Breaking Bad: Series Finale Roundtable Discussion

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October 10, 2013 by Jason Seligson

What were everyone’s initial reactions to the series finale? 

JasonMy initial reaction was one of total satisfaction. When the screen went black, I finally exhaled, not just because the epic shootout was over, but because this felt like the ending the show deserved. I’d hardly call it happy, and I certainly don’t feel like it was too neat; but it felt like it was the proper resolution to this story and for the characters in it. Maybe I was more shocked that it was over than anything (as far as initial reactions go), but I was impressed and I think Gilligan and his writers crafted an incredible ending.

Ian: Everyone’s using the word perfection to describe the Breaking Bad finale. I’m reluctant say anything’s perfect; there’s usually a flaw to find. But I don’t think there’s a better way to describe it. It was perfect. Breaking Bad is a character study, and not just of Walter White and his trek down the path of villainy, but of every character in the show. It explores the ways in which each character’s fate is altered because of one man’s decision. In this finale each fate was solidified. Walter is dead. Jesse is free. Skyler is liberated. And Huell is still at the safe house doing this.

There was so much packed into this finale that it seemed as if there was no way that in one episode it would all be solved, but yet we see Walter transcend his hubris, Jesse escape slavery, and Skyler respect her husband again.

Steve:  I think I smiled for the entire final 10 minutes, from the initial burst of machine gun fire, through Jesse’s escape to freedom, right up to “Baby Blue” and Walt’s euphoric, nostalgic death in his meth lab, his legacy.

I can’t remember where I read it, but there was an interview with Vince Gilligan where he said the finale would be “satisfying.” So over the last week, my thoughts had been on who might live and who might die. If what Gilligan had said was true, what would really be the most “satisfying” way to end the show?

Gilligan, true to his word, provided a more satisfying ending than I could have imagined, both character-wise and story-wise, something very few series finales have been able to pull off. Walt is honest with himself, for the first time in a really long time. Jesse gets to stand up to Walt in his own way. And those are really the only two characters we’d been with since the beginning, the ones that needed closure, not Skyler or Marie or Walt Jr.

And the satisfaction of the story itself needs no explanation. Walt kills all the Nazis, and kills Lydia, and Jesse kills Todd. So my initial reaction, my emotional reaction, was one of utter satisfaction. It was perfect, as Ian pointed out. And in a way, I think that’s the most daring finale that Gilligan could’ve done.

Let’s talk big moments. How does everyone feel about the resolution of the major characters? (I.e. Skyler, Walt Jr., Marie, Hank)

Jason: I’ll start with my favorite scene: hands down it’s the kitchen scene between Skyler and Walt. It also gives us what is absolutely my favorite line (s): “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really…I was alive.”

This was the missing piece for me. The thing we’ve always known about Walt but he’s never admitted; not just to Skyler but to himself. This is the moment that floored me in how true it felt and how much the entire series comes from this feeling he has.

In the end, I felt really content that Walter Hartwell White himself came out as neither angel (despite the fans that kept shouting, “hey, he’s not such a bad guy!”) nor demon, but as a flawed guy who made terrible decisions and who pays for those decisions. Does it matter to me that he didn’t suffer more? Not really. Maybe there was a time when I wanted him to die in a horrific way, but what the last few episodes and the finale have given us is a Walt who is finally awakened. And that sort of liberated me to feel something good for him. But I think it took that moment to be in his corner one last time.

Steve: If the finale/final few episodes had any arguable flaw, it would be in its treatment of those other major characters beyond just Walter and Jesse.

Skyler is left broken, conflicted, and relatively poor. Marie seems to be trying to take Hank’s place in a sense, trying to lead the agents in the capture of Walt. Hank is dead, though with some sense of honor (however much honor is possible for a man dying in a desert from a bullet to the head). And Walt Jr. gets two moments, when he physically stands up to his father after the altercation with Skyler, and then over the phone when he essentially tells Walt to shove it. Neither of these, though, comes in the finale.

None of these characters get closure in “Felina” in the way that Walt and Jesse do. Especially Walt, who is pretty much able to just galavant around Albuquerque, doing his best to make some kind of amends. In the final episode, we only see Walt Jr. from behind, we only see Skyler as broken as Walter himself, and we get Marie only briefly, and in full Marie-mode.

So no, none of these characters get any spotlight moments. But we still know their futures, or can at least make grounded speculations. They’ll be okay. Or as okay as the families of infamous criminals can be. Actually now that I think about it, Walt Jr. will probably be far from okay. But AMC can put that in the Vince Gilligan-less sequel they’ll inevitably make: “Breaking Dad,” an hour-long dramedy about Walt Jr. trying unsuccessfully to raise three rambunctious sons, which is complicated further when Skyler, his now dementia-stricken mother comes to live with them. HIJINKS.

