prior recaps can be found in here
For our final installment, I roped in site founder/sentient beard/Breaking Bad superfan Nick Nunziata to offer his few cents on the finale and series. And it goes a little something like…
Al Schwartz: So…best finale ever?
Nick Nunziata. Yep. Pretty much.
AS: Well, since we’re here I’ll play the curmudgeon. So there are basically two possible criticisms I can see for the finale. The first is that it lacked some of the show’s signature shock factor, in that things went down the way people had pegged them for weeks and months (i.e. Nazis get the gun, Lydia gets the ricin) without any really wild twists. I’m guessing you didn’t feel any disappointment on that front?
NN: Nope. Without adding too much hyperbole, I’d have to say it’s the best finale to the best season to the best show. Nothing has felt this whole to me in any bit of media I’ve taken in.
AS: I wasn’t really fussed about that aspect either. If things were a little more predictable than in prior years, it is because everything was set up so well, and it’s rare enough for a TV finale to be able to pay off all its major threads in satisfying way that I can’t deduct too many points for doing it so neatly.
What you said does tie into the second critique, though. Was this too much of a happy ending for Walt? Yes, there’s a lot of damage that can’t be undone, but he gets a huge chunk of money to his son, getting some revenge on his former colleagues in the process, he mitigates Skyler’s legal troubles, gets a goodbye to his daughter, kills everyone left who has crossed him and saves Jesse. T his is a guy who is directly responsible for dozens of deaths (and indirectly responsible for hundreds); did he deserve to be so triumphant in death?
NN: I looked at is as rewarding us, the people. Finally the smoke and mirrors were over. They knew what our hearts needed and gave it to us on a silver platter. This is like the pilot in that it has a different agenda. The big moments have been plentiful all half season. This is the graceful deflating of the balloon. Our nerves have had enough over the past weeks that it was great to see Gilligan giving us a rich dessert.
AS: It did feel like a gift to the fans, though I’m not sure that I will look at that as such a good thing as time goes on. Watching the finale, I kept feeling something unfamiliar. It took me a while to realize it was relief. Watching BB is usually such a nerve-jangling experience, but Sunday night was like a big warm blanket after the harrowing events of “Ozymandias”. That episode feels like the true climax of the show. The most immediate comparisons to other finales are probably going to be to The Sopranos and LOST), but I think I might end up associating these last 2 episodes most strongly with the British The Office‘s Christmas special, which also jumped forward several months from the depressing endpoint of the series proper, featured the primary characters returning to the setting they had moved on from to find much happier endings.
I liked the Xmas special, by the way, as I liked “Felina”. But both do have a different feeling from what preceded them, that of a punch being slightly pulled. Or a dessert, as you say. Something sweeter and less weighty than the meal itself.
NN: I guess, but let’s face it: Walter White’s last look at his son was the back of his head, his last conversation with his wife was harrowed and fragmented, his last touch of his daughter was while she was asleep and not knowing who he was, and he died from a painful gutshot after his son surrogate and ex-partner was happily driving away unconcerned about his fate. This is not a cop-out. This is a coda to a concussive, emotionally draining, and ultra-suspenseful chain of events. It felt to my palate absolutely perfect.
AS: I don’t want to sound churlish, because this was, all in all, a very satisfying finale. So much so that I’m reduced to complaining that it was a little TOO awesome. It gave me everything I wanted (minus maybe contriving a way for Walt to die in his underwear), and if it was a tad manipulative in how it provided the happiest endings still possible (very relative measures, obviously) for the main characters while giving the baddies their comeuppance, so what? Manipulation is a storyteller’s job, after all. The important thing is I never felt insulted.
NN: Maybe lost in the accolades and surprising surge in the ratings and profile of the series is how it became such a fertile source of directorial majesty. Vince Gilligan absolutely killed it here and as I rewatch the finale I can’t help but wonder if Breaking Bad brings out the best in people or if it was just the groundwork being laid by Johnson and McClaren and their ilk. Regardless, the episode leaves me with a warm post-Thanksgiving dinner high.
