You Can’t Compare The BREAKING BAD And LOST Finales

It's pizza and Thai food, as Elliot from Gray Matter might say.

As soon as the Breaking Bad finale came to a conclusion people began tweeting and Facebooking and commenting variations on a thought:

That's how you do a finale, Lost.

Some of them tagged Lost's Damon Lindelof in their tweets, and he began retweeting them. All of them, it seemed; what started as a wry exposure of trolls turned into a weird public self-victimization. It did, however, show that the sentiment was widespread, that it existed beyond my anecdotal observation. 

Here's the thing: I hate the ending of Lost. I think it's a terrible finale. I love the ending of Breaking Bad. I think it finished everything up perfectly. But to compare the two is silly and, in the longrun, unfair. They were, in every way that counts, fundamentally different shows. Lost never should have ended the way that Breaking Bad did.

Lost was a mystery show. It was about reveals and twists and endless realizations that everything we knew was wrong. It was a show predicated on constantly pulling back the focus to reveal more and more complicated connections and histories. It was a show that existed to pull the rug out from under us on the regular, and that was what made it so thrilling to experience in real time. We never knew what was coming next, and the show delighted in tricking and misdirecting us. 

Breaking Bad was never a mystery show. It was always a pulp thriller, and while it used flash-forwards, they were never to create mystery but rather tension. The flash-forwards were omens of doom, and we spent the episodes or the seasons getting screwed up tighter and tighter as we began to understand just why that pink bear was floating in the pool. Breaking Bad had no mysteries, and it always subscribed to Hitchcock's theory that a bomb revealed under a table was better than a sudden explosion (the exact opposite approach of Lost, which actually featured characters dying in sudden explosions, while Breaking Bad had an explosion that came at the end of a long, long suspense sequence). It is as different an approach as I can imagine; while one show's hook was 'What will happen next?' the other show's hook was 'I can barely watch because I know something bad is happening next.' 

And so the finale of Lost could never be the finale of Breaking Bad. It could never be the finale of loose ends tied neatly; that would be a betrayal of the basic structure of the seriesTo wish for a Lost ending like the ending of Breaking Bad - a tidy one - would indicate a lack of understanding of the show. Breaking Bad was telling a story, and that story had to end. Lost was less of a story; it was a series of misdirects and twists that had more in common with the Exquisite Corpse gimmick than a finely structured tale. 

How do you end that? In retrospect it seems obvious there was no good way. Lost was our narrative Iraq, there was no real exit strategy (despite the showrunners promising early on that they had learned the lessons of The X-Files, a show that ended up concluding more satisfactorily despite also having a terrible conclusion). The show stayed true to its ways right up to the end, with the third-to-last episode throwing in all sorts of deep history on the Man in Black and that other guy and the Piss Cave; it continued obuscating, as was the way of the show, but at that late point it was irritating. The showrunners chose to cop out at the last moment, though; they retconned the entire purpose of the series, making a show that had been about conflict and philosophy into a treacly hugfest in Thomas Kinkade light that was really about how important the people in our lives are. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: the finale of Lost was terrible because it could have served as the finale of any ensemble show. The most unique show in TV history went out with the most generic ending possible - we're all together, forever! The ending of Breaking Bad was much more specific, less generalized. Although it could, technically, have ended exactly like Lost, with Walt and Gus Fring in the afterlife finally understanding how important they were to each other.

So if you want to compare the endings of Lost and Breaking Bad - if you want to compare pizza and Thai food, as Elliott says in the beginning of Breaking Bad's Felina - you have to find the only place where they're comparable. That would be how well the respective finales represent the episodes that went before. Yes, one show is pizza and one show is chicken pad thai, but is it good pizza and good pad thai? If we're comparing on that level, Breaking Bad's ending was some of the best pizza I've ever had. Lost's last bite was some gristly, rancid chicken amid limp, tasteless noodles.