By Jamie Samuelsen
I’m not sure if there’s an enduring theme for “Breaking Bad.” And I’m not sure there needs to be.
I suppose one simple lesson is this – if you want to have a normal, stable family life, it’s probably best if you don’t enter the drug business. Walter White learned the very hard, very violent way that those two things don’t mix.
On a parallel front, I learned that talking about a popular television show and mixing in with social media is also a rather toxic combination. “Breaking Bad” will certainly go down as one of my favorite shows of all time along with “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing.” Television is an art. And solely the beholder judges art. So who am I to tell you whether or not you should have loved or hated the end of “Breaking Bad?”
Last night after it was all over, I simply put up on Twitter that I liked the finale and that Vince Gilligan did a very good job wrapping things up. Some people agreed. Others did not, and disagreed violently. It seems that the final episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ has become a referendum of who you are as a person and who you are as a television viewer – which is absurd. If you hated it, I certainly can’t convince you otherwise. Just as you’re not going to convince me that it was bad.
The most common critique I’ve seen in the 12 hours since the show ended was that is was just too ‘neat’. The great TV critic Alan Sepinwall pointed this out in his must-read TV recap. (http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/series-finale-review-breaking-bad-felina-its-all-over-now-baby-blue). And I suppose that’s fair. This was no ‘fade-to-black’ like in ‘The Sopranos’. Nor did it leave about a dozen loose ends like ‘Lost’. Gilligan left little grey area to “Breaking Bad,” and I liked it.
But for anyone to say that this was a ‘Hollywood ending’ is an insult to Gilligan and every Hollywood ending every made.
The main character – Walter White – is dead. And he dies knowing his family hates him and that his children’s lives are forever ruined by his actions and his greed.
The primary second character – Jesse – is alive, barely. He’s barreling down the road away from the Nazi ‘clubhouse’ with a maniacal laugh and cackle. He has no friends. He has no family. He has no money. He’ll probably try to go find Brock although I doubt that child protective services will look on his attempts very kindly. There’s no Saul Goodman to help him out. And he’s probably going to be wanted by the law for drug sales, drug production and other random crimes. Remember that any deals that he made with Hank probably won’t hold up seeing as that investigation was being done outside the auspices of the DEA.
Skyler, Flynn, Holly and Marie have their lives essentially ruined. Sure, Flynn should (stress SHOULD) get the money from Elliot and Gretchen in a few months. But who knows if he’ll take it. And who knows what he’ll do with it. Given what’s happened to him to this point in life, I’m guessing he blows it on crystal meth. Too bad the blue stuff is officially off the market.
Everyone else is dead, other than Saul who will apparently live on in a spin-off (although everything I read indicates that it will be a prequel, which makes sense. Saul of season two is a lot more amusing than Saul of season five.)
So tell me again how that’s a ‘Hollywood’ ending?
Of course there were some convenient plot details that every show uses. Walt just happened to find the keys to the Volvo in the sun visor (What is this? The 1970s?). And nobody seems to notice as Walt leans across the pool table to grab his keys, including the dude next to him who is literally staring RIGHT at him. And while we’re at it, I’m not a car guy – but does a make and model like that really allow for a trunk to open automatically from a key fob? Scratch that last question. If Walt can turn a garage door opener and a machine gun into an automatic mass assault weapon, he’s probably smart enough to outfit a car with just about anything he wants.
And speaking of smart, how dumb are Elliott and Gretchen? Their net worth must be closing in on 10 figures if it’s not there already. They have a mansion in the hills fully equipped with some digital security system that Gretchen taps into as they first enter chatting about pizza and Thai food. And yet they have no security, no alarm and no gates that would prevent a crazy person from quite literally walking into their living room. When I was living in an apartment in Royal Oak and eating Top Ramen for lunch and dinner, I still locked the door when I was in for the evening. And the only thing I had to steal was a Sega Genesis and NHL ’94.
But again, I digress. Certain liberties need to be taken to move the plot along, and full marks to Gilligan for moving the plot along to a satisfying conclusion.
People will take out of “Breaking Bad” whatever they choose to. Few will debate its standing as one of the best shows they ever watched. Even some of its harshest critics (Hello Jason Whitlock!) admit they’re sorry it’s gone.
Walter White enters the pantheon of the greatest television characters of all time and he may challenge the likes of Tony Soprano, Archie Bunker, Don Draper, Vic Mackey and Homer Simpson for the top spot. Ultimately I think Walt is the lesson or the theme of this brilliant show. Can a man simultaneously do ‘bad’ while he’s trying to do ‘good’? The lesson here is that he can’t. This isn’t Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread. This is a man becoming a drug kingpin, well after he’s been diagnosed to be cancer-free.
The most important scene in the show came when he told Skyler in the kitchen that he did everything he did “for me.” “I liked it,” Walt said. “And I was good at it. I was alive.”
There were no pure intentions in Walter White. He was a good man. But then desperation led him towards cooking crystal meth. And once he was there, he was hooked. In some ways, he got more hooked on the drug than the people who actually smoked it.
The final scene of him lying in the lab (which was a LOT like the final scene in ‘Lost’ when Jack was lying in the forest) showed a man surrounded by his natural habitat. That was where he should die. Maybe Gilligan didn’t leave any loose ends. But maybe Gilligan didn’t want anyone thinking that Walt had a good heart. He didn’t. He had a selfish, evil heart that drove him to kill people and ruined the lives of every single person he came in contact with. Remind me again how THAT’S a Hollywood ending.
Thanks to Vince Gilligan. Thanks to the unreal acting of Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn et al. And thanks to you for reading this blog. It was a great show. I’m satisfied with the ending. If that makes me a bad person – so be it. At least I’m not as bad as Walt – who I still kind of like. How’s that for moral ambiguity?
What did you think? Send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org