Did you wake up today feeling like something was missing from the universe? Was your brain woefully underused last night? Do you feel remarkably well rested because you didn't go to sleep feeling unnerved? These are all symptoms of Breaking Bad withdrawal, which is currently affecting people all over the country like a bad cold or a catchy tune from whatever alterna-folk hipster song is currently playing during smartphone commercials.
Breaking Bad may be gone, but that doesn't mean we're done thinking about it. In fact, now that we've had a week to let the series finale twirl around in our heads, we have new questions! And since we entered the finale with eight big questions, we figured we'd also exit with eight, just to be fair.
1. Did Walter White win?
I don't like to use the term "win," but it seems everyone else is, so I'll abide. To me, Walter didn't win. Not even close. Yes, he killed Jack's crew and might have figured out how to get some money to his family, but to determine whether he won, we need to look at the entire game. And he lost the game pretty badly. His family was destroyed and will forever be rained on by the dark cloud of Walter's criminal activity, their reputation as favorable as Enron's. The money he made? Somewhere in a hidden Nazi room, just waiting for a bunch of kids to stumble upon it Goonies-style. And oh yeah, he's also dead. So you take a look at that scorecard and tell me if you think he won. He hit a home run in the ninth inning, but he was already way down in the score.
BUT! And this is one of the things that makes Breaking Bad so great, there's more to the question than that. From Walter's perspective, there is that side of him who rightfully believes he won. Breaking Bad wasn't just about a chemistry teacher's transformation into a drug kingpin, it was about one man's kickass midlife crisis. He was living the life of a castrated man who got yelled at by a guy with huge eyebrows while working a second job at a car wash, and then he used his talents to become someone new and he grew some gigantic testicles as a result. As Walter laid there dying on the floor, his smirk said, "That was fun." Certainly more fun than teaching a bunch of bored teenagers about ionic compounds for the eighth time in a semester, certainly more fun than letting his wife do all the talking, and certainly more fun than slowly dying from cancer in a budget clinic. Walter was going to die anyway, and cancer may have gotten him much earlier if he hadn't found a new sense of rejuvenation in all the naughty escapades he was involved in. Taking away all the carnage he left in his wake, Walter had a pretty good run for a man with a terminal illness, didn't he?
2. Did Walter White redeem himself?
He redeemed himself as much as one man can in that situation. Given the change that Walter experienced throughout the show's five seasons, and all the despicable acts he committed, he'd dug himself a pretty deep hole. Imagine if Breaking Bad had been told from Jesse's point of view. Would we look at Walter the same way? The guy was a dick—we're talking about a Joffrey-sized jerk here—who selfishly put others at risk in order to save his own skin. So for Walter to completely redeem himself, he'd need to undo a lot. And last time I checked, bringing chicks who choked on their own vomit back to life was pretty hard to do.
However, he did make an effort to see that Walter Jr. and Holly would be as comfortable as they could be before he left, and he 'fessed up to Skyler and told her truth, revealing that the reason he did everything he did was that he liked the way it made him feel. Is it redemption? No. But is it a step in the right direction? Yes. It was a good way to send Walter out on an upswing, leaving us to remember the man in a more positive light than we otherwise might have. And maybe there's a hint that no matter how bad Heisenberg got, there was a little Walter White in him that would never go away.
3. Two parter: Where did Jesse go? What happened to Skyler?
Here's where we get to have a little fun because we just don't know. Some will say that Jesse drove away to star in a Need For Speed movie, which makes sense given how fast he was truckin' into the desert night when we last saw him. Obviously in a perfect world, he rode that into a crossover with the Fast & Furious movie franchise and is sipping Piña Coladas on a beach with Vin Diesel. But let's face the facts here. Jesse is a sensitive guy with an addictive personality, two things that, when combined together, mean that his life is going to suck. I'm sure he made some effort to help Brock out, but the chances that he and Brock lived happily ever after in the champagne rooms of strip clubs are slim. In all likelihood, Jesse cried a lot and hung out with Wendy where he dated women who were killed, leading him to slowly deteriorate into junkie hell. Sorry, it's the truth!
As for Skyler, well Walter Jr. won't catch that generous windfall from the Schwartzes for another year or so, so she probably stared out her window smoking cigarettes for several lonely months. In an ironic twist, let's assume she got lung cancer and then BAM! She started cooking meth with Jesse because WHY NOT? Bride of Heisenberg, coming to AMC in 2015. In all seriousness, sheesh, I hope Walter Jr. accepts that money and they live out their lives as best they can. First step, move the hell out of Albuquerque and all the horrible memories. I hear Belize is nice this time of year!
4. Was the finale all Walter White's dying hallucination like some people are saying?
No. No, no, no. But it's not a dumb theory; in fact, two of its biggest proponents—comedian Norm MacDonald and New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum—are very smart people. Basically, those who subscribe to this line of thinking believe that Walter White died in the car outside the New Hampshire bar when he was trying to stay clear of the police. Stuck in a snow-covered car with police lights flashing outside, Walter prayed to someone to help him get home and voila! The keys fell from the front-seat visor, and before we knew it, he was on his way to murder some rednecks. The idea is to poke holes in many of the curiously fortunate circumstances Walter experienced on his road to revenge (MacDonald's Twitter timeline during the finale was basically a play-by-play of un-Breaking Bad "Felina" was). He wasn't spotted by authorities driving across the country despite being the subject of a nationwide manhunt and having his face plastered all over television, he easily walked into the Schwartz's home and Skyler's house despite the latter having a police watch, and he made contact with a gun man, bought a garage-door opener, found Badger and Skinny Pete, and faked being a newspaper man with ease. In fact, everything went about as well as it could have for Walter in that situation. So, dream situation? It kind of sounds like it.
