Breaking Bad and Walter White’s Too-Neat Conclusion

Breaking Bad‘s finale was a little disappointing. After the relentless darkness of the second half of the fifth season, I had let myself believe that the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, would go all the way and serve up a stark, brutal ending, one that would put the finishing touches on the show’s reputation as an exception to much of the standard fare dished out on television dramas and Hollywood movies. As I wrote in an earlier post:

If Gilligan remains uncompromising and brings the White nightmare to an end in as unsparing fashion as he has shown recently, then Breaking Bad will have performed a very useful service: it will make conventional endings look almost unsustainably trite.

Instead, Gilligan, caught up in the desire to provide ‘closure’ and to ‘tie up loose ends’ gave us a conclusion that seemed to borrow a little too much–for my taste–from Hollywood. Perhaps too, Gilligan sought to give Walter White fans one last chance to cheer for their anti-hero, one more chance to applaud his Macgyversque ability to extricate himself from the tightest of jams.

To his credit, he left matters just a shade ambiguous when it came to the matter whether Walter had managed to succeed in his mission of caring for his family – via the extended ‘holding hostage’ of Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz. Whether they’d comply, whether they’d break down and confide in a friend, the DEA or the police is left for us to imagine; in any case, the plot was a Walter classic in its bravado and ingenuity. I initially found it hokey but could respect its cheekiness. It’s a little flimsy, for who knows how Gretchen and Elliott would respond as time goes by, but still.

The Massacre of the Aryan Brotherhood–for its sheer implausibility–was another matter altogether.  Other than some rather cursory testing there is no evidence Walter has gauged the operational capacity of his quasi-robotic machine gun, and moreover, Walter’s plan had too many failure points: it depended on all of the members of Jack’s gang assembling in the same space at the same time; on Walter not being summarily executed; on the car keys being accessible; on the car not being searched; on the car being parked in a very particular spot; and so on.

Again, to Gilligan’s credit, there is only a partial reconciliation with Walter’s family: Walter and Skyler do not make up, and neither do Walter and Flynn.  Skyler is given a legal lifeline, but Walter’s reputation with his son will not be rescued.  And Walter does ‘fess up to having done it all for himself, so that he could, as I noted yesterday, feel alive with death inside him.

The all-too neat tying up of the show was not a huge departure for Breaking Bad; Walter’s escapades have always flirted, even at the best of time, with a just a teensy bit of implausibility.  It was only the arc of the second half of the fifth season that led me to believe its creators would serve up a bleak reminder of how, in life, for most people, at most times, things just don’t work out as planned.

But at the end, the urge to provide material to cheer for, to provide relief from that grim, unrelenting lesson, won out. In any case, it was a good ride.

PS: How did Walter poison Lydia at the cafe? Sleight of hand?

PPS: I would have much preferred the modified Breaking Bad theme, as played in ‘Granite State’, as the closing music – as opposed to Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue.’

4 thoughts on “Breaking Bad and Walter White’s Too-Neat Conclusion

  1. I had the same thought, but since the more conventional shows always leave us with ambiguous, unsatisfying conclusions, there was something very refreshing about this much more challenging show finally just giving us a bit of what we wanted – Tarantino-style revenge, redemption, and closure.

    On the other hand, a lot of the more macabre foreshadowing never came to fruition, like the whole thing about Holly and the pink bear, which would have been about what Walt deserves at this point, as well as a nice rasberry to mainstream audiences.

    As for the Stevia thing, I think he just picked up on Lydia’s OCD – the fact that she always sits at the same table at the same time every week – and swapped whatever Stevia was there with a single pack of Ricin. Not a fool-proof plot, but more likely to succeed in real life than most of his capers.

  2. I was thinking the same thing,but then.
    Lydia knows she was poisoned, she can go to the hospital and get treated.
    The DA might still bring the hammer down on Skylar.
    The Cops probably picked up Jesse on the way out of the compound, is there any evidence of his cooperation with Hank?
    And what do you think an 18 year old who’s so furious with his mom and dad will do with 9 million dollars? There’s a good chance that it will ruin him.

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