Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Hearts, Ending Not Bad

I really enjoyed this final season of Breaking Bad.  I will be to re-watch the last episode to gain more confidence in my assessment of how it stuck the landing, but given the stakes, I really cannot complain much.  It was so much fun, so much suspense and tension even as the last episode largely served as one of the most predictable.  To beyond the break we go one last time:

Best Comic Relief: for those who argued that the show started out as dark comedy but left that far behind, check out the writing in this episode.  You didn't need ABQ's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to show up, as there were some good lines uttered by others, but it obviously did not hurt.  Badger and Skinny Pete are pretty good at surviving for meth addicts and drug dealers (I think losing only one of Heisenberg's street dealers is a bit unrealistic).  But they had to, not just for the Star Wars and Star Trek riffs, but for the last bit of comedy.  Skinny Pete finds what they just did to be shady, but he and Badger ditch their qualms immediately when they get their cash.  Oh, and don't forget Walt: "you are going to need a bigger knife."  Such great writers.

Most Wrong Prediction By Most: That Walt would kill Gretchen and potentially Elliot.  Lots of folks saw this coming, and I thought it was likely.  But even better from Walt's twisted perspective: the slow on-going torture that he set up with the help of our aforementioned comic relief.  Walt, by making Gretchen submit and handle his dirty money with the threat of execution at every step, gets his revenge.  It is more subtle than killing her and more like the enduring pain he suffered from his exit and his lost empire #1.  He had much time to think on the road, apparently.  Oh, and the way he played it out was much smarter than most shows that leave unresolved incredible commitments.  This one was backed up by a grim trigger strategy--one defection from the game, and Gretchen and Elliot would be killed.  Of course, it was a bluff, but many threats are.

Most Unrealistic Aspect, Unseen Division: Walt could take the stolen volvo and get back to his cabin to get the cash?  Given his weakness that would take time while the town was swarming with cops.  I guess they had no reason to look in his particular direction, but that time expended would allow roadblocks to be set up.  Very risky, but Walt has always been more lucky than smart.

Best Comic Suspense:  Walt checking out Gretchen and Elliot's house while they conversed around the corner.  I could not but giggle.   

Most Predictable Outcome Successfully Predicted:  Except for a friend who was in deep denial, pretty much everyone thought the ricin was for Lydia.  The irony here is that this predictable outcome was made possible by Lydia's predictable and predicted behavior.  Same table, same time, same sweetener for the same beverage.  Gilligan and company made it abundantly clear what was going on.  The conversation was fun, too.

Engineering is Science, Too!:  So, no additional chemistry this week, but Walt's machine gun machinery works as he planned.  We got to see him build and test his device, which set up some mild suspense later.  The key here as in the ricin is that when Walt was working on a purely scientific problem, he was damn near perfect.  When it involved people, well, then he screwed up.  His "genius" was very narrow but effective when deployed.  But it gave him delusions of grandeur which caused everyone else to suffer quite a bit.

Most Surprising Conversation:  I really was not expecting Walt and Skyler to have a chit-chat along the way.  But it was a damned moving one.  Both actors were great.  Walt admitted that it really was about him and not about the family.  I think this shows how complex the characters were, that it took him this much to face this reality, that Skyler knew it but wanted to see Walt acknowledge it.

Redemption? Ha! Most Heartbreaking Moments: Some folks will talk about redemption--that Walt redeemed himself by killing the Nazis and freeing Jesse.  Nope, that was cleaning up some of his mess (cleaning was a big theme in the show from the meth lab cleanups to the vats of acid to the vacuum cleaner base of the escape facilitator).  The shots of Walt touching Holly and just watching Flynn showed that Walt, even if he did everything for himself and not his family, paid a price that could not be redeemed.  The key here is this: Walt lost everything for brief bursts of power.  Indeed, one could suggest that Walt was an addict, that his drug was achieving some kinds of victories over others, but those short-lived victories lost their effects quickly, and he needed another fix and another fix.... even as it caused his own destruction and that of everyone around him.  Redemption?  No, no twelve step program and forgiveness for Walt. 

