Breaking Bad is a television show in the sense that it is a drama that airs on TV station AMC. But anyone who watches the show will tell you that it is far wider reaching than any ordinary television program. This was evidenced by yesterday’s finale and the reaction to it. As soon as it ended, I went online to read reviews and within the hour every single entertainment web site had released a review. No program since The Sopranos has had that kind of a following, that necessity to immediately tell the world what experts thought of it. Even Time.com promptly put their review online.
Like every other review, Time critic James Poniewozik addressed the questions answered, (will Walt die, yes; will Jesse die, no; will Walt kill Uncle Jack and co., yes; etc.) and those left unanswered (wiill Walter Jr get the money? What happens to Jesse and Brock now? Lydia’s daughter). It addressed how the series’ shining moment was two episodes prior, in “Ozymandias,” but the finale was as effective a way to end the series as possible. It addressed the issue of Walter’s redemption and the ambiguity of it. Yes, everything in his patchwork plan happened as well as he could have hoped, but everyone he has made contact with over the last year or so of his life is either dead or infinitely worse off. Poniewozik makes a fascinating reference to Gollum to describe Walter’s death: He dies alone with his “precious,” that being a meth lab. It is a fascinating way to look at Walt and all his actions. Walt does not gaze on his family in a hospital room as the cancer takes him. No, he dies where he was most happy. It reflects Walt’s final words to Skyler. “I did it for me. I did it because I liked it. I was good at it.”
I took to writing here about Breaking Bad because I loved it. I loved the show. I loved the characters, however ego-maniacal they may be. There was not a second of the show over the last three years of devoted watching that I wished had been done differently. Last night, as I sawthe camera pan up from Walter White’s lifeless body, I teared up. And when Walter confessed to Skyler his true, unadulterated reason for his actions, the tears flowed relentlessly. I lived Breaking Bad, got absorbed in it, felt every single pang of defeat and victory and heartbreak. And now it’s over.
Why do we get absorbed in such a way? It is perfectly normal for a TV show, or a movie, or a book to suck us in and make us live it, if only for a short while. But even so, I feel strange now, being without Walter White for the rest of my life. It feels almost like when my dog died. Is it good that we dissolve into an imaginary universe? Or is it potentially harmful to get so wrapped up that it kills us when it ends? I don’t know if I have the answer to that, all I know is it has been fifteen hours since Walt’s death and I still feel awful.
With such a rush to get ideas on the finale online, it seems pretty clear that a lot of other people felt the same thing, seeing Walt that way, the last way we will ever see him. To be honest, I don’t know where we as a television society go from here. Maybe we just sit back and reflect on the fun. Because after all, we don’t watch shows to please other people or make the world a better place.
We do it for ourselves.
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