Breaking Bad goes out with a loud bang
“If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family...”
Obviously, spoilers abound throughout this article.
Since its invention, television has always been a source of shared cultural moments in America. Together we witnessed the cast of Friends grab coffee at Central Perk one last time as well as Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer enter their shared prison cell for violating the Good Samaritan law (it was new) on the series finale of Seinfeld.
While many say that these kinds of unifying events have become a thing of the past due to the rise of special interest entertainment and news outlets, that isn’t entirely true. Case in point, last night we all watched the conclusion of high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-crystal-meth-kingpin Walter White’s incredible story with the series finale of AMC’s Breaking Bad.
“If we’re gonna go that way, you’re going to need a bigger knife.”
Breaking Bad began in 2008 with Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), and a son with cerebral palsy, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte). Walt is handed a death sentence when he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and turns to a former student of his named Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to help him use his knowledge of chemistry to cook and distribute crystal meth.
Walt and Jesse become known for producing incredibly pure meth, evidenced by its blue color. As Walter’s criminal enterprise grows, he adopts the pseudonym “Heisenberg” and begins accruing a body count that rivals his rising stacks of cash. Competition, potential informers and witnesses, and anyone else who could jeopardize Walt’s business are all disposed of over the course of the series. Five seasons later, Walt decides to retire, sitting on top of $80 million in cash.
Walt would’ve been able to die with peace of mind that his family was taken care of if not for one major wrench in the gear: specifically, his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent tasked with tracking down Heisenberg. Over the course of his manhunt, Hank is shot at and loses the use of his legs for a period of time, in addition to going through just simple, plain, hellish mental anguish.
Around the same time as Walt’s decision to retire, some revealing bathroom reading causes Hank to realize that his nerdy brother-in-law who claims to have recently hit it big at the casino is actually the drug lord who has all but been ruining his life for the past few years. At the beginning of the second half of season five, we find Hank now determined to put Walt behind bars, Jesse reeling with guilt over his and Walt’s actions over the course of their enterprise, and a criminal underworld desperate for someone who can cook crystal meth as well as Heisenberg can.
So, the question that’s been on everyone’s mind — “How will it end?” — has finally been answered. The finale delivered everything fans of the series could’ve hoped for. The trademark bouncing between nail-biting tension and hilarious comedy? Check. Watching Walt settle all remaining scores? Check. Finding yourself rooting for a man who breaks into a home and coldly describes to the inhabitants how easily he could have them killed? Check. The first hour of the episode feels like climbing the first hill of a roller coaster — that tense feeling deep in your gut that you know is about to explode: You find yourself both anticipating it and dreading it.
“How are you feeling? Kind of under the weather, like you have the flu? That would be the ricin I gave you.”
The final 15 minutes contain everything fans have been waiting to see for the past five seasons. As the credits rolled, it was hard to pick a favorite moment: seeing Walt put a whole belt of .50-caliber bullets through Jack’s skinhead gang with the press of a button or Jesse strangling Todd to death with the chains that kept him cooking meth against his will. Perhaps, though, it was when Walt put the final bullet into Jack’s skull, the man who had killed Hank and stolen all the money he had made. Or maybe, just maybe, it was seeing Jesse break through the fence of the compound, finally free.
“Nothing happens until you say that you want this.”
“I want this.”
The finale changed the tone of the series dramatically. When Walt reveals that the true reason he kept up the whole thing was that it was the only thing that made him feel truly alive, Breaking Bad goes from the story of a man doing whatever it took to provide for his family to the story of a man trying to live in the face of certain death. It’s fitting then that Walt finally passes away in a meth lab; he dies in the only place he truly lived.
Breaking Bad has been called the best show in a new golden age of television. It’s a bold statement to make, but now that the show can be taken as a whole, the claim lies on solid ground.