[SPOIILER ALERT: Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the series finale of “Breaking Bad”]
America can breathe again. The dramatic tour-de-force that was “Breaking Bad” ended Sunday night, caressing us in those final moments like a nursemaid on deathwatch. In many ways, the series ended perfectly. Walt is dead, as are his enemies. His family will get the drug money. And Jesse—who spent just about all of Season 5 in torturous misery—will live on to potentially start over and put his disastrous association with Walter White behind him forever. In the end, Jesse refused Walt’s offer to put a bullet in his head, proving once and for all to all of us that he was always better than the monster who tried to corrupt his (relative) innocence. It was a wholly satisfying conclusion to perhaps the best drama ever to grace the airwaves. But now that we’ve had a few hours to reflect, we have to ask the question: Was it all too perfect?
Don’t get me wrong. We don’t immerse ourselves in deliciously complex and nuanced TV dramas to end up unsatiated. Reasonable people can disagree about how “The Sopranos” ended, but many continue to grouse that David Chase took the easy way out by simply ending it mid-scene. Not the case with Breaking Bad, which tied up just about every loose end into a neat little bow and went out of its way to pay off every series set-up with scientific precision. Walter would be proud. It was an appropriate way to end a show that at its roots explored the folly of pride and arrogance—but also those traits’ unique ability to drive an individual toward great achievement, no matter how twisted or flawed.
Walter tried to control everything and, as a result, everything spun out of control, forcing him to exert more control, which only made things worse. Every time he had a chance to “get out”—whether it was rich friends offering to pay for his cancer treatment, a cozy gig with Gus Fring or an opportunity to sell off a train car’s worth of methylamine and simply ride off into the sunset with $5 million in cash—Walter found a reason to push for more at great risk to himself and his family. He told himself (and anyone else who would listen) that all of his horrible deeds were done to leave something for his wife and kids. Nevermind that he was helping to destroy lives through drug addiction. It was about the family. But in the end, in perhaps the most poignant and satisfying scene of the entire series, he finally tells his wife Skyler that, in fact, it wasn’t about her. Or Walt Jr. Or the baby. It was all about Walt. He did it for him. He liked it. He was good at it. It made him feel “alive.” And it was that final “deathbed confession” to his wife that finally gave her the closure she needed to move on.
The final episode had its share of implausible scenarios, to be sure. After all, how did Walt manage to sneak into Skyler’s house undetected with police stationed outside? How did Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, who both knew Walter was out there somewhere and possibly looking to settle scores, didn’t use their billions to post a security detail at their mansion that Walt so easily slipped into? How was it that the guard at the white supremist compound made sure to check the back seat of Walt’s car and search him for weapons—but didn’t bother to the check the trunk, which hid a remote-operated, high-powered machine gun that ended up killing everyone, except of course Jesse, who Walter tackled to the ground. And who else survives the machine gun? The Nazi who killed Hank, giving Walter the perfect opportunity to put a bullet in him personally. It’s just as “perfect” for Jesse, who gets to strangle another survivor Todd, the one who has tortured him for multiple episodes and who killed his girlfriend to keep Jesse in line. When Walt gives Jesse the chance to off him as well, Jesse’s refusal is a perfect act of rebellion, leaving Walt to die of his wounds as he caresses his only true friend: A steel vat in a dark meth lab.
Before it was all over, Walt even got to use that darned vial of ricin that has lingered for multiple seasons, poisoning the evil and murderous Lydia and conveniently getting the satisfaction of letting her know in a phone call as she was dying.
So did everything tie up too nicely? Perhaps. But for those of us who have ridden this incredible train for five seasons, it was the only way it could have ended. And to Vince Gilligan and his talented writing staff, we all bow down in appreciation for how this show single-handedly elevated an art form to new levels. To the talented cast, we bid them farewell knowing that they were integral to making the story work. And to ourselves, we all say a silent prayer that someday a show will come along that matches the absolute perfection of Breaking Bad.