Photo: Ursula Coyote / AMC

The Last Couple in America To Catch Up On Breaking Bad Has Some Final Thoughts About Breaking Bad

Spoiler alert: It's a good show.

Before we begin, let me just put out there that a beloved television show will never ever come to a conclusion everyone will be pleased with. Some percentage of viewers will always be left wanting. My theory: Deep down, fans of shows don't want their shows to end. They want them to continue forever, always maintaining the quality of plot and character development and surprise and magic the shows had when they first hooked us.

In this way -- fittingly, since we're speaking of Breaking Bad -- great shows act on us like illicit drugs. And we forever chase that first high, eventually getting mad at the show for not continuing to get us high like it did that first time.

That's why, at the end of a show's run, when we're all having immediate pangs of withdrawal, many of us feel an emptiness that we ascribe to an inherent lack in that final episode. I'm not saying this is always the case. Finales don't have to (and can't possibly) please everyone. Nor am I saying that people who didn't love the Breaking Bad finale are wrong. Not at all.

But let's all just admit it. When a show we love ends, but leaves a ton of loose ends (I'm looking at you, Lost, but not you exclusively), we fucking hate it. "How lazy!" we may scream at the TV. "Couldn't the writers have found a way, in that hour or more, to address that one simple fact, to put it to bed once and for all?" But we should also admit that when a beloved show ties up its loose ends, we're sort of equally disappointed. "How lazy!" we may scream at the TV. "Did the writers have to make everything so neat and tidy?"

In the case of Breaking Bad, I think the answer to that last question is, "Yes. Yes they did. Because it's the way they've always done it."

Because Wendy and I watched Breaking Bad the way we did, the complete arc of the entire run of the series, every detail and nuance, was as fresh in our minds as possible. Repeatedly, I felt rewarded for the show's crazily meticulous attention to detail. And that's part of the reason the finale worked so well for me. Over its five seasons, Breaking Bad wasted so few words and actions and nuances, so of course the series ended with a finale that was a true close-the-book-put-it-on-the-shelf ending. It made perfect sense that nearly all the loose ends were tied up. All but the mysterious Chilean background of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).

Some have complained, "But wasn't it a bit convenient that all of the Nazis were in that one building so they could all be killed by Walt's (Bryan Cranston) cool robo-gun?" Okay, yes. Sure it was. In fact, it was exactly as convenient as all of the Mexican cartel guys attending Don Eladio's (Steven Bauer) pool party so that Gus could exterminate them. And exactly as convenient as Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) having the necessary skills and connections to carry out the murders of ten men in three different prisons in a two-minute window. Also to be filed under "convenient": Todd (Jesse Plemons) having an Uncle Jack in the first place, who just happened to have that useful set of skills. I'm not harshing on those details, mind you. I'm just saying the events of the finale unfolded in a familiar way, in a very Breaking Bad way. The resolution of Walt's final adversaries was as neat and tidy as all those that preceded it.

Others have complained that Walt got off easy, or that he got to go out on his terms. I would argue that dying alone, slowly, of a gut wound, in a desert meth lab run by Nazis doesn't seem much like "getting off easy." But that's just me. Different people have different views of what may or may not be "easy." And as for "going out on his own terms," for stage-managing his life successfully one last time, I say, "So what?" Yes, in a way, that is correct. He did do that. But it went down that way because, again, that's the dynamic of the show, has been since Episode 1.

But it's not like Walt gets everything he wants. He doesn't get to repair his relationship with Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte), he doesn't get to see Holly grow up, he doesn't get to make amends for the wrongs he has caused. And mostly, he doesn't get the admiration and praise he thought Heisenberg would earn him. Only shame and regret. Walter White had to die, because that was the promise of the first episode, where lung cancer stood in for Chekhov's gun.

Walt does get some grace, though, and peace. And because of the way the finale was written, I believed that he deserved it. In the end, Walt found his humanity -- what was left of it, anyway. And he did his best with what was left of it in the time he had. Vince Gilligan and others involved with the show talked about how Breaking Bad embarked upon a thing other shows never did, namely having a main character change, in this case from Mr. Chips to Scarface, throughout the course of a show. But I would say that Walter White did not change. He steadfastly held to the petty, manipulative, bitter person he was from even before the events of the show began.

Walt didn't really change until he was exiled to New Hampshire. Only then did he realize his lie about doing this for his family was exactly that: a lie. The truth, and his fatal flaw if we're to get all Shakespearean and shit, was that he loved making meth. Making meth was his true love, the love he lived and died for.

