And When I Walk the Streets Kings and Queens Step Aside: How I'd End "Breaking Bad"
With the final season (soul-crushingly split in two) of “Breaking Bad” nearly upon us, I’ve been thinking about what a satisfying finale would be. For a television show that’s graced us with four enthralling seasons, viewers are likely confident that Vince Gilligan will deliver us the ending we long for—but what exactly is that?
Regardless of Gilligan’s declaration that he wanted to turn “Mr. Chips into Scarface,” we can probably all agree Walter White has to die; it’s the manner of death, not the will he or won’t he, that will inform the “Breaking Bad” finale. Though the background threat always lingered, it’s doubtful Walt’s all but forgotten terminal lung cancer will kill him. The sympathy we once felt for that timid car wash employee is long gone, incrementally vanishing with each egotistical or amoral step Heisenberg took. It might provide the sentimental ending Lindelof would mindlessly vomit at his viewers but with Gilligan, we expect better—we know better. We will get better.
Whatever troubles lie in wait for Jesse and Walt, whichever evolution of Gus or Tuco is around the next corner, it’s doubtful Walt will meet his end directly by a competitor’s hand. I can’t deny anticipating another delightfully insane cartel boss or some scrappy, new kid who’ll get in the boys’ way, but I don’t see that being the way out either. Some people may think Jesse will be successor; just as Walt took out Gus, so should Jesse knock off his own dominant partner. But in my mind Gilligan has set up a fairly specific line of dominos to fell Walter White, to fulfill his destiny, and our bloodthirsty finale needs.
Just as brother-in-law and federal agent, Hank Schrader (inadvertently) led Walt to the crystal blue waters, so should he lead Heisenberg to his appropriate end. While Walt spent the past few years breaking out of humiliation and fear, we’ve watched an opposite transformation take Hank down. The formerly brash and over-confident macho man unknowingly tiptoed on and around Walt’s yellow brick road so many times, it became almost comical—until in “One Minute,” he got terrifyingly tangled up—and nearly killed. Hank is the way and the light; Hank must lead Walter White to his necessary end.
Whatever the Season 5 circumstances may be (I’m no scriptwriter), I imagine Hank continuing to regain his confidence, even as Walt’s hubris instigates the inevitable mistakes that breadcrumb Hank right to Walt and Jesse’s doorstep (again). The Season 3 and 4 explosions leave little doubt Gilligan and company can De Palma up, and give us a great final scene with Walt trapped, surrounded by armed DEA agents. Maybe he even takes a couple of guys out. In a brilliant monologue, Hank (as negotiator and accuser) works out everything that’s happened—all the danger Walt has put the families in, Hank’s own near death, the people Walt and Jessie killed… We get Walt’s defiant, egotistical Heisenbergian speech and then either Walt goes super aggressive and tries to shoot his way out, or he purposely makes a move toward Hank (knowing he’ll be shot); either way, we get a dead Walt by other-than-Hank agent (so Skyler and Marie have nothing to hold against Hank).
Now, I’m not saying Jesse doesn’t matter; Aaron Paul has been a phenomenal actor and the character, a beautiful combination of pain and comic relief. But what happens with Jesse can go almost any way and we’ll still feel good. He can escape the lockdown situation and head off into the sunset, clean. He can break off from Walt and start his own operation, leaving us to wonder if he’ll turn into Heisenberg 2.0. Or, Marvelous Mike can set Jesse free earlier in the season, and maybe at the end we get a shot of the two meeting up on some tropical island (isn’t that always the way), load of secreted cash in hand and bikinied women at their sides. In the “Breaking Bad” story, Jesse wasn’t meant to go on and in the end, he’s really just collateral damage. As an audience, we’d probably rather see him end up clean, but it is Walter White’s proper ending that holds the finale key.
Whatever plans the writers do have, I’m confident we’ll not be left with snowy screens or magic cave lights…maybe just a pink teddy bear.
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