Never before has a show so grim generated so many hysterical memes.
Before I even start this spoiler-tastic update about the finale of Breaking Bad, I just want to say how proud I am that a substantial portion of the American public is nerding out over a television event that…
1) Was not sports
2) Did not involve Kardashians or storage unit auctions
3) Was scripted, and
4) Was scripted very well.
Sure, our entire federal government may be held hostage by about 30 country-dwelling mouthbreathers, but damn if we haven’t begun to cultivate a refined taste in television! We may never stop being a nation of couch potatoes, but at least now it’s because there’s something good on TV.
I thought the finale of Breaking Bad was amazing. Yeah, motherfucker, I did just use the word ‘amazing’, and I used it correctly, because I was quite honestly amazed by how good that episode was. It’s not like I had low expectations or anything – my reaction to pretty much every Breaking Bad episode is ‘OMG WTF SO GOOD NEXTONE’ – but I’ve been burned by finales in the past.
I tend to hate endings that try to tie up every loose end. Case in point: Battlestar Galactica, where the writers capped off four dark, intense, complex seasons with a Wayne’s World-style “mega-happy ending” that put a nice friendly bow on several unresolved subplots and then filed everything else under “God did it.”
I’m a sucker for realism, and real life is often confusing and devoid of closure. For that reason, I loved the incredibly controversial finale to The Sopranos, and I’m eagerly awaiting a similar mindfuck when Sopranos-alumni Matthew Weiner ends Mad Men next year.
But it worked for Breaking Bad because Breaking Bad, thanks to its detail-oriented protagonist, has always kind of been a show about tying up loose ends, usually in such a decisively violent way that they never come untied. I mean, Walt and Jesse spend nearly half of the first season just trying to clean up the mess they made in the pilot! And that mess – disposing of a dead body and strangling a captive drug dealer with a bike lock – seems almost trivial compared to the messes they get into in subsequent seasons.
And because I’m a sucker for realism it was that ‘devil in the details’ theme that made it so enjoyable for me. Watching Walt and Jesse’s Keystone Kops approach to crime was fun; watching them frantically trying to cover their tracks was damn good television.
I remember that in the runup to the last eight episodes, when Walt had all but become suburban Scarface, the hot question among fans was “So, are you still rooting for Walt?”
Yes! Obviously! Of course I am! How could there be any other answer than the one I am giving you right now!?!
Walt’s actions became increasingly reprehensible as the series went on, but they were reprehensible in such a fun way! He used science and the occasional wheelchair-bound cholo to kill gangsters and gain power – at his best, Walt was like Evil McGyver, or Ted Kaczynski The Science Guy.
Debating the morality of his actions was fun, and also integral to the experience of watching the show, but nothing he did – up to and including poisoning a child and setting off a bomb in a nursing home on the same day – ever made me say ‘Well, that tears it – now I’m rooting for Hank!’
I was cheering for Walt until the end because I felt sorry for him from the beginning. Walt, a loving father, dedicated teacher, and brilliant chemist spent most of his life living with regret and feelings of inadequacy, teaching chemistry to disrespectful jocks while watching his old business partner get rich and famous running the company he’d walked away from years ago. And then, on top of that, he got lung cancer.
Watching Walt decide to quit taking life’s shit and transform himself into a badass meth cooking, sports car driving, hat-wearing alpha male was the realization of a certain power fantasy that every guy is acutely familiar with. Even Walt’s darkest activities were satisfying on some level, because it felt like he was finally triumphing over a world that had been beating him down and cruelly mocking him for years.
Walt’s confession in the finale – “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.” – hit the nail on the head. Walt’s tragedy was that despite his considerable genius and affable nature, the only thing he was truly good at was being bad. The fact that Walt was able to be bad for a year, and that he was able to become so successful, feared, and legendary as a bad guy, was perhaps the best luck he had in his life.
“I was really… I was alive.”
I watched the finale with my buddy John and his gay dog Milo, and afterwards we both talked about how surprised – and relieved – we were that the show had had a happy ending, because we had both feared that things would be a lot darker.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at what constitutes a ‘happy ending’ on Breaking Bad:
1) Dead protagonist
2) Protagonist’s family hates him and curses his name
3) Protagonist’s longtime collaborator, rescued by protagonist from a squad of neo-Nazis using him as a broken-spirited meth slave, walks out of protagonist’s life forever
4) Single mother is fatally poisoned by protagonist
5) $80 million is lost to the sands of time
6) Some poor Volvo owner in bumfuck New Hampshire has his car stolen
I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Truman Capps definitely isn’t the one who knocks.