SPOILERS – Do not continue reading if you have not seen the show’s finale.
I know I’m a few weeks behind, but I finished watching the final episode last night. There’s much I want to say about the show, so this will probably become a series of blog posts. This introductory post will focus on the resolution of one of the best TV shows ever.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the former highschool chemistry teacher who became a notorious drug lord finally met his inevitable end. Creator Vince Gilligan recently did an interview with Entertainment Weekly where he admitted how difficult it was to come up with an ending:
“There was a version we kicked around where Walt is the only one who survives, and he’s standing among the wreckage and his whole family is destroyed. That would be a very powerful ending but very much a kick-in-the-teeth kind of ending for the viewers. We talked about a version where Jesse kills Walt. We talked about a version where Walt more or less gets away with it. There’s no right or wrong way to do this job — it’s just a matter of: You get as many smart people around you as possible in the writers room, and I was very lucky to have that.” (Entertainment Weekly)
Walter White is an interesting character because of the transformation he goes through in the course of the five seasons. Walt starts out as a frustrated man who receives the news that he’s terminally ill. After such devastating news, and seeing how much money his family will owe for his treatment, Walt decides to start cooking methamphetamine. But not just any meth. Walt is a genius. He uses his superior knowledge of chemistry to create the purest meth in the entire state of New Mexico and possibly the country. But Walt can’t do it alone. He doesn’t possess the street savvy to distribute his product. So, he recruits a former student and all-time junky named Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Jesse is a small-time drug dealer who is in way over his head and he soon finds out how much.
What starts out as business venture, soon becomes a partnership, then a dysfunctional father and son relationship and ultimately an antagonistic relationship. As Walt becomes more involved in the meth business, he becomes more ruthless and manipulative. Walt knows what buttons to push and the right words to say in order to get Jesse to carry out his wishes. Jesse, who is by no means an innocent bystander, is certainly not as evil as Walt. In a way, Jesse is just one more victim in Walt’s egocentric drive to the top (or bottom).
After being disappointed by so many shows with cheesy or unsatisfying endings, Breaking Bad is a show that finally satisfies. No, Walt does not fully redeem himself (how could he?) and no, Walt does not get away with it (why would he?), but in the end, Walt does make amends. In a pivotal scene Walt admits to his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) what we suspected all along, that he did it for himself. Watch this powerful scene.
Walt was addicted to the power. To me, he felt betrayed by his former business partners Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz (who apparently cheated Walt out of billions) and that fueled his thirst to be recognized, to feel important, even if that meant in the meth business. The fact is that Heisenberg (Walt’s alter ego) was a respected and notorious name in the underworld.
In the end, Walt, thanks to another one of his schemes, manages to leave his family nearly 10 million dollars. He avenges Hank’s death and in the process frees Jessie from his servitude. He also tells Skyler where to find Hank’s body so that Marie can have some closure and so that Skyler can make a deal with the DEA. In the end, Walter dies next to one of his meth instruments, surrounded by his famous blue product, surrounded by perhaps what he loved the most.
He was good at it. And he liked it.
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
– Walt Whitman