Another Week Ends: Breaking Bad Wrap-Ups and Walter White’s One-Way Loveby Ethan Richardson on Oct 4, 2013 • 2:48 pm 1 Comment
As you may have seen on any of your go-to websites this week, the internet has been inundated with Breaking Bad wrap-ups. And, besides the oft-dour Twittersphere, it is plain to see that its ending had an overwhelmingly positive response. It finished on top, with more viewers (10.8 million) than it’s ever had, or ever expected to have; and regardless of the colossal pressure given to any show with such a closed-loop system of justice, the show seemed to deliver a fitting ending with tight report. But it wasn’t the mechanics of the finale so much as the final characterization of a sick human being that made viewers think–not just about the show, but about themselves. Breaking Bad has taken explicit responsibility–in ways more potent than other shows of its caliber–to hold an unsightly mirror up to the screen at the people watching. What/Who is my “blue baby?” we ask. Where am I the danger?
Some have spoken frankly to what this mirror says about them. Take Lost creator, Damon Lindelof, for example. In a momentous opportunity to talk about Vince Gilligan’s successful finale, he admits he cannot help but think about, yes, himself, and his own finale that did not live up to the hype. He writes in the Hollywood Reporter that his addiction–his blue meth–is his own self-defensive self-reproach. The finale of BB allowed him to see his inner-Walter, and to somehow give up the ghost. It’s hard not to put the whole thing down here. He writes that he had planned on doing a review of the final episode, but…
In the comments section of the piece I did not write, the following sentiment would have been echoed dozens of times over: “What the f— do you know because you f—ed up Lost?!?” How do I know this? Well, for starters, my Twitter feed was pretty much a unanimous run of, “Did you see that, Lindelof? That’s how you end a show.”
Three years later, it appears that it is not just enough to love Breaking Bad‘s finale. You also have to hate ours. Yeah, I know. Waaaaaah for me. I should go cry into my barrels full of money. But I swear to you, I’m not looking for empathy. I’m just looking for a way to stop. And I can’t. Alcoholics are smart enough to not walk into a bar. My bar is Twitter. It’s Comic-Con. It’s anytime someone asks me to write an article even casually relating to Lost.
And what do I do? I jump at the opportunity to acknowledge how many people were dissatisfied with how it ended. I try to be self-deprecating and witty when I do this, but that’s an elaborate (or obvious?) defense mechanism to let people know I’m fully aware of the elephant in the room and I’m perfectly fine with it sitting down on my face and sh–ing all over me.
And this is how pathetic I’ve become — I’m using an opportunity to put Breaking Bad into the pantheon of best shows ever (where it undeniably belongs) to narcissistically whine about the perceived shortcomings of my own work. God, I hate myself. But isn’t that what’s expected of me? Don’t I have to do that? Is it possible for me to ever comment on anything I love without cheekily winking at the audience and saying, “But what do I know — after all, I ruined Lost?”
I’m sick of myself for continuing to beat this particular drum, so I can’t imagine how sick of it you are. If it’s unpleasant and exhausting for me to keep defending the Lost finale, aren’t you getting tired of hating it? And so … I, like Walter White, want out. To be free. And to grant you the same.
I’d like to make a pact, you and me. And here’s your part: You acknowledge that I know how you feel about the ending of Lost. I got it. I heard you. I will think about your dissatisfaction always and forever. It will stay with me until I lie there on my back dying, camera pulling slowly upward whether it be a solitary dog or an entire SWAT team that comes to my side as I breathe my last breath.
And here’s my part: I will finally stop talking about it. I’m not doing this because I feel entitled or above it — I’m doing it because I accept that I will not change hearts nor minds. I will not convince you they weren’t dead the whole time, nor resent you for believing they were despite my infinite declarations otherwise.
Let this be our pact. And I’ll just have to trust you on this — I don’t have Badger and Skinny Pete pointing lasers at your chests to keep you honest. And the truth is, there’s no way everyone is going to read, let alone agree with this deal.
But I’m going to keep my part. I’m done. I’m out. Just one last thing before I go …
I stand by the Lost finale. It’s the story that we wanted to tell, and we told it. No excuses. No apologies. I look back on it as fondly as I look back on the process of writing the whole show. And while I’ll always care what you think, I can’t be a slave to it anymore. Here’s why: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.”
Sheesh. What is astounding is not only the admittance that his self-deprecation is and has always been a self-defense, or that the haunting, condemning voices will never leave him, but that no amount of money or “success” will ever be enough, but only death. Anybody guilty of hate-tweeting Damon or Lost? I suggest we all write him a letter! #LawofFelina
On a lighter note, Vulture’s coverage of Breaking Bad has been superb. The 11 Finale Facts Uncovered is great, as is the Matt Zoller Seitz “Do It Yourself” review, where he compares Walt to Marley in A Christmas Carol: “I wear the chain I forged in life!” Marley tells Scrooge. “I made it link by link and yard by yard! I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it!” They also posted the Colbert interview with Vince Gilligan, in which Gilligan talks about the power of Walt’s owning up to his vanity: “I did it for me.”
Breaking Bad ends, and a new one begins. And this is no joke. The Latin American corollary, released just this week, of Walter “Blanco” of Colombia, called Metastatis.
