in Television

Final Thoughts: “Breaking Bad”


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

  • Megan

    I love your writing style! I could read it again and again!

  • Axel

    well talia, i did not have this sense of closure at the end of the episode. in fact i was incredibly disappointed in it. breaking bad has been the most gut-wrenching, soul-shattering show i have ever seen. the fact that everyone lives (except walt) and gets what they want in the end completely goes against the dark, depressing nature of the series. i always pictured the overall message of BB to be something along the lines of “if you do bad things, bad things will happen,” not “do bad things, everything will be shitty for a while but then everything works out.” nothing about this show warrants a happy ending for any character (except saul. he deserves a happy ending). i honestly thought that everyone, including walt jr and holly, would die, while walt was left to rot from the inside out. that would have been true poetic justice, that his actions to help his family wind up getting them all killed (along with hundreds of others) while he, having been given a death sentence in the first episode, is forced to suffer.

    another thing that bothered me about the whole fifth season was the fact that gus became just a distant memory with no ghosts to haunt walt. in every previous season, whatever obstacle that walt overcame would yield not just a much greater threat, but one that is inherently linked to the first one. in this sense, season five is largely disjointed from the rest of the show. sure they tied madrigal into the plot with lydia, but even she had a very minor role, appearing in maybe 5 minutes every other episode. they never went into any full detail with madrigal, or what mr. schulers connection to gus was. furthermore, we learn in S3E7 that gus was a chilean general, which is why don eladio spared his life when they first met. if the leader of the mexican cartel is afraid to kill him, it must be because it would entail some serious repercussions. but somehow walt is able to do it without a single real consequence other than a dea investigation of madrigal. at the end of season 4 my prediction was that the final episodes would pit walt against the whole chilean army (or at least a few fring loyalists), which would go with the interconnection between villains we have seen in previous seasons. having him face a group of neo-nazis that were just sort of tossed into place in the middle of the final season was a serious letdown. gustavo fring was such an incredible, perfectly calculated villain who did not deserve to be completely omitted from season five. even mike deserved to at least show up in a flashback or something!

    my biggest complaint, however, wasnt the fact that they used more than half the episode explaining that gretchen and elliot would give walts family his money, or that walt magically knew how to get in touch with skinny pete and badger (not to mention magically knowing that the nazi headquarters wouldnt be in a basement), it was the petty three lines they allotted jesse to wrap up his whole existence in the show. like you said, viewers root for jesse, we want him to be happy. but if you really think about it, having him drive off into the sunset is not something that leaves us with closure for his character. everyone he cared about is dead, he has no money, and hes been a meth cooking slave for x amount of months so his house has probably been repossessed. so where is he driving? i cant think of a single possible destination for him, other than alaska like he was planning earlier on. if that is the case though, we have to see it. that is wayyyy too ambiguous an ending for such an important character. with the knowledge that walt killed mike, put a hit out on jesse and personally handed him to jack (which led to andrea getting killed), allowed jane to die, poisoned brock then lied about it and manipulated jesse to kill gus when jesse was pretty much set for life as his new cook, its hard to believe jesses reaction would be to just let him bleed out, give a cheesy little nod then drive away half crying half laughing. the most powerful reaction i could have seen, and the one i felt the show was destined to eventually have happen, was for jesse to pick up the gun and kill himself. his suffering was by far the worst out of anybody on the show. it seemed very fitting for him to take his own life after realizing that he has nothing left to live for. that also would have been an incredible final consequence for walt, seeing his closest companion kill himself, knowing it was his own fault.

    i was looking forward to seeing what happened to jesse in the finale above all else, and i felt cheated out of that with the ending they provided. the whole final 8 episodes felt rushed, especially with them glossing over months at a time more than once (crystal blue persuasion montage, walt in new hampshire). i really wish they had just made a full six seasons instead of cutting the fifth in half. there are tons unanswered questions that really dont work being left up to interpretation. an extra full season could have really saved the show, but this ending really, REALLY left me feeling empty.

    also, i wanted to see lydia suffer, not just have the sniffles lol

  • I agree with Axel’s comment that the ending could have been a lot better. Everything felt really rushed and I think maybe 8 more episodes could have led to a finale worthy of Breaking Bad.

