We all know what a huge influence Walt Whitman has been on Breaking Bad. The great American poet shares initials with the AMC series’ hero/villain Walter White, who was given a copy of Leaves of Grass by doomed rival meth cook Gale Boetticher. A copy of Leaves of Grass that caused Walter’s brother-in-law Hank to finally realize he’s Heisenberg. But now, Breaking Bad is switching poets.
In a haunting new teaser for the final eight episodes of the series, Bryan Cranston intones the immortal words of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” It’s a sonnet about a traveler in the East who encounters the fallen statue of a great king. On it reads an inscription: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The idea being that this ancient ruler left such greatness in his wake that none shall ever forget him.
The only problem with Ozymandias is that all he created eventually turned to dust. The final two lines of the poem say, “Nothing beside remains. / Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Even the pyramids will one day crumble. Immortality is nothing but illusion. Everything fades away.
Walter White, like Ozymandias, might be in the “Empire Business,” but a meth empire is even that much more illusory than one made of mortar and stone. How quickly everything he’s built could evaporate. And it’s made all the more haunting as we see the kind of static location shots — of mesas, the RV, Walt’s house — that we see all throughout the show. Bad things are coming, and lonely birthday breakfasts are soon to be had. “Remember my name?” the Season 5 ads proclaim? Walt would be wise to remember Shelley’s lesson: that the one constant in human nature is forgetting.