One of the biggest plot questions heading into Sunday’s finale of “Breaking Bad” revolves around a tiny vial of ricin: Who’s it for?
I — along with the Internet — have my theories, which I’ll get to in short order.
Some online commenters have speculated the ricin is nothing more than a red herring. No way. It’s become the poison equivalent of Chekhov’s gun, so you can bet it’s headed for someone’s windpipe, food tube or blood stream.
As we head into what’s sure to be a mind-blowing finale, let’s take a little trip down ricin road.
This poison, found naturally in castor beans, first cropped up in “Breaking Bad” way back at the start of season two, when Walt whips up a batch and tries unsuccessfully to get Tuco to take it either up his nose or in his burrito.
In season three, Jesse asks Walt for ricin so he can off the drug dealers who killed his buddy Combo. Walt refuses.
The following season, Walt cooks another batch of ricin in the superlab and puts it in a vial with Gus’ name on it, figuratively speaking. He tells Jesse it should kill Gus within 36 hours. (Click here for the CDC’s fact sheet on the poison.) Jesse hides the vial in one of his cigarettes but backs down from breaking it out during his intimate dinner party with the scary CEO of Los Pollos Hermanos.
Ricin was a red herring when young Brock landed in the ICU with a belly full of Lily of the Valley in season four. Jesse initially was convinced that Brock had ingested ricin because his magic cigarette was MIA. Doctors eventually debunked that theory, causing another round of freaking out for Jesse, who worried an innocent person would come upon the toxic cigarette and die.
This prompts Walt to fill a similar vial with salt and create a fake cigarette that they just happen to find in Jesse’s Roomba. Never one to waste a good poison, Walt recycles the ricin vial and hides it behind the face plate of an electrical outlet in his home.
In the midseason finale, Walt brings the ricin along for his café date with Lydia but opts not to use it.
The flash-forward that opened the final batch of episodes showed Walt returning to his vandalized home to retrieve the ricin from its hiding spot.
Ricin has played such a big role in the series, it just might win an Emmy next year. This brings us back to the question: Who’s it for?
The web is full of folks saying it’s destined for Lydia’s cup of tea, maybe slipped into a packet of her favorite sweetener, Stevia. Seems a bit too obvious for me but it’s possible. Hell, anything’s possible on “Breaking Bad.”
After Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz threw Walt under the bus on “Charlie Rose” last Sunday, some are speculating the ricin might be going to Gray Matter Technologies. It’s an intriguing scenario, especially since seeing them on TV clearly flipped a switch in Walt. But I just don’t see it playing out that way.
I’m in the camp that thinks the ricin is headed for Walt’s gullet. Live free or die, right? It’s the title of the fifth and final season’s premiere and the motto of New Hampshire, the “Granite State,” the name of last Sunday’s episode that had Walt one dram of Dimple Pinch shy of turning himself in. When he slipped out of that backwoods bar, he was determined to follow the state’s credo.
As we know from the flash-forwards, Walt makes it back to New Mexico to take care of unfinished business, which at this point means destroying the drug empire he built. He’ll need that machine gun to go up against Uncle Jack and his merry band of meth-selling White Supremacists.
As for the lab, I see it meeting a fiery end with Todd and Lydia tucked away inside. Jesse could trick Todd into releasing a gas that’s going to go boom when Todd lights up one of his smokes — just like Jesse almost did in the RV during his very first cook in the desert with Walt. (Walt once wrote “apply yourself” on Jesse’s abysmal test results in high school chemistry. Here’s Pinkman’s chance to show how much he’s learned from Mr. White.)
Since I’m in full-blown prediction mode — a fool’s game but nonetheless a fun one — here’s another scenario I think will come to pass: Jesse is going to be in a position to kill Walt. And he won’t do it.
Jesse has never been able to eradicate people the way Walt has. He’s never been able to rationalize and justify the bad things that have happened at his hand. He’s come to represent the morality others around him lack. While Walt broke bad over the course of the series, Jesse, a druggie street punk, broke good. I’d bet my free birthday breakfast at Denny’s that when the final credits roll, he’ll be alive.
Walt’s biological son basically wished his father dead on the phone last Sunday. But Jesse, the guy who’d been a surrogate son to Walt, isn’t going to have the heart to do the deed. Jesse’s turning the other cheek may be the only salvation Walt gets by the time this is over.
And remember what Walt has said, with varying degrees of menace: “It’s not over until I say it’s over.” With the cancer closing in, his family wanting nothing to do with him, and his empire in shambles, Walt is ready for it to be over. Swallowing that vial of ricin will get the job done.
It’s not a happy ending for Walt (after all this, how could it be?), but at least it’s an ending that Walt will have orchestrated on his own terms, with a poison he made with his own hands.
What’s your prediction on the ricin’s fate?
RICIN ON TELEVISION
While ricin has come up repeatedly on “Breaking Bad,” the poison has played a part in other TV shows, such as “Dexter,” “The Mentalist,” “Law & Order,” “The Unit,” “CSI” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Know of any others?