I'm not sad Breaking Bad is over. Because of our marathon journey, I was actually relieved it was over. To be honest, I wanted my evenings back. I wanted to watch other TV shows -- the new fall season, for example. But I'm also not sad because, if the show had gone on, it would have gone on too long. Sixty-two episodes was exactly the right number. The journey of Walter White was never meant to be open-ended. It was built to be lean and economical, and had consistently been so. Which is why the finale didn't surprise or dissatisfy me. Which is why I found it so perfect and breathtaking.

Very few TV shows accomplish what Breaking Bad did. It's hard to bring to mind a show that "went out on top" in finer fashion than Breaking Bad. Having just watched all sixty-two episodes in less than six weeks, I can tell you that the quality of the show, season to season, episode to episode, increased steadily as it went. Breaking Bad was a rocket ship we watched leave the launch pad and climb higher and higher until it disappeared from our sight, leaving the Earth's gravitational pull.

There it goes, we said. We may never see its kind again.

Well, that's it. All my new friends, Walt and Badger and Skinny Pete and Skyler and Marie and a pack of Nazis and Lydia, and Jesse, all done. Some died, some lived, but all were fictional characters to whom I felt way, way too attached. I was pretty surprised to read that some critics weren't happy with the finale -- that it was too neat, too predictable, that they didn't buy Walt's semi- or pseudo-redemption. After watching this whole series in barely over a month, I found myself feeling a tad, ahem, defensive about what I was reading. Maybe it's Stockholm syndrome, maybe it just really is that good. I feel that, in the final installment of this weird diary, I have to offer a retort to the critics who found the finale somehow wanting.

I loved the finale.

Critics complaining about neatness and coincidence are ignoring that the series throughout had a strong history of neatness and coincidence. To wit: Walt happened to walk into Jesse's (Aaron Paul) place just as Jane (Krysten Ritter) convulsed and died; he happened to run into her dad, who happened to be an air-traffic controller, who happened to smash two planes together, the debris of which happened to fall on Walt's home, yard, and car. Isn't that neat? Everything in this series was always, always, circling back towards Walt. Because even though so much in the series felt real -- was anything ever more real than the brown-ness of the White residence? -- the series was also an allegory about what happens when a good man, an everyman, falls victim to temptation. And I bought it.

I bought it even at its most grandiose, biblical level. As complicated as it all was on paper, the entire series is a simple caution against the temptations of the devil as he has been known for thousands of years. I mean, several times in the final season, Walt is actually referred to as the devil -- including once in a tossed-off way by Marie (Betsy Brandt), heard partially through a door as Hank (Dean Norris) emerges from the house after finding the Walt Whitman book. And the series is nothing if not a tale of the fall from heaven of one Walter White. Walter falls, Walter begins reaping the souls from all around him, and in the end, Walter returns briefly to the world of God (the Schwartzes house -- c'mon! You have to admit it looked like heaven. And everything in it seemed to operate by magic!) to ask that the world that he cast himself out of at least take pity on his son.

In other words, it wasn't just that Vince Gilligan promised not to leave us literally in the dark like The Sopranos did, but that an ambiguous ending, a big moral question mark, would have sold out the series as a whole. Breaking Bad did big better than anything I've ever seen. It was an opera, not a post-modern meditation. Babies were born, people died -- sometimes under ATM machines -- families were torn asunder, marriages destroyed, brother turned on brother, son on father, a pair of twins with axes slouched towards Bethlehem (or at least crawled towards a shrine).

The Sopranos, Dexter, they cautioned us against crime with one hand while luring us on with the other. When Tony Soprano and Dexter committed bad acts, it was always with a wink. We knew that somehow they were doing it for us. But Walter was only doing it for himself. He liked it. He was good at it. He felt alive. And sure, he had a couple redemptive moments in the finale, did a couple good -- or at least not bad -- things. But then he fucking died. Alone. In a meth lab. Because that's what he deserved. Where The Sopranos and Dexter couldn't kill their smirking demon-kings, Breaking Bad pulled the trigger. And it was pretty goddamned satisfying.

Great fucking finale. Even better show. And now I'm going to get some sleep and never do something like this again.

But P.S. what should we binge watch next? The Shield? Maybe The Shield.

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Part 10 of 10 in the series

Jeff & Wendy's Breaking Bad Marathon Diary

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