This is my final post discussing our viewing of the end of Breaking Bad. Two posts ago, I had a recap of the last eight episodes of the season, and last post I discussed some topics more or less relevant to the final season. Now I’m going to express my final thoughts on the entire series. (I’ll be short. After all, I’ve already put out series of blog posts at the end of each season. How much more can I say?)
As I have mentioned previously in posts for the earlier seasons, my wife and I came late to watching Breaking Bad. We’d heard about the show, we knew it had to be great because of the buzz. I’d never heard of Aaron Paul until he started getting consistently nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
My friends exerted a lot of pressure on me to watch the final eight episodes as they were aired.
I was assured that if I wanted to, I could mainline the previous 4.5 seasons over the course of a weekend (okay, maybe two) and be right there with everyone else while Hank is perusing Leaves of Grass on the master toilet.
But the time wasn’t right for my wife and I to commit to watching this epic story of an outwardly meek chemistry teacher with cancer turning into a ruthless monster. I don’t regret that we waited until things worked out better. I mean, it’s only television. But I think about how I engaged I would have been watching the show fresh. It must have been quite an experience for everyone else who watched from the very beginning. I’ve enjoyed watching Breaking Bad, and I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts about each season.
But I need to get out my final thoughts and move on.
Should I have even liked this show?
On the surface, I suppose I didn’t have an interest in watching Breaking Bad because of the subject matter. I’d already seen the Godfather, Scarface, and was watching Boardwalk Empire. I felt I’d probably scratched any itch I’d had to watch a drama about a criminal, even a (debatably) likable, well-meaning one. I guess that’s why I never watched Weeds.
(The fact that there’s a lot of television available and that I have very little time to watch also factors in.)
But it’s a testament to the excellence of the show that I was pretty solidly roped in. I won’t bother to go into deep details, because Sir Anthony Hopkins has already covered that ground, but I agree completely.
But watching the show was challenging, which I appreciated.
Should I even be rooting for Walt?
Breaking Bad is a tragedy, and I can be sympathetic in regards to the tragic characters, and root for them despite not supporting their actions.
I can root for Othello, that doesn’t mean I want him to strangle Desdemona.
I also have to recognize and state up front that Walter White is a horrible person. But sometimes he’s a good person. That’s a challenging role to play, and I don’t know how Bryan Cranston pulled it off. (Perhaps he didn’t pull it off so well for other viewers, and there might be some who are confused that I’m calling Walter White horrible. To each their own.)
I can respect that he tried to be a good father. I’ll never say that he was a good husband. Maybe in the beginning. Like, the *very* beginning.
Should I be rooting for Hank?
Sure, I can root for Hank. I can do that and at the same time be rooting for Walt. (I’m complex like that.)
Part of me wants Hank not to succeed, because then the show’d be over, but I like Hank. I don’t know if I expected to like Hank at all going in to the show. Because the show had ended before I started watching, I knew some things about the major characters. Skyler was a bitch (I agree and disagree), Marie liked purple, Walt Jr. was also Flynn, Walt had the pseudonym Heisenberg. And Hank was his bully brother-in-law who exposed him to the amount of money in meth production, and was the Javert character on the show.
I don’t root for Javert to capture Jean Valjean, so I wasn’t prepared to like Hank. Maybe I shouldn’t like Hank. I’ve worked with guys like Hank. The Alpha-Males, sarcastic, mix insults with humor which provides them some protection from reprisals. Hank was all of that, but he was also kind, supportive, and a great uncle. (He was a crappy patient and a tool towards Marie during his recovery though, let’s be fair.)
Hank surprised me by supporting Walt when Walt initially didn’t want to engage in heroic and expensive treatments to combat his cancer. I felt that showed Hank really respected Walt.
Hank wasn’t perfect, but I thought he was a fantastic flawed character. The Ozymandias episode just wrecked me.
Should I be rooting for Jesse?