Ian: This might be the best framework for any series finale; it leaves the characters’ stories open ended, but closes the plot to which we were introduced. While Walt’s future is the only one of which we can be certain, to guess what Skyler, Walt Jr., Jesse, and Marie will do is speculation–albeit exciting speculation; the plot is over. Walt’s cancer, his meth empire, and his death were the plot, the rest of the characters are now irrelevant once Walter White is dead—though it won’t stop fans from guessing what Saul is now doing in Nebraska.

What we learn from Breaking Bad is that a good character resolution needs to feel earned. For five seasons Walt, Jesse, and Skyler were trapped. Walt was caged in his own insecurities and need for excitement, Skyler was imprisoned by Walt’s lies, and Jesse’s consciousness prevented him from going anywhere he wanted and being whoever he wanted. In the finale the three of them were liberated; Walt dies, knowing he created something know nobody else did; Skyler is finally told the truth from Walt (that it was all for him); and Jesse has a perspective on life now after having to serve his own living hell cooking meth for Nazis who eat Ben & Jerry’s.

Jason: ‘Breaking Dad’ sounds like the saddest television show I would watch every episode of. And I agree that supporting characters like Skyler, Walt. Jr., and Marie were somewhat set aside to properly conclude Walter and Jesse’s stories, but I’m pretty satisfied with what they got in the end. There’s no way the White family will ever be the same again — Walt broke them; became a kind of cancer to the people he always said he was protecting—and that’s the tragedy we’re left with.

Though the finale has been mostly lauded by fans, I’ve heard a few complaints—mostly from critics—in regards to Walt’s “victory” in the final episode. Personally, I disagree. Walt doesn’t “win,” at least not in so many ways. He dies, for one (if it wasn’t for the bullet, it would have been the cancer), but more importantly, he loses his family. Walt is able to successfully accomplish what he set out to do in the pilot: secure his family’s financial safety. And he does that, along with getting revenge for Hank and saving Jesse’s life. So, is this a win for Walter White? Does he get everything he wants? Depends on who you ask, I guess, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The show never made things easy for its characters or its viewers; it always basks in ambiguity, or to borrow from the show, “grey matter.” I don’t think Gilligan did things any differently here. That’s why I really think they nailed this ending.

Moving on to the Lightning Round!

1) Favorite character from the series?

2) Favorite episode or standout scene?

3) Best Heisenberg moment?

4) Most intense/terrifying moment?

5) Character exit that made you sad or one that made you happy?

6) If you could follow any Breaking Bad character (except Saul Goodman), who would it be?

7) Tuco or The Cousins?

8) Steve Gomez or Gale Boetticher?

9) Fulminated Mercury or Ricin?

10) As a former writer, what would Skyler White’s next short story be called?

11) And finally, weigh in on the age-old debate: Walt Jr. or Flynn?

Ian:

1) Mike Ehrmantraut. This monologue is the reason why.

2) “Half Measures” and “Full Measure” were two of my favorites. The former had the Mike exposition monologue and the latter ended with the decision that pushed Jesse over the line from cook to killer. “Full Measure” ends with Jesse, terrified, pulling the trigger on Gale. One of the most selfish moves in the series.

3) “You got one part of that wrong…this is not meth.” Walt throws down the fulminated Mercury and blows up Tuco’s headquarters. This is the moment when Walt became Heisenberg. He asserted himself against Tuco and started walking on his path to becoming a full fledged villain.

4) The ending of “Crawl Space.” Skylar must look Walt as he laughs uncontrollably, knowing everything has collapsed.

5) Hank.

6) I would like to see the rest of the Salamanca family. This is one of the most insane families to ever appear on the small screen. So I think a sitcom simply called “The Salamancas” is in order. It would follow the “Tight, tight, tight,” lives of the ex wives of Tuco, The Cousins, and Hector. They would all have to move in together, get jobs, and deal with their annoying new neighbor (Ralph Fiennes playing himself). We could even have a crossover with ‘Breaking Dad.’ Maybe a love story between Walt Jr.’s son and Tuco’s daughter. “CNBC is getting into sitcoms and this fall, The Salamancas are showing us that life…isn’t…all it’s cracked up to be.” Cut to a picture of three women and Ralph Fiennes dancing in front of a white background. I’d also like to see what happens to Jesse.

7) The Cousins are more frightening than Tuco. Tuco is more entertaining.

8) Gale Boetticher. If Gomez has poetry maybe I’ll change my answer.

9) Ricin. Though Lily of the Valley also does the trick. And by trick I mean execute a season- long master plan.

10) I think it would be book for women rather than a short story. It will be called “Finding the man of your dreams: or How I learned to Run a Car Wash and Balance my A1 life.” Or she would recommend “Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and When to Walk Away.”

11) Walt Jr. Flynn is the Great Value “Fruit Spins” to Walt Jr.’s Fruit Loops.

Steve: 

1) Mike Ehrmantraut, hands down.

2) Though the ending of “Crawl Space” immediately comes to mind, I have to go with “Dead Freight,” possibly one of my favorite hours of television ever. A tensely shot, perfectly choreographed Western heist film, all on a moving train. I was glued from start to finish.

