October 1, 2013
‘Breaking Bad’ finale: Baby blue drugs, baby blue hugs
As promised, digesting the conclusion of this epic tale took a while.
Like many other millions, I became addicted to the death grips on my stomach rarely, if ever, felt from a television series. As the passing weeks drew the finale closer and closer, a new level of scorching inevitables was reached. Yet with each painful plot twist of the knife came a deeper appreciation for the art. The show surpassed novel status; analyses broke new heights of intensity with each episode. The Monday morning recap roundup became more an act of duty than of leisure.
Breaking Bad introduced a world where things got messy, experiments failed and variables unaccounted for meant catastrophic consequences. A slight miscalculation could mean a batch with lower purity levels or it could mean Jesse’s next trip to the hospital. Morality and any other human element had no place in this laboratory. It was refreshingly unapologetic to watch the whole equate the sum of its parts at all costs. This gave rise to an ugly place with uglier people. A place where an 8-year-old is shot dead in broad daylight because he risked contaminating a methylamine beaker. A place where a middle-aged scientist – a father – could watch a young girl choke to death on her own vomit and not move a muscle because her extraction was necessary for optimal results.
Popular opinion wavered from sympathy to respect and disdain to repulsion from character to character, but the more wretched things got and the more betrayed we felt, maneuvering through the moral muck became a more engrained, sacred exercise.
This was reality, objectified. It was merciless and cruel, accountable to no one except scientific correctness. This world didn’t allow its purity to be jeopardized by outside factors as unreliable and fleeting as human response, or human emotion to a response. It was untarnished, steadfast and proud. It was controlled chaos.
It was beautiful.
The finale put a halt to these sensations in more ways than one. We were left with nothing to talk about – no conjectures, no pointed fingers, no Holly hypotheses – only silence. After so much time and even more jaw drops, how could the loose ends be tied this neatly? So many wrongs righted?
A handful of people say they weren’t so neatly tied and that the ending, though fair, was far from happy. Walt is dead. Hank is dead. Mike is dead. Gomie is dead. A former Walt Jr., now full-time Flynn, is very p-p-p-pissed off. Skyler’s relationship with her sister is beyond repair. Marie, noticeably devoid of purple in the final episodes, won’t be doing so hot any time soon. Saul will require professional counseling any time he sees a flip phone. And as for Jesse, he’ll enjoy his next good-night’s sleep whenever the nightmares of dearly departed girlfriends and poisoned Brocks and murderous paternal figures subside.
Another handful of people praise the finale because it allowed our masterful anti-hero to accomplish his end goal without sacrificing the sanctity of an unwavering storyline. No cut corners, no half measures. He removed Lydia as a variable with a one-way ticket on the Stevia Express. He implemented a (questionable) system where his seed will reap the benefits of his fallen empire and his Gray Matter frenemies will probably spend their whole lives trying to scrub the Heisenberg shake from their hands. He criminal-masterminded himself into Skyler’s apartment to deliver the final word on her escape route and kiss Holly good-bye. He wiped out the Nazi regime. He freed Jesse. That’s all, folks?
The execution was flawless. Everything worked out the way it should have, but was it the way it had to? Until now, Bad did a phenomenal job keeping “should have” and “had to” mutually inclusive. Unapologetically so. It felt to me like “Felina” didn’t play by the same rules.
I wrestle with Walt deserving the luxury of inner clarity or transformation, especially the peace he felt taking his final breaths on the lab floor. Not because of the blood on his hands or the devastation he caused, but because I’m hard-pressed to find the chemical formula in which this works. Why now, after a few months of playing Paul Bunyan in a log cabin, NOW he decides to pull the self-awareness card (“I did it for me”), and with it enjoy the satisfaction of knowing his son will be comfortable financially, Skyler won't go to jail, Holly will keep her innocence and stay virtually untouched in comparison, AND that his surrogate son got to literally Need for Speed himself into the sunset?
The universe Vince Gilligan and his team slaved so meticulously to create, one that celebrated the unbiased beauty of a zero-sum policy, granted what felt like a free pass. The universe allowed the detail-obsessed egotist with situational values and a 30-year Gray chip on his shoulder the legendary status he so longed for. As Michael Cain’s famed quotable from The Dark Knight goes, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Walter White didn’t much care whether the world burned or not, so long as people knew he was the man controlling the flame. This was the code he lived by through these five seasons – it drove his every move. And anyone who stood to threaten otherwise caught the first plane to Belize. He even saw Jesse as a creation of his own making, and a father watching his son fail in any capacity is viewed as a failure, also of his own making. Not to discredit the compassion he had for Jesse, it was real and it was honest. But it was not selfless. When sticking his neck out for himself went hand-in-hand with sticking his neck out for Jesse, he didn’t hesitate. But the opposite was true as well.
My disappointment is rooted largely in a sense of familiarity that I hadn’t felt until the finale, and hadn’t missed. Walt would not blow away like grains of sand across Albuquerque deserts to the forgotten song of his hubris, Ozymandius style. Walt was victorious, something protagonists do best. His grand experiment yielded the desired results at long last, and the sweet whispers of Badfinger cooed to a crowd brimming with oddly optimistic closure. It felt weird. It felt cheap. I was looking for a final lab explosion, and instead I found a final lab sweep-up.
I wanted the world to burn, bitch.