I guess all the reviews weren’t completely positive. Over at the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum argued–quite fairly, I think–that Walter’s death was, in fact, something of a clean getaway. After watching the man dissolve into a feelingless monster, he somehow rides into the sunset with a preserved dignity. Nussbaum argues that, according to the show’s logic, there ought to be no mercy. He should have died in that snowbound car in New Hampshire:
From my perspective, at least as I write, shortly after the finale aired, if this episode in fact took place in reality, it was troubling, and yes, disappointing, if only because the story ended by confirming Walt’s most grandiose notions: that he is, in fact, all-powerful, the smartest guy in the room, the one who knocks. Anyone other than Walt becomes a mere reflection of this journey to redemption… It’s not that Walt needed to suffer, necessarily, for the show’s finale to be challenging, or original, or meaningful: but Walt succeeded with so little true friction—maintaining his legend, reconciling with family, avenging Hank, freeing Jesse, all genuine evil off-loaded onto other, badder bad guys—that it felt quite unlike the destabilizing series that I’d been watching for years. If, instead, we were watching Walt’s compensatory fantasy, it was a fascinating glimpse into the man’s mind—akin to the one in the movie “Mulholland Drive,” a poignant, tragic attempt to fix a life that is unfixable.
Still, even if right now I feel that the finale fell short, either because it was too obvious (look under your seats! closure for everyone!) or wayyy too subtle (a cinematic fantasy that never declared itself, except in my own tiny head), that doesn’t mean that the show failed as a whole. I’d bet that we’ll all be arguing about “Breaking Bad” for quite a while. It was that good, for that long. As with Walt’s meth, this brutal season still comes in for me at ninety-two-per-cent purity. If that’s not perfect, if that’s not what I was hoping for, it’s still one powerful batch.
Let’s grant this to Nussbaum; Walter got the only kind of redemption he could have with the death sentence over his head. Nussbaum says of Walter’s final scene with Skyler, “It was a genuinely poignant scene, and well-played, but only if Walter was actually dead. Which I am choosing to believe he was.” This is true: Walter gets to say when he goes, he gets one final tour of the Heisenberg kitchen, he gets to make it right (kind of) with his loved ones, and free Jesse–and only a ghost, a miracle man, could have made it happen that way. That, or there’s some cosmic mercy going on.
I agree that this doesn’t follow the causal logic of the show as we’ve known it, but something’s happened to Walt (and thus the show) by this point. As DZ indicated with Walt’s New Hampshire Volvo prayer (“Get me home and I’ll take care of the rest”), something has run him to the bottom of his strength and upon the verge of repentance, and I cannot help but think it is his Christ figure–yes, Holly White–and the baby changing station, that finally allows Walter to see he has lost everything. It is only until he hears Holly cry for her mother that he realizes that his only thing left to do is die, which also means, to tell the truth. Suddenly, then, it is as if a miraculous hand is there to help him make it happen.
We all know there’s more that can be–and has been–and will be–said about Breaking Bad. Like what Rolling Stone said about their final song choice, from Badfinger, or like what Slate said about it being “the best medical show” in tv history, or like what the Onion pointed to as the “Story of Small Businessman Struggling under Obama“. One thing is for certain, though: it should’ve ended horrifically, and it actually didn’t, and that made people happy. What does that tell us, besides the fact that, more than we love justice, we crave an interruption to its wrath.
Speaking of which, would you say it’s a coinky-dink that Tullian Tchividjian’s newest book was released just two days after the finale of the most merciless show on television, and is called One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World? No wonder it sold out on Amazon! Here’s one of the answers he gives–that is perfectly fitting of the questions of Breaking Bad, actually–in an interview with Jonathan Merritt at the Religion News Service:
TT: Life, suffering, and failure have a way of transforming you from an idealist to a realist—from thinking that you’re strong to reminding you that you’re weak.
When I was 25, I believed I could change the world. At 40, I have come to the realization that I cannot change my wife, my church, or my kids, to say nothing of the world. Try as I might, I have not been able to manufacture outcomes the way I thought I could, either in my own life or other people’s. Unfulfilled dreams, ongoing relational tension, the loss of friendships, a hard marriage, rebellious teenagers, the death of loved ones, remaining sinful patterns—whatever it is for you—live long enough, lose enough, suffer enough, and the idealism of youth fades, leaving behind the reality of life in a broken world as a broken person. Life has had a way of proving to me that I’m not on the constantly-moving-forward escalator of progress I thought I was on when I was twenty-five.
Instead, my life has looked more like this: Try and fail. Fail then try. Try and succeed. Succeed then fail. Two steps forward. One step back. One step forward. Three steps back. Every year, I get better at some things, worse at others. Some areas remain stubbornly static. To complicate matters even more, when I honestly acknowledge the ways I’ve gotten worse, it’s actually a sign that I may be getting better. And when I become proud of the ways I’ve gotten better, it’s actually a sign that I’ve gotten worse. And ’round and ’round we go.
If this sounds like a depressing sentiment, it isn’t meant to be one. Quite the opposite. If I am grateful for anything about these past 15 years, it’s for the way God has wrecked my idealism about myself and the world and replaced it with a realism about the extent of His grace and love, which is much bigger than I had ever imagined. Indeed, the smaller you get—the smaller life makes you—the easier it is to see the grandeur of grace. While I am far more incapable than I may have initially thought, God is infinitely more capable than I ever hoped.
Or get in touch.