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Breaking Bad Review: How Will It End?

  1. SublimeTrip
    B] “It can’t all be for nothing.”

    I have no secret knowledge of how Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad‘s writers plotted how to finish Walter White’s story, but I have to wonder if the scenario we saw tonight was considered, at one point, as the end. Walt isolated, thousands of miles from home, dying alone, knowing that everything has gone wrong, knowing that his child hates him, knowing that his plan to enrich his family has failed–and powerless to do anything but, wait, and know, and think on what he has done.

    It feels in a sense as if these past few weeks have tried on several alternative endings for the story of Walter White. His surrender to Hank in the desert, as I said then, was one way it could have gone down. His disappearance into the horizon, last seen in the rear-view mirror of Vacuum Guy’s minivan, was another. (Hell, the end of last season’s run–Walt retired, successful, free and in the bosom of his family was, before Hank found Leaves of Grass as bathroom reading, the end for a very dark, cynical version of Breaking Bad.)

    The Shield’s outstanding finale left its antihero/villain, Vic Mackey, alive and chained to a desk, presumably to ponder his crimes forever. Walt’s exile in “Granite State” might be considered the Shield alternative for Breaking Bad–letting Walt “escape,” but in such as way as to be tortured by his deeds for the rest of his short life. So his world ends, as another New Hampshire resident posited, not in fire but in ice.

    There’s something purgatorial about Walt’s New Hampshire; we’ve spent so much time in the red-and-brown sun-baked vistas of New Mexico that emerging from the propane tank into New Hampshire feels like entering another world. As Vacuum Cleaner Guy–played, in an in-retrospect obvious bit of genius casting, by Robert Forster–says, it’s the kind of place where Walt could rest and get some much-needed thinking done. “If you look around,” he says, “it’s kind of beautiful.”

    But our Walt is not so easily going to slip into a contemplative mood.
    On the way to his New England getaway, he’s still nursing the idea that he can Heisenberg his way out of it again. He rants to Saul–like Hitler in the bunker in those “Downfall” videos–that he is not done: “My money goes to my children. Not just this barrel, but all of it!” And no sooner does Vacuum Cleaner drive down the road than he stuffs his pockets with money and dons the black hat–shot from behind, like a ceremonial crowning–ready to walk the eight miles to town and–

    And what? He has, he sees, run out of practical options. “Tomorrow,” he tells himself. He retreats, takes off the hat, seems to give up and wait to die.

    And yet in the end he can’t. In part, maybe, because he knows that once Vacuum Cleaner’s ministrations are done and he is dead to cancer, his friend-for-hire will Hoover up his barrel of money and be gone. In part, because his last phone call to Skyler was not quite as brilliant a ruse as he hoped. In part, maybe, because the prideful Heisenberg is still within him, as he sees Elliott and Gretchen denigrate his existence and his meaning to Gray Matter on Charlie Rose–he sees himself being erased from significance. Ready for a moment, after Walt Jr’s rejection, to turn himself in, he instead finds that burning anger relit, and he hits the road.

    Because there is still too much to reckon with for Breaking Bad to end things this way.
    There is a vast and still-growing catalog of people whose lives Walt has ruined or ended, directly or indirectly. There’s Skyler, ruined, terrorized, and facing jail; Marie mourning; Junior bitter and angry. There’s Jesse captive in his meth dungeon and Andrea now, dead from the hell Walt unleashed by summoning the demons of Todd and Uncle Jack. As the suffering rolls out in this bleak, bleak episode, you can almost see the paper being crumpled up on the “Walt dies alone in hiding” idea and thrown into the wastebasket. Breaking Bad is not an elliptical show, and these things must be confronted.

    Gilligan and company have created an amazing run of seven episodes leading up to next week’s finale; and yet they’ve still posed themselves a challenge in pulling off a satisfying ending. I’d now guess that the finale is building toward what it’s looked like: some revenge plot against Jack and company, abetted by Jesse (who now has a reason powerful enough to ally even with Walt), then freeing up Walt and Jesse for some final, cathartic confrontation. (Though what do I know? Is Walt carrying a machine gun for Gretchen and Elliott too?) He offered his son his money and was rejected. He has nothing to give anyone anymore but his freedom, or his life.

    If you accept the premise that Walt was once at least mostly a good man–he really meant well, he truly loved his family, and so on–and that he became bad, indeed evil, through a series of gradual moral compromises, then you can see Gilligan’s dilemma in crafting the ending. How do you honor the good in Walt (or once in him) while punishing (or at least not excusing) the evil in him? Well, one way you do that, of course, is to give him a nemesis even more despicable and utterly hateful than himself: the sweet sociopathic Todd on the one hand, and actual Nazis on the other.

