I’m a bad person. I admit it. If there is a Hell (although there isn’t) I’m going there, and chances are so are you. I mean, I like to hold doors open for old ladies with shopping and all that, but I’m still heading for a date with the horned one because, as I settled down with my blueberry crystal meth muffins (I actually did have these, by the way) to watch the last ever episode of Breaking Bad, I was firmly in the corner of Team Walt, something I later learned was not exclusive to me. Walt is, by some distance, the most sympathetic villain in TV history, with a whole armada of crazed wannabe meth kingpins cheering him on as he repeatedly lied, murdered everyone who crossed him, poisoned children and other such shenanigans. Hell, I found I actually liked Walt more as he trundled along the low road every time he got the chance. He started out as a slightly pathetic wimp with a bit too much pride for his own good, but as his moral descent worsened, he only got more compelling as he continued to forge genius master plans that nobody in the audience could even get close to. You know how everyone prefers The Joker to Batman just because Joker is way more interesting? Walt is like The Joker, only he actually gets to win. All the time. Walt lived his dream in a way us scrubs on our couches only wish we could do – it doesn’t matter that his dream just happens to be making really really good crystal meth and murdering like 500 people, the guy fucking earned that dream, and in the house of perversion that is TV-land, that’s something you’ve got to respect.
All of which leads me onto my thoughts on the final eight episodes of the fifth season, and, of course, that finale. After Walt committed arguably his most callous, sinister criminal act in the mid-season finale of season 5, when he ordered a hit on 10 prisoners who might inform on him, Walt ultimately decided to curtail his pride and call it a day. He was $80 million richer by this point, of course, but as we later establish, it wasn’t about the money by this point, if it ever even was. That, to my mind, is one of the big reasons why Breaking Bad is such a phenomenally good show; a lesser show might have been tempted to ramp up Walt’s evil genius tendencies even further, to have a good season or so of Walt being the king before deciding to wrap it all up with some generic shootout. The genius of Breaking Bad was to curtail Walt at just the right time, which made his fall and fall in the second half of season 5 all the more arresting to watch. Walt was trying to get out of the meth business, but unfortunately he was too far down the rabbit hole, and everything came crashing down. By giving Walt that one last shred of humanity, by allowing him to acknowledge his pride and attempt to rectify (some of) his mistakes for the sake of his family, they managed to keep Walt firmly in a shade of dark moral grey, as opposed to the black he was drifting towards.
Walt’s strong resistance to the meth trade during the second half of season 5 was no doubt intentional on the half of the writers, who have always done their best to muddy the moral waters. It added an extra tragic twist to what would have been, in essence, a basic rise-and-fall story (albeit one of the best ones ever told). The last 8 episodes seemed to largely be about penance, and about Walt attempting to get his affairs back in order before the death that was waiting for him since the very first episode. As Walt was trying to get out of the meth game, he immediately became a much more sympathetic character, with the writers wisely choosing to give him some very human moments, particularly with Walt Jr., but also with Hank, when Walt attempted to barter his entire fortune for his brother in law’s life. Walt’s previously unchecked slide into insane greed – often cleverly disguised amongst the impossible-to-refuse sums of money he dealt in – was at once discarded, and the fact that Walt’s attempt to save Hank was futile only helped make Walt all the more sympathetic. The genius of this moment was, if you think about it, the death of Hank was indirectly Walt’s fault anyway, but Breaking Bad is an emotive show, and in that moment the raw emotion of Bryan Cranston’s performance was enough to outweigh such rational, collected views.
Walt’s long but ultimately failed climb back to the moral high ground meant that the finale, which was probably about as close to happy as this twisted series was ever going to get, felt so fitting. I loved the Breaking Bad finale. It’s so refreshing to have a show that doesn’t feel the need to bombard you with plot twists and shocking reveals to make a statement. Breaking Bad was largely predictable but masterfully executed and provided a fitting reward for the audience and every character on the show (apart from all those who were brutally murdered, but who cares?). Walt Jr. and Skyler both got what they needed from Walt, with Skyler getting a shred of honesty and Jr. getting… erm, nothing. Jesse was freed, finally getting a clean slate to do whatever he wanted (oh, and he got to push Todd’s shit in, which was nice). And Walt got to die almost like a hero, taking a bullet for Jesse while brutally murdering his enemies, before peacefully dying in the one place he was truly happy, a meth lab. Happiness for Walt was never riding off into the sunset with his millions, because that would lead to a slow death from cancer. The clue to what Walt wanted all along was in the tagline of the final season: “Remember my name”. What more could an egotist want? He gets to die in the knowledge that he was never brought to justice, that he achieved both his goals of becoming drug kingpin and providing for his family when he was gone, and, following the deaths of Lydia and Jack’s gang, he got to go out as the only player in the game. He killed everyone who crossed him.
“Remember my name”. We certainly will, Walt. You win.