One of the most anticipated conclusions to a cable television series seemed to satisfy most of its ardent fans with its last episode. “Breaking Bad,” the story of a common man who descends into very bad behavior, ended with a flourish as Walter White sought and found the kind of closure that befit his story arc.
The show, created by Vince Gilligan, ran for six seasons (five if you accept the idea that the last of the five was divided into two runs of eight episodes each, with the first eight aired a year ago and the second just completed last week). In all, it consisted of 62 episodes. It opened with Walter having just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and showed how this seemingly ordinary, everyday high school chemistry teacher, harboring feelings of regret for an aborted career that could have included a Nobel Prize in science, turned to a life of crime to provide for his family and achieve some kind of personal redemption for a life not fully actualized.
His criminal enterprise revolved around his ability to create the purest form of crystal meth, the illegal drug that has been so lethal in its addictive qualities (although that fact is never accentuated in the series, presumably so as to allow viewers to maintain a sense of connection to Walter as he becomes less and less recognizable as the mild-mannered guy he must have been before the cancer diagnosis changed his life).
Over the show’s five (or six) seasons, Walter loses the affection of his wife, bonds with a former student who becomes his crime partner, befuddles his brother-in-law, a DEA agent on the prowl for the mystery criminal who is responsible for the new form of meth that is being “cooked” right under his nose, and successfully plots against a major drug lord who at one point almost enslaves Walter and his cooking partner.
The series was enlivened by several supporting characters, most notably the former student, Jesse; a shady attorney named Sal; a former cop turned hired gun named Mike; and the aforementioned brother-in-law, Hank. The women in the show, Walter’s wife, Skylar, and Hank’s wife, Marie (Skylar’s sister), as well as Jesse’s girlfriends (both of whom, in different seasons, end up dead) and a woman who takes over the meth enterprise late in the series, are less prominently featured for the most part or, at least for us, didn’t resonate as fully as the male characters.
By the last episode (spoiler alert: stop reading if you haven’t seen the show and still intend to), Walter has amassed over $80 million in drug money, has lost all but $9 million of it to a nasty gang of neo-Nazi paid killers, has incurred the enmity of Jesse (who finally came to realize that “Mr. White is the devil”), and is on the run after Hank (before he was killed in a violent shootout with the neo-Nazis) had discovered that Walter was the meth master and had turned the DEA on to him.
The closing episode tied up a bunch of loose ends (at least that’s one way to describe the show’s denouement) and ends with Walter dying in the meth lab with a look of satisfaction on his face. Why he was satisfied is what that last episode reveals, and while most of it was heavily contrived, the same can be said of most of the entire series. (To focus on some of the plot twists too much would take the pleasure out of the entertainment value of the show, which, after all, is why most of us got, well, addicted to it.)
In short, you didn’t enjoy “Breaking Bad” because it was tightly crafted to resemble anything like real life. You enjoyed it, at least we enjoyed it, because it was a riveting drama with a succession of nail-biter climaxes, that focused on a guy who started out like most of us (an everyday guy just trying to provide for his family, even working a second job as a carwash attendant) and then took a turn to a life of crime when he received that cancer diagnosis.
Walter was never really lovable, but he had a vision of what he could become and took the steps to make that happen. That he was engaged in serious criminal activity didn’t faze him all that much. It was the quest that motivated him, that and his ego, which cried out for recognition. That, in the end, was his hubris. And if he was a more extremely flawed figure than most of us, he wasn’t all that unrecognizable either.