By Adam Shater
The final episode of “Breaking Bad” aired last Sunday night on AMC, and all but capped off what should easily be considered not only one of the greatest seasons, but one of the greatest dramas in the history of television.
Part of the reason so many viewers and critics have gravitated to the show is because of how the protagonist Walter White, and the show as a whole, has changed and evolved throughout its five-year run.
The pilot starts with Walter White as an awkward, quiet chemistry teacher, and the show almost has the feel of a dark comedy at certain points throughout its first season. After all, it is about a chemistry teacher cooking meth.
But by the time season four had ended, Walter had literally blown up the largest meth distributor of the South in a retirement home with a homemade bomb, poisoned a child and ran over two drug dealers with his Pontiac Aztec—-as if just driving a Pontiac Aztec wasn’t unbelievable enough.
This was all knowingly built into the structure of the show, though. The show is about Walt’s rise and fall. And the show’s entire journey was a buildup to the last three episodes of the series. It was all about how the hammer would fall on Walt and everyone around him when he pushed his luck too far, and it was, in one way or another, based on his actions all the way from season one and forward.
But where “Breaking Bad” separates itself from its contemporaries in the pantheon of television greatness is how strongly it finished. The hammer fell on everyone, and it fell hard.
Shows like “Lost,” “Dexter” and “Prison Break” all started with great critical and commercial success, and their early seasons were some of the purest forms of quality entertainment found on TV.
But, for some reason, their writing staff was seemingly replaced by six-year-olds that had inexplicably finagled their way into the television industry. Even “The Sopranos” has been accused of spinning its wheels in its fifth season, and its final episode was largely met with outrage at the time it aired.Whenever the majority of your audience thinks their cable had accidentally cut out at the climax of the final scene, it’s tough to overcome that type of legacy.
Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, and his writing staff never seemed to run into this problem. “Ozymandias,” the fourteenth episode of the fifth season, is far away the best episode of the series, and is already being revered as one of the best-written television episodes ever.
This was where the consequences of White’s greed come to fruition, and it’s a testament to the show that the climax, after five seasons of building tension, is among the greatest reviewed episodes in history. Come Emmy season, it would be a complete shock if “Ozymandias” didn’t win every single award of the night.
“Felina,” the series finale, was a perfect conclusion to the show. It didn’t have a jaw-dropping cliffhanger or any truly shocking deaths. But it was certainly a poignant episode, and it was more about capturing Walt’s sadness of what he’d been reduced to, which it did perfectly. He’d essentially ruined his family’s well-being, all of his money was pretty much worthless and he was an alone, dying man.
“Ozymandias” was the true finale of the show. The story arc of White’s escapades as a meth cook ended when “Ozymandias” ended. The next two episodes were more of an epilogue, tying up loose ends and giving both Walt and Jesse a fitting ending to their stories.
There weren’t any questions left unanswered—–take notes “Lost” writers—–and no lead man resorting to the life of a lumberjack—-looking at you, “Dexter”. It was a clear, concise episode that went in knowing exactly what it had to do. And it did it perfectly.
“Breaking Bad” is a once-in-a-generation show. Very rarely, if ever, do the writing, acting and directing efforts come together in such a perfect way on a weekly basis. It’s been a joy for the millions watching it from beginning, just as it surely will be a joy for everyone binge-watching this fall break.