It began with a man, it became modern-day myth, and it will forever live in the limelight of pop culture as a TV legend.
The series finale of “Breaking Bad” brought Sunday evening to a virtual nationwide standstill as Americans of all ages held our collective breath while watching a stoic Walter White, resigned to his fate, finally come to terms with his own truths and motivations.
Unlike the last several episodes, which showed us a reeling, uncertain and on-the-ropes version of the drug lord formerly known as Heisenberg, the series finale “Felina” finds an eerily serene version of Walter as he travels back to New Mexico to tie up loose ends.
Much to the delight of viewers and fans, “Breaking Bad” writer and creator Vince Gilligan does exactly that in the finale; he ties up loose ends.
Walt finds a way to get the remains of his fortune to his family (a bit of a stretch), he gets to touch Holly and see Skylar and the breakfast aficionado formerly known as Walt Jr. (though he has to observe Flynn from afar). He kills Lydia and the gang of Nazis who, by all intents and purposes, got what they had coming, and he gives a glaringly purple-less Marie some closure by revealing the whereabouts of Hank’s body. Even Badger and Skinny Pete make an appearance as they get a fistful of cash and one last chance to make us laugh.
Meanwhile, a freed-from-the-shackles-of-meth Jesse Pinkman is allowed to resolve the fate of his character as he seemingly breaks away from Walt’s manipulation and control. In the end, Pinkman chooses not to end Walter’s life, but he also sees that Walt is bleeding to death regardless. So does this really make Pinkman the newly converted model of agency, or is he still just reacting and being pushed around by his surroundings? Would Pinkman have shot Walter if he had not already been bleeding out? It’s one of the few intriguing questions left, and we’ll never know the answer. Ultimately, Pinkman escapes his past, but he remains stuck in the sort of indecisive purgatory he has been in all along.
While most fans and critics are relishing in the seemingly perfect culmination of a story that has grown a crucial part of the collective American entertainment consciousness, I can’t help but feel a little tormented by what should be (and for most, what is) the ideal ending to the ideal narrative.
We loved “Breaking Bad” because it was steeped in the sort of moral ambiguity that political scientists and sociologists use to spark ardent classroom discussions. It was pickled in thought-provoking questions that viewers could relish in and debate for hours upon hours. Questions like: How far would you go? How far should you go? How far is too far, even in the name of family?
But the finale pulled the rug out on these questions and tread a little bit too lightly. Suddenly, the show became morally pointed and vacant of the issues that were so hotly debated at water coolers and watering holes from the Southwest to the Northeast.
Most of us couldn’t help but defend, if not root for, Walt, even in “Ozymandias” as he force-fed us the line he has been sticking to since his meth empire was still a fledgling colony. “We are a family,” he yelled at what remained of his dismantled loved ones.
But in “Felina,” we find a different Walt, one who takes away the opportunity for us to decide his motivations and one who comes right out and says, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.”
Suddenly we knew why Walt was really doing it and, like a cloudy batch of crystal blue meth, the show lost a bit of its luster.
Don’t get me wrong, the finale didn’t detract from the series as a whole; it merely failed to elevate it to the best-drama-of-all-time status, currently occupied by “The Sopranos,” which I hoped it would surpass.
Unlike “The Sopranos” series finale, “Breaking Bad” left us with nothing to debate, discuss or imagine. The infinite possibilities that were the show’s strength in so many of its cliffhanger endings ceased to be.
The image of Walter, alone and bleeding to death on the floor of a grungy meth lab, was still an emotional one for those who made Heisenberg a Sunday-evening staple in their homes. In the beginning, it was for his family, but it spun so far out of control that in the end the only thing left to comfort him was a big steel tank used for producing the evil that ended up being his demise.
Gilligan played it safe, but is that really what we wanted from a show that took all the right risks?
Not really. In the end, “Breaking Bad” came out about 95 percent pure.
Reach the reviewer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NPMendoza