    The trick, then, is to bring all this to a satisfying, cathartic climax without seeming to engineer Walt back into a good guy simply by giving him a bigger bad guy to fight.
    And you want–at least I want–the unrelenting suffering we’re seeing to end, or at least to see some sign of hope. (At this point in the series, most everyone we’ve come to care about in any way has been put into misery that shows no sign of ending, or is simply dead–and ugh, I can’t stand to think of Brock inside his house with his mom shot dead on the front lawn.) But you don’t want a happy ending–or let’s be realistic, a not-unrelentingly-miserable ending–to come at the expense of writing off the immense moral debt Walter White has rung up in this series.

    At this point, I can only have the faith earned though four-and-a-half fantastic seasons of this series (recognized by an overdue Best Drama Emmy last night). We’ve seen Vince Gilligan run through several could-have-been endings for Walter White. Next week, we get the real one. Walt, and this story, are on the move, and this time it’s a one-way trip.

    Now for the hail of bullets:

    * I’m fascinated by the comparison of Lydia and Walt, two civilians who have descended into drug evil one step of moral compromise at a time. Where Walt acts out of hubris and pride, she acts out of caution and calculation. She doesn’t want to take any risks and she doesn’t want to see the consequences of her actions; and the two put together make her absolutely chilling, ordering brutal acts from a shelter of distance and euphemism. (Like Walt too, she justifies her deeds in the name of her family.) So she initially, coldly insists that Todd kill Skyler–a mother like herself–because she can’t be exposed to the slightest risk, and tells Todd this like she’s giving orders to the exterminator. I’d be fascinated to see what a Breaking Bad that was centered on Lydia would look like.

    * On a lighter note, glad she finally got her chamomile tea! I’m guessing unlike with Mike, she picked the meeting place this time. (Todd, you are no Mike Ehrmentraut!)

    * Honestly, the idea of punishing Walt with a lifetime of watching Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium does sound like a pretty heavy punishment.

    * Speaking of which, the 2007 date of that movie reminds us that Walt arrives in New Hampshire just a couple years too late to run into The Sopranos’ Gay Vito.

    * This week in probably-unfortunate product placements: Ensure, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (Meth Nazis love it!)

    * It’s interesting that an episode that ended with one emotionally wrenching phone call should be followed by another–this one not a ruse, but devastatingly open and honest. [Update: Another parallel/inversion--at the end of "Ozymandias" we saw Walt controlling Heisenberg, using his villainous persona to try to exonerate Skyler. At the end of "Granite State," we saw Walt--the part of him still able to be moved to surrender by his son's repudiation--losing control to Heisenberg and his injured pride after seeing the Charlie Rose interview.]

    * “Go ahead, do it! There’s no way I’m doing one more cook for you psycho fucks!” Oh, Jesse, poor Jesse. We have been talking a lot about what kind of ending we want for Walt. What do you want for Jesse?

    James Poniewozik
    September 23,2013
    TIME Entertainment



  1. Rob Cypher
    The good, the bad and the ugly as fans take a trip to ‘Breaking Bad’ lands

    Breaking Bad has swept the Emmys and gripped millions. Now, as the final episode is shown, the location is making a killing too

    It took a while for Albuquerque to embrace Breaking Bad. The depiction of a good man turning evil and unleashing drugs and violence across the city was a bleak showcase. Only after the fourth season, when the show started to win acclaim as a television masterpiece, did this sleepy corner of New Mexico begin boasting about hosting it.

    “The drugs and violence were the reasons we didn’t have anything to do with it at first,” said Megan Ryan, tourism manager of Albuquerque’s convention and visitors bureau. “Then we began to see the cult following in the US and abroad, and the awards. It turned a really dark subject into a great tool for awareness and visibility.”

    The final episode of the AMC show is expected to draw a huge audience today, and fans have been flocking to Albuquerque in their thousands to see where fictional chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman, played out the Emmy-winning drama.

    Tourism authorities have set up a website to guide them, and local businesses are offering tours and merchandising spinoffs, including blue confectionery and doughnuts inspired by the ultra-pure, blue crystal meth cooked by the two lead characters.

    “Breaking Bad has been amazing for the city. Film tourism is at an all-time high,” said Mike Silva, co-owner of ABQ Trolley Co, a tour company whose Breaking Bad location tour is booked out months in advance.

    The show’s grisly content – throat-cutting, acid baths, junkie overdoses – initially worried the city, but authorities and businesses are now on the bandwagon, said Silva. “Everyone is on board.”

    The mayor, Richard Berry, said the series highlighted Albuquerque’s low-tax, sun-kissed, scenic lure to film and TV productions which have spent $416m in the past four years. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, has said Albuquerque is a character in the show but viewers knew it did not reflect the real city, said the mayor. “I’ve never run into anybody that doesn’t understand it’s a fictional drama.”

    He indicated the view from his 11th-floor office: tree-lined streets giving way to desert, mountains and a big blue sky. Crime is at its lowest in decades. “There is great quality of life here.”

