BREAKING BAD BROKE AWESOME
Avast, blog-matey! There likely be spoilers below for not just Breaking Bad, but other shows too. As Walter White might say, “tread lightly”.
Some of my favorite shows have had great finales. M*A*S*H. Magnum P.I. (The first one where he dies, not the lame one when they brought him back to life for one more season.)
Other finales to stellar shows have been sort of Meh West Wing was sort of the expected “where will the characters go work next” finale. The X-Files spent nine seasons building to a big alien showdown, only to offer a lukewarm rehash of the details of the mythology that underpinned the show.
The finale of Lost polarized the fan base. Lots of viewers hated it. I thought for most shows it would have been a cop out, but that it worked great for a show like Lost.
Beginnings are hard. Endings are harder.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
Then I started watching Breaking Bad. I’m proud of the fact that I was one of the relative few who watched from the beginning, rather than playing catch up on Netflix as I usually have to do. From the pilot episode with Walter driving an RV through the desert in his underwear with two dead guys in the back to the last episode, I was hooked like one of Walt’s blue-meth addicts. This was the first show since Lost that could surprise me EVERY EPISODE and frequently leave me gaping in disbelief.
People compare Breaking Bad most often to The Sopranos, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Both shows have anti-heroes at their centers. But mobster Tony Soprano started the series as a criminal and stayed that way, even if he was conflicted about it and craved the straight path.
Walter White, on the other hand, started out Breaking Bad a mild-mannered, even milquetoast high school chemistry teacher, who happens on cooking ultra-pure crystal meth as a way to make money for his medical bills and to provide for his family after a cancer diagnosis. Unlike Tony Soprano, Walt finds he relishes his new criminal life and embraces it. Instead of feeling conflicted, Walt actually becomes more evil as the show goes on.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has said the show was an experiment to see of he could turn Mr. Chips into Scarface and if viewers would stick around. And the did. Every season, Walt did more appalling things and the audience grew.
The show was a treat for viewers and a study in storytelling for writers and film/TV makers. They nailed everything; starting with the concept, the cast, lead by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, and the writing, all the way down to the details – camera angles, color choices, the soundtrack.
It’s hard to think of anything this show got wrong in five seasons. None of my other fav series can boast that batting average. Still, I have questions about that last episode.
Why does Walt leave his watch on the pay phone after getting Schwartz’s address? Gilligan says it was partly continuity because teaser filmed without watch, partly repudiation of the gift from Jesse.
How did Walt get the ricin into the Stevia?
Does Jesse still have his money somewhere?
Do the Schwartzes make good on setting up the trust for Flynn?
So where does Jesse end up?
Where does Saul end up?
What will Skylar tell Holly about her dad? Anything?
Walt admits he did it all for himself.
Is Walt a hero? A villain? Both? He admitted in this last episode that he did all this not for his family, but for himself. He went to kill neo-Nazis. He got revenge for Hank and the theft of his own cash. And he even ended up taking a bullet for Jesse after very recently wanting him killed.
I have my ideas. Other fans have theirs. Vince Gilligan has his.
No other show has so deftly combined crime, tragedy, family, hope, despair, and even a bit of dark humor. I worry no other show ever will. I hope I’m wrong. I hope I write it, but if I can’t, I hope I’m smart enough to find it and tune in.
Go watch this show. Quit your job if necessary. Do it.