But an ambiguous ending with a sneaky dream ending is exactly the sort of thing Breaking Bad never would've aimed for. Breaking Bad respected Walter's science so much that the facts bled into the show itself. The series was never as mysterious as internet fandom claimed it was, and Vince Gilligan repeatedly expressed bewilderment with all the theories that sprung up. Great television doubles as art, and art is always open to interpretation. "Felina" left some wiggle room in that sense, but the intentions of Gilligan and crew were never to pull one over on the audience. Aside from one soaking wet, one-eyed pink teddy bear, Breaking Bad has always been much more straightforward than many people have thought. To change gears and make the series' most important hour completely different would be preposterous, don't ya think?
5. Where does "Felina" rank among other great series finales?
So many series have ended! So don't expect a concrete number here. But "Felina" definitely deserves a spot in the upper echelon, along with Six Feet Under, Friday Night Lights, St. Elsewhere, Newhart, and The Shield. Every series finale is met with heaps of scrutiny, and "Felina" definitely has its critics. But the outpouring of praise has overshadowed the boos, putting "Felina" well ahead of a pair of contemporary season enders that were closer to an even split: The Sopranos and Lost. I'm putting Breaking Bad's "Felina" in the 90th percentile of series finales—a remarkable achievement, especially in this age of anonymous hatred that dominates the internet. It was really good, but it wasn't the best.
6. How should we rank Breaking Bad's seasons, from best to worst?
Throwing this list out there is like wearing a huge target at a festival that celebrates extra-ripe tomatoes and that's populated by fastball-throwing hecklers, but here we go anyway:
1) Season 3
2) Season 2
3) Season 5b
4) Season 1
5) Season 4
6) Season 5A
Now, before you slam your fingers on the keyboard in rage and start yelling about how dumb I am, you try ranking them. You'll see for yourself that one of the seasons has to carry the misnomer of "worst season of Breaking Bad." They were all great, but some were better than others. And if you're interested in knowing, my all-time favorite episode of Breaking Bad is Season 3's 12th episode, "Half Measures." How about you?
7. Where does Breaking Bad fall in the list of the greatest television shows of all time?
This is all personal opinion, of course. And my personal opinion is the only correct answer, of course. Breaking Bad is the best television show ever. Yeah, I said it! It's usurped The Wire to become my favorite show of all time, edging out the HBO series because it embraced every aspect of television production. The Wire had oodles and oodles of wonderfully depressing things to say about society, and we're all better for it, but Breaking Bad evolved the medium with some of the best cinematography, acting, and directing of anything to ever run on any screen. Your opinion may differ, but mine is quite clear: Breaking Bad is best. The Wire is second best. But Dog With a Blog is still running, so this list is subject to change.
8. What do I watch now that Breaking Bad is over?
Oh sure, the web blew up with the usual boring recommendations covering shows both old and new: The Sopranos, The Wire, Justified, and The Shield, all of which are great and all of which you should have seen all the way through six times already. But those are obvious because of the shared subject matter of morality and the law and cops and shooting people, and a little too simple when you think about how great a show Breaking Bad was from every angle. So I've got two more recommendations that feature the same complete package—acting, writing, cinematography, direction—as Breaking Bad. They may not feature train heists or Pontiac Azteks running over drug dealers or Star Trek fan fiction, but they can impress in a multitude of ways.
First up is Sundance Channel's Rectify, which aired its shortened first season earlier this year. (You know what other show had a shortened first season? Breaking Bad!) Rectify was often promoted as "from the producers of Breaking Bad," and the connection is evident in the details. The series follows one man's release from Death Row after DNA evidence clears him of a murder charge, 19 years after the crime took place. It's mostly deliberate and cautious, lacking the adrenaline charge of Breaking Bad, but the careful examination of characters under stress, stellar acting, tension between events, surprising humor, and beautiful cinematography are all there. Rectify is going to be my methadone while shaking my Breaking Bad addiction.
This next one is going to be a bit tricky, but I'm going to try anyway. HBO's Enlightened. How does a half-hour "comedy" starring Laura Dern enter the same conversation as Breaking Bad? They're both about character change. I've even joked that Enlightened should be called Breaking Good (surprise, no one laughed) because it's Breaking Bad backward. When we first meet protagonist Amy Jellicoe, she's hit a personal low and is having a mental breakdown at work. After a quick trip to have her mind reworked at a new-age treatment facility, Amy spends the rest of the series trying to do good, while often ruining the lives of the people around her because of her inability to live within the lines of acceptable behavior. And just like Walter White, viewers aren't quite sure whether or not to root for her because she's written with remarkable consistency as a flawed character who just doesn't know when to stop. Plus, if you're a nerd for Breaking Bad cinematographer Michael Slovis's keen eye, you'll love the lens of Xavier Pérez Grobet, who contrasts the color and comfort of the natural world with the monotony and monochromatic prison of the workplace. I'll even say this: Enlightened rivals Breaking Bad for the title of the best-looking show on television. Thematically and creatively, Breaking Bad and Enlightened are more similar than people think.
Thanks for reading my reviews over the last several years! I'll miss your comments as much as I will miss Breaking Bad!
What questions do you have now that Breaking Bad is over?
AIRED ON 9/29/2013
Season 5 : Episode 16