The following article is about last night's Breaking Bad finale. Spoilers follow.
I haven’t written about Breaking Bad before now, because my recent obsession with the show is just that: recent. I watched the pilot many years ago, and was really turned off by it. It felt clunky and overly expository. I thought that, if a show had to spend so much time proving the legitimacy of the world, than this was not a show worth getting into.
Boy, was I wrong. Over the past year, marathon viewing sessions of Breaking Bad have made me a much darker person, but they have also instilled in me a hope for television’s future. With a landscape populated with sub-par reality television and inexplicably popular CBS sitcoms, it was nice to see a show that was both a ratings hit (especially in the final, protracted season) and a critical darling. It was incredible to see a show that didn't f*ck around with the audience, that was constantly rewarding, and that didn't sacrifice character for story (with a few minor exceptions). It was great to see a series that wasn't so up its own ass that it was afraid to innovate and change, molding the narrative as it went along. After years of Lost creators telling people that they had an endgame in mind when they totally didn't, it was nice to see a show that gladly flew by the seat of its pants when it came to breaking character and story arcs. This loose structure made itpossible for the show to cater to its strengths and leave some of its weaknesses behind. It allowed Bob Odenkirk's Saul Goodman to become an integral part of the show and Aaron Paul's Jesse to survive past the first season. It allowed the show to be surprising.
Looking back at the monologue that opens the series, it's interesting to see how far the character of Walter White has come and to see how shades of his maniacal behavior were embedded in him from the beginning:
“My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 87104. To all law enforcement entities, this is not an admission of guilt. I am speaking to my family now. Skyler, you are the love of my life, I hope you know that. Walter Jr., you're my big man. There are... there are going to be some things, things that you'll come to learn about me in the next few days. I just want you to know that, no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart. Goodbye.”
Last night, when Walter makes the admission to Skyler that his two-year empire building was, in fact, all for himself, it was as if audiences everywhere could finally unclench. The facade falls away. And really, that’s what last night’s finale was all about: stripping characters down, showing their core selves, and then watching as that core either leads to their redemption or undoing. Jesse is an artist finally given the chance to be free (for a while). Skyler is a husk, but she’s surviving. Marie is still the mother hen, watching out for Skyler when, in all honesty, she should hate her. And Walter White is, ultimately, a terrible person, but he really tries in his final hours to undo some of what he has done, to get back to his idea of the perfect man, father, and protector. I mean, a man who kills a slew of neo-Nazis can't be all bad.
As an audience, we get a satisfying ending to this saga, but, as Lost so succinctly put it, everyone dies sometime. And death has never seemed more predestined as it does for the characters on Breaking Bad. For the most part, they're all ghosts, tripping through life towards its inevitable conclusion. Well, except for Jesse. Jesse gets to ride off happily into the desert, maniacally laughing, never more alive than in his final moments on the show. Jesse gets the possibility of a happily ever after. Everyone else just gets an after. Which, in its own way, is pretty perfect.
Breaking Bad, I only have you in my heart. Goodbye.