Warning: Spoilers from Sunday's 'Breaking Bad' episode to follow.
"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan is giving us spoilers. Or, at least, that seems to be what's happening, based on his commitment to pop culture foreshadowing throughout the current season of his hit AMC drama.
In the third episode of this season, Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) followed up Skyler's meltdown with a screening of the ultra-violent drug film "Scarface." And in Sunday night's fifth episode, Hank makes mention of the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro heist film "Heat." Since both films see the downfall of their powerful antagonists (in "Heat's" case, it's an accomplice's rogue actions that leads to the team's demise), it can only allude the eventual take-down of Walt "Broken Bad" White, right?
Well, unless Gilligan's just sending us red herrings.
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If there's one thing fans can agree on, it's that "Breaking Bad" doesn't go for the obvious. And while audiences are given glimpses of the big picture through Hank's investigation and through characters' personal journeys, it's no coincidence that week after week, we're still surprised by what happened.
Season 5 opened with what appeared to be a flash forward to Walter White's fifty-second birthday, going by Walt's arranging of his breakfast bacon into the shape of a "52." Considering that in the present day, Walter has only just turned 51, we can assume that regardless of what happens in the next year or so, he won't go out in a Tony Montana-esque blaze of glory. Quite the opposite, in fact, since he's sitting alone, looking sickly, and spending his drug money on mysterious guns.
If anything, it could be argued that Gilligan is using pop culture to put the story's ripple effects into perspective. In "Scarface," one man's evolution results in a bloodbath that extends further than his own death. Meanwhile, in "Heat," a team member's choice to murder senselessly (potentially like Todd's snap decision to shoot a child witness in Sunday's episode of "Breaking Bad") results in the takedown of an entire team. It's easy to get caught up in cheering for the show's outlaws in the spirit of a modern western, but it's through these pop culture staples that "Breaking Bad" viewers are given "a-ha!" reminders that no action is consequence-free. (That, and the last shot of the boy's poor spider, who will undoubtedly bake to death in that glass jar.)
Of course, this lesson has been repeated in "Breaking Bad" history, with Jane's death in Season 2 being the premiere example. But Gilligan leaves those lessons for audiences to learn on their own, and has never so boldly stated the obvious -- such as, say, paralleling Walt's storyline with that of two iconic films.
Undoubtedly, these pop culture references will come into play, even if only to throw viewers off the legitimate storyline. No villain goes without retribution, and while "Scarface" and "Heat" are two testaments to that, Gilligan will arguably prove this point in his own unique way.