From the first frame to the last on a series that absolutely belongs in the conversation of the best ever, Vince Gilligan knew what he was doing. The plan wasn’t always evident — indeed, “Breaking Bad” consistently wrote itself into corners with no apparent exit, before devising an ingenious one — but as Sunday’s finale made eminently clear, this was a show whose narrative fearlessness was only matched by its boundless creativity and unpredictability.
The only real error Gilligan made was in his “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface” analogy. Actually (and if you haven’t watched yet, go away; SPOILERS are ahead), Michael Corleone is a much better point of reference. Because like the end of “The Godfather,” all accounts were squared, all debts settled.
So Tony Soprano wasn’t Michael’s TV heir. Walter White, it turns out, was.
“We needed resolution,” Gilligan said on “Talking Bad,” immediately after the show ended. Yes, we did. And for once, we got it.
The 75-minute finale written and directed by Gilligan perfectly capped a final arc that was all forward momentum, with barely an ounce of fat on it, and almost nary a false note. Beautifully played by Bryan Cranston, the episode saw Walt devise a brilliant way to launder his money, and — much like the Gus Fring chapters that remain the show’s highlight — used his wits to overcome a seemingly impregnable foe.
Even the Marty Robbins song used to open the show — one that sings of a fatal last stand — felt spot on, characteristic of a series so meticulous in its plotting and construction as to give those inclined to comb through tiny details plenty to keep them busy. Just seeing the deftly placed teases dropped earlier in the run come to fruition offered its own small tingle.
Not that it needed it, but “Bad” looks especially good compared to “Dexter’s” sloppy sendoff of a week ago, which will doubtless be used in several dozen graduate thesis compare-and-contrast papers.
As previously stated, the expectations for the finale were inflated by the ardor of its audience and the bangwagon mentality of the media, which saw the show’s rising ratings and the buzz being generated within industry circles and eagerly hopped on board.
Then again, it’s hard to blame them. Many shows have been able to boast about possessing a core audience that was both passionate and inordinately literate (that’s why they call them “cult followings,” after all), but few have successfully translated that into mass appeal. And if the reach was overstated, the show’s resonance within the TV industry — much like “The Wire” — almost couldn’t be.
AMC does deserve one demerit for its companion program, “Talking Bad.” While the tag-along talk hour introduced with “The Walking Dead” certainly represents a shrewd and inexpensive way to maximize profits off a single license fee (it must cost less to produce than the average school play), the network settled for a giddy fan tone that’s frankly well beneath the show it’s meant to celebrate, as well as the astonishingly detailed and exhaustive recap analysis “Bad” has inspired.
Unlike “Lost” — which hinged heavily on an over-arching mystery — this was much more about the journey than the payoff. As such, the emphasis on whether the finale would deliver has felt exaggerated — a side effect, perhaps, of past disappointments. The only real pitfall to avoid going in was being too coy, a charge leveled (with ample justification) against “The Sopranos.”
Still, it’s hard to escape a sense this was the little program that could — a series that survived a writers strike-shortened first season and living in “Mad Men’s” sizable awards shadow to earn well-deserved acclaim and stand on its own.
Media accomplices should perhaps resign themselves to reenacting this sort of frenzy in today’s click-driven age, along with every possible “Bad” pun in headlines and Chyrons, including the inevitable “All Bad Things Must Come to an End.”
In that respect, the one real lesson to take away from the phenomenon that “Breaking Bad” has become during this last flight of episodes is fundamental to the premise of the show itself — namely, when you have the right ingredients and know exactly what you’re doing, it’s possible to filter out the white noise and distractions, and create an intoxicating product.
“This is where you get to make it right,” Walter tells his former business partners early in the episode. And that, too, was a harbinger of things to come, on a show that managed to get it right not just in this run up to the finish line, but time and time again.