Television: ‘Breaking Bad’: Destination Hell


“Breaking Bad,” now broadcasting the first half of its final Season 5, is as red-hot as hell. And it’s all because early on Walter White (Bryan Cranston) hatched a diabolical plan.

The series’ inevitable trajectory to the underworld has been a brilliant exercise in watching White’s stunningly dark mind. And there’s no mistaking the contrast between the light of his surname and the ever blackening heart that now steers him through Mercury and Pluto territory.

Death, Pluto’s bailiwick, was always in the picture. When the series started, White, a benign high school chemistry teacher whose Mercurial genius and voice were grossly underutilized, received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Keen to provide for his family, he struck up a partnership with former flunky student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to cook crystal meth. As the coffers of cash increased, so did White’s affinity for Plutonian secrecy, domination, control, the underworld of hardened criminals, and death itself.

Over the past four seasons, White – already either instrumental in causing deaths or near-deaths of people closely associated with Jesse, or carrying out the actual deeds – summed up his devolution best in Season 5’s lead-off episode. After his attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) tells White their association is finished, White icily responds, “We’re done when I say we’re done.”

The Mercury-Pluto theme that show creator Vince Gilligan has woven through the series has been elegant and unmistakable. As viewer speculation increases about how White arrives at his final destination – he now seems to have his own zipcode in Hades – it’s also worth noting Mercury’s association with the underworld.

Coupled with Pluto, Mercury becomes aligned with thinking about or plotting death. And, as the messenger of the Gods, Mercury will even help get you there. Mythically the Zodiac’s trickster transported the souls of the dead to the ferryman Charon, who rowed his passengers across the River Styx and dropped them off in Hades.

Charon would only transport customers who could afford the fare, and Walter White certainly has a swollen wallet. But given the weight of his downward spiral, Charon may indeed, to paraphrase Brody in “Jaws,” need a much bigger boat.

Will Gilligan invest White’s final Plutonic transformation with even the smallest germ of redemption? Can new life emerge from the ashes? It’s a countdown worth lining up for.

Rating: ☿♇  (Mercury-Pluto-plus)

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