I don’t know if I know anyone who dislikes Jesse Pinkman (rather, who’ve watched the show beyond the first season.) He’s a character who generates a tremendous amount of sympathy, and I don’t think it’s unearned. Poor Jesse was so abused and put through the biggest most painful wringer ever, that I just don’t want anything else bad to happen to him.
He’s a criminal, he’s done bad things. I’m not even busting on him for killing Gale Boetticher (who was no better than Jesse in any way), I’m busting on Jesse for being in the meth production business.
He should go to jail. He should go to jail for a long time. But I can’t get behind that emotionally. If a judge sentenced him to Sunday night dinner with a different loving family every week, I’d be okay with that. Jesse would take care of his own recrimination and punishment.
Anyway, I have complicated feelings about the Jesse Pinkman character. I appreciated Walt’s anger at Jesse for working with Hank. Watching the show I’d always been … happiest is the wrong word but let’s go with that … when Walt and Jesse were working in harmony. It was a situation that became rarer and rarer as the two of them were so often at odds.
But in the end I had to root for Hank and Jesse to be the team to bring Walt down. And that whole situation exploded horribly. Fine.
Should I be rooting against Skyler?
Skyler White, and even the actor Anna Gunn, seemed to get a disproportionate amount of hate from a segment of show watchers. I knew this was a fact going in, and maybe it biased me, but I loved Anna Gunn’s depiction of Skyler White. Skyler was put into a tremendously difficult position and she behaved in an understandable way.
Walt was acting crazy in the first few seasons and Skyler was pregnant. Crazy pregnant. There’s no way she’d be behaving in a way convenient to Walt and his operation, so her role as a natural obstacle/antagonist made tremendous sense.
I don’t know why this generated such initial dislike for Skyler, since it was part and parcel of what made the story great.
Skyler had an emotional character arc more complicated than even Walt’s. Walt was on the dark path pretty early on, and his travel to Heisenberg was pretty linear. Skyler’s character was forged and shaped in reaction to Walt’s actions, and that was a dramatic process which sometimes produced unexpected behavior.
Skyler started off a more neutral character, began to behave as an irritant to Walt but that wasn’t unreasonable, Walt was acting atypically and Skyler needed him to be rock-solid as the delivery was approaching. Walt’s fugue state and the question of the second cell phone was going to generate an equal reaction from Skyler, until she saw through his lies and supported him until he was past his surgeries and cancer free.
Her silence on Walt’s activities, despite being urged by her lawyer to go to the police spoke volumes on how she was influenced by her fear if the truth came out. This laid the groundwork for nearly everything which came later.
Her affair with Ted made sense as an act of defiance against Walt. I understand hardcore Team Walt members might consider this a betrayal, but I don’t. It ended up being bad for Ted though.
Eventually Skyler became an asset to Walt’s activities, building his cover story, realizing the money laundering scheme, etc. You would think Team Walt would then be Team Skyler as well.
I did hear a legit complaint about Skyler’s overall behavior from a story-telling point of view. Skyler has been suspicious of Walt, furious with Walt, passive aggressive with Walt, and tolerant of Walt. During the first half of Season 5, Skyler was dead inside towards Walt. She’d been tolerantly laundering money and they’d worked out a chilly equilibrium. But then Walt assassinated Gus Fring and blithely moved back home, simultaneously terrifying Skyler and making her feel helpless. (All this was magnified by Skyler’s self-loathing over what happened to Ted.)
Skyler either faked a suicide attempt (or was irrationally actually trying to kill herself with Walt, Hank, and Marie witnessing) which resulted in the kids going over to the Schraders for safe-keeping, got Walt’s actual attention, and let Skyler express her revulsion for her husband. Death could not come quick enough for Walt in her opinion.
But, once Walt quit the meth business, all was forgiven, and Skyler appeared to be a happy and devoted wife.
