“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.”
If you feel as though you might need a support group after Sunday night’s series finale of Breaking Bad, you’ve come to the right place. After five seasons of unique camera angles and cinematography, silent scenes, terrifying scenes, tense fights, explosions, plot twists and completely memorable characters, it all came to an end exactly how it should have.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was terrified of letting down fans with the ultimate end, but I think he can breathe easy this morning. The finale wasn’t as high stakes as probably every other episode of this final season (save last week’s penultimate), but after “Ozymandias” we weren’t going to be topped. Gilligan knew it, and I think we knew it, too.
Unlike so many other disappointing endings to once legendary series, (Dexter, The Sopranos and Lost, I’m looking at you), Breaking Bad left it to science. Walter White was never a superhero. Even though he evaded police after exposing himself to Carol (“or Becky”), showed up at the café to confront Lydia and Todd, and managed to see Skyler, he was a dying man and we never forgot it.
“Felina” paid homage to all of the remaining characters we wanted to see — including “deadly assassins” Badger and Skinny Pete — largely avoided flashbacks except for Hank giving Walt the idea to cook meth in the first place, and gave Walt a satisfying conclusion, in which his children will receive the money he worked so hard to procure. In the end, it was no longer about the money for Walt, which made him likeable once again, just before his death.
We saw so much of what came coming, but it was still shocking or fun to see, and that’s why this series has had so much success. We knew Walt didn’t hire assassins, but who wasn’t pumped to see Jesse’s buddies one final time? Everyone had an inkling that Walt would be standing in Skyler’s new place after she hung up the phone with Marie, but didn’t we smile anyhow — especially when Walt gave her the lottery ticket to help her get off with the cops? And who didn’t cheer when Jesse jumped up at the club house and gave Todd exactly what he deserved?
Perhaps the only thing we didn’t see coming was Walt accidentally killing himself with his rigged machine gun. I think a lot of people, including myself, wanted to see Jesse do that. But once he realized his former mentor had been shot and was going to die either way, he refused to give Walt what he wanted. Finally, Jesse got a break, and it was the damned luckiest one he could have had. Watching him drive off while laughing maniacally was one of the episode’s highlights.
And so we were left with Walt. He went down in the lab — with full credit for creating the purest meth ever seen, from his own hand, alone, to the tune of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” It was the perfect song for the final shot we’ll ever have of Walter White. As he lay dying on the ground, surrounded by what he loved, I guess he did get what he deserved.
And now it’s over, and I’m left feeling a little empty this morning. Only truly great television has that effect. As I wrote before this season started, this show has ruined all other TV for me. Every scene ever showcased has meant something to the overall story, right up to the ricin that killed Lydia (Walt brought it to a meeting with her before hiding it), and the machine gun that wiped out the uncles (who killed Hank the same way). Someone on social media wrote recently that he felt as though we’re all taking a giant crash course on the show that is Breaking Bad — there’s just that much to talk about. But now we’ve all excelled under the tutelage of Walter White, graduated, and now it’s time to go our own ways.
After Season 4, I was tasked with presenting Breaking Bad with a trophy for Outstanding Achievement in Drama at the Television Critics Association Awards. As part of my last review for the show, I thought I’d leave you guys with those words, while I go choke back some tears. And remember, respect the chemistry, bitch.
This year’s winner for Outstanding Achievement in Drama is no stranger to critical praise. In its fourth season, this series did what it’s always done best; showcased sophisticated storytelling through unparalleled cinematography, bright bursts of colour and punches of sound. It examined characters through some of the most supremely acted, bone-chilling dialogue on television, and creatively conceptualized scenes that will remain forever etched in our minds. The dinging of a bell, the twitch of a finger, the buzz of a Roomba, the spinning of a gun or the simple act of straightening a tie told us plenty without ever saying a word at all.
Methodically and patiently, this show was the one that knocked, then burst through with a hail of bullets. It took us from the desperate despair of a claustrophobic crawl space, and elevated our expectations as to how far a television series could deconstruct, disable and redefine its characters. In the end, Walter White’s continued transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface was nothing short of brilliant.
For all this and more, tonight we tip our Heisenberg hats to the entire cast and crew of Breaking Bad, and here to accept this award, let’s all hail the series king, creator Vince Gilligan.
Let’s all hail him, indeed.
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