On Sunday night, television viewers gathered together to mourn a great loss: the end of Breaking Bad. We’ve been forced to say goodbye to a show that hasn’t loosened its grip on our attention for five seasons, and everyone could have easily done with another five more. Here are some final thoughts on the closing of a series that has left a lasting legacy and raised the bar for television dramas to come.
The Finale and Where It Leaves Us
If it had to end, at least it ended like this. While I’ve seen a few reviews that complain of questions left unanswered, I agree with the majority that “Felina” was artfully crafted, revealing enough, and wholly gratifying.
Although we don’t get to see it play out in the future, the writing and directing makes clear what we’re supposed to believe. Walt Jr. is getting all of Walt’s money. In the final shot of Gretchen and Elliot, they are crippled by fear, signaling they will follow Walt’s orders. If there were another season coming, we might wonder what future twist could collapse this brilliant plan. But because this is the finale, we know it’s the writers’ way of letting us know that Walt Jr. is going to get that money.
And Skyler gets some closure as well. She finally gets to hear Walt admit that his greatest motivation wasn’t his family as he had been claiming all along. This action is perhaps the most selfless thing he’s done for his family thus far, because it sets them free from any lingering loyalty they might have to him as a man who was just trying to protect them. They know now with all certainty that he wasn’t, and thus can leave any love or mixed feelings for him behind as they try to rebuild their lives.
Skyler has a bargaining chip for minimal punishment. We don’t know the details or exactly how it’ll play out, but the writers have set the scene to make us believe it’ll work. This, like with Walt Jr., is the best way the show can let us see into the future without lessening its integrity and giving us a cheesy flash forward into the future.
Perhaps most ambiguous is Jesse’s ending. As we see him bust down the Nazi headquarter gates, we’re not quite sure where he’s going but we have hints: his final moments foreshadow freedom. He strangles his immediate captor, Todd, with his own shackles. But most telling is his last exchange with Walt.
Throughout the entire series, the greatest force of power over Jesse—beyond his drug addiction, his passionate tendency to follow his heart, and his need for money—has been Walt. Walt’s been pulling puppet strings on Jesse from the start, and even when Jesse finally cuts the cord and rats him out to Hank, the plan goes awry and Walt has the final say in sentencing Jesse to death by the Nazis. In the final scene, Walt has been shot during the ultimate selfless act (whether intentional or not) of shielding Jesse from flying bullets.
He gives Jesse a gun and opportunity to finish the deed, and even says it’s what he wants. By refusing, Jesse finally frees himself from Walt’s manipulative control. Viewers root for Jesse, and his joyful cheers as he drives off are a gift from the writers: his permanent freedom is plausible and likely.
The most burning question—what will happen to Walt?—was most definitively answered. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Walt died on his own terms, or at least as much of his own terms as possible. After leaving his money to his children, giving his wife some leverage with the police, and taking out the last of his enemies, Walt leaves this earth—a fate that was inevitable from the start, be it by cancer or a bullet—never having to see the inside of a jail cell.
As we see Walt say goodbye to his children (Holly at crib-side and Jr. from a distance through a window), and finally admit his true motivations to Skyler, it seems as if the writers are allowing us to feel for Walt again, something they haven’t wanted us to do in a while.
By giving us glimpses of hope for each of the characters we’ve grown to love, the writers are allowing us to be at peace with the ending of the show. If you didn’t get this sense of peace, I’m truly sorry. To me, it was loud and clear and profound.
Quit While You’re Ahead
One thing every Breaking Bad fan can agree on is that we wish we had more. The show ended precisely at its peak: Emmy-winning and one of the hottest topics on social media each time it aired. While we’re all incredibly sad that it’s over (no one more than myself, I would argue) I have to believe that Gilligan made the best choice for the legacy of the show.
By ending on top, Breaking Bad has never had to deal with declining ratings and the threat of closing on someone else’s terms. Many shows ride their wave of success as long as possible, but this usually leads to forced storylines that become less believable and more outlandish as writers struggle to keep their viewers. Especially in a show like Breaking Bad, where the inevitable and approaching death of the lead character loomed, not dragging it out seemed the only way to keep its integrity.
If nothing else, it turned Breaking Bad into somewhat of a television legend, not unlike Walt’s blue meth, which also disappeared at its peak. In a New York Times interview, two years before the show’s end, Gilligan said he foresaw a fifth season but no more. Rather than ratings, the honesty of the show was most important, and if the story could only carry to five seasons, that’s all it would do.
Binging: Our New Addiction
Multiple sources, most notably Vince Gilligan himself, have attributed Breaking Bad‘s recent boom of success to Netflix. Netflix has allowed anyone to start watching and catch up with the series at any time, and with each consecutive season more and more viewers have chosen to do so.
“Catching up,” however, is rarely done at one’s leisure. Late-comers to the show—I have to admit that I was one myself—raced to be able to watch the next possible episode along with the rest of the world, either to join the discussion, to not have any endings ruined, or just because it’s so damn addicting.
But I think this phenomenon has done more for television than just allow anyone to become a super fan of a show at any time. In binge-watching our favorite shows, we start to see them as a 60-hour long movie rather than 60 separate hour-long episodes. On-demand viewing, especially when there are multiple seasons piled up at your disposal, makes it easier to tumble headfirst into the show’s world, and with no need for interruption, it makes it so much harder to pull yourself out.
As binge-drinking can fuel a drinking addiction, binge-watching is a catalyst for a “show addiction.” By acknowledging this, we can only hope that Vince Gilligan has set a precedent for popular television series making their past seasons available for public viewing.
Written by: Talia Rebecca Ergas