There are spoilers. So, if you haven’t seen the series finale, then go ahead and turn the other way right … about …
OK. So, after dozens of episodes, a handful of seasons and thousands of seconds worth of impressively dramatic ebbs and flows, “Breaking Bad” ended last night, probably in the way you — yes, you! — predicted. Whether it be season one, when the then-mustached Walter White killed his first victim with what looked like a bike lock, or season four, when he blew half a guy’s face off to the tune of an obnoxiously loud ringing bell, or season five, when he sort of, kind of, accidentally led a gang of thugs to kill his own brother-in-law, you knew how this would go down. Why? Because it had to.
Vince Gilligan, the series creator, had said all along that he felt viewers would be satisfied at how it all ended. That in mind, I ran a minor social experiment last night, asking three friends who also double as “Breaking Bad” fanatics to simply text message me the second it all faded it black, telling me if they were satisfied without spoiling anything about the episode. The messages, all a little after 10 p.m., read as such:
“I couldn’t be more satisfied.”
“I am completely, 100 percent satisfied.”
An actual phone call from the Person Who Swore It Would Stink, saying this: “I’m definitely satisfied.”
Me? I think it brought forth the exact emotions regarding the show that I’ve chronicled on this blog time and time again when pondering and/or consuming the series through DVDs and/or Amazon’s instant streaming service and those emotions can be summed up most accurately as such:
“It was fine.”
There have been spectacular moments throughout the show’s duration, yes, but there’s also been not-so-spectacular moments — the moments that call to question some people’s desire to label it The Best TV Show Ever. It’s not that I’ve never been impressed with “Breaking Bad,” remember; it’s just that I’ve never agreed with the notion that its place in history lands somewhere between “Printing Press” and “Electricity.”
In that context, the finale couldn’t have been anymore perfect: No real surprises (through all constant flirtation with death, there’s no way you thought they would kill Walt in season three or something, right?). An undercurrent of absurdly unbelievable plot points (yeah, Gretchen and Elliott are soooo going to give that money to Walt’s family; now the dude can somehow make deadly ricin proportions look exactly like decades-old packets of Sweet’N Low). And tremendous performances from its actors (there’s been a lot in the past 12 hours written about how much Walt felt like a ghost, showing up in random places and disappearing without consequence, and there’s no way in h-e-double hockey sticks that a lesser actor could have pulled that off as effectively as Bryan Cranston did throughout all 55 minutes).
Was it the right way to go out? I think so. Hardcore fans seem to be OK with it, and who am I to argue? It wasn’t pretentiously ambiguous like “The Sopranos” and it hasn’t suffered the same backlash “Dexter” endured a week ago today. It was just The Ending Everyone Wanted, which, in essence, was merely a simple way to put a bow on the story. There are some things that are left open to interpretation, of course, and despite the tidiness of how everything went down, there are still stories that aren’t fully explained and there are still questions left unanswered (how are you, New York Times?), but at the end of the day, it’s a bit refreshing to see a television series opt for simplicity rather than obscurity. The show seems to be getting praise for that very approach today, and rightfully so.
Maybe my biggest takeaway from this final run has little to do with the actual quality of the drama and its stories, though. Instead, “Breaking Bad” — and more importantly, the final eight episodes — has single-handedly reminded me of how fun it can be to keep up with a television show while it happens. One (if not THE) biggest detriment to the whole TV Without A TV thing is the fact that it cultivates a viewing experience that almost always is outdated. It takes me years to actually find and then watch a series (season two of “The Good Wife,” here I come), and it takes me even longer to finish said series, all but eliminating any possibility of having current conversation with others who might be a fan of the show.
“Breaking Bad” was different this time. Staying up to date on each episode allowed me to have conversations with people on a weekly basis about what we may or may not think will happen. It was intoxicating, calling friends, sharing text messages/emails and stealing a few minutes every now and then at work, speculating with colleagues about how it all might end. The communal nature of the television-watching experience proved itself valuable in this case, furthering my desire to keep up to date with what was going on. Had I waited for the DVDs, there’s a good chance this final season wouldn’t have been as impressive to me. For that I’m grateful, and for that, I may reconsider my viewing habits as other series come to an end (a Mad Men Project redux?).
As for now, though, we ought to be prepared for countless blog posts, books, documentaries and social media diatribes regarding how much “Breaking Bad” will be missed and where exactly its place in history will stand. I said from the jump that if Jesse went, I’d go with him. The plan, as everyone knows by now, was to kill the character at the end of season one. But then Aaron Paul make lemonade out of his bag of lemons, transformed the performance into the greatest supporting role the medium has ever seen, and ended up being the last man standing after all was said and done.
It was a good, if sometimes great series. It was also outrageously overrated, and for reasons that, five seasons later, I still can’t quite understand, people continue to gravitate toward it with both immense fervor and abnormally loyal passion (if you think the fanfare is going to die down after last night’s episode, you’re sorely mistaken, what with DVD sets and the continued rise of the series’ stars throughout the presumed immediate future). We’ll all miss it for different reasons, but there is no question that it ended at the exact correct time. Stretching it out for another season would have been an injustice to the legacy of such a beloved story. Say what you want about Gilligan, but he knows his timing.
And with that, I will now leave you with this, Conan’s final look at the show’s biggest two players …