“I have a rendezvous with death
At some disputed barricade
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath
I have a rendezvous with death
And I to my pledged word am true
I shall not fail that rendezvous”
As the curtain comes down on 5 seasons of near flawless television, thoughts immediately turn to the shows legacy. How will the show be remembered, as the greatest of all time, over hyped? The truth is the importance of this show cannot be overstated, not only as a series, but also for how it changed the medium forever. This show has proven that there is an audience for intelligent, well-crafted programs and that we need not be beaten over the head with brainless safe shows like “Two And a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory”. The huge series high viewing ratings (why someone would choose a series finale to start watching a show is beyond me) coupled with Netflix issuing same day streaming release gave the feeling that this was event television for the final 8 episodes. The hype train was full steam ahead and all that remained was to see if the final episode would have it come spectacularly off the tracks, as was the case with Lost and The Sopranos. Or would it buck the trend and somehow give individual fans of the show their own sense of closure?
It would appear Vince Gilligan has managed to pull off the impossible by providing not just a definitive ending but also a number of open ended ones. Joss Whedon recently gave an interview lamenting the ending of The Empire Strikes Back commentating that “Well, it’s not an ending. It’s a come-back-next-week, or in three years. That upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience”. In this respect Breaking Bad’s finale was an undeniable triumph, regardless of what happens with the Saul Goodman spin off, there will be no revisionist endings. This show starts and ends with Walter White and these 5 seasons will go down as the standard bearer for any and all TV shows. This is what can happen when you treat your audience with respect. It is by no means the first intelligent drama to grace our screens; The West Wing, The Wire and the criminally underrated The Shield have all been modest hits but in no way had become the pop culture sensation that Breaking Bad became.
The episode opens with Walt sitting alone in his car, apparently waiting to be arrested as the blue and white lights illuminate the car, Walt pleads “just get me home, I’ll do the rest” and his prayers are soon answered as he discovers the keys hanging behind the mirror. After a wonderfully duplicitous phone call to obtain Elliot and Gretchen’s address, what follows is a nerve shredding tense scene played as good as any thriller. Firstly, Walt stalks the unsuspecting Swartz’s before revealing the true meaning behind his visit as he disarms Elliot’s attempt at being a hero with a simple “If we’re going to go that way, you’re going to need a bigger knife”. The reason he has shown up is he needs them to use their well-known philanthropy in order to give his ill-gotten gains to his family. After telling Walt what he wants to hear, he gestures to the distance and two sniper lights appear on the couple as Walt explains that if they do not hold true to their word they would be murdered. He then leaves his terrified former Grey Matter colleagues quipping, “Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right” as it turns out the “two best hit men west of the Mississippi” are in fact Badger and Skinny Pete holding laser pointers. The not so dynamic duo then inform Walt that his blue meth has resurfaced and Walt realizes that Jesse has not been killed and his former partner is now cooking for Uncle Jack.
Lydia, who is still putting soymilk in chamomile tea for some reason, meets with Todd at the coffee shop. Their meeting is interrupted when Walt shows up and proposes a new means of cooking meth that does not require methylamine and he wants to talk to Jack about selling his idea. Lydia agrees to this but after Walt leaves she tells her little squishy-faced Matt Damon that she wants Walt killed. Walt goes off to do his best Jackal impression and works on a rig for his M60.
Marie calls Skyler and tells her that Walt is back in town. The two have clearly not had much contact since Hanks murder as the call begins with the word “truce”. As the call ends it is revealed that Walt is in the room with Skyler – Vince Gilligan needs to get himself into the horror genre as he has an undeniable knack for sharp scares. During their final conversation, Walt finally confesses that his family was his reasoning for doing what he did but it was not the reason he did it. He admits that he did this not for them but for himself “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really I was alive”. Cranston was at his brilliant best in this scene, physically and emotionally weary at having finally found his place in the world only to discover that he was doomed to go there alone. He gives Skyler the GPS coordinates for Hank and Steve’s bodies and asks to see his daughter one last time. The scene was beautifully played out; the pillars separating the couple in the shot could not be more apt. As Walt leaves he watches Flynn return home and Cranston again gives a master class in acting, as with a single look he is able to convey both sadness and pride as he watches his son struggle up the steps to his house. Its now almost impossible to fathom that the studio had put an offer to Matthew Broderick!! It’s hard to imagine Ferris Buller being both the danger and the one who knocks.
Walt drives to Uncle Jacks compound. Jack orders Walt to be shot but before he is Walt calls Jack a liar for saying he would murder Jesse but instead has partnered up with him. Walt seemed to have learned lessons form his own hubris and uses Jacks against him. Jack orders Jesse to be brought from his cage and he finds himself face to face with his psychological tormenter one more time. If Walt was the brains, Jesse was the heart and unlike Walt he has long acknowledged the evil they were part of and had tried several times to get himself away from it. Each time suffering great personal loss and pain only for the Faust like Heisenberg to manipulate him back into the business. For all his faults it is hard not to root for Jesse. He started as a naive young man trying to find some direction or a father figure only by a quirk of fate to be paired up with enumerable monsters. Even a career criminal like Mike was able to spot the innocence and gentle nature of Jesse advising him to get away from this life, only to find himself gunned down by Jesses other surrogate father figure. When he was finally able to get his hands on Todd and exact his revenge it was a stand up and cheer moment. As he faced his former teacher, with Walt asking Jesse to kill him, the student was finally able to disobey his master and make sure that Walt didn’t get the ending he wanted. Jesse screaming, exits smashing through the compound gates his face a twisted blend of laughter and tears. Walt makes his way down to the lab but not before he lets Lydia know that she will joining him in the afterlife very soon. As he looks over the equipment he seems to show a paternal pride as he looks over Jesse’s work and a quiet contentment that for all the chaos that surrounded it he was at his happiest and most useful when he was cooking meth. But above all, a respect for the chemistry. As Walt breathes his last ‘Baby Blue” kicks in and we are told “Guess I got what I deserved” the audience who have watched the show for the past 5 five years got what they deserved also, a fantastic show going out on its own terms.
Breaking Bad will no doubt spurn a multitude of inferior pretenders and copycats but much like Walter White was only possible because of the success of Tony Soprano, it will be used as the reference point for the next great TV show when it arrives in a year or five from now. For most of the cast “Breaking Bad will be the first line of my obituary’ as Cranston commented. Hank has popped up on the inferior Stephen King adaptation “Under the Dome” and Aaron Paul’s first post-Jesse role will be in video game adaptation “Need for Speed”. With “Godzilla” on the way along with the gathering storms of Lex Luthor rumors, it is not inconceivable that Cranston has another iconic role in him. But as countless other TV stars have found that it’s hard to change an audience’s perception having watched you in a role for multiple hours and years during a single two-hour movie. However, not every TV actor gets to look back on work that is truly timeless and to quote John Doe from “Seven” in the way that the Breaking Bad cast and crew have done “Is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.”
5 out of 5 nerds