Breaking Bad accomplished great things over the course of five seasons but the ending on Sunday night should go down as the best ever in television history…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It’s a certain kind of love affair to fall head over heels for a television show. TV is supposed to be the great escape, where we can turn it on and let the fantasies and writing of storytellers wash over and enthrall us. It’s entertainment, but over the last 50 years or so television has become part of our culture and part of who we are. We become invested in characters and storylines, and our time as fans ends and it almost feels like we live and breathe with the shows themselves.
It’s for that very reason that the ending of a show is so crucial to its overall survival in history. It dates back to the MASH finale where people tuned in by the millions to say goodbye to their favorite comedy troop of soldiers, but admittedly that was before my time. The first time I really remember shows coming to a conclusion and it seemed as if the whole world was watching it was actually two sitcoms I frequented in my college days. Seinfeld — which remains the single best comedy of all time in my opinion — ended in such a weird, and odd way that to this day I’ve only watched it one time when it actually aired. The show wasn’t ruined by the ending, but the finale was so awful and off putting that it’s been archived for me in a place where I pretend like it never happened. The other show was Friends, and that’s one that I’ve watched numerous times because in that case the writers and producers got it right. Ross and Rachel got together, Chandler and Monica moved to suburbia to raise their kid and Joey — well we’re just going to act like his spinoff was a figment of our imaginations okay?
Comedies are meant to make us laugh, and dramas are meant to make us think and so in my humble estimation the ending of a great procedural or serialized drama is so much more important than any funny show that gets us to smile over the course of 30-minutes. A fantastic series can literally be made or broken by the way it ends. To this day, The Sopranos remains the most highly regarded television show in history. It won dozens of Emmy awards, and was voted the No. 1 show of all time in terms of writing by the Writers Guild of America. But no matter how outstanding the exploits of Tony Soprano and his attempt at living a normal family home life while running the New Jersey mafia were over the course of six seasons, there will be theories and quandaries for decades about the final scene where Tony orders some onion rings, a man in a leather coat brushes by him, his daughter outside struggling to park and Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ blaring in the background as the shot just turns to black. Did Tony get shot and die? Was there some greater metaphor that creator David Chase was trying to get across to us all? Was this a set up for a Sopranos movie to really bring closure?
Sadly, none of those questions were answered. The Sopranos will go down as one of the most perfectly executed series in the history of television but the ending will haunt TV goers forever, and it’s likely only a select few will be happy with the way it went out.
The list can go on forever — Lost being another candidate for worst ending ever for a top five show of all time — and there are certainly series that got it right. The Shield, The Wire, Smallville — all found the perfect formula and knew how to go out just like they came in — on top. It seems like such a simple thing to end a show as grand as it once lived, but it’s never that easy. Shows are just like human lives. We have a beginning, middle and end and some of us feel love and compassion and go out in our 90’s with family surrounding us as we fade away into the abyss. Others are not so lucky and there are thousands of ways a life can be ended in a brutal and unforgiving fashion.
Walter White was supposed to suffer, and through his actions over the course of five seasons on Breaking Bad, he should have felt a thousand lifetimes of pain for how he inflicted misery on so many around him. He stole, cheated, lied, and killed anyone that stood in his way, and his reason was always the same — he was doing it for his family. On the first day Breaking Bad debuted, Walter White only had so much time to survive. He had inoperable lung cancer and each day really was one step closer to the grave and not in the same way you and I are all walking that same path knowing that the end will happen one day far, far in the future. He was jetting a course to the end and for the better part of this series he took a lot of people down with him — that was until the series finale when he wanted to set things right.
Walt had escaped the authorities and was living a meager life in a cabin out in the middle of New Hampshire, far away from his family that he sought to protect with millions of his money now sitting in the hands of thieves who killed his brother-in-law. He was resolute in his ending, but the moment he saw his old friends Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz on TV bragging about how their company Gray Matter Technologies was formed without any real help from their old partner Walter White, they effectively ended his life right then and there. From that broken shell emerged Heisenberg, who had some serious scores to settle and it all came to pass on Sunday night in the Breaking Bad finale.
As Walt trekked through the United States on his way to New Mexico, the license plate on the stolen car he was driving said “Live Free or Die” and that’s how he was going to find closure with everyone that still owed him from this life, and those that he still owed so much. Popping back up in his old friends the Schwartz’s living room was all too poetic after they did him so wrong all those years ago. Little did they know that the interview with Charlie Rose was the catalyst to awaken Heisenberg from his slumber and summon him back into their lives. He didn’t kill Elliott and Gretchen but instead instructed them to give what was left of his money — just over $9 million — to his son Walt Jr. in a trust on his 18th birthday. To ensure this happened, Walt hired two of the best contract killers in the business to stalk and hunt down Elliott and Gretchen if they failed to follow through on their promise.
As it turns out, Walt’s “hitmen” were really just Badger and Skinny Pete with a pair of laser pointers. It was a nice way to see two periphery characters one last time, while also using Walt’s brilliant intellect to get what he wanted while using the threats and reputation of Heisenberg without brandishing any of the weaponry. It’s safe to say that the day Walt Jr. hits 18 he will have a big fat check awaiting him from Elliott and Gretchen so they can live free from that moment forward knowing that Walt’s hired guns have walked away from the job. He also found out from the two stoner Star Trek philosophers that blue meth was still being sold around the Southwest and if he wasn’t making it that only one left person who could do the job — Jesse was alive and cooking again.
