Monday, 30 September 2013

What Breaking Bad did right

by Daniel Woolfson.

So, it all ended this week. Although I’m sure the number of people who haven’t watched it yet is steadily dwindling, I won’t include details of anything that happened in the final episode out of respect to those poor souls. However, if you’ve not watched up to last week's Granite Slate, then hit the back button now.

Breaking Bad of late has been a bit of a cultural phenomenon – the Internet has been on fire with speculation and trepidation over Walter White & co.’s approaching swansong. Indeed, it’s been difficult to talk to anyone in public without the cancer-struck kingpin Heisenberg popping into the conversation. Having just watched the final episode Felina, I experienced somewhat of an epiphany in regards to exactly why the final season in particular has been given such critical acclaim.

Let it be known that I am an avid enthusiast when it comes to high-quality programming such as Breaking Bad – I’ve watched the whole of The Wire twice, Six Feet Under in its entirety at least four times. Not to mention I’ve stuck with Dexter for eight seasons, despite it’s appalling final season, and eagerly devoured Justified, The Sopranos, and pretty much any long-running production with a flawed but lovable male protagonist who faces a 5-or-6 season descent into chaos… or redemption… or a stupid narrative plot device like a hurricane (see Dexter season 8).

However, what really makes Breaking Bad so special is this, in my opinion – instead of peaking in quality somewhere mid-series like a good number of its predecessors, it grew constantly darker, got substantially more violent and the writing got better and better as it spiralled towards its blood and tear drenched finale. Most importantly, those writers knew when to stop.

The reason the final season of Dexter aggravated me so much was the complete lack of closure or excitement leading up to the finale. The show had been dragged on for so long, time and time again promising us the climactic fall of Mr. Morgan, yet never delivering. Instead, we were given a lame sub-plot about the killer finding true love and then something about someone’s son and a hurricane – and let's not forget the hideous amount of new characters introduced – not good fare for an epic finale, when you’ve spent seven seasons attempting to develop characters that ultimately get neglected.

The Wire suffered an uncharacteristically weak final season. Although in its entirety the show is still a television landmark, the ‘homeless killer’ plot seemed a little bit too fantastical for a show that made its name as a brutal portrayal of life on the streets. What made The Wire so fascinating was its bleakness, its reality, and the poignancy found in the utter hopelessness of Baltimore’s drug war. Whilst I did enjoy the final season, I found myself growing tired of the frankly boring commentary on the place of the media… that, and I missed Omar.

This trend can be seen in many high quality shows: just take OZ for example. OZ was the first of its kind in many ways, and to this day remains an example of bloody great TV, but my god was the final season a shambles. Furthermore, it had perhaps the most disappointing and boring end to a show I’ve ever seen. Even Dexter beat it.

But it feels to me that Breaking Bad never grew overconfident of its ability to captivate. Each season grew more difficult to deal with, yet more difficult to tear yourself away from. It took the anti-hero trope and gave it an injection of steroids to the face. In fact, what made the final glimmer of redemption and peace in the last five seconds of the finale possible was the fact that for the last forty-or-so hours of programming, the show had been a whirlwind of pain and destruction – we witnessed firsthand a believable and tender story of exactly what greed and good intentions can lead to. Ultimately, we were presented with a Shakespearean tragedy, with a suitably unhappy ending. Was there closure? Yes. Were there explosions and hurricanes and made up serial killers who murdered and then bit pieces out of homeless people? No, but there was a machine gun that chewed the hell out of some… oh, sorry… I’ll let you all find out on your own.
It’s been said that in the future television will be referred to as ‘pre-Sopranos’ or ‘post-Sopranos’, but I wouldn’t be very surprised if ‘Bad gets a mention as well.

We’ll miss you, Heisenberg.


  1. It was an excellent last episode although I do believe Sopranos was a better show. I thought the music at the end was perfect... similarly to Journey in The Sopranos which was then ruined by Glee.

  2. Well written and I loved every bit of Breaking Bad and now feel bereft without it but The Wire which I never saw will be in my queue.

  3. It was the best show! RIP breaking bad!