I’m not an avid viewer of modern television by any means. I even unplugged my cable back in about 2008 just before this. And never looked back.
But for a few years now, people have been telling me that I have GOT to start watching some of the current popular shows. The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Dexter, Arrested Development, Six Feet Under, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, etc.
One night a few months ago, I thought it’d be entertaining to roll the pilot episode of each of the big shows. Giving the whole pop-television spectrum a quick glaze over. To see what the big deal was with each show. I began my exercise with Breaking Bad, streaming it on Netflix. One of the main reasons I chose Breaking Bad was because it had been announced that the series would be a contained, finite one, ending after Season 5. I love endings, so I committed.
About eight hours after watching the Breaking Bad pilot, at just after 4AM, I’d watched the final episode of Season 1. That’s an entire season in a single sitting.
Great show, as you’ve probably heard. Smart. I spent the next several weeks binging on Breaking Bad, devouring Seasons 1 through 4, and the first half of Season 5. By the time the second half of Season 5 was being aired on AMC, I was caught up, ready to join the rest of its cult following down the stretch.
Last night was the final episode of the series. In the weeks that have led up to the show’s conclusion, there’s been quite a bit of debate, speculation, and predictions concerning the final outcome. Particularly the fate of its protagonist, Walter White.
The discussions have gotten pretty deep, and even heated. They actually reminded me of the discussions surrounding The Matrix trilogy just after its second installment in 2003.
Before I step away from all talk of the show, here are some notes on the show itself, and the finale in particular.
Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome. In the episodes that led up to the end, there was one single question that rang louder than any other:
WILL WALT REDEEM HIMSELF BEFORE THIS IS ALL OVER?
I found it surprising how torn people were on this issue. In my discussions, it seemed as though perhaps 70% of the audience was expecting Walt go out in flames, unredeemed. They even vilified him, regarding him as a soul-less monster. That’s all probably a testament to some clever writing, which, in many cases, intentionally misled viewers.
Probably the best example of ^^this was in S5E14, ‘Oxymandias’. Hailed by Vince Gilligan himself as the best episode in the entire series, I found most people walking away believing that Walt had completely lost it. The knife fight, the baby abduction, the intense driveway scene, the venomous phone call, and so forth. On the surface, it certainly looked as though Walt had gone full-bad. Over-the-edge, point-of-no-return, make-no-mistake-about-it evil.
Yet I never saw it that way. If you look closely at ‘Oxymandias’, every single one of Walt’s actions was totally in character. What looked like a violent knife attack wasn’t an attack by Walt at all; Skyler was the one instigating the violence. What looked like a baby abduction was in fact a calculated move on Walt’s part to get the phones monitored so that he could absolve Skyler of criminal involvement, and get it on record. The police’s first-course of action in any child abduction is to monitor the phones. Walt knew this.
Walt was “bad” in the sense that he had bouts of greed, an inflated ego, and delusions of grandeur. But I’ll always argue that he was never *inherently* bad. Whether or not there’s a difference is probably an issue of semantics. As Walt declared into the camera in the series’ pilot:
“No matter how it may look, I had all three of you in my heart.”
So again, overall, I’m pleased with the outcome of the show. But it wasn’t a perfect 10. I did notice some missed opportunities and other things that kinda bothered me:
1. UNRESOLVED ISSUES WITH WALT JUNIOR.
Fail. I would’ve liked to see Walt have one final and CRITICAL one-on-one conversation with his son. As it ends now, the kid’s gonna go through life wrongly believing that his father murdered his uncle and attacked his mother with a knife. And “Why don’t you just go die?” are not the final words anybody wants to remember telling their dad.
2. JESSE PINKMAN’S BLATANT UNGRACIOUSNESS.
Fail. After all this, it seemed in order for Pinkman to at least offer a hint of gratitude toward Walt for bailing him out of Hell. I realize that people believe Jesse got the short end of the stick, and never deserved what he got. But let’s not forget that he was Captain Cook, and got himself into this stuff long before Walt came along. He also had the opportunity to take a new life in Alaska. But no. He went after Walt, threatened his family, and even tried to burn the house down.
