This post will contain spoilers for the finale of Breaking Bad.
My primary issue with the ending of Breaking Bad, my second favourite show on TV, is the dissonance between the final episode and the rest of season five. Throughout the last few seasons, we’ve seen Walt transform into a monster. A monster whom we are not meant to emulate. For nearly two whole seasons, Vince Gilligan has been convincing us of the dangers of hubris, greed and vanity.
In the final episode, Walt wins. Walt achieves a significant majority of the goals he set at the outset:
- he wanted money for his family
- he wanted to be known
- he wanted to extend himself outside of being a high school teacher
- he wanted to change
His only original goal which was not fulfilled was having his family not hate him, and to have the cancer catch up to him before the police did. While not all of Walt’s money reaches his family, he wanted enough to make them comfortable. Eleven million dollars sates all of those desires.
This proud, murderous, poisoner, abuser of children, self-deifying, monster wins at the end of the series. Gilligan, again and again, has warned us not to follow Walt’s path. And yet there are no significant, lasting repercussions for him. The high school chemistry teacher has transformed into an empirical megalomaniac and he has not faced any consequences. Those whom he loves have suffered, but what’s Gilligan’s message there? Don’t be associated with meth kingpins? Seeing his family destroyed is not a significant consequence for Walt, just as they weren’t the sole contributors to his initial motivations; he said so himself. Both his family’s and Jesse’s ultimate freedom were orchestrated by Walt. Again, Walt gets what he wants.
Walt’s death was an inevitability; it was not a punishment, it was a saviour.
The villain got what he wanted. In the finale, Gilligan inadvertently suggests that doing awful things brings the consequences one wants. My issue is not solely with the finale, which was a strong episode, but the way it fits with the rest of the series, in which Gilligan has portrayed that Walt’s hubris was his hamartia. Walt’s pride was certainly his fatal flaw, but he experienced no downfall at the end of the series. The penultimate episode, in which Walt sinks deeply, is discordant with the finale, in which Walt rises. Despite his immoral actions, Walt will become the greatest meth cook in history, which is exactly what he wanted. All of Gilligan’s warnings are nullified by that fact.
The Ozymandias trailer, which aired before the season began, features the statue of a lost king wasted away, with only his legs remaining. This is a powerful image, but it doesn’t mirror Walt’s ultimate circumstance. Walt has cemented himself in history. He would be Ozymandias if he hadn’t died in the lab and thus perpetuated the idea that he is responsible for all of the blue meth. Walter White’s statue won’t fade into the wind; Walter White’s visage will be etched in history. Despite his despicable actions, the immoral person whom Gilligan does not want us to emulate had his dreams satisfied.
Walter White’s ultimate victory sends a message incongruous with the rest of the series, and I can’t help feeling unsatisfied.