I can’t read the mind of Anna Gunn’s fictional character, and I haven’t talked to Vince Gilligan about this, but this didn’t cause me any problems. Skyler told Walt that if he could guarantee the children’s safety (after she had orchestrated them being removed from the house) then she would be any kind of partner Walt wanted.
Walt got out of the meth business with a huge pile of money, and apparently in Skyler’s estimation he’d lived up to his end of her demand. So now she was living up to her end.
What about Marie?
What I love about Marie, she’s such a wild card. She didn’t have her own team, mostly because she was on Team Hank, but I don’t want to diminish her character by only defining her in relation to ASAC Schrader.
It’s not that she was instrumental to the plot, the way Jesse Pinkman more or less was the fulcrum-point for nearly every plot complication, but she was such a rich character, I could not imagine Breaking Bad without her.
I was overjoyed when we got to meet Dave, her therapist. That’s when I realized how much I (unknown to me until that point) was delighted by her character.
Marie Haters, please step to the left. Thank you.
I don’t want to say I’m on Team Walt, Hank, Jesse, or Skyler.
I mean, I can’t wish a happy ending on Walt or Hank (although Walt died in a satisfying concluding way, and Hank died bravely and at least was avenged appropriately by Walt.)
I can wish a happy ending on Skyler, in the hopes that she doesn’t go to jail for her role in all of this, but I’d be okay if she did some time, provided that Holly was cared for (my preference would be by Marie) and Flynn made proper use of his trust fund to provide for his family.
So I guess I’m really Team Flynn and Team Holly.
And I suppose I’m also Team This Kid.
The episode where Jesse goes to shake down Spooge and his lady is an amazing ~hour of television. Anyone who thinks that Breaking Bad glamourizes either drug dealing or drug abuse has not seen this episode. This was the moment when I began to like Jesse, because he showed he had some kind of humanity. But this episode was also the ultimate indictment against Jesse. Every time he and Walt cooked up a batch of blue meth, I’d be reminded about young Master Spoogeson there.
So as much as I can sympathize with Jesse and Walt (yes, even Walt is an object of sympathy if not empathy) I can’t be on their team. Because their team is going against my little red-headed team.
I’m glad that the show writers really seemed to get their cancer details correct (in my opinion), but more importantly they didn’t over-dramatize it.
Walt had cancer. He pragmatically dealt with it.
I’m not recommending people take up the meth distribution trade as a result of getting sick, but I respected the depiction of a person being diagnosed with cancer, and taking it on.
One of the reasons my wife and I didn’t rush to get caught up so we could watch the final episodes of Breaking Bad being broadcast: in the spring of 2013 my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. That pretty much became our focus, pretty much all of the time.
It’s okay now, we were very fortunate that it was diagnosed extremely early. She had some surgery, some chemo, some radiation, and everything seems fine now. She was super-tough and brave and I admire the hell out of her.
She might have been game to watch Breaking Bad while she was undergoing treatment, but I would have been a useless wreck.
Once she was done with her radiation treatments, we started watching Breaking Bad and I’m glad we’ve watched this epic work. I know personally that my limited understanding of cancer and chemotherapy informed my show-watching experience. I’d rather we not have had that experience, by the way.
Anyway, because Walt had cancer, at some level I can’t help but feel sorry for him and sympathize with him, despite his awful behavior.
That doesn’t mean I can’t hate Heisenberg.
In my mind, Walter White had cancer, but the Heisenberg persona didn’t have time for that crappy weakness, so Heisenberg symbolically was cancer-free. Maybe that’s why Walt was a bigger asshole in Seasons Three and Four. His cancer was in remission.
Even cancer didn’t like Heisenberg.
Before starting to watch the show, I’d heard a lot about the Heisenberg persona that Walt would occasionaly step into, but I’m not of the opinion that Walt was suffering from multiple-personality disorder, or even if he was mentally ill at all. I prefer to think that Walt was just a person. A really smart, really proud person who made a series of decisions with rough consequences.
