There’s a great scene in the latest episode of Breaking Bad, titled “Granite State”, where Vacuum Guy is helping Walter White get acclimation to his new surroundings. This includes what could be a throwaway piece of comedic relief: Walt is in the possession of not one, but two copies of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.
So what’s with the reference to this zany sounding kids movie? Well, like everything else about Breaking Bad’s wonderful and brilliant writing: it means something. Sure, it might not mean anything important in the overall story of the show, but it’s indicative of the level of detail showrunner Vince Gilligan and his writing team put into every episode.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a 2007 fantasy movie for kids that stars Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Magoriuma, a crazy, Willy Wonka-like toy store owner, and his employee Mahoney, played by Natalie Portman. Magorium decides to leave his store and entrusts it to Mahoney, who in turn eventually finds out that he’s leaving because he’s dying.
So yes, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is about a guy who leaves his business to his young employee / protege because he’s dying. As we see in Breaking Bad, Walt leaves the business in the episode “Gliding Over All” after finding out his cancer has returned. Although he doesn’t specifically leave it to anybody, Todd, who considers Walt a mentor of sorts, takes the reigns.
I think the more interesting connection is probably the most famous scene from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Magorium has to explain to Mahoney that he’s dying and gives her a speech, using some lines from King Lear, about how to get over him when he dies.
The speech essentially boils down to “your life is an occasion, rise to it.” But Magorium also talks about how the end doesn’t matter, it’s the journey to the end that matters. Walt has taken this view to his life. His goals in becoming this meth kingpin have been to provide for his family, leaving a legacy for them to remember, and having worthwhile accomplishments. In the last scene of “Granite State”, Walt views his former Gray Matter co-founder Elliott, and his wife Gretchen, on Charlie Rose. They publicly discredit Walt’s work for the company and trivialize him. Heisenberg takes control and we’re zoomed off to the next episode.
And make no mistake, the choice of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium has meaning behind it. How much that meaning matters is a different story. This is a writing team that puts so much detail into each scene that Carmen, the woman who called Walt Jr. into her office to have him take a phone call from “his aunt” has a new backstory no one will ever realize.
While the overarching stuff in Breaking Bad is great, the small details is what separates this show from everything else.