Sunday, September 29, 2013

REVIEW: Saying Goodbye to 'Breaking Bad'

AMC's Breaking Bad - Episode 5.16 Felina

The story of Walter White, his family and his associate, Jesse Pinkman, arrives at a close to conclude the series.

The story of Walter White has already changed the face and feel of television. As Vince Gilligan has said on numerous occasions, he took a man who was Mr. Chips and turned him into Scarface. The series finale sees this tale come to an end. The transformation is complete - as Walt acts out his most deadly attack yet - and Walt remains in constant control up until his final minutes on this earth.

I love the poetic dichotomy that while Walter White is diagnosed with cancer in the pilot episode, it is ultimately his decision to build a meth enterprise that kills him. Over the course of this series, Walt has, time and again, come to face with many deadly foes and outsmarted them at every turn. He beat them - often by using chemistry - until he was the one in control and with the money just easily rolling in. He set the wheels in motion of an enterprise that grew so big and became so fatal that he quickly and tragically lost control of it all.

Last week's penultimate hour "Granite Stake" perfectly showcased the melancholy and desperate need for human interaction that Walt's world had created for itself. He destroyed his entire family because of this business - and they, in turn, shunned him and wished that he would just die already. He had resigned and given up - ready to finally just turn himself in. His stay in the New Hampshire mountainside forced him to think about himself and his actions. It's not until he sees the Gretchen and Elliot interview with Charlie Rose that he realizes that his death won't stop the pieces he has put in motion.

The finale is basically just Walt enacting his final plan. He returns to Alburquerque determined and at peace with what he is about to do. The only time the finale ever really breaks away from his mission is when Marie calls Skylar to warn her about his reappearance. But that sequence soon shifts into his goodbye to her. He forces Gretchen, Elliot, Todd, Lydia and Skylar to listen to him. This is an odd tonal shift for the series which often balanced many characters realistic thoughts and reactions to a certain story or plot.

This series was made famous by how it always was able to back all of its characters into corners and find the one unexpected way to get them out. In that respect, I am a tad disappointed by the reveal that the machine gun was for Uncle Jack and his crew and the ricin was for Lydia. That was an end result that most people - myself included - predicted by the end of this season's second episode. Perhaps that feeling is because of so much emphasis being placed on those plot points. Ever since the season 5A opener, we've questioned why Walt would be buying a machine gun from Jim Beaver and who it was for. The ricin has always been dangling over the whole show once Walt decided to keep it. It's a case of speculation over an extended period ultimately led to let down in the actual reveal. We simply had too much time to think about it. If we didn't know about his purchase of a machine gun until this finale or if the ricin hadn't been seen all season long, then his retrieval of them in the finale would possibly have played better.

Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White and it feels right that he dominates the screen during the series finale. But the series has also built a roster of incredible supporting talent. Most of which are relegated to absolute brevity in the final hour. But all that are featured in the finale make their short time entirely worth it and each is given a finite conclusion as well. Skylar is given a way out of her legal problems and Marie can have closure with the discovery of Hank's body. A lot of these characters feel empty and defeated. Even though Walt pays the ultimate price, every character left alive has the emotional wounds of what Heisenberg did to them.

Jesse Pinkman has been beaten down so much - both physical and emotionally. So, seeing him escape and enjoy a happy ending is one of the most emotionally satisfying moments from the finale. Walt easily could have let him die with rest of Jack and his men. But seeing him void of emotions awakened his paternal side yet again and he saved him. More than that, he wanted him to get his vengeance. Jesse naturally assumed it was just what Walt wanted him to do. And Walt finally told him the truth. He was there to die. Seeing the already-there gunshot wound, Jesse didn't see the need to accelerate his death. The weight of the world is finally off Jesse's shoulders and he can scream in excitement as he zooms down the highway.

And yet, I'm still not sure how I feel about this finale. For this entire season, Walt has tried to obtain control over his business but never had it. Everything kept spiraling out of control. Until the final hour, when Walt hatched a plan to rid the world of everything he created and he executed it perfectly. The finale only features his efforts and thusly the outcome that occurred in the final 20 minutes was the only outcome that could have thematically occurred.

Breaking Bad's legacy will never be forgotten. This was a fantastic piece of television. Period. From start to finish. A lot of weight and discussion is placed on how well a show is remembered by its series finale. Breaking Bad is a show where all the pieces just came together beautifully. Nothing should try to emulate it because magic likely won't strike twice. I'm glad that I was on this ride of Breaking Bad for six great years and will enjoy it equally as much many years from now as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • Vince Gilligan wrote and directed the series finale. My favorite shots would have to be the Alburquerque scenery as Walt rolls back into town, the beam that separates Walter and Skylar as he is saying goodbye and that final pan out over Walt's dead body as the police come in.
  • Loved having Badger and Skinny Pete back.
  • Yeah, the commercial breaks seemed odd. The episode should flow much better without them on rewatch.
  • I was fully expecting Walt to do one last meth cook sometime during these final episodes. However, him simply dying in the meth lab was thematically right for the character. Meth destroyed everything so there simply was no realistically situation for him to ever do that again. Despite how much he enjoyed during it as he proclaimed to Skylar.