3) I’m going with the oft repeated “I am the one who knocks.” It just felt like the Heisenberg moment, up to that point at least.

4) CRAWL SPACE. That final shot, pulling back as Walter laughs maniacally…The definition of terrifying.

5) Mike Ehrmantraut.

6) Mike Ehrmantrat WAIT. Actually, Robert Forster’s character, whatever his name is. It doesn’t even matter, he’s Robert Forster. I’d watch him microwave soup all day.

7) The Cousins, via split decision.

8) Steve Gomez.

9) Ricin

10) Taxicab Confessions

11) Walt Jr. Flynn is just…I can’t.

Jason:

1) Hank Schrader, post-season 1. Hank may have come off like a jock in early episodes, but in time he became one of my favorites. I’m so glad they saw an opportunity to add more depth to his character. Agent Schrader forever.

2) “Ozymandias,” hands down. It feels like the climax of the entire series, and one of the most well-crafted hours of TV I’ve ever seen.

3) I have to go with Walt’s conversation with Skyler, at the end of Season 4, telling her, “I won.” It became so clear what Walt was really doing in that moment and how nothing, even the life of a child, mattered more than coming out on top.

4) It’s a tie between Skyler jumping into her pool and not resurfacing, and the knife fight between Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr.

5) Gus Fring. I was genuinely worried about how the show would handle bringing in a comparable villain to the man behind “Los Pollos Hermanos,” but then I realized they already had done so: Walt. Still, largely because of Giancarlo Esposito’s incredible performance, I was really sad to Gus go. I was also sad to see half of his face go with him in the process.

6) Mike Ehrmantraut as well. Or Gus Fring. Here’s hoping either/both show up in “Better Call Saul.”

7) Tuco because of how unhinged he was. Wait, now I’m remembering the “tight” moment. Is it too late to change my answer?

8)”Gomie,” though I appreciate Gale’s taste in poetry.

9) Fulminated Mercury, because that scene with Tuco was one of the moments that really hooked me on the show.

10) White on Ricin: A Man and his Poison

11) Walt Jr. I never took his name change seriously in the show, but I can see how years from now he’ll want to be as far removed from “Walter White” as humanly possible. Good luck, Jr.

Before we wrap up, everyone’s final thoughts/remarks on Breaking Bad.

Ian: Breaking Bad was a five-season masterpiece that began in the middle of this Golden Age of Television and chose to burn out rather than fade away, a choice more shows should consider. Going forward, showrunners and creators shouldn’t try to create the next Breaking Bad. Instead, they should work on something nobody has seen, a show that will be the next Breaking Bad only in how it influences future showrunners to think differently.

Steve: Confession time: I didn’t actually love Breaking Bad all that much until about halfway through Season 4. Not that I didn’t like the show, or think it was well made. “Half Measures” and “Full Measure,” plus “Abiquiu” were all perfectly written, meticulously crafted hours of television.

And that was my problem. As Andy Greenwald has pointed out over at Grantland, Breaking Bad was a science, at least for most of its run. I felt like people were making it in a room somewhere, as painstakingly as Walter and Jesse made their meth. The show felt crafted. It didn’t help of course that I was concurrently watching Lost for the first time, a show that’s all poetry, no science. But somewhere along the way, and I don’t know if it’s something that changed in the DNA of the show, or simply in my own perception of it, but Breaking Bad gained an emotional poignancy. I cared. I cared when we found at Walter had poisoned break, I cared when the Nazis took all of Walt’s money, and I cared when Jesse drove off into the night and Walt succumbed to his gunshot wound, alone, on the cold laboratory floor. (Not so happy an ending after all, is it?)

Breaking Bad needed time – it was a journey after all. And you can call that journey a “Mr. Chips to Scarface” one, as we’ve been beaten with near to death at this point. But really, it was a journey the same as any great show – one in which we see characters change, for better or for worse, and we change along with them. We connect, whether through love or hatred. Breaking Bad made us care, a lot. And to give that kind of audience the proper, fitting end to such a journey is never easy. Just ask Damon Lindelof, who finally felt closure for his own ending to Lost after watching the Breaking Bad finale. Which I guess is to say, in closing: Breaking Bad was a pretty damn great show.

Jason: I think there are so many ingredients that made Breaking Bad a singularly brilliant show: the performances, the artful direction, and all the complex themes of morality and corruption that were at its center barely scratch the surface as to what made it so great. Look, it was an intense show to watch; and at times, it was hard to connect to. It’s imperfect but so was Walter White and the people that populated his world. While I may not have always understood where the characters were coming from, I never stopped wanting to know what happened to them. We may be coming to the end of the Anti-Hero age, but I can’t think of a better show to go out on than Breaking Bad—your move, Don Draper. And thanks to Vince Gilligan for an amazing five seasons.

This concludes our Breaking Bad discussion. What did everyone else think of the finale? 

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