Tonight marked the end of one of television’s best shows of the past decade and perhaps the past twenty or thirty years. Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad changed Bryan Cranston from a goofball dad on Malcolm in the Middle to a ruthless drug kingpin and made a star out of Aaron Paul. Along the series’ run, it got brilliant acting from actors such as Dean J Norris (Hank), Anna Gun (Skyler), Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman), Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring) and others. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
I first became aware of the show at the premiere of its second season. It had enough positive traction that I thought I’d give it a try. AMC only offered the pilot online, but it was enough to get me hooked. Soon, I began watching the show every week. Breaking Bad became a national phenomenon, arguably racing past AMC’s other showcase, Mad Men, as the critic’s favorite. “Felina” was a remarkable 75 minutes of television that served as an endcap for the show.
Throughout the course of the series, many people pointed to Walter White as sort of an anti-hero, thinking he was the protagonist of the whole show. Greed, in truth, is the driving force. Walt wanted an empire, and that desire to rule drove him and the people around him to dangerous lengths. Creator Vince Gilligan used Walt tonight as the final mode of delivery for characters and the show.
Walter started a trust-fund for his kids and scared the shit out of his old Gray Matter cohorts with laser pointers wielded by Badger and Skinny Pete. A small scene tells the whole of the show. Badger says what they did wasn’t moral, and he felt awful about it. Walt hands Badger and Pete a stack of cash and asks “How do you feel about it now?” Badger responds “Better”. Breaking Bad’s entire run is summed up thusly, money will make you avoid or even break all of the principles you’ve ever held.
White continues with his last day or so on earth (excuse me if I’m getting timeframes wrong), by meeting Todd and Lydia at the cafe. Many people have guessed, and the ricin went to Lydia, to help in the implosion of the white power meth connection. He gives Sklyer the lotto ticket with coordinates, and eventually we get to our final, most-discussed scene.
Walt has a car he’s stolen from New Hampshire. He wants to do one last deal, if necessary with Uncle Jack and his crew. He’s frisked on the way in, and all he has is his wallet and car keys-with a remote keyless entry. Remember that car Walt stole? It’s from the 70s, and it would be highly unusual for it to have RKE. Once inside, a tense confrontation happens between Uncle Jack and Walt….and Kenny (Jack’s number 2) is ready to put a bullet in Walt’s head. White manages to cause a distraction, by bringing up Jesse. Eventually, Jesse is brought in to the room, with Walter going at him and bringing him to the ground…and Walt hits the RKE. Machine guns pop out of the car’s trunk, spraying the clubhouse and killing everyone…..except Todd, Walt, and Jesse. Todd is strangled to death by Jesse, leaving a one-on-one between the show’s two main characters.
Walt asks Jesse to shoot him. Jesse, shaken, ultimately decides not to. While one might see this as Jesse recanting his relationship with Mr White. I think that he has finally taken the morals over the money. Jesse then races off in an El Camino, away from everything (and in to Need For Speed only in theaters this Spring!). Walt, it turns, out got hit. He goes down to where Jesse was cooking for Uncle Jack’s crew and reminisces on his career as a kingpin, before collapsing. Breaking Bad couldn’t end without a musical montage, and Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” plays us out. The lyrics start with “Guess I got what I deserved” before a chorus about, well, the love for baby blue (which is the blue meth of course).
In a previous post, I mentioned how I wasn’t a fan of guns and wanting to be an active participant in games like GTAV. I still don’t. Yet, I feel extremely hypocritical in watching and enjoying Breaking Bad. Violence is a large component of the show. and does make it exciting, but it’s not why I think the show is so good. It has strong writing, adventurous editing, and a sense of style other shows have yet to touch. The episode set-up was never the same, while never sacrificing the story for the sake of style. Critically, those are the things I loved. Personally, I don’t know why I’m okay with the guns and this constant cognitive dissonance in my head. Perhaps because the guns aren’t used as “fun” objects, but as what they really are-ruthless weapons that lead to death.
Television shows are not made to create lessons. Expecting one from Breaking Bad is silly. Yet, I think you could surmise one. Essentially, it is that following what is right (and that’s….gray matter) will lead you in the right direction, and greed, for whatever item (money, power, fame) will ultimately lead to a downfall. You can have one with the other, you need to learn how to balance them. Breaking Bad is gone. Thankfully, it was incredible.