After just over a week’s worth of reflection, my mind hasn’t changed. I still think the Breaking Bad finale was perfect, and I’m hardly alone. It was tight (TIGHT. Tight.), concise, and exactly what we needed. This show has never been about broad, unanswered questions or making a spectacle of itself. It was about as realistic as a show centered around a dying chemistry teacher’s meth empire could get. It had its share of over-the-top moments – Gus straightening his tie with half of a face, hydrofluoric acid and an assortment of body parts burning through a bathtub – but they took away nothing from the plot. Gilligan did the inevitable, tying up every loose end in the process, and presented it in a nice, neat package wrapped with a crystal blue bow.
And there has still been some blowback. Some felt it was boring and too orderly, others felt that not enough happened. Some went out of the way to craft intricate alternate theories, like Norm MacDonald’s “Walt died in the car” idea. The problem with things likes this is that they discredit the creator’s intentions. MacDonald’s theory is implausible not because of facts, but because it directly contradicts the show’s structure. It has never been vague or open-ended. Before “Felina” aired, it felt almost impossible to hear about the episode without mentions of shows like LOST in the same breath. The two shows had brilliant endings, but they were vastly different and appropriate for their respective genres. There’s no reason to combine the two because a flexible LOST-like ending would never work for a show like Breaking Bad.
For me, there’s nothing more satisfying television-wise than seeing something come full-circle. Nods to early episodes and closed plotlines fill me with so much (probably too much) joy. Maybe Walt blamed Gretchen and Elliot for much of this mess. We don’t know exactly what happened with him and Gray Matter, but something tells me he likely wouldn’t have had to pursue drug manufacturing to pay his medical bills and take care of his family if he were as wealthy as the Schwartzes. So to him, paying them a visit before the final showdown was his way of attacking the root of the problem, even though he didn’t hurt them – nor did he ever intend to. The show’s last scene was even more gratifying. He’s in a lab, probably thinking about how it pales in comparison to their previous workspaces, and he leaves a bloody handprint on a piece of equipment, a physical component of himself left on something that used to be his livelihood. All of this on top of Jesse escaping, Walt admitting that he wasn’t in it solely for his family, and the total destruction of some of the baddest bad guys we know, made it the perfect ending to a perfect show.
We may not ever experience a television show like this again. I’m honestly okay with that. Breaking Bad completely altered the way I look at television, films, books. It set a new precedent for other writers, other creators, and they’re constantly going to be upping their standards to catch up to it. I miss it already.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Admit it. After this promo for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad aired, you scrambled to your old English lit textbooks and scrutinized the hell out of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” just waiting for the episode of the same name to air. The poem’s major themes coupled with the image of the weathered, beaten-down porkpie hat in the trailer did not bode well for Walt. Vince Gilligan saying this in an interview with TV Fanatic added an extra sense of ominousness to the episode (emphasis mine):
I think these last three episodes, not to overstate it, and you could say this about the last eight, but with these last three in particular you need to install a seat belt on your sofa, you need to wear a crash helmet and a diaper. [laughs] I tell ya, this next episode (entitled “Ozymandias”), I think for my money, is the best episode we ever had had or ever will have. It was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson.
I think people are going to have trouble breathing after this thing airs. It’s tremendous and it’s a great, great hour of television and I’m as proud as I can be of the two episodes that air after that one and both of them are a hell of a wild ride, too. I couldn’t be more proud of these final eight episodes or these last three episodes. I think they’re going to leave us with some sleepless nights.”
Needless to say, there was a lot of hype going into this episode, maybe a little too much. To say “Ozymandias” lived up to it, though, would be a severe understatement. If by “trouble breathing” Gilligan meant “holding your breath for an hour and biting off all of your fingernails and turning your Twitter feed into a constant flow of ‘OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT’ tweets and STARING OPEN-MOUTHED AT THE TELEVISION FOR 30 MINUTES AFTER THE EPISODE ENDED,” then yes, he was right.
After what had to be the longest bathroom trip in history, Breaking Bad finally returned on Sunday following an 11-month break. Like many viewers expected, Vince Gilligan and company delivered. The season five second-half premiere was tense from start to finish – it was hard to remember to breathe. But who would have expected anything else?
“Blood Money” began with a handful of twenty-somethings skateboarding in an empty pool. It became clear that they were in the backyard of the White residence once one caught air and went just beyond the lip of the pool. Sure enough, we got a view of the front of the house, now fenced in and dilapidated. Future Walt pulls up in his now-familiar Volvo and enters the abandoned home, now featuring the word “Heisenberg” spray-painted in large letters across a wall. Walt retrieves his hidden stash of ricin and leaves the house, only to be seen by his visibly shaken neighbor Carol, who promptly drops her bag of groceries once she realizes who she’s looking at. She’s terrified. Leave it to Walt to think he’d be able to slip into his condemned home unseen. His invincibility complex never ceases to amaze. The amount of time that’s passed from where “Gliding Over All” ended to where this episode began is unclear, but one thing is certain: shit went down, and it was bad.