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‘Breaking Bad:’ Why the Ending Doesn’t Really Matter

Media coverage is putting too much emphasis on how the AMC show wraps up

Reading some of the overheated coverage of “Breaking Bad” as the series builds toward its finale brings to mind an old Spanish teacher, who chided students for putting the emphAHsis on the wrong syllAHble.

Interest in the program was already at a fever pitch among loyalists, but the ratings surge for its recent return will only fuel additional attention in print, online and on AMC’s half-hour talk parasite, “Talking Bad.” And a lot of those discussing the show clearly don’t quite get it — particularly those behaving as if there will be huge disappointment if the story doesn’t conclude in a way that completely satisfies die-hard fans.

Take the Wall Street Journal, which used the AMC drama as the linchpin of an (another) article about those who recap TV shows.

“The biggest challenges facing most ‘Breaking Bad’ fans during the crime drama’s final weeks are coping with cliffhangers and nervously speculating about the show’s conclusion,” the paper suggested.

Are people engaged in how the show turns out? Certainly. Nervous? For heaven’s sake why?

This isn’t “Lost,” where a great mystery drove the narrative from beginning to end. It’s much closer to “The Sopranos,” where a family man must balance that facet of his life against his involvement in a criminal enterprise. In each case, the lead character’s moral failings would seem to suggest the possibility of a great reckoning or cosmic comeuppance.

Yet the fact that “The Sopranos” ended (for me, anyway) on such a disappointing note didn’t diminish what came before it. It was just the last line in what up to then had been a pretty great novel for television.

The finish didn’t rewrite all the events that preceded it, but simply indicated series creator David Chase, ultimately, didn’t have any profound closing thoughts or creative gas left in the tank, beyond the cop-out of an inconclusive, your-mileage-may-vary closing scene.

Did that diminish everything that had gone before it? Hardly.

Viewers who have followed Walter White’s journey (as brilliantly played by Bryan Cranston) from the beginning obviously want to see how the story plays out, even if they belatedly jumped on the bandwagon via Netflix and binge-viewed the whole thing. This is one of those instances where the mom-and-pop store has long lines around it because of well-deserved word of mouth.

Yes (some spoilers are ahead), key “Breaking Bad” relationships have been strained, sisters have been turned against each other, family ties questioned and someone is probably going to prison — or dying. Far from stumbling toward the finish line, series creator Vince Gilligan and his team appear determined to plunge ahead full throttle.

But “Breaking Bad’s” hallmark has always been unpredictability — writing itself into fantastic, nail-biting corners, then finding some ingenious way out. So if the producers maintain that standard all the way to the finish line, more power to them, and if they can’t, they would hardly be the first.

Following that logic, I think New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley wasn’t speaking for many when she recently contemplated “Breaking Bad’s” imminent demise, stating, “Ever since ‘The Sopranos’ ended on a slyly ambiguous note that kept viewers deconstructing it for weeks, shows with artistic ambition cannot come to a mere close. There has to be a finish so big it sets off a tsunami of second-guessing. Once upon a time fans didn’t want their favorite series to end; now audiences clamor for a denouement they can debate forever.”

The media might want that — it’ll boost web traffic for a day or two — but “a denouement they can debate forever?” Are we to assume nobody has anything else on their minds?

I guess what I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that at this point, even a bad breakup won’t be enough to break viewers’ devotion to “Breaking Bad.” And like “The Road Warrior” — another taciturn hero in a desolate land — whatever his fate, Walter White will live only in our memories.

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