So this thing turned out to be the cultural event of the year. At least for the people in my age/class/race group. Which is a pretty privileged group. Which makes it the overall cultural event of the year. Shoutout to privilege.
I’m not going to write a big comprehensive thing. I think a lot of people are doing that. I read a bit of Matt Yglesias on Slate and I even listened to the Slate Spoiler Special about the episode. It seems like there’s been some disappointment and backlash over the finale. I don’t get that. One complaint is the rather high level of implausibility of everything. That’s a fair criticism, but it’s one you could make about dozens of episodes going back to the first season. This is a show that traffics in implausibility. The coincidences, the lack of repercussions, all the normal TV drama standards are taken to new levels in Breaking Bad and no one has said a word until now. I don’t get it.
Here’s the other, larger complaint. Walt won. He goes out as the hero. He accomplished everything he set out to do in the finale and died happy. People seem legitimately angry about it. That totally baffles me. I mentioned this last week, but I’m glad that things didn’t end with that kind of heavy-handed moralism. I think a lot of people wanted the show to make some kind of definitive statement that Walt was a bad person, and therefore deserved a bad outcome as a result of his actions. One of the reasons that Breaking Bad is a good show is that it has always avoided dumb easy answers like that. Bad people are successful all the time. A lot of bad people go their whole lives without any kind of comeuppance. That’s how the world works. And that assumes that you’re dumb enough to separate all people into a good group and a bad group in the first place.
If you’re looking for a bad ending for Walt, I think it’s helpful to think of the end of episode 6 as the ending. Or at least an ending. It’s amazing to me how long Walt held on to the notion that he would be totally and unambiguously successful. That he would just walk back into his house and go on running the car wash and bask in the adulation of his family. That was obviously never going to happen. Walt’s realization of that was the closest the show came to a repudiation of him. A lot of the two episodes after that were Walt coming to terms with the fact that he cared about himself more than his family. His intellect, his empire, his reputation, etc. I was glad that he came out and said it to Skyler.
For that part of Walt the ending was perfect. He died alone in the lab. Everyone will assume he was running it. The only people who can tell the whole story are Jesse and Saul, and they never will. Walt’s dead so he can’t do anything to diminish his reputation after being arrested. The people who will come forward to give interviews etc. about him will only burnish his reputation. Marie, Huell, Skinny Pete/Badger, etc. He goes down as a Pablo Escobar-level crime legend. Which is not at all the case, by the way, not with all of his frequent bumbling, mistakes, almost getting killed, etc. That was always a big part of things that got mostly ignored. The most famous thing about the show is his “I am the one who knocks” speech. That’s just not really true. He came out on top in the end, but it wasn’t because he was so ruthless and ingenious. He got totally outsmarted by Jesse on the fake money barrel thing, for one. He was on the brink of running away because of other people knocking. Multiple times. And then he finally had to. Walt’s actual meth empire prowess never matched his self-image.
All that being said, going into the final scene I was hoping Walt would live. His actions leading up to the machine gun massacre made it obvious that he was expecting to die, and that’s how it probably had to end. The show started out with him being diagnosed with terminal cancer, after all. His death has always been hanging over everything. But still. I wanted him standing in the lab with his fists at his sides, mean-mugging the SWAT team as they filtered in. Oh well.
I do have one grievance that I want to air. I was wrong on the self-ricining. Fine. I feel like I was right in spirit, because Walt pretty obviously came back to Albuquerque planning to die. But Lydia? Really? The whole Todd gang storyline never really did it for me. They weren’t around that long, and they never had any personality like the other meth world people. That they were set up as the final boss of the whole show was a little disappointing. It felt a little low-stakes compared with the drama over Gus Fring and the various Salamancas.
Overall series thoughts: Good show 10/10 would watch again.