McGinnis: 2013′s Best Thing, Period: ‘Breaking Bad’s’ final episodes set a new standard for televisionWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
WARNING: The following contains spoilers.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And … I was … really … I was alive.”
And this was the redemption of Walter White, something I didn’t think would be possible. It totally fit the theme and structure of the masterpiece of “Breaking Bad”‘s final season, and the show in general. The series’ final bow was all about Walter White making things right, or as right as he could, for everyone in his life — those he had wronged, and those who had wronged him. And perhaps the most important name on both those lists was himself.
The simple yet complicated perfection of this moment — and the whole of the eight episodes that comprised the end of this remarkable series — makes “Breaking Bad” 2013′s Best Thing, Period of pop culture, by a wide margin.
There are natural pitfalls when you’re wrapping up a show that is as beloved as Vince Gilligan’s unusual and unforgettable crime drama/black comedy. Whether it’s fair or not, shows are often judged as a whole by how their creators handle their ending. Series as beloved as “Lost,” “The Sopranos,” “Battlestar Galactica” and even this year’s “Dexter” have lost luster in the eyes of fans because their stories came to unpopular conclusions.
Yet beginning in early August, Gilligan and his staff made the process look so easy. Over the last eight episodes of “Bad,” the saga of Walter White — the nebulous chemistry teacher who transformed over five seasons into a crystal meth kingpin nicknamed Heisenberg — began crashing down in a carefully orchestrated symphony of chaos.
As the sins of his past began to catch up with him, as everyone he had hurt turned on him, as years of evil choices took their toll, White — played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston — flailed wildly to try and keep everything under control, seemingly making everything worse with every choice. As his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) tightened the figurative noose, enlisting the help of his former partner Jesse (Aaron Paul), Walter began seeking the help of the wrong people to salvage the situation.
This led up to perhaps the greatest single episode of the series, and maybe one of the greatest episodes in television history — “Ozymandias” — where it all definitively came to a terrible climax. Hank and his fellow DEA agent Steve were murdered in cold blood, almost all the money Walt had worked so hard to make was stolen from him, Walt’s family finally turned against him, and Walt left Albuquerque in disgrace, his life in tatters.
But “Breaking Bad” had one final surprise for all of us. There was a path back for Walter — not a “happy ending,” by any means, as he was far past hope of total salvation. But moments of resolution, closure, and understanding. Heisenberg had destroyed everything he had touched. Now it was up to Walter White to set things as right as they could be.
The center of it all, though, was that moment of admission from Walter to his long-suffering wife, Skylar (played by Anna Gunn). Of all the characters, she had been the one who had been dragged furthest down the rabbit hole by Walter’s alter ego. There had been plenty of moments where she seemingly had lost her own way, as well. And all the while, Walt had insisted his intentions had been pure — that he’d done it all for her, for their children, for the family.
And in their last meeting, Walter made it plain — that had been a lie. To her, certainly, and probably to himself. After a lifetime of being marginalized and being made disposable, Walter finally had something that made him exceptional. Who among us could give up on such power so easily, even if it meant the rejection of all that made us good and decent?
All that followed served to underscore this revelation. White’s efforts to punish those who had harmed him, suddenly tempered by his impromptu rescue of Jesse, who he’d probably planned to kill with the rest. His execution of the villainous Jack, in the same way Jack had executed Hank, despite being tempted by the money he’d stolen — a bargain which Heisenberg might have taken.
And in the end, Walter, bleeding out and near death, took a moment to say goodbye to his true love, as well — wandering the makeshift meth lab and touching the equipment with warmth. A fitting coda to a final season that set new standards for how a show should be concluded.
For taking us all on the most remarkable ride for five years, for tying up virtually every loose end in a satisfying way, and for giving a just ending to the saga of one of the most remarkable characters ever — “Breaking Bad” is, easily, 2013′s Best Thing, Period.