Doing The Very Least One Can Award:  To Walt.  For giving up the location of Hank and Steve.  Sure, that makes a difference to Marie, to the DEA and to Skyler, but it really costs him nothing at all.  Far too little, far too late.

Greatest endgame frustration:  Little agency from Jesse.  Understandable if he had sworn not to take any more non-Todd lives, but still this season is one where Jesse had a very small part to play.  What Aaron Paul did with those opportunities was amazing, but Jesse was almost irrelevant except for giving Hank the intel that led to the shootout in the desert.  Of course, that was huge.  Still, pretty frustrating.

Wrongest prediction by yours truly: That Jesse would use his knowledge to blow up the lab.  Nope, they needed Walt to pet his "precious" (as Vince Gilligan called it in Talking Bad) one last time.

Dumb Pride, Non-Walt Division:  By the Nazis.  If you want to kill the guy, just kill him off the base and be done with it.  They did not get anything from conversing with him, unlike their interactions with Jesse.  They had made up their minds.  But pride goeth before the fall, I suppose, so when Jack is accused of lying, he takes time out to get Jesse and then Walt uses the distraction to grab the remote.

Best Call Back Execution: I liked how Walt shot Uncle Jack in mid-sentence just as Jack did the same to Hank.

Most Predictable  Yet Moving Non-killing: Walt gives Jesse agency at last, and Jesse uses it to refuse to do what Walt wants, which Walt probably understood.  This is a great moment even if predictable because it was true to the characters.  The series had to end with the two facing each other--the final confrontation between master and apprentice, between father and his adopted son. 

Best Ring Tone:  Pretty close call between Blinded By Science and Lydia the Happy Lady, and I would have to go with the latter.  One last well-timed laugh.

Best Invoking of Lost: Walt dead with his eyes wide open looks a whole lot like Jack at the end of Lost. 

Best prediction by me: Um, that they would stick the landing?  It was a great final season to an excellent show.  I had a heap of fun watching it, I enjoyed the game that I ran, and I look forward to many conversations about it as it will not go away anytime soon.

One last thing: was it too neat?  Did it tie up all the loose ends too cleanly?  I don't think so.  Sure, Walt's plans always had unforeseen consequences, that he always had to scramble out of the holes he dug for himself.  This one time, he got most of it right.  He didn't understand Jesse's plight, so he had to improvise and save Jesse from the hail of bullets he had planned for the Nazis and himself.  But life will go on, the unforeseen complications of what he set in motion will still emanate.  What will Flynn do with the $9 million?  Will it corrupt him?  Will he give it all away since he might just sense how tainted it is?  I mean, Gretchen is a lousy actor.  He left his meth machinery intact so perhaps someone else will figure out the recipe.  The departure of this current gang of meth producers does not mean that people in the southwest and in Czechoslovakia will not consume meth--new entrants will enter the marketplace, and bad stuff will ensue.  Perhaps some actors would seek out Skyler for the recipe?  Jesse is on the run, but if he grabs Brock, surely that would not play out so well.  This was only Walt's end..... and Vincent Gilligan's ending, but the story goes on for these characters in the fan fiction of the Badgers of the world.  There is enough stuff that was unresolved and enough dynamics set in motion that Walt's legacy will continue to be ....


1 comment:

Philip said...

I don't think that the ends were tied up too neatly at all. Jesse's story is still wide open. He looked very much to me like he was losing his mind towards the end. So much trauma, so many ghosts.

With the carpentry fantasy (some people saw that as a flashback but it was clearly a fantasy/daydream). That seemed to serve two functions, besides linking back to a previous episode. One, it was his happy place that he went to in order to escape his waking nightmare. Second, the way he crafted the box was expert, perfect, like he'd been doing it for years. Just the level of expertise he's achieved at cooking meth. It was an image of how his life could have worked out differently. He had the competence all along, it was just misapplied.

But at the end, when he's driving away, his state of mind appears to be completely fractured. Even though he got his revenge and resolution with his adopted dad he's still got a trail of bodies a mile long behind him and a head full of pain.

One thing's for sure: no happy endings!