Walt then paid a final visit to Lydia with a brief run-in with Todd planned as well. Lydia is a woman of habits and patterns. It was her own undoing then that her regularly scheduled cup of chamomile tea with a packet of Stevia was the last thing she’ll remember when she fades from this world. Walt used the last vile of ricin on her, and Lydia will die a slow death knowing that she never got the best of Heisenberg. He also plants the idea with Todd that he can provide his crew with a way to make meth without Methylamine, and secures entry into their compound with the promise of an even better product.
From there Walt pays a visit to his estranged better half Skyler, who now lives in a small apartment raising Holly and Walt Jr. on her own. Walt convinces her to give him five minutes of her time before he goes for good. He passes along a lottery ticket with the coordinates where police can find the bodies of Hank and Gomez, and this really will be a way for Skyler to win because she can trade that information for immunity from the litany of charges pending from Walt’s criminal empire. Before leaving, Walt tries to explain why he’s done the things that he did. Skyler stops him — essentially saying enough with the bullshit about this all being about family, and that’s when Walt in maybe his most honest moment during the last five seasons cops to what this was truly all about.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really alive.”
With the grim reaper swinging his sickle inching ever closer to Walt’s neck, and after suffering the humiliation of selling his part of a billion dollar company for $5000, he had built an empire from the ground floor and he was the man in charge. He was the leader, the president, and the pope and anyone that wanted to score blue sky had to pray to him. It took this situation unfolding and watching his life disappear before his eyes to realize that the illusion that it was all for the betterment of his family was always a lie. It was always for Walter White, and the collateral damage is what cost his family everything. Handing over the money to his son and the location of Hank’s body so Marie could bury her husband and Skyler could walk away from the criminal charges was the only thing he had left and he finally committed a completely selfless act.
The last step for Walt’s short trip to the grave was paying back Jack Welker and his merry band of Nazis for murdering his brother-in-law and stealing (almost) every dime he had earned in the last few years as a meth kingpin. Walt found Jesse living a sad, pitiful existence in servitude forced to cook batch after batch of blue meth. It was then that Walter’s science and know-how came to use one final time as he pressed the button to automatically release the trunk on his car, and what popped out was a monstrous machine gun that rocketed bullet after bullet through the Aryan lair killing everyone inside with just a few people left alive. One of them was Walt, who tackled Jesse just before the slaughter began. A couple of episodes ago, Walt wanted nothing more than to see Jesse dead, but maybe it was the realization of all the awful things he did to this poor kid finally helped him realize that he was worth saving and giving him his life back. With his gut gushing blood, Jack tried to bargain for his life by offering Walt his money back, but before he could finish his sentence there was a bullet flying through the back of his skull as bloody brain matter splattered over the shot.
Jesse gained his revenge when a doe-eyed Todd stared out the window at the machine gun contraption that Walt rigged that just killed his uncle and their entire crew. With visions of Drew Sharp and Andrea dancing in his head, Jesse reacted and threw the chains of his bondage over Todd’s head and choked the life out of him before eventually snapping his neck. The brutality that Todd unleashed with a dopey smile on his face was never met with any kind of retaliation until now. With that same pale, emotionless candor he wore for his entire time on Breaking Bad, Todd’s life was strangled away in a befitting ending because he was made to suffer if only for those few seconds.
Everyone in the room was dead except Walt and Jesse. Where this started five seasons ago had come full circle. Walt offered Jesse a gun to take out his vengeance and kill him dead, but he was done doing Heisenberg’s evil deeds. Jesse was finally living free and he wanted to leave Walt, blue meth, Todd, and everything else behind and as he crashed through the gates of the Nazi compound, he drove off into the night with nothing chaining him to his now former life.
It was all over. Walt had freed Jesse. The Nazis were dead and retribution handed down. His kids were able to get at least part of his fortune. He helped his wife get out of the pending criminal charges. He provided Marie with at least some kind of closure so she can say goodbye to Hank. All that was left was for Walter White to go home again and die.
This home wasn’t the house he lived in with his wife and kids. No, this home was the cook room that started this entire story. He rubbed his hands over the cold, metal chrome while most certainly remarking how this all began and with a smear of blood, he left his final mark. In the fray of the gunfire, Walt had taken a shot to his side and was quickly bleeding out. With police cruisers quickly closing in, Walter White laid down to die in the one place he always felt welcomed and appreciated.
In the history of television, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting ending to a show like Breaking Bad and a character as complex as Walter White. The final song playing as Walter White faded away was a track by Badfinger called “Baby Blue”. Maybe the symbolism went no further than the title of the song in correlation to Walt’s master creation of blue meth but maybe the opening lyric was really the best way to sum up the last 60 or so minutes of television that we just witnessed — “Guess I got what I deserved”.
We got what we deserved out of Breaking Bad. This show ended how it started. It was chemistry, and the combination of parts that this show put together may never be seen on television again.
Perfection is hard to achieve. Many accomplished television show writers and creators come close and strive for that in every word they type on a page, but it’s not easy to capture. Vince Gilligan found that with his swan song in Breaking Bad. In the annals of television show history when the halls are opened up and we talk about the greatest television finales of all time it should read “There was Breaking Bad and then there were all the rest”.