I may eat these words after seeing “Felina,” but at the moment I’m pretty disappointed with the way “Breaking Bad” seems to be ending.
Characters are more important to me than plot, and character development’s at the top of my list. I like to see a hero or heroine learning about themselves, their relationships, and life in general, and I like to see relationships change and develop.
As things appear to stand now, the only character with a complete and satisfying character arc on “Breaking Bad” is Skyler, perhaps to be joined by Marie. The main character, Walter White, however, is well on his way to going out much more two-dimensionally than he had to. Early on in the series, thanks to a cancer diagnosis, Walt unearthed his inner Hulk, a seemingly endless reservoir of ego, pride, resentment, and anger. He’s had human, if compartmentalized, moments along the way that elicited our sympathy though, and that’s made him interesting. A third element that I think would have made Walt even more dimensional – belated self-recognition and understanding of what he’s done – doesn’t seem to be within his powers.
Heisenberg has, at least symbolically, been left behind in the snow-surrounded cabin – the black porkpie hat abandoned on a dead deer’s antler. We don’t know exactly what’s motivating Walt to return to Albuquerque, but we can guess. Confidence in his ability to sway others verbally has always been strong, and he’s stubborn, so he may try to contact his family and get them to accept the Ensure package of money – or at least leave it on their doorstep. Some fans have speculated that Walt will try to do something to wreck Gray Matter, but that somehow doesn’t square with the M-60 we saw in the flash forward at the beginning of the season. Most think Walt’s headed straight for the Nazi compound to get back the bulk of his money, take revenge on Jack and his crew, and/or kill (or rescue) Jesse.
The fact that it was watching the Charlie Rose interview with Gretchen and Eliot that seemed to change Walt’s mind about giving himself up makes it seem that his motivations still revolve around anger, pride, and ego. And only so much can happen in an hour. The self-realization, contrition, and trying to make amends I’d hoped to see from Walt seem unlikely.
The Jesse story, though subordinate, is much more interesting to me, because I care infinitely more about this vulnerable young guy. I’d hoped to see Jesse mature more than he has, and I definitely wanted to see a happier ending for him than what seems to be in store.
Jesse was a boy in need of a mentor, though he didn’t realize it till after Walt started criticizing the shallowness of his life. Walt seemed to be that mentor and had father-ish feelings for Jesse, but wasn’t even capable of parenting his own children, so obsessed was he with his own needs. In practice, he was an abuser whose need to control and use Jesse always trumped any positive feelings he may have had for his partner. Mike and Gus also used Jesse, but seemed to care more about him, and he was making progress under their tutelage – gaining in confidence and able to perform feats of craftsmanship (cooking high-quality meth on his own) and courage (killing Joaquin and getting Gus and Mike to safety). After Mike’s death, however, Jesse regressed to a still largely unconscious version of his former self. He passed up a chance to get out of Dodge because he felt manipulated into doing so and because he finally realized what a monster Walt was. This was Jesse’s chance to mature and man up. As we saw in “Problem Dog,” he’s long had an inner need for justice: for wrongdoing, even his own, to be punished. As written, however, Jesse’s extreme emotion prevented him from thinking rationally. He returned to Saul’s office, beat him up, stole his car, and completely reverting to two-dimensional type, got high on Saul’s cocaine before breaking into the White house. Presumably, he would have burned the house down – a petty sort of revenge with the potential for harming innocents – if Hank hadn’t intervened. Again, Jesse needed a father-figure-mentor to get anything done. Apparently, Gilligan and company want to keep him in the lost loser role till the end.
Hank, in the throes of his own emotions and frozen in the type of perp-hating cop, cared nothing for Jesse and used him to try to get Walt. It was all too little too late, given the involvement of the Aryan Brotherhood. Hank dies like a man and Jesse, still a boy, is dragged kicking and screaming into meth-cook bondage.
I’m aware, having read Alan Sepinwall’s review of “Granite State,” that wanting a happier ending makes me unrealistic – what A.Ron Hubbard of the Breaking Good podcast calls “a whiney bitch.” But some balance of bleakness and non-bleakness, some allowance for hope and character development, is what makes a drama more interesting, gives it more dimension, and allows for more viewer involvement. And I thought this is what this supremely well-written heretofore series was promising. If everyone’s going to just go down in flames, having learned nothing, what are we left with? The simplistic moral lesson that profiting from illegal drug sales is bad and you’ll be punished for it, whether you’re ego-driven like Walt or weak like Jesse? That isn’t enough for me after five years of great drama and harrowing emotion.
One last point of reality: drug organizations like the Mexican cartel and the California Declan bunch don’t vanish forever when you kill their leaders and top lieutenants. More than enough time has gone by for either or both of these entities to regroup and say, “Hey – who do these rogue Nazis in Albuquerque think they are?” If this doesn’t come into play in the last episode – and it doesn’t seem like it will – foul called. It would be nice to have something about Gus’s back story be resolved as well.
If the fifth season had had 13 episodes last year and there had been a sixth season of 13 episodes now, all of these things could have been worked out in a much richer and more satisfying way. Apparently, AMC shortened everything up, stupidly constraining Gilligan and company – this is a very popular series! The writers claim to be happy with the ending they wrote, however.
Again, I’ll be glad to be proven wrong. I may also feel differently after having a chance to re-watch the final eight and hear what others have to say about the ending.