TV season finales are a tricky thing; do it wrong and you’ll forever tarnish the memory of your show (see: The Sopranos, Dexter), do it right and, well, you’ll have achieved something very special indeed. For five seasons, audiences have been engrossed in watching mild mannered chemistry teacher, Walter White, evolve into the ruthless drug kingpin known as Heisenberg, but could the final episode of Breaking Bad live up to the expectations of a show which has left critics reaching for the thesaurus, struggling to find more synonyms for “amazing”?
Fans of the show have been wildly speculating for months about how Breaking Bad would end, with theories ranging from crazed bloodbaths resulting in everybody dying, to the whole series being revealed to be nothing more than a daydream. For a series which has made a reputation for itself in being entirely unpredictable, none of these crazy theories could really be written off. But as it turned out, its final outing was a much more restrained affair; instead of seeking out one final emotional sucker punch to the collective heart of the audience, this was a finale which devoted time to saying goodbye to its characters and ensured that no loose ends were left dangling. But rather than this being a disappointing conclusion, it was just what the series needed.
After finding out that his signature blue meth was still on the market, Walt resolved to go out in a blaze of glory, taking the neo-Nazi copycat cooks with him. But before he could do that, he had to get his affairs in order. This involved breaking into Skyler’s new home for one final goodbye and it was a beautiful scene. Knowing that he has nothing left to lose, Walt finally admits to his broken wife that everything he’s done was all for him. And he enjoyed it. It was a delicate, intimate scene and utterly heartbreaking to watch.
As important as it was for those two to have a final scene together, the whole episode was building up to his showdown with Todd’s gang, as for the last few episodes, the writers have really been building these guys up to replace Walt as the main antagonists. It was perhaps a bit of a dirty trick, getting us to root for him once again and almost seemed to let Walt off the hook for all the horrible things he’s done. But these are the guys who murdered Hank and Gomey, who threatened baby Holly, executed Andrea and kept Jesse chained in a hole in the ground. So despite the writers playing with our allegiances, seeing them get their comeuppance was resolutely satisfying. Even the humourless Lydia was finally outdone, in a method which beautifully tied together her specific drinking habits and that vial of ricin which has been floating around for several seasons. Chekhov would be proud.
Once the dust had settled and the neo-Nazis had been dispatched, only Walt and Jesse remained. The following scene was incredibly tense as Walt silently offered Jesse the gun, giving him the chance to shoot him. But Jesse finally, finally, chose to do what he wanted, and not what he was told to do. He may be a broken man, but that closing shot of him driving away into the desert was incredibly hopeful – he’s the one in the driver’s seat now and he can go anywhere he wants.
For a series in which the main character is told in the pilot episode that his days are numbered, you’d expect him to die at the end. And of course, Walt had to die. His death, whilst necessary, was still very poignant, signalling not only that he’d finally be undone by his own actions but also bringing to an end one of the finest pieces of television ever made.
Goodbye, Breaking Bad, and thanks for one hell of a ride.