3. WE DESERVED ONE FINAL “BITCH!!!”.
It’s Pinkman’s signature, and arguably even the show’s tagline. It seemed in order for Pinkman to holler “YEAH, BITCH!” one more time as he drove off in the El Camino. Or better yet, “GET IN, BITCH!!!” (See #2)
4. JACK ALLOWING WALT TO SEE JESSE AT THE LAST MINUTE.
I cringed. Too convenient! Just as the Nation’s about to take Walt out to the parking lot and off him, Jack suddenly instructs them to stop just so he can prove that he’s been holding Pinkman prisoner? It served no purpose other than to set up the final massacre. I squirmed at this one. It was cheating.
5. WALT’S DEPENDENCE ON THE KEYS.
After rigging a robotic machine gun, you’d think that this mechanical mastermind would’ve had a more reliable method of carrying out the plan. At least a backup set of keys, no?
6. NOBODY CHECKED THE TRUNK.
7. WALT’S FINAL TELEPHONE CONVO WITH LYDIA.
Too on-the-nose. The only reason for him to mention the ricin was so that the slower people in the audience wouldn’t miss it. Something subtle was called for here. Walt: “How you feeling?” Lydia: “Why?” Walt: “No reason.” etc. We get it. Trust us.
8. THE SYMBOLIC $737,000.
Ah, missed opportunity! How poetic it would have been for Walt to lose all his money EXCEPT the NEEDED $737,000 that he calculated as sufficient back in Season 1. As tragic as the ending is, having Walt scrape by with the bare minimum would’ve been a nice cherry on top of an otherwise decent ending.
9. THE ANDREA/BROCK DIGRESSION.
This is by far the one that bothers me the most. The Andrea/Brock factor in Season 4 was the weakest part of the entire series, and that weakness became even more clear when they were re-introduced in S5.
Recall how much energy Jesse put into his relationship with Jane. You could even argue that they were soul mates, planning to visit every corner of the globe together.
Then Jane died. After mourning her for maybe a few months, Pinkman suddenly finds an undying allegiance to some random AA chick (Andrea) and her kid (Brock). Why? Because the kid plays Sega? Also recall that meanwhile, Jesse’s throwing 5-day benders and doesn’t give a f about anything. Jesse’s paternal instincts toward Brock made no sense, and were totally out of character in light of his other reckless antics.
Tighter would’ve been to either a) consolidate the Jane/Andrea characters into one girl, or b) have Andrea be an ex-fling, with Brock being Jesse’s newly discovered biological kid. That way Jesse’s primal allegiance toward the kid would be believable. As it is, it feels tacked on. Artificially raising the stakes in S4.
All ^^that said, I found the murder of Andrea empty and not as effective as it could have been if there was a *believable* connection between her and Jesse.
Which brings me to:
10. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO JESSE PINKMAN’S REAL FAMILY?
Remember the mother and father from Season 1? And the little brother? A clean alternative to the Andrea/Brock factor would’ve been to revisit the Pinkmans, and have Jesse show at least some natural concern for his *real* little brother’s welfare. All that love he had for Brock could’ve been stronger if the object of the love was a blood relative. It’d also have made the whole Lily of the Valley sequence more dramatic.
Then, at the end of S5, it’d have made perfect sense for the Nation to go after the Pinkmans. Perhaps even using a family photograph with the paperclip. Yeah, I realize Jesse hated his family, and perhaps understandably so. But no matter how much a dude hates his family, they’re still family. It’s a primal thing.
Think about it. How much more dramatic would it have been to have Todd not murder Andrea, but Jesse’s parents? With the little brother upstairs? Missed opportunity there. I found the Andrea murder ineffective, simply because I hadn’t been given enough time and reason to care about her on a primal level.
But enough negative talk. In the end, I dug the show, and especially loved Vince Gilligan’s closing props to Rod Serling. He calls The Twilight Zone his favorite television show ever, declaring he’s seen every episode at least ten times. We undoubtedly share something there.
If you haven’t experienced Breaking Bad yet, it’s a good one to throw into your Netflix queue. Have fun with it.