****WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS HEREIN**** (If you don’t like it, go away)
So here I sit, having watched the final episode of the first half of the 5th season of Breaking Bad. Mind you, I’ve had fun watching this show from the airing of the first episode. Admittedly, it took me a while to finish the first season, mostly because it was so directionless in that first season. Lucky for fans, creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan found his direction and has followed that path the past 4 1/2 seasons since. However, I’m irked, mostly because I see so many people clamoring to call the show “the best TV show ever”. Not even close. Far from it, in fact.
The thing is, anyone that understands the theme of this show knows it can only end one way: With Walt’s death. Gilligan has surprised us to this point by having Walt dodge cancer, the Mexican drug cartel, Gus Fring, Mike, and so far, prison. However, with tonight’s episode, the big *GASP* moment is supposed to be Hank’s realization that the man behind all of it is Walter White. Really? That’s the surprise? For this show to keep going, this had to happen at some point, unless Gilligan set out to make an ultimately pointless show. Don’t follow? Let’s backtrack a bit.
The moment Walt beat cancer (at least to this point) I have been thinking about the theme of this show. Ultimately, it’s the study of the lengths a single man will go to satiate his greed. Yes, money plays a large part of this, but more importantly, it’s about ego. In a capitalist society (and don’t be fooled, the globe at large is a capitalist society, and that includes China) money is the measure of a man’s (or company, government, etc) ego. Gus Fring was not a drug dealer because he enjoyed distributing methamphetamine. He did it for the money. Walt killed him for the money. Mike killed people for the money. Hell, it’s all he left his granddaughter. Not a legacy of knowledge, not his everlasting love, but money. Saul works for money. Jesse did it for the money. Todd does it for the money. The Aryan Brotherhood did it for the money. That leaves the only truly admirable characters on the show as Hank and Skylar. Since Hank is a miserable bastard, his ego is driven only by being able to say he is better than those he chases. He refers to Walt (unknowingly, at the time) as a monster, venting his disenfranchisement with his job, and in turn, the world at large. He’s the only character that doesn’t measure his ego in dollars, he does it with lives he can say are more morally bankrupt than his own.
So yes, Gus had to die. Now, Hank has sealed his own fate by intertwining it with Walt’s as well. There is only one ending to this show, as I said, Walt’s death. That, or he kills Hank and becomes the president of the United States and dismantles the DEA and buys China. (Or, alternately, and more realistically, he passes the business to Walter Jr [but that wouldn’t happen as he’s a proven idiot]) That’s literally the only surprise left, unless Gilligan is going off in a wild direction that has nothing to do with the past 4 1/2 seasons, which I severely doubt.
Jesse only has two options, killing himself, or finding the key to his happiness that isn’t smoked. The only real mystery lies with Skylar, an admittedly weak character who has always fallen into line after Walt because she’s too weak-willed to do anything on her own. She may hold the only surprise, but even if she’s the one that kills Walt, it won’t be that surprising. I’ve had many an interesting discussion about The Wire with many different people. I still call it the greatest show of all time, because I’ve never seen another show with the scope and examination of the human condition that David Simon brought to the table. Some were disappointed with the show’s ending, but to me, it’s the best ending ever. Because it didn’t end. People died, people lived, some went to prison, some didn’t. It’s the perfect reflection of life itself, told in narrative fashion in the most unpredictable of manners.
Don’t take any of that the wrong way, however. Breaking Bad is still probably the best show on TV currently, and it will indeed stand as one of the best of all time. However, the critical praise and obsessive fandom is troubling when The Wire barely squeaked to its ending, thanks only to HBO executives that saw cancelling it right up there with chopping off Michaelangelo’s hands. You don’t end the career of a genius just because it’s no longer commercially viable. For that, I can excuse everyone that was spitting mad at The Sopranos‘ non-ending. It’s just terribly disappointing (and speaks to greater concerns I have about humanity at large) that people are willing to take something good and look no further before calling it the best ever. I suppose this is why the US thinks it’s the greatest country ever. The thing is, ever is beyond our grasp, we can only say “so far”. What made The Sopranos non-end is the fact that it was about one man’s limited worldview, and the effect it had on his family. Breaking Bad has long transcended that storytelling arc when Walt killed Gus at the end of Season 4, and even then, anyone that didn’t see that coming wasn’t paying any attention.
Up to this point, Breaking Bad has been about how Walt uses his intellect to outsmart those around him to prop up his ego further. Logically, it must end with the end of his ego, because pure intellect can only carry a man so far before he is lost to the void. Walt may be a monster in the eyes of most, but he’s his own monster and that’s what makes him commendable. He blames nothing but his own pride (secretly, of course) for the path he has taken in life, and he accepts that full responsibility. Just being able to discuss the show at this length means it’s a great show, but please, stop calling it the best of all time. The best of all time would not be this predictable. Vince Gilligan, please make me eat my words next year. Until then, I’ll be staring at you with my arms crossed, mumbling about how you should give every damn award you’ve ever won to David Simon.