AS: The visual look of the show is something I’ve praised consistently throughout the reviews I’ve done for the site, though I lack the film vocabulary to really do it justice. Regardless, Johnson always killed it when he would “slum” away from his feature career to direct an episode, but Gilligan and folks like Michael Slovis and especially Michelle McClaren really elevated this on a week to week basis far beyond what we expect visually from a television show, even a prestige cable production. I’m very pleased that McClaren will be continuing to work regularly on Game Of Thrones, which officially became my favorite ongoing TV show as of 9:13 pm CST last Sunday.
Looking back on the whole package, I’d say that BB‘s position as the best-looking show ever is secure for at least a little while. How about the most consistent? 62 episodes is not a long run (it’s less than 3 full order network seasons), but can you remember any total duds? I may skip “Madrigal” or “Open House” upon a rewatch, but I don’t think I ever finished an episode and went “eh, that wasn’t very good.” Has any other show pulled that off? The Wire, I suppose. But that show was so carefully constructed on a seasonal level, with the story so methodically meted out to make every episode contain something essential that would not pay off until the season was over, that I find BB‘s batting average even more impressive given how frequently it was swinging for the narrative fences. It may not have knocked them all out of the park, but I think it got each and every one of them all out the infield.
NN: Call it rose-colored glassed or just the fading high of having redigested the entire series again in recent weeks, but no episodes stick out as duds. There are subplots and characters that are less fun and engaging the second time around but that’s mostly due to how strong the dynamic grew over the years. Especially once truly formidable adversaries joined the mix. Aside from the last eight episodes of the show I feel my favorite is still “Problem Dog”, but you simply cannot go wrong with any moments with Walt and Jessie together, Gus or Mike doing their thing, or Saul being Saul. So many good characters and perfect casting decisions make it a gift that continues to give.
AS: I never would’ve guessed “Problem Dog” as anyone’s favorite, as terrific as it is – and goddamn is Aaron Paul great in the titular scene. I think I’d have to give my nod to a more eventful hour like “One Minute” or “Ozymandias”. But we’re parsing between great and transcendentally fantastic here, so I’m not going to argue very hard against any choice.
You say there are so many great characters, but it’s sort of the same as with the episodes, and I think the two are closely related. It feels like there’s a ton of great characters because there are essentially no duds, but compared to its peers the show actually maintained a very small cast. At any given point in the series, there are maybe a half dozen major characters; Walt, Jesse, Skyler, Hank, and then depending on the given episode, one or two of Marie, Saul, Gus, Mike, Jane, etc. Most shows, including the really great ones, have to sprawl out their ensembles to dozens of characters to fill multiple seasons of runtime. You’d have to include every bit player in BB from Gale to Badger to Gomez to Beneke to Huell and to make a cast list that would match Boardwalk Empire‘s opening credits.
Which I think worked to the finale’s benefit. The focus has always been so narrowed in on Walt himself that “Felina” does not have to contort itself to wrap up numerous subplots and long-running mysteries, or contrive a resolution for people whose character arcs fell by the wayside two seasons back but were still under contract as regulars. No one but Walt gets more than 2 scenes in the entire 75 minute episode, as far as I can recall. Would you agree that the laser focus was an asset to the finale, or the series as a whole? Did it ever make Albuquerque feel underpopulated?
NN: It totally benefited from laser focus, and part of what makes it all seem so right is that show was always insular and small at its core. I think it lucked into a lot of its grace, especially if even half of what Vince Gilligan says about them painting themselves into corners is true. There was a weird recklessness at play which makes how tongue in groove the show ended up seem even more phenomenal. I don’t understand people complaining about coincidences or luck that enabled Walt to get from New Hampshire to his wife’s new apartment. I don’t understand why him refusing to park the way the Nazi’s wanted him to was such a deal. Everyone’s ego and pride gets them hurt on this series and though it’s easy to nitpick, it’s impossible not to be kept afloat knowing that this last year-plus of this show has been a once-in-a-lifetime event. Nothing got leaked. Nothing got spoiled. Everything came home hard.
The short (by comparison) run of the show also makes it an easy get for new viewers, which should reap rewards as time goes on. It also makes it easy to revisit, which is something I plan to do once that collector’s set arrives in the fall.
