Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thursday Review: Breaking Bad Finale (Spoiler Alert!)

With all apologies to Briane Pagel, today I will be talking about the end to Breaking Bad.  And yes this will probably contain spoilers, so don't read any further if you don't want it "ruined" for you.

Final episodes of a series can be challenging unless the show gets cancelled without much warning and then it's pretty simple.  Otherwise writers tend to strain too hard to come up with something epic enough for a final episode.  This works especially bad with sitcoms as noted by terrible final episodes for series like Seinfeld, Newhart, and Cheers.  The last episodes for Roseanne and Murphy Brown sounded so awful I never watched them.  I guess it's too easy to succumb to that M. Night "What a twist!" formula:  let's send all our characters to jail!  Let's have the whole series be a dream!  Let's blow up the whole damned town!

In some cases though the final episode is pretty damned easy to write.  Like M*A*S*H you knew the last episode had to be the end of the war.  Star Trek Voyager and Battlestar Galactica you knew they had to get to Earth.  Smallville you knew Clark Kent had to become Superman.  If you didn't see that coming you're an idiot because the very concept of each show dictated that.

With Breaking Bad you knew there had to be some final reckoning for Walter White.  Before this last half-season it could have been that Walter got busted by the Feds or that he had a falling out with his business associates.  With the start of this last half-season when he picks up a new car with a machine-gun in the trunk you knew it was going to be the latter.  It was going to end Old West style with a shootout at high noon.  (Or midnight really.)

The reveal with the machine gun at the start of the season kind of killed some of the drama in later episodes.  I mean when the shootout in desert happens, you know Walt isn't going to die because obviously he lives to his 52nd birthday.  The only question was who else was going to die.

Once Hank died, you pretty much knew who the machine gun was going to be used on.  The only thing that threw me off was what Walt would do to his former business associates, the Schwartzes.  The way the penultimate episode ended, I thought Walt's hubris would drive him to kill the Schwartzes, maybe with the ricin.  Because really up until that point while Walt might seem like a mild-mannered pussy most of the time, he also had a big ego, evident when he tells the one drug dealer, "Say my name."  It made sense to me then that he'd do a Michael Corleone and sweep up his whole enemies list in one fell swoop.

So it kind of annoyed me in the final episode to find out that apparently Walt had some big epiphany at some point and realized this shitstorm was all his own making and he should try to clean it up.  Though I suppose he had been through most of the stages of grief by then.  He tried to deny the problems, he tried to bargain his way out with Hank and with Jack, plus obviously he got angry.  So I guess at some point there he reached Acceptance and decided how to deal with the problem.

I did enjoy how he solved his problems.  First how he took care of putting the Schwartzes in their place ($9 million in cash on your coffee table, BOOM!!!) and then how he convinces them to get the money to his son.  Then how he took down that wanna-be gangster Lydia.  At last, the ricin gets used for its intended purpose!  Then how he takes care of Jack's crew is worthy of MacGuyver.  SCIENCE!  (Or engineering I suppose.)

After all that happened, of course in the end it had to come down to Walt and Jesse.  I'm not sure what Walt was thinking, whether he was still in denial thinking Jesse was like his adopted son or if he just thought, "Hey, I really screwed this kid over so maybe I should help him out."  But hey they started the business together so it was fitting they ended it together.

For Briane Pagel there was a Star Wars reference in there in how Jesse does the Princess Leia from Return of the Jedi on Todd, though mercifully without a gold bikini.  Really you could compare Walt's final act to Darth Vader in that movie as he finally reveals there is still good in him.  But Jesse isn't going to be burning him on a funeral pyre in the woods, though perhaps Walt's ghost will continue to haunt him for years to come.

There are still questions left unanswered, but I don't mind that.  It ended kind of like how I end a lot of my books, with a bittersweet victory.  Even if everything wasn't wrapped up in a neat little package, it wrapped up Walt's storyline well enough.  The rest of it can wait until a reunion show.  (Ugh, I hope not.  The only thing worse than most final shows are reunion shows.)

Anyway, despite a few minor flaws this was one of the best final episodes of a program I've seen.  And now if you haven't watched it you can start watching the whole epic saga of Walt's transformation into Dark Lord of the Meth and his return from the dark side on Netflix or one of those other things.  Or buy the whole thing on DVD in November.


  1. I'm not sure if I understand correctly -- I didn't watch the show -- but it kind of sounds like they spent about five years making Walt superbad and then cleaned him up at the end. That feels a bit like a cop-out to me, tacking on a pseudo-happy ending to an otherwise dark storyline. I mean, wasn't the plot that he started this to provide for his family and then, once he had achieved that he kept going -- so that even his original motivation is suspect, and perhaps the 'provides for his family' was simply a convenient moral cover he provided himself to avoid admitting that he was no better than a common (or uncommon, I guess) criminal?

    To then in the end have him repent, like I said, seems to undermine that story arc. If the theme is that we are all evil, at least a little, or maybe we are all susceptible to corruption -- a play, perhaps, on Les Miserables? Turning the story around, a bit? -- then it could have been a good brooding meditation on whether we are evil by nature or by our own design, but if the answer is "HEY, WE'RE NEITHER WE'RE ALL ACTUALLY GOOD PEOPLE IN THE END" then, well, PLEH.

    Also: The ending to Battlestar Galactica, the new series, was AWFUL. I hated it. It completely wrecked the show for me.

  2. Didn't read.
    Haven't seen it as yet.

  3. I didn't read a word. I intend on watching the whole show soon.

  4. I watched the last episode, but only because of peer pressure. Having only watched the first and last episode with a few clips in between I can say that it was a great ending for any series since it was so final. On the other hand, I didn't know any of the characters so the ending had no impact on me although there were many surprises.

  5. Great review. I agree with you. On top of that, it's one of those shows that I can talk with anyone about because there are so many layers. Here's an example of one of those layers, put together by my friend

  6. Thanks for the spoiler alert. I'll pick you up tomorrow.

  7. I was always of the opinion that Walter was made into a villain very easily, and that the show, by Vince Gilligan's own admission, like this kind of spiral out of control. Redemption should have been coming well before a spark in the final episode.



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