Monday, September 30, 2013

The Breaking Bad finale was ...


Frankly, that's the only word that I can think of.  [****SPOILERS FOLLOW****].  The show ended with what can only be called a bang for Walt.  He found a way to give his family his money without them knowing, found a way to see them, he killed the evil Nazis, he set Jesse free and then, well, and then he died.  Or something.  The whole thing was a wish-fulfillment fantasy from start to finish.

Why do I care?  Not so much because I think that characters that are bad need to be punished.  But because there is a coherence and an atmosphere to any show or a movie and this finale violated every one of them.

Take Elliott and Gretchen for instance.  Breaking Bad has been very coy about what exactly transpired between Walt and the Schwartzes or why he and Gretchen broke up.  But the show took the characters seriously.  It made it seem as if the story behind Grey Matter Inc. had substance.  Walt and Skyler's visit to Elliott's birthday party had a pathos to it, and Walt's last confrontation with Gretchen had bite.

None of that mattered yesterday.  The Schwartzes were completely transformed--they were cartoons; rich and pampered people who had robbed Walt of what was rightfully his.  I laughed when Gretchen screamed as Walt did his "Boo" thing to them.  But it only subtracted from what the show has spent the last 6 seasons doing: carefully, assiduously, building even its peripheral characters.

And my beef isn't that the episode was wildly unrealistic and implausible.  (Walt not only gets out of New Hampshire, but manages to drive all the way to New Mexico, threaten Elliott and Gretchen, talk to Skyler (slipping through a police dragnet) and then kill all the villains.)  No.  For all its virtues, Breaking Bad has never been what one might call a "realistic" show.  In a sense, the Season 5 finale was similar to the Season 4 finale where Walt, improbably, vanquishes Gus Fring, the drug king ("I won," he declares at the end of that season).   I should confess that I enjoyed that ending (and I wish that the show that ended without a fifth season).  But the show's tone was different then.  It was unquestionably a thriller, even as its characters suffered and made ambiguous choices.  In the second half of Season 5, it had tipped from being a thriller into full-fledged tragedy.  Jesse and Walt were irrevocably estranged, as were Walt and Hank Schraeder, Hank is killed and Jesse had probably been subjected to every humiliating situation one could think of (meth slavery seemed like a fitting climax).  In the face of such tragedy (Hank dies in "Ozymandias," and Jesse's ex-girlfriend Andrea is brutally executed in "Granite State"), the last episode's almost upbeat tone came as a bit of a shock.  This is how thrillers end, and not tragedies, and at this point, I don't think Breaking Bad was a thriller.  I confess I have no idea how the show should have ended -- but this particular ending was, just, unseemly. 

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