To those still stuck partway through Season Two. To those who binged on box-sets this weekend to catch up in time for the finale, but failed. To anyone striving valiantly to steer clear of Breaking Bad spoilers today, and in the coming weeks and months: persevere – it’ll be worth it. If this last hour or so was a little too perfect for its own good, then that’s because it left (almost) no loose end untied
Some dramas from this so-called Golden Age of Television have struggled to reach a satisfying conclusion. The Sopranos’ unforgiving cut-to-black divided fans, Lost’s heavenly send-off united them in outrage, Dexter disappointed just last week. Yet something about the narrative arc of Breaking Bad suggested it would rise to the occasion of its final episode. Many dramas, even in the new world of continuing narrative, return their characters to more or less the same emotional or physical ballpark at the beginning of each season. Walter White, however, has evolved – in creator Vince Gilligan’s memorable, much-repeated phrase – from Mr Chips to Scarface. And Scarface went out with a bang.
We first found Walt stuck in snowy New Hampshire, stealing a Volvo – and, for a criminal mastermind, he’s still not very good at hot-wiring cars. “Just get me home,” he told the old rust bucket. “I’ll do the rest.” And boy, did he. By the end of the episode, Walt had laid waste to his enemies, settled a score with his old rivals, freed his protégé, apologised to his wife, and ensured that his children would, one day, get the drug money he believes they deserve.
In the event, Walt’s last waltz was the antithesis of the Sopranos’ cliff-hanger. Every item on his list of unfinished business was checked off, one way or another, while the scenes slipped by at their customary stately pace. Let’s be honest, creator Vince Gilligan had his cake and ate it. Even Badger and Skinny Pete got a victory lap. This tightly-plotted climax was trying to satisfy everybody – and yet, remarkably, it succeeded.
Walt may have destroyed his own family and the lives of several others. But in that climactic final half hour, he somehow won back a measure of both sympathy and respect – not least by surrendering the pretence of noble motives. “I did it for me,” he told Skyler, at last. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really… I was alive.”
Of course, the thing he was good at was not carpentry, nor teaching – though I seem to recall he wasn’t too shabby at that – but cooking meth and whacking folks. So, in the end, he got what he deserved. There are questions stills to be answered, though: Is Saul really managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, and if so, which one? Can “Baby Blue” by Badfinger enjoy the same belated success as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”? And what became of Huell?