AS: Ah yes, that box set looks mighty tempting. It would have to be in a barrel, wouldn’t it?
It is rather remarkable that there were no significant leaks this entire last season. It hasn’t stopped the primary complaint about the finale being that it was predictable, but then I think we’re in agreement that this is not a terrible thing when it indicates that the conclusion is logical and set up properly by what came before. Chud message board luminary The Dark Shape said in the aftermath “sometimes being unpredictable damns you to silliness,” which I think hits it square. If you’re going to focus on “outsmarting” the combined wiles of millions of people on the internet who have spent a year-plus trying to anticipate every angle of your story, chances are you will end up with a story that is convoluted and nonsensical. I said before that the great thing about the finale is that it never felt insulting, despite walking right up to the line of pandering, but you can also insult the audience with arbitrariness.
Breaking Bad was terrifically surprising, but it never let that become its primary reason for being. It’s legacy is going to loom heavy over every show and every creator who is tasked to bring their story to a complete and satisfying close, when conventional wisdom has generally held that TV was never designed for such things, that it’s more like improv than literature, you’re never going to please everyone anyway…
NN: This is the only time in this age where expectations were met, exceeded, and obliterated. I cherish this now dead era. It makes up for the prequels. It makes up for my height. It makes up for mistakes I’ve made on the web. It makes up for that time I hit the squirrel with my car…
MR. SQUIBBLES!! OH MY GOD IT WAS YOU YOU MONSTER!!!!!
Thanks so very much to everyone who read and commented and shared my recaps throughout the last couple seasons. You are all at least the best, and mostly the very best there has ever been. I intend to be back for Game Of Thrones’s next season, but if there is anything you’d like to see covered in the meantime, the comment section is right down there. I’d also like to invite everyone to engage in the less-formal Watchalong project I’m putting together on the message boards.
But now, let’s look at the final tallies:
Total Profits – $9,200,000
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys, Steve Gomez, Hank Schrader, Lydia Rodart-Quayle, Jack Welker, a half dozen neo-nazi flunkies
Lesser Included Offenses – Extortion, possession of illegal automatic weapons
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of history’s greatest monsters. Walt’s tutelage of Todd and enabling of Lydia lead to their murder of Declan and a half dozen of his guys. Jesse beats Saul for his role in Brock’s poisoning. Walt’s living room carpet and car upholstery are ruined via soaking in gasoline. Marie is widowed, and Flynn is going to have need about $11 million just for therapy bills. Jesse is brutally beaten by the Nazis and forced into meth cooking slavery for approximately 8 months. Saul is forced to flee to Nebraska, abandoning all but his 3 very best pairs of Dockers in the process. Skyler is put on trial and loses the house for her complicity in Walt’s crimes. Andrea is murdered by the Nazis to keep Jesse motivated to reproducing Walt’s formula. Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz, in fear for their lives, are forced to launder Walt’s drug money.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “Elliot, if it’s going to go that way, you’ll need a bigger knife.”
Best Lie – A couple laser pointers make Badger and Skinny Pete into the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi.
The Erlennmeyer Flask Is Mightier – Walt finally finds a home for his homemade ricin, and Macguyver’s a remote-operated machine gun turret from what I assume was an automated skeet thrower (but have subsequently learned is a garage door opener motor)
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15
We Are Done, Professionally – Jesse refuses to put Walt out of his misery for him. Walt ends Lydia and the Nazis’ partnership in fairly definitive fashion.
It’s The Little Things – Badger and Skinny Pete just now realizing that doing errands for Heisenberg is maybe a little shady, like, morality-wise? The way Lydia compulsively straightens the sugar packets before grabbing her ricin-ed Stevia (is Stevia a real product? They really got the short end of the product placement stick if so). The blocking of the scene in Skyler’s apartment to reveal Walt after she hangs up, and then to keep the large wooden post separating them throughout. The turret and barcalounger both continuing to run after the shooting stopped. Jack’s death mirroring Hank’s in staging, and the immensely satisfying splatter of his brains of the lens. Todd’s last, posthumous, ridiculous ringtone. That it was his own creation that delivered the killshot to Heisenberg.
So that’s all, folks.