  • I havent been able to stop listening to baby blue today – im having serious withdrawal issues. Loved every minute of it!

  • Pingback: ‘Breaking Bad’ flash-forward: We imagine everyone’s life 10 years from now « HORROR BOOM()

  • Zack

    I disagree. Everything didn’t work out. Everything is still super shitty. Hanks dead, Marie is emotionally fucked and will probably start stealing again and get locked up, junior is fatherless, and his mom is now a single mother that while she may have escaped murder and jail, is also gonna be emotionally traumatized, jesse is still super fucked in the head and had the love of his life murdered in front of him, and finale, walt died before getting to see his daughter grow into a woman(btw she’s also fatherless). How is any of that summed up as “everything works out.” The few positives don’t outweigh the negatives by any means. The only positive thing that happened is his family is no longer in danger and they will get a bunch of paper in a few years(which a solid life insurance policy could have helped with, and with less turmoil btw)

    • Axel

      By working out I don’t mean everyone lives happily ever after. I mean that, from where they left us off with the previous episode Granite State, everything worked out as well as it possibly could have. Again, it’s not the fact that this is how they chose to end it that bothers me, it’s the lack of detail they give to any of the main characters except for Walt. Marie is in the picture just to call Skyler and tell her that Walt is in town; we don’t see her coping with Hank’s death (minus the one shot of her sitting in silence, which I believe was in the previous episode (not 100% on that)). We don’t see Junior coping with his life without a father. We don’t even see Skyler giving the coordinates to Hank’s body, something that REALLY should have been included to give some kind of closure to Marie. Worst of all, we don’t see anything at all with Jesse. I am constantly told by people that they left it open to interpretation, that where he’s going isn’t important, but that is total bullshit. It’s incredibly important for us to know where Jesse, the second most important character of the show, winds up after going through so much pain and personal loss. The whole thing was just too anticlimactic and antithetical to the entire mantra of the series. The season finale to season four was incredible and kept the audience on their toes the whole time, and ultimately ended on a low note with the shot of the lilies of the valley. I was expecting something along those lines, if not more intense. But instead we get this cookie cutter ending where Walt cleans the slate with everyone. How is that Breaking Bad?

      There is, however, this theory going around that Walt died in New Hampshire in the car he intended to steal, and that everything following that was just what he wished he could do. This would clear up a lot of plot holes, like how did Walt get in touch with Skinny Pete and Badger, or how did he get the ricin into Lydia’s Stevia, and, more importantly, how did he manage to get across the country unnoticed, slip in and out of Skyler’s home after he was spotted by his old neighbor? This lack of attention to detail is so unlike the writers of Breaking Bad, unless it all really was Walt’s fantasy. This idea is a more suitable ending to me than having it all being real, but it still keeps me longing for some real closure. Never in a million years would I guess that this is how they would end the series, and not in a good way.

  • Talia

    I think the things you’re listing (Marie coping with Hank’s death, Junior coping with his father’s death) are things that are not only entirely unnecessary to see (we know more than enough about the characters, thanks to how well they were written and acted, to know exactly how it would all play out) but probably would have also made for a really cheesy ending. The writers gave us everything we need in order to KNOW how the story is going to continue, but actually showing it would have taken another season and quite likely lessened the impact on the viewers. The things you’re asking to see more of aren’t unsolved mysteries (with the exception of Jesse–the ONE thing that’s a bit of a mystery), and just wanting to be able to watch more things play out, makes it seem like what you really want is just more Breaking Bad. Completely understandable! I do, too. I’m sure we could all watch and love another five seasons. But the reason I started my argument “If it had to end…” is that to analyze the end of this series, I think we have to let go of the idea that the show could have gone on. We’d all prefer that, but in a world where it had to end, was the ending done justice? That’s what I’m looking at.