Take a deep breath. Lower your heart rate. Slow your pulse. Stop crying. It’s over.
Breaking Bad has ended its historic run of complete television dominance with an episode that ties up all the loose ends. A hypothesis was tested; can television audiences appreciate a dark drama centered on a cancer-ridden man’s transformation into a meth kingpin? The experiment was conducted; five seasons of gut-wrenching, heart-stopping episodes were cranked out with the precision of a Heisenberg cook. Observations were made; critics flocked, and with the help of streaming services and social media, the fan base grew steadily with the fervor only reserved for a true television phenomenon.
The conclusion? With its final episode, Breaking Bad cemented itself as essential viewing for fans of all forms of storytelling, presenting a character arc for its protagonist that challenged and rewarded the audience for taking the whole captivating journey with him. A void has been left in television, but my only hope is, along with shows like The Wire and The Sopranos before it, that Breaking Bad inspires networks and writers to take risks and to aim as high as Walter White. Don’t settle for 60 percent purity when audiences have tasted 97.
Creator Vince Gilligan wrote and directed this final episode and he aimed to satisfy. With expectations has high as Tuco Salamanca, Gilligan had his work cut out for him, but in seventy-five minutes he managed to wrap up each remaining thread. We follow Walt on his journey back to Albuquerque, like Clint Eastwood returning to right wrongs in Unforgiven. The pace ascended as the distance between Walt and his final goal got smaller. When we find Walt, sitting in a frozen car, speaking to a higher power that surely had abandoned him at that point, he makes Marie seem correct; this is no criminal mastermind, this is a desperate man on his last leg. Quickly, Walt banishes that idea by ingeniously tracking down Elliot and Gretchen, the first stop on his farewell tour.
Walt’s visit to his former partners was exceptionally suspenseful. Walt waiting in the shadows sent a shiver down my spine. I eased slightly as Walt instructed the pair on how to handle his money, but as Walt’s voice strengthened and lasers shone through the windows, I was back clutching the pillow. Fortunately the world-class hitmen turned out to be only Badger and Skinny Pete, and I was able to laugh. A great reminder that no matter how heavy this show could get, it never lost a sense of humor or failed to provide some comedic relief. Shakespeare threw the Porter scene in Macbeth; every descent needs some laughs along the way.
After a stop at Denny’s and the acquisition of a really big gun, Walt goes to give a proper goodbye to Skylar. Anna Gun proves why she’s an Emmy winner by clearly showcasing with her facial expressions the inner conflictions that her character faced. You could tell that even after everything, Skylar still cared for Walt in some capacity. I’m not a parent, but I got oddly emotionally watching Walt say goodbye to Holly. His tears were trumped by the gaze he gave his son from a distance, watching his boy walk away from him, now a man, for the last time.
I loved the way that Walt stumbled upon Todd and Lydia in the café. Looking homeless and raving like a lunatic, Walt pitches a doomed business proposal and sandbags the villains with a pathetic cough. The whole meeting is a rouse to set-up a final showdown with Uncle Jack and for Walt to finally use the long-prepared ricin. Using Lydia’s predictability and fondness for artificial sugar, Walt delivers what I think is the most agonizing kill of the night, a slow decomposition that only becomes worse when Walt alerts her of the finality of the situation over the phone.
The final showdown was quick and to the point. Walt’s trunk turret gun effectively wipes out New Mexico’s Nazi population in only a few rounds. I envisioned Walt’s decimation of the Nazis being a little bit bigger, but I wasn’t at all dissatisfied by the choice. It pains me to admit, but Uncle Jack went out like a badass, dragging his cig one last time and calmly playing his last card amongst coughs of blood. The blood splatter on the lens was a nice way to drive the kill home. The fan favorite moment had to be Jesse straggling Todd. Jesse howls and wrestles Todd with the endless reservoir of pain and hatred inside of him, not stopping till we hear Todd’s neck snap. Just like Jesse would do, I let out a resounding, “YEAH BITCH!”
That left only two men standing. Walt and Jesse stared each other down for what felt like an eternity before Walt slid over the gun. When Jesse screams, “tell me you want this,” it almost seems as if Walt will go out in his blaze of glory, but that wouldn’t be this show. Instead, Jesse uses the leverage to prove that he is finally free, that he never has to listen to Walt again. Jesse refuses to let Walt use him one last time, and leaves him alone to die. Before he departs, the two men share a slight nod of recognition. No matter the feelings they have about each other, the two men shared something that no other living souls would understand or ever be able to take away from them.
In the last scene, Walt decides to inspect the Nazi lab. Walt turns to his one true love before he dies, the science. As he inspects the lab, his smile might reflect a man just happy to die amongst what he truly adored, or his smile could mean something more. Walt began this show as a teacher, and no matter how many times they cooked, he always pushed Jesse to apply himself more, to master his craft. Walt never lost the desire to teach, and as he inspected Jesse’s lab, I think he finally appreciated Jesse’s mastering of the craft. To me, that smile was the smile of a proud teacher watching his student finally graduate. With Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” sublimely playing, Walter White died with a smile. Sure, the man had left his life in shambles, but he left on his own accord, proud of how his criminal ballad concluded.
There’s no telling how long it will be before another show like Breaking Bad comes along. Expertly written, virtuosic with its direction, and flawlessly performed, Breaking Bad is everything you could want in a drama. Critics will spend the next decade dissecting and arguing about what made it great, but the reasons are endless and already well documented. Breaking Bad went out at the top of its game, and for that, I’m thankful, but it’s the ultimate bittersweet goodbye. Thanks for the memories, Vince Gilligan. Have an A-1 day.
The Best of the Rest
– Marty Robbins provides the soundtrack to Walt’s tour de force.
– Walt’s New York Times trick was a crafty move, but man, do I wish setting up an interview was as easy as they made it out to be.
“If we’re gonna go that way, you’re gonna need a bigger knife.” – Walter White
– Jesse looked Christ-like building that box. The snap back to reality was an awesome moment.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was…alive.” It was good to finally hear Walt admit the truth to Skylar and drop the façade of family. It was the most courageous thing Walt had ever done.
Well, thank you to everyone who read my reviews! It was my extreme pleasure to write them and I hope I entertained you a fraction of the amount that this show entertained me.