i Need Media
Thank You, Breaking Bad
By Matthew Singer 10/10/2013
How important, really, is a television show’s ending?
In most cases, it’s not a make-or-break scenario. It’s only break. A botched finale can undo years of goodwill and change the way a show is remembered. See Seinfeld or Lost or, depending on who you talk to, The Sopranos. Or, more recently, see Dexter, though that show was broken beyond repair years ago.
In the case of Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan was in a unique and — for the legions of other TV writers and producers out there who’ve given themselves ulcers trying to figure out how to properly conclude their series — enviable position: The finale to his show was almost incidental. That’s how great these last two half-seasons have been in tying up the story of Walter White, high school chemistry teacher turned megalomaniacal suburban drug lord. If the series had ended two weeks earlier, with the episode titled “Ozymandias,” its place in history would’ve been secure. Shit, if the final episode was just Gilligan tap-dancing and playing bagpipes for an hour, few people would have reason to complain.
So, really, anything could’ve happened. Instead, we got everything that should have happened.
In the many reaction essays and think pieces that have poured forth since the finale — and, I promise, this is the last one you’ll read . . . from me, anyway — the word most commonly used to describe the way Breaking Bad ended is “satisfying.” That’s because it was. It gave fans precisely what we wanted, on a visceral level, from Jesse choking out Todd and escaping into an uncertain future to Walt figuring out how to get money to his family and finally admitting his own selfishness, and the one last bit of comedic relief from Badger and Skinny Pete. There were no shocks, few ambiguities and virtually nothing to complain about.
And that’s what seems to be bothering some people. Although, as expected, the finale seems to have had little bearing on how Breaking Bad will ultimately be remembered, some critics have called the finale “too perfect,” another way of saying Gilligan and company played it safe. They did. But all that really means is that they stayed true to their story. Viewers have become so accustomed to a show flying off track in its last moments that when one stays its course, it’s jarring. We’re almost disappointed about not being disappointed.
There were a zillion crazy theories floating around as to how Breaking Bad would end, to the point that the meme about this all being a Malcolm in the Middle prequel started to seem plausible. The conclusion we didn’t see coming turned out to be the obvious one. If it felt underwhelming, maybe a bit clinical, that’s on us, not the writers. They knew their own show, which, given certain recent precedents (I’m looking at you again, Dexter), is a rarer quality than you’d think. Even better, they knew what we deserved. And, just like Walter White, they gave it to us. For that, the only proper response is “Thank you.”
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.