“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
With the finale of AMC’s acclaimed series just two episodes away, the question on everyone’s mind remains … Is “Breaking Bad” an allegory for global warming?
OK, that isn’t the question on everybody’s mind. Indeed, the “other” question — whether mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned murderous megalomaniacal meth-kingpin Walter White dies in the final episode — may not be on your mind at all if you are not a fan of the show.
But then you are missing what is probably the best written show on TV right now, and one of the best of all time, a show that appears to have gotten better with each season. Heck, one TV columnist asked of Sunday’s episode, “Is Breaking Bad’s ‘Ozymandias’ the greatest episode of TV ever written?”
But the show is more than a guilty pleasure. It’s also about the hubristic misuse of science — to catastrophic effect. That is an old theme in literature, typified by the classic “Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus,” by Mary Shelley who — not coincidentally I am certain — was the second wife of the author of “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley!
In this case, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Walter White decides to use his chemistry knowledge to manufacture methamphetamine to provide for his family after his death. The show is not at all reluctant to depict the most horrific side of both the meth dealers and the meth users, and to make clear that Mr. White has ended or ruined the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people.
“The show has succeeding in explaining what drives someone to so thoroughly use science for evil,” as io9’s Lauren Davis put it last year. A key theme of the show, she notes:
Science is like so many other powerful things — money, fame, political power. In the hands of someone determined to use it for selfish gains, chemistry can bring about evil things.
And that brings us to the Kochs. Fred Koch was an “American chemical engineer and entrepreneur who founded the oil refinery firm that later became Koch Industries.” He “fueled the paranoid right-wing movements of the fifties and sixties through his financing of the John Birch Society.” His sons, Charles and David Koch — who both have chemical engineering degrees from, I’m pained to report, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (as did their father) — need little introduction to Climate Progress readers. The pollutocratic billionaires are the top funders of climate disinformation and “have founded or funded dozens of conservative or libertarian publications, think tanks, and attack groups.”
While oilman President George W. Bush himself said “America is addicted to oil,” chemically refining petroleum isn’t at all like illegally cooking meth — but it is metaphorically similar if you use your riches to undermine science and block action aimed at dealing with the most destructive consequences of your product.
If the Kochs succeed, then their “ending” will be as tragic as any fictional character — condemned by future generations as “Climate Killers,” two of the key “polluters and deniers who [derailed] efforts to curb the climate catastrophe,” as a future issue of Rolling Stone might put it. The Kochs will thereby leave much of the Earth, “boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away,” through warming-driven Dust-Bowlification.
And that brings us to the ending of “Breaking Bad.” No one has been expecting anything resembling a “happy ending,” especially not after the show released a video of the brilliant Bryan Cranston, who plays White, reading Ozymandias:
And it became crystal clear in Sunday’s episode, titled “Ozymandias,” as noted, that indeed Walter’s drug empire was turning to dust just as his family — the ones for whom he rationalized all of his murderous choices — was turning against him.
Some are expecting White to die at the end in a blaze of gunfire a la Al Pacino’s character in “Scarface,” a clip of which was shown during the series.
Or perhaps there will be the “Koch Brothers ending,” whereby White lives on with his money, but every single thing around him is destroyed by his reckless abuse of science. Stay tuned!