    Indeed so. Yet there is no disguising a brittle wariness, a defensiveness, behind the “proud home of Breaking Bad” spiel. For art has to some degree imitated reality. Beyond the shiny civic facade, Albuquerque and other parts of New Mexico suffer all-too-real drug trafficking, addiction, violence and corruption. Cheap, pure heroin together with prescription drugs have fuelled a statewide epidemic of overdoses twice the national average. Depending on the drugheroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – teen drug use here is double or triple the national average. The drugs are so pure that many can be smoked, yet an estimated 25,000 addicts in the state use needles.

    Henrietta, a 62-year-old former addict and convicted drug smuggler who declined to have her surname published, painted a shadowy world of crack houses, prostitution and gang warfare as frightening as anything in Breaking Bad.

    “It’s a scary life,” she said, “because you go into the dark side. It’s a cycle, the same thing over and over again. If you’re an addict, you’re going to take what you can get. If there’s no heroin, you take meth. If there’s no meth, you take crack cocaine.”

    Raped as a girl, she ran away from home and used alcohol, pills, crack, meth and heroin to “self-medicate”. Henrietta recovered, earned a degree and worked as a social worker before succumbing to addiction again two decades later. She dealt drugs to fund her habit. “I tried meth, but it didn’t taste right. I preferred crack.”

    She moved between the family home, doss houses and the street in a perpetual quest for the next hit, encountering squalor and prostitution. “Women go out to hook to get high and have a place to stay.” A cousin who smuggled meth across the border from Mexico consumed it rather than selling it, angering his cartel-linked supplier. “They sent people across and shot him in the head to make an example.” He survived, but lost an eye and suffered brain damage.

    Henrietta was caught smuggling crack across the border in 2005 and sentenced to 18 years. Released in 2009 to the care of a non-profit group, Crossroads for Women, last week she “graduated” from a four-year treatment and rehabilitation course. “God was looking out for me. I’ve been given another chance.”

    Not all are so lucky. Dozens of homeless or incarcerated addicts are waiting for places at two Crossroads centres in Albuquerque. “The need far exceeds our abilities,” said Amanda Douglas of Crossroads.

    Breaking Bad‘s depiction of addiction is “sadly realistic”, said Deni Carise, an expert in substance abuse treatment with CRC Health Group. “The ease with which Jesse [Pinkman] relapses is very well portrayed.”

    New Mexico is the second-poorest state in the US, according to census figures, and many at the bottom lack jobs, proper nutrition and healthcare. Low-income neighbourhoods like Albuquerque’s Trumbull Village, popularly known as War Zone, are plagued by drug-related shootings. Unlike Walter White’s homegrown meth lab, most of the state’s meth, heroin and other illegal drugs come via Mexico, which continues to endure horrific violence, with an estimated 80,000 killed since 2006.

    And unlike the show’s honest cops, some real ones have “broken bad”. Angelo Vega, a former police chief of the town of Columbus, has admitted being on the Juárez cartel payroll. Darren White, Albuquerque’s public safety director, publicly warned last year that cartels sought officials willing “to go dirty”.

    Not just police, it turns out. Danny Burnett, a former school supervisor from the town of Carrizozo, was convicted last week of leaking information about a federal investigation into drug and gun smuggling. His wife, Paula, is an assistant US attorney. She has not been charged with any offence.

    But Breaking Bad fans visit for the fiction, not the reality, and few are disappointed, according to Silva, whose trolley company does location tours. “They are so excited, they love it all.”

    They visit the homes of Walter and Jesse, the fast-food restaurant of Walter’s nemesis Gus Fring, and the carwash where Walter’s wife Skyler launders their money. They also snap up “Bathing Bad” bath salts, lotions and soaps.

    With the show due for wider syndication and repeats, Silva expects his Breaking Bad tour to continue for several years. He is crossing his fingers and hoping that a mooted spinoff show featuring Walter’s crooked lawyer, Saul Goodman, will go ahead. “That would be awesome for us.”

    Staff at the Dog House, a greasy spoon featured in several episodes, shrug and smile when fans cluster into the tiny restaurant. “They travel from all over,” marvelled Lucille Martinez, an assistant manager. The owner of the house where Jesse lived, a mile up the road, was less enthused by the gawkers. “Most are pretty respectful, but it has become a hassle.”

    Albuquerque is awash with speculation over how the show will climax today. In bars, cafes and offices, people debate whether Walter will rescue Jesse and kill the neo-Nazis, and whether Jesse will then kill Walter. Asked if he had inside information, Berry, the mayor, shook his head: “Sadly, no.”

    Despite the nightmare of her own addiction, Henrietta confessed a soft spot for Walter, the tormented, ruthless meth manufacturer played by Bryan Cranston. “He, too, knows suffering.”

    Rory Carroll
    The Guardian
    September 28, 2013

  2. kmak
    Amazing show.
  3. Alfa
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