By Chad Hoyle (@chadillacgrilz)
Few shows in the history of television have been so universally embraced that their series finales became collective viewer experiences worldwide. Even fewer finales are regarded by viewers as the perfect way to conclude a well-loved and critically successful series.
AMC’s Breaking Bad, which ended its remarkable five-season run last night, will be forever lauded as the exception to the trend of disappointing finales. The final episode managed to end each main character’s story arc the most satisfying way possible, and cemented the show’s legacy as one of the finest in the history of television- no small feat for a program centered on drugs, murder, deceit, corruption, and power.
For the uninitiated, Breaking Bad follows the story of Walter White- A high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and with the assistance of Jessie, one of his students, resorts to cooking crystal meth as a means to support his family and the upcoming expenses. Simple in initial concept, but what began as a means to an end soon became a way of life for Walter as the allure of rapidly gaining more power and wealth enveloped him. The series followed Walter as he descended further into the criminal underworld, jeopardizing the safety of his family, Jessie, and anyone else involved with his newly founded drug empire. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, who play Walter and Jessie respectively, are able to brilliantly develop characters that, despite their moral shortcomings, are still conveyed as desperate souls that beg for the viewers' sympathy and force your investment into their plight.
Series creator Vince Gilligan toyed with the viewers’ emotions by making Walt the anti-hero grounded in realism- we knew what he was doing was immoral, but we sided with him because we believed that he was doing it for the right reasons. Viewers each week were eager to see to what limits an ordinary and relate-able character like Walt had been pushed, and wondering if they would be capable of the same in a similar situation. As the show progressed and Walt’s situation grew beyond the levels of real-life comprehension, audiences became less engaged in the moral issues, but were fascinated with the ultimate repercussions of the vile actions. Fans would take to the internet after every new episode to obsess over the tiniest detail, analyze the evolving dynamics of Walt and Jessie’s relationship, draw false conclusions or make empty predictions. Questions were raised about Walt’s every move, alliances he forged and relationships he terminated to ensure that he remains at the peak of his power, all while wondered how everything he worked to build would eventually come crashing down. Years of speculation has finally led to a resolution that would certainly satisfy even the most ardent conspiracy theorist.
To explain the events of the end alone would be futile, since much of the impact comes in the context of the greater narrative. Gilligan has often described his intention of “showing the evolution from Mr. Chips to Scarface,” and in those broad terms, the finale was resoundingly successful in completing the arc. In finer terms, viewers were rewarded with answers to many long awaited questions, including the major revelation by Walt, admitting that his actions were less for his family and more to stoke the fire of his own ego. And, in an ending simultaneously tragic and satisfying, Walter finds peace when he finally accepts a situation that’s beyond his control after liberating Jessie from a fate worse than death.
Often shows will start to wane in their later seasons, as evidenced recently by Dexter, Lost, and The Sopranos, all of which ended in disappointment and tarnished their places in the annals of television history. Breaking Bad, through the strength of their writing, attention to story, and their wealth of acting talent, managed to produce a program that was respected by fans because it respected their fans. It incited discussion, never played down or oversimplified its subjects, and never was afraid to throw a wrench in the cogs to keep viewers guessing. The show has set a dramatic standard that all future programming will struggle to meet, never mind exceed. Credit also goes to AMC, for taking a risk on a show that, on paper, could not be easily preconceived as a universal success.
Much will be written about this show in the upcoming weeks and months, but in my opinion, Breaking Bad will be forever embraced as one of the, if not the, finest show in a modern generation of exemplary television programming.