illustration for original/indwelling sin.
[2] (I’m putting big spoilers in the footnotes, intending them as deeper discussion for people caught up with the show). Walt’s sins are obvious, but cf. Jesse’s drug use (frankly, he’s as responsible as Walt for Jane’s death), Skyler’s adultery (encumbering her with responsibility for Ted, costing her family hundreds of thousands of dollars, leading to Walt’s meltdown in 411 “Crawl Space” and almost killing her whole family), Marie’s shoplifting (she gets caught) and her decision to accept dubious “gambling winnings” to pay for Hank’s therapy (implicating Hank in Walt’s illicit drug money three seasons later), Hank’s Ahab-like obsession with catching his white whale (White, Walter) and his willingness to sacrifice the life of Jesse to do it (leading to, of course, his death). Even a generally positive character like Mike Ehrmantraut dies in essentially the same way he killed others for Gus, and was about to kill Walt at the end of season 3. It goes on an on. Be sure your sin will find you out.
[3] Or even better, like Saul’s statement in his introductory episode “Better Caul Saul” in season 2 — “the way I see it, someone’s going to prison.”
[4] Again, spoiler (do I have to keep saying this?): killing Gale.
[5] Consider his stammering, tearful plea to his son over the phone at the end of “Granite State”: “I did wrong, I made some … terrible mistakes, but the reasons were always [good]. Things happened I never intended, I never … intended,” as if killing, lying, manipulating and abusing people he claimed to love are made okay because he didn’t mean it. As if what actually happened is somehow less significant than what he wanted to happen.
[6] You might consider all the various nuances to a deceptively simple episode title like “Granite State”: It obviously references the state of New Hampshire itself, but also the characters’ state — frozen in time, unable to transcend their circumstances, stuck. I wrote something on Facebook about the poem “Ozymandias” (the name of that horrifying episode before this one), and how the ancient Egyptian statue that probably inspired the classic Shelley poem (which was the centerpiece for a popular promo before this season) was made out of granite. What shattered violently in “Ozymandias” now sinks to the bottom in “Granite State.” There’s also undoubtedly a play on words with “hitting rock bottom.”
[7] As promised in the teaser in 501 (the Denny’s diner flash forward) and 509 (returning to the house).
[8] The spoiler details: Hank is dead, his family thinks Walt killed him (which he kind of did), his wife and son hate him, and he’s alone with the guilt for everything he’s done over the last year and a half.