Breaking Bad’s Over. Now What?

by Faith Amenn

“I survived Breaking Bad and all I got was this stupid AMC-licensed t-shirt.”

We certainly will, Walt.

On Sunday, September 29, television’s recently crowned Best Drama ended its lauded five-year run with multiple bangs (there was an M60 involved, and I’m not talking about the bus). I’m all about journalistic integrity, so let me kick this off with a disclaimer: I am disgustingly biased. I take great pride in my role as a Gilligan guru, a title which is not actually a thing. I will connect virtually any facet of the human experience to this show, and I am likely the only person who finds that quality endearing. I emphatically defend Skyler White on the Subway; I sport my Heisenberg t-shirt in the supermarket, and hey, if I could write sonnets, they’d be about Bryan Cranston’s Emmy-winning dimples.

Whatever. The point is, I’m a fan – and relying on the Internet is a tried-and-true post-finale coping mechanism.

If you’re avoiding spoilers, then you probably shouldn’t click ‘Read More.’ Then again, if you’re avoiding spoilers, you probably shouldn’t be on the Internet.

(Go! Shoo! I’m not kidding!)

As a television devotee, I don’t hope for too much; historically, my enthusiasm has been an indicator of Great Doom. I try not to grow too emotionally attached to any one character, aware that he or she will likely die before the episode fades to black.

But why? WHY?!

The cast and crew of Breaking Bad, however, pulled off the impossible: a satisfying, worthwhile series finale. Walter White died; Jesse Pinkman lived; I, Faith Amenn, cheered.

For years now, I’ve been looking forward to Walt’s demise. According to teenage boys everywhere, that makes me “insensitive” and “stupid” and “a man-hater.” Thanks, you guys! I’d say that the fictional kingpin’s fervent band of Internet advocates made my excitement all the more potent; after last night’s gut punch of a finale, I raced over to Reddit, cooking mental popcorn in anticipation of a surely cataclysmic meltdown.

“He had it coming” doesn’t even begin to cover it; actually, I’d wager that no combination of words in the English language would begin to cover it. Technically, as the main character, Walt was the protagonist of Breaking Bad; as the seasons progressed, however, it became clear that he wasn’t our hero. He wasn’t an average Joe caught between a methamphetamine rock and a hard place, a truth reaffirmed time and time again by series creator Vince Gilligan. Many viewers seemed to misinterpret Walt as a quintessential Comeback Kid, a badass with a cancer diagnosis. They saw in him what they wanted to see: a scrawny chemistry teacher in need of a good time – or, more disturbingly, they saw themselves.

I’d hate to reduce what is arguably the greatest television show of all time to an after-school special on morality, but the message of the series isn’t “YOLO.” Disease isn’t your carte blanche to bomb a nursing home, you know? Walt should not be revered. He wasn’t a martyr; in fact, as he so aptly put it, he was the danger. Prior to the events of the series, lying dormant within him were a lust for power and the capacity for evil; those inclinations just needed a little push, but they ended up getting a NASA-funded launch into space. Walt did not enter the “empire business” for his family; as he admitted in the series finale, he did it for himself (Walt fans, find a new argument).

So many feels.

At the end of the day, “breaking bad” is considered the sole option only by those who feel entitled to unconditional power, by those who see Walt’s criminal activity as an earned escape. It’s a reflection of our times that fans think Walt was just letting loose. Heads up, world: “letting loose” is partying with friends, not letting a woman choke on her own vomit or poisoning an innocent child. Are we really so desperate to flee the trappings of everyday life that we’re incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong? Are we really so desperate to become something great that we forget to be good? Fear of an ordinary existence is natural, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to abandon our humanity without repercussions. Walt was going to get caught. Walt was going to look death in the eye and lose. That’s how it goes. Pride gets the best of us. All empires fall. To think otherwise is naive.

The storylines of the surviving primary characters (Skyler, Walt Jr., baby Holly, Marie, Jesse) weren’t neatly wrapped up with a blood-stained bow – and I couldn’t be happier with the “endings” they were given. Breaking Bad wasn’t going to finish with a musical number; I can’t imagine even the most inconsistent of viewers expecting definite happiness for any of the remaining few – but what we got is a start. Jesse and Skyler, the two people closest to Walt, have always been his most tortured victims. Thankfully, in the finale, they caught glimmers of freedom: Skyler got honest answers, and Jesse just drove. We don’t know where either one is going, and we don’t know how they’ll rebuild their shattered lives – but we do know that they’ve been liberated from the shadow of Heisenberg, and that’s as good as it was going to get.

Vince Gilligan and company stuck the landing. If their product were Big Blue, they’d be cooking at 100% purity. To everyone at Breaking Bad: thanks for the panic attacks.

 Faith Amenn is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of The Stir, E!online, and ZAP2it.

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