After the final episode of Breaking Bad, a few of us met in the cold-care aisle of the neighborhood drug store in order to discuss how it all went down. Many spoilers follow.
Kevin Warwick: So, let’s discuss how clean-cut and satisfying the episode was.
Sam Worley: Was it too satisfying?
Mara Shalhoup: That’s the big question. But here’s the deal: we’ve been inundated with these ambiguous, meta endings to great TV shows. This wasn’t that.
SW: But Breaking Bad has always been a more ambiguous show than most, especially in the last season, where the theme seemed to be “consequence.” I feel like they just sort of wimped out a little here. But it was still very fun to watch.
MS: Wimped out how? Too tidy? The consequences for Walt were extreme.
SW: It was so easy for him in this one, though! He just kinda walked in and blew everyone away.
MS: He lost the love and admiration of his wife and son. That is the hardest thing imaginable.
SW: I think Vince Gilligan backed himself into sort of a corner in terms of the timeline—there was just so much that had to be resolved in the last episode.
MS: The amount of satisfaction in the first 15 minutes had me smitten.
KW: I loved the car scene, when he hit the window and knocked the snow off. Old-school Heisenberg.
MS: When I saw that, I got really sad—because it’s one of those lovely, subtle things that seems to only happen in Breaking Bad, and I’m going to miss that.
Then there was Gretchen and Elliott’s banter. Straight outta Portlandia. I wanted them to die just for that.
KW: Walt wandering around the house casually stalking them was so good.
SW: I wished (and hoped, after Gretchen and Elliot’s return in the penultimate) that the show had developed a little further the idea that the impetus for Walt turning into a sociopath wasn’t the cancer diagnosis, but whatever happened to him at Gray Matter—that that laid the groundwork, and cancer was the, um, spark. (Ugh, metaphors.)
MS: In a way, I think it’s better that what happened at Gray Matter wasn’t fully explained. We know enough: Walt was fucked out of the fortune he should have been awarded for his brilliance. And his work at Gray Matter might also have caused his cancer. He broke bad, sure. But, in my opinion, he had to.
KW: You really want to put a nice sheen on Walt.
MS: I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I think everything Walt did is perfectly understandable. He had to achieve a level of self-respect before he died.
KW: The last episode seemed more a like a crossing off of tasks from a list than an ultimate search for self-respect.
SW: I strongly disagree with the hero-narrative read you’re giving to Walt’s story. Plenty of people get fucked over by their jobs; plenty of people get cancer. I feel like the show’s thesis was how easy it is for a normal guy to turn his routine resentments into something pretty malign, and in ways that have drastic and awful consequences. That seems more to the point to me than this guy’s search for his own self-respect. Did he find it? Maybe! But at what cost?
KW: I tend to agree with Sam. I definitely think that’s more to the point.
MS: I’m not saying he’s a hero. (Nor would I agree with him being a “normal guy.”) But building the empire—succeeding at something exceedingly difficult and with high stakes—was something he decided to do early on in the show, something he decided to do before he died. I think, from the beginning, Walt set out to win at all costs.
SW: I hadn’t thought about it in terms of whether Walt “won” or “lost,” but I’m just not sure that’s the point.
MS: I watched the show with great interest in part because I liked how easy it was for a “normal” guy to turn bad. But I was even more interested in how (and whether) Walt would achieve what he set out to achieve.
KW: The scene with Walt and Skyler was brilliant—showing that Skyler still knows the type of man he is/was.
SW: I thought that scene was a really good final illustration of what Skyler’s gone through over the course of the show: looking at a person she’s been married to forever and trying to integrate the fact that he’s now very, very different. She seemed more confident about the terms of their relationship now: he could do a little favor for her with the lottery ticket, she would let him see the baby, she wouldn’t call the cops. I thought it was a nice way to say good-bye.
MS: The lottery ticket coming back was great. And Walt gave it to her knowing that he was also “giving” her $9 million—another lottery of sorts.
SW: Also, whether that ticket will actually save her from prosecution—that’s another kind of lottery.
MS: Walt and Skyler didn’t touch at all, did they?
SW: I don’t think so. I was wondering if they were going to hug or something.
MS: So good that they didn’t.
SW: My hope for this episode was that Walt would kill the Nazis, accidentally rescue Jesse in the process, and then decide to let him live—but then Jesse would kill Walt. But I really liked the twist they put on it: that it was more powerful for Jesse to refuse to kill Walt.
MS: And that Walt, who could never truly free his family, could still free Jesse.
KW: And Jesse could get Todd. Walt watching it happen was chilling. That was my favorite part of that scene: Walt just staring down at Jesse as he strangled Todd to death. I mean, there was no way Jesse wasn’t going to kill Todd. But I guess I was a little shocked to see how completely stone cold Walt was about it.
MS: I didn’t find him cold. I think he was finding peace in the fact that everything was being set straight.
KW: That was not a peaceful face.
SW: I was very happy for Jesse, though. All I really wanted was for Jesse to get away.
MS: Where do you think/hope Jesse is going?
SW: Softly lit woodcarving studio.
Hopefully therapy, too.
KW: Pouring Brock a bowl of cereal, hopefully.
SW: Oh god! Maybe he can adopt Brock. Poor Brock.
MS: The state will never give him custody of Brock, but I’m going to hold onto that image of Jesse pouring Brock cereal nonetheless.