On Sunday night, while my closest friends were studying for med school exams, out on the town in celebration of the day off from work to follow, or spending cherished time with their significant others, I was home, perusing the message boards of the Internet Movie Database, wondering what anyone and everyone had to say about the colossal hour of television that I had just witnessed. Breaking Bad‘s midseason finale had ended. There wouldn’t be another episode on AMC for almost a year. But instead of pacing themselves evenly, the Breaking Bad fan community thrust right into the game of conspiracy theories about the most recent episode’s fantastic ending. Obviously, if you haven’t seen “Gliding Over All” yet, it would be wise to stop here in light of spoilers to come — but even some of those who have seen the ep, you might want to avoid the article to come for fear of reasonably plausible predictions, courtesy of the IMDb community, surrounding the nature of the cliffhanger.
To those of you who remain, I’m sure you’ll agree that the ending of “Gliding Over All” does warrant some review, as you were likely drenched in sweat and encompassed by nervous tremors over the thought that Walter Jr. or Holly would be shot dead or drowned during that chaotically pleasant backyard scene. So to recap: Hank spouts some jabber about getting back in the Schraderbrau game, gets up from the Whites’ backyard table, heads inside, goes to the bathroom, sits down, rummages through his in-laws’ reading material, lands upon a copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, opens the book, and notices the following message handwritten on the inside cover: “To my other favorite W.W., It’s an honour working with you. Fondly, G.B.”
Instantly, Hank flashed back to his season four conversation with Walter about the then recently deceased Gale Boetticher’s fondness (as indicated by his lab notes) for a certain “W.W.” — an individual whom Walter guessed aloud might be the author Walt Whitman. Hank chalked the hypothesis up to his brother-in-law’s intellectualism, but seems to have recognized one too many connections here. Hank, whose obsession with the Heisenberg case has led him to pull at any lead imaginable, even the most outlandish (which, in this case, is the truth), has allowed him at last a realization of the possibility that his own brother-in-law might well be the drug lord and murderer that he has been chasing for a year now.
Walter has a meticulous sensibility when it comes to tidying up after himself. In this very episode, Walter disposed of nine imprisoned criminals who might have posed a threat to him, all in a matter of two minutes. But we’ve seen Walter become lazy, and engulfed by his own ego. He’s made bizarre, self-aggrandizing comments at family dinners after a little too much wine. He’s left his incriminating hat lying around for anyone to see, with threads dangling loose no less. And most iconic of Walter’s self-obsession, he left the most volatile piece of evidence free to pick up and read in his bathroom: a book expressive of just how great someone else once thought he was (no wonder he couldn’t bring himself to hide it). A book that was signed by his old criminal associate, and a man whom Hank has devoted his days and nights to investigating: Gale Boetticher.
Or was it?!
Ever since approximately 11:03 PM Eastern Time on Sunday night, one particularly gripping theory has been running amok on the Internet: the theory that Walt’s book was not, in fact, a gift from Gale Boetticher, but was one from his old girlfriend, Gretchen.
Here are the general points used to support this theory. One: Gretchen’s maiden name is Black. At least that’s what the Internet message boards seem to think. I can’t recall ever hearing or seeing Gretchen’s maiden name through the run of the show, and there is no indication on the Breaking Bad Wiki that it might have been Black, or anything else. But there are a couple of fun (nerdy, but fun) “hints” that have been set toward this conclusion. Firstly, fans know that Walter and Gretchen were two of the three founders of the company Gray Matter — a name that could likely be the result of combining White (Walter) with Black (Gretchen). But of course, there could be another mentality behind this name, which also serves as a sort of “hint” toward Gretchen’s nomenclature. After she and Walter broke up and Walter abandoned the project, Gretchen married the third member of Gray Matter: Elliott Schwartz, taking his last name. Schwartz, for those who do not know, is German for “black.” So, while this wouldn’t hold up in any real world court, it could provide some kind of a clue in a universe controlled by writers.
There seems to be a disparity in memory when it comes to Walter’s acquirement of Leaves of Grass. One side of this argument leads to Point Number Two in the Gretchen theory: Walt was seen reading the book on the first day that he met Gale. Gretchenists forward the idea that this means Gale would not have been likely to give Walter the book, and would be even less likely to have written a dedication about the pair working together. Of course, Galers will argue that the young chemist was familiar with Walter’s work prior to their union, and might have meant the message to indicate that he was hono(u)red to begin working with the great Heisenberg. Furthering the Galers’ theory, the handwritings found in Leaves of Grass and in Gale’s lab notes do seem to match up. Plus, there is that affinity for Walt Whitman that is hard to miss.
In short, it does seem a lot like the Gale theory is more probable. Plus, it barely matters — Hank has the idea in his head. How he got it is immaterial; all that’s important is how he executes it.
But that isn’t meant to stomp on the idea of the Gretchen theory, nor on the promotion of theories in general. In fact, discussions like these are what makes this show so much fun. And this is hardly the first. After the Season 3 finale, the camera veered off ever so slightly when Jesse shot a bullet at Gale in the latter’s doorway, leading the audience to wonder, “Did he actually shoot him?!” In the middle of Season 4, when Jesse and Mike found themselves amid a cartel shootout, a lingering frame of Mike pointing his gun in Jesse’s direction provoked viewers to ask, “Was Mike going to kill Jesse?!” And even following the final moments of the epic Season 4 finale, wherein the camera paid undeniable focus to the potted lily of the valley plant in the Whites’ backyard, some fans didn’t buy it. “How could Walt have done it?! When would he have had the opportunity?! It doesn’t add up! It was Gus! Gus, I tell you!” It wasn’t Gus.
But it’s a lot of fun to throw yourself into new ideas, and to expose yourself to new perspectives that you might have otherwise not even considered. Even if the copy of Leaves of Grass does end up being a gift from Gale, that doesn’t mean the Gretchen discussions were useless. The opening up of conversation about different possible avenues the show might explore, different definitions for characters and their actions, and different understandings of symbols and statements, is healthy and constructive. It breeds creativity. So, fans of Breaking Bad, of Homeland, of Game of Thrones, of Community, of any show on television you deem worthy of looking into a bit deeper, I implore you: get online! Share your thoughts! Talk to people! Learn their ideas! Come up with your own! It’s fun, it’s stimulating, and it will provide some company to the rest of us losers knee-deep in message boards while our friends are out doing things with their lives.
Plus, it’ll help make the next Breaking Bad-less year pass by a little bit more quickly…