Walter White was never cut out to be a drug lord.
Let’s face it: The guy was a frumpy science teacher in a dull marriage who rose to his potential only when driven to desperation by the specter of cancer. His ascent to kingpin happened through a series of accidents and missteps, and as a result of panicked attempts to survive in the face of far deadlier and more competent criminals.
Walt’s only valuable skills consist of a keen mind for science — making for the purest drug on the market — and a profound streak of improvisational good luck. But while Walt found the power of being feared and respected intoxicating, and while he never shied away from taking harsh measures to ensure his own safety — sometimes profoundly evil measures — he lacked the ability and willingness to go all in. Walt tried to live a double life, to maintain his civic façade as a teacher and family man even as he produced massive volumes of a drug that destroyed entire portions of his community. He wanted to be feared, but also loved. And above all, he sincerely wanted to provide for his family and keep them safe… even the family members he wasn’t terribly fond of.
So it’s really little surprise that in the end, the ones who got the best of Walt weren’t the criminals like him, the ones who hide their ambition behind a veneer of humility and humanity. Yes, Gus Fring had Walt dead to rights and nearly brought everything crashing to an end, but he was ultimately just one man, and Walt managed to manipulate Gus’ associates and rivals into taking him down. Nor was it the Mexican cartel, with its implacable thirst for honor and vengeance balanced out by honorable behavior and limitations.
No, Walt’s ultimate defeat has been dealt by true criminals, a gang of thugs completely without scruples. They have no aspirations of maintaining the illusion of being good citizens. They are utterly, coldly amoral. On one hand, their leader Jack seems to revel in murder, theft, and destroying lives; on the other, his nephew Todd somehow manages to be worse, murdering innocents with the same blank expression with which he expresses his unrequited crush on twitchy international business coordinator Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.
Jack’s white supremacist gang has taken everything from Walt. Hank. His money. His family life. Now, we see that Walt has lost the key component of his Heisenberg arsenal, his hold over others; Saul’s concern for his own safety overrides his immediate fear, and he brushes away Walt’s demands to help take down Jack’s cartel. With nothing left to his name but a useless barrel of money, Walt hides away in the woods on the other side of the country, pining for all that he’s lost. He wastes away, paying the one man with whom he has occasional contact exorbitant sums for an hour’s company.
His wife faces criminal charges. His son blames him for destroying their family and rejects the money Walt has squirreled away — which was the whole point to begin with. His former partner is a cook slave trapped in a hole in the ground at the threat of a child’s life. Walt has been reduced to a dying king(pin) in exile, waiting to die of cancer alone and broken, like Napoleon on Saint Helena.
It’s pure narrative coincidence of the most transparent kind that Walt sees his former partners at Gray Matter slandering his name on television only moments after surrendering to the inevitable and giving himself up to the police, just like it’s pure narrative manipulation that we see the utter hideousness of Jack’s militia group in such marked contrast to Walt’s willingness to take a fall for his own family’s safety. But you know, if the outcome of Walt’s sudden galvanization comes to a meaningful, satisfying conclusion, I’ll allow it. I have no idea what form that could possibly take, save for the involvement of an M60 and a ricin capsule, but I’m looking forward to finding out.