Breaking Bad Blogging and the Dangers Therein
Time to wrap this up, but I wanted to talk briefly about my experience watching a season of Breaking Bad, then writing a recap/analysis post at the end. I promise I won’t talk long.
It’s impossible not to get spoiled, unless you want to just post a wall of text. First off, I’m shocked that anyone reads these (I think I know exactly how many people do. Hey guys!) But I do know that if I didn’t search for images so I can break up the text and craft some (hopefully) witty captions, no one would read these. Not even me.
So, in searching for JPEGs and GIFs and so on, I try to specify exactly what I’m looking for, like: Breaking Bad Season Two Jesse, or Breaking Bad Season Four Gus. The problem is, no matter how much I hope the search returns load the exact hits closer to the top, way early in my watching I got to see this:
So, lets just say I knew A LOT about the Gustavo Fring storyline when Walt and Jesse had their first lunch at Pollos Hermanos.
So, if I can offer advice to the Internet Generation… if you want to blog about a show that’s been out a long time but you’re getting caught up and you don’t want to be spoiled… you should really work with a friend who has seen the entire show. Tell them what images you want, let them download a portfolio to choose from.
But while I still have you… here’s some images I saw a lot of and I knew I wanted to comment on them. So here we are.
- Chemo Meme
Interesting. Maybe the Meme-creator didn’t notice that Walt shaved his head when the chemotherapy began to kill off the cells that grow hair. And that photo is not from when Walt is undergoing chemotherapy, that’s after he’s been in remission, has not been taking chemotherapy for months and months. He’s continuing to shave his head because he wants to. And he grew a beard during this time. Because he wanted to.
End of Season One, Walt has shaved his head because he didn’t want to have super thinning hair that falls out in clumps. I know someone who did exactly that. It was a razor that removed the hair, long before chemo would.
Beginning of Season Five, Walt is still shaving his head. But he had grown a beard. He can do that, you know. Because he’s not undergoing chemo.
Until the final season, the last chemo takes place in Season Two. You can argue that his face should be totally clean, but it has nothing to do with the hair loss on the top of his head. And he certainly doesn’t look the same as he does in the meme graphic.
- Attacking Skyler Meme
I’ve mentioned above the Skyler seems to be everyone’s punching bag on the Internet. These meme’s below seem to sum up the overall sentiment.
I think there’s some steps missing in-between Walt getting cancer and Skyler sleeping with Ted. Like a lot of steps. Like a lot of relentless “Walt is horrible and behaves analogously to a typical wife-beating husband” steps. Walt’s the kind of guy Officer Mike Ehrmantraut would have threatened to shoot in the head if Skyler had called him to the White hosuehold when Walt decided to move back in. The meme makes no reference to Skyler supporting Walt through surgery and recovery, though she discovered he’d been lying and pieced together the truth. Or Walt forcing himself back into the house and putting the entire family at risk.
Skyler screwed Ted? You go girl. I have no problems with your act of defiance against The Man.
So, Skyler paid off Ted in an attempt to square things with the IRS. Why was that again? Oh I don’t know, there wouldn’t otherwise be an investigation into Ted’s accounting that would lead to Skyler and then to the car wash and the money laundering operation if she hadn’t?
I don’t think that was an irrational move. It didn’t work, but it wasn’t irrational. Or particularly heinous.
Did Skyler have neo-nazis kill 10 guys in prison? I don’t think so. Don’t act like she did.
This went on far longer than I expected.
Finales always make me sad. The finale for LOST made me sad too. I cheer myself imagining what storylines could have happened.
Since Jesse survived, I assume he could eventually be recruited by the new Hurley-helmed Dharma Initiative and be brought to the Island to make peace with his demons. They’d be there.
Images are obviously from AMC’s Breaking Bad.
I make no claim to any of the artwork obviously, but I do make some claim to the text of this posting. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved