BREAKING BAD Gets What It Deserved
I should have seen that ending coming, because it was the only way Breaking Bad could end: Walter White killed by an unforeseen ricochet from his own gun, an unintended consequence of his final master plan. That’s been the show’s center from the very first episode, the way each decision we make has unintended consequences, and how deadly and destructive they can be, even when the decision is made for the best possible reasons.
There’s been a vocal group who have denounced Walter White the last few seasons, and while he had turned into a monster - a monster named Heisenberg - it’s important to remember that the road to his hell was, as always, paved with the best of intentions. Yes, in the finale he confesses to Skylar that he did it for himself, not for the family, but a rewatch of the pilot shows that isn’t quite the truth. Greed and pride were, on some level, what got him to break bad originally - and they are certainly what kept him in the game far longer than necessary - but it was also the fear of his own mortality and his desire to help his family that sent him cooking.
Greed and pride were the two things he had to repudiate to get redemption, and in the end Walt did just that. He swallowed his pride and allowed his millions to go to his family from someone who was not him, and he threw away his greed by shooting Jack before he could reveal the location of the rest of the fortune. He stayed away from Walt Jr in the end, no longer seeking the approval his ego previously demanded from his son. I thought he might record one final confession, an attempt to tell his own story the way he wanted it to be told, but Walt was satisfied to die with everyone believing him to be Heisenberg. He had some pride in the end - he crowed to Lydia how he had killed her - but I do believe that he ultimately found his redemption.
The bravest thing that show runner (and writer/director of this last episode) Vince Gilligan did in the finale was refuse to subvert our expectations. It would have been easy to throw in a left turn right there at the end, to have a totally unexpected player come in - Jane’s dad, or Marie with a thirst for vengeance or some other no-one-saw-that-coming character showing up with a bomb - and upset the storyline in an attempt to be dramatic. That must be tempting when you’re working in long-form serialized fiction; the audience has months and years to think and get ahead of your story. If you’re telling your story right you’re headed for an ending that is being set up meticulously and, in dummy parlance, ‘obvious.’ That leads too many long-form storytellers to try a Lindelof at the end, to kick out our legs in order to be two steps ahead of us. But Gilligan finishes the story he was telling, unafraid of the fact that it has been becoming more and more ‘obvious’ where the finale would go.
That makes the final musical cue a perfect summation of the episode. The song was Badfinger’s Baby Blue, and the opening lyric, ‘Guess I got what I deserved,’ is unabashedly on the nose but also sublimely delightful. Could Gilligan have picked a track that was more metaphorical or mysterious? Sure, but that has never been Breaking Bad. The show has always been about solid storytelling that surprises you with the journey, not the destination. Hell, we knew from the start that this was the tale of how Mr. Chips turns into Scarface, so we’ve known this ending for quite a while.
I’ve seen some people saying they’re sad the show is ending. I’m not. I have that feeling you get when you arrive on the final pages of a great book, a sense that you wouldn’t have minded if it all went on a bit longer, but also the feeling of being satisfied. The feeling of completion. It’s a feeling we get all too rarely in American television, where shows too often get cut short or get dragged far beyond their intended expiration. Breaking Bad is that most unusual of cases, a show that feels like it went on exactly the right amount of time. I mean, I could watch more episodes for sure, but I don’t feel like I need more episodes. I feel the closure.