Spoiler Alert: If you aren’t caught up with Breaking Bad, in particular the end of Season 4, stop now and get caught up…then come back.
First, a little background. I was way, way late coming to this show. And it’s not like I hadn’t heard about it. Last summer I took a TV scriptwriting class with Thom Bray and a few people in the class (including Thom) would talk about the amazingness of Breaking Bad. I kept putting it off because who wants to get into something that intense when you’re already in the middle of all these intense science classes and your brain needs to relax, not amp up?
But then one day in organic chemistry class, the professor brought it up. We were learning about reductive amination, a reaction that transforms a ketone or aldehyde into an amine, and he mentioned that it’s the reaction they talk about on the show (in the famous “Yeah Science!” scene). Later that night I finished watching another show (okay, it was Gossip Girl) on Netflix and needed something new to watch and loaded up the pilot episode. And that was it. I don’t think I did anything else for the next week, at least. Instant obsession. Almost immediately, I started discussing the show with anyone who would listen, in real life and online.
One thing that surprises me over and over is how many people say it could have ended with that last episode of Season 4, “Face Off.” I completely disagree. I mean it *could* have if it had to; I read that the writers wrote the episode without knowing for sure if they would have a Season 5 or not. So if it absolutely had to be the end of the story it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the entire world, but I also don’t think it would be the best thing for the story.
I call it a “Sunset ending.” It’s like when you think of some romantic story where at the end the two lovers ride off into the sunset. It’s satisfying on some level–some turmoil has been resolved–but it’s not real. Life just isn’t that simplistic. The elements that caused turmoil for the couple, whatever they may be, will probably resurface, and they’ll fight and struggle and the story will go on. Of course, as a writer, the story you’re writing has to end somewhere, and I think endings can be one of the trickiest things to write, but there are better, more complex, more sophisticated and nuanced ways to end it.
That’s how I feel about the end of Season 4. On some levels, it was satisfying. Walt says, “I won.” Gus’s face got blown off and Walt and his family are out of (immediate) danger (that they know of). Walt and Jesse have that kinda long, awkward handshake that could be seen as a goodbye, it’s been nice cooking meth together and let’s go our separate ways. They torch the laundry and the superlab underneath, destroying all evidence. On a surface level, there were some satisfying endings.
But on a deeper level, so much had just begun. Some of it is practical. Gus said, time and again, that he had a production schedule to meet and so Walt and Jesse are going to have to deal with that in some way. A huge meth industry isn’t going to go away because Gus is dead. And I think we forget, because Gus was around for so long, that this is the way of this show. Emilio and Krazy-8 were the first potential distributors and after they were gone, there was Tuco. After Tuco there was Gus. After Gus, especially as he’s so entrenched in widespread distribution, there will be someone else, and the show has been setting up Madrigal Electromotive to be that someone else for awhile now. That’s one of the things that impresses me about the show–Madrigal was first introduced in that Los Pollos Hermanos commercial in 308 “Kafkaesque” and then developed more in Season 4. And this can take them on a whole new journey.
And then there all the things that could come of Gus’s death on the Hank front. He’s investigating Gus, and then while he’s in protective custody, Gus gets blown up with Hector (Tio) Salamanca, who Hank knows is an old cartel dude and who had just visited the DEA, requested Hank and spelled out some weird shit. And the laundry Hank asked Gomez to investigate is now also blown up. All of that’s gotta seem mighty suspicious to Hank and the DEA. And we don’t know what evidence Gus left behind. Were those camera feeds live only or saved somewhere in his office?
And of course, will Jesse find out that Walt poisoned Brock? Will Mike come back from Mexico and how will he react to Gus’s death? I have a strong feeling, because of his connection with Jesse, who did recently save his life, Mike will be working with Walt and Jesse. I think his pragmatism will outweigh any loyalty to Gus. Will Walt and Jesse go back to cooking, either to meet some production schedule, because Madrigal makes them or because they (well, mostly Walt) don’t have that much money saved up anymore? Will the cancer come back? Will we ever find out what happened with Gray Matter and Gretchen and Elliot? Will anything more come of Beneke’s death and the IRS audit?
But the biggest turning point here was with Walt and Skyler. As the family was under protective custody, Skyler was the only one of them who knew how real the threat was, and for his response to her questions to be, “I won,” well, it’s pretty callous. It’s great as a story point, Walt really feels he is Heisenberg and that he has won and can’t even help showing it, but it has to change the dynamic between them. And there’s that little thing about now she knows he’s a murderer. There was that great scene earlier in the season with Walt, Skyler and Saul when they’re talking about getting the carwash from Bogdan and she says something like, “We don’t do violence,” and looks at the other two for confirmation. Now she knows that Walt does, something she didn’t know in that pivotal moment in Season 4 when Walt gave her the choice to get out and she didn’t take it. It just has to change things between them, it has to play out.
Walt himself has stepped into a new level of Heisenberg-ness and that’s not just going to fade away. I can see him getting really reckless with it, drunk on the power of winning, really believing and behaving like he’s more badass than he actually is. I mean, he *is* badass but he also has a habit of overestimating his power. More than at any point previously in the story, Walt really wants to be a drug kingpin now. I think he’ll be itching to cook. The same may be true for Jesse, for different reasons. After that cook down in Mexico for the cartel, Jesse feels really good about his ability to do something, make something (we’ve seen his need for this on several occasions but especially during that “woodshop” speech in rehab) and I don’t see him giving that up.
All of this is not to say that some series don’t leave questions unanswered, just that with a series that pays almost OCD-level attention to detail, there’s way too much unresolved. It is completely unrealistic, in the context of this story, to think that Walt’s “I won” would last. It’s fine for Walt to take these drastic actions and not really consider the future ramifications (that’s classic Walt) but the writers are so good, and so far ahead of things that you have to imagine there’s much more in store. I mean otherwise, what? Walt wins most badassest lethalest drug kingpin in that moment and his life becomes magically great and all his cares are gone and Jesse lives happily ever after with Andrea and Brock and the destruction of Gus and the superlab doesn’t rouse any suspicions and Walt remains cancer free and family life is perfect? I don’t buy it. I don’t think this is the impression or feeling the show will end on. And this, for me, is the biggest reason the show can’t end with Season 4, why doing so would just be way too simplistic and sunset-ish.
Who knows where it will go next season, I’m just glad there is one, even though it’ll be split into two parts. Now there is some talk about a BrBa movie. At first I was a little skeptical but after thinking about it, I’m really liking the idea. They’re doing such great work on a TV show, especially with cinematography, that I can only imagine what they could do with a movie. I remember reading several interviews where Vince Gilligan said he felt like he had 13-20 episodes left of story to tell (making the allotted 16 fit perfectly in the middle of that range) but now articles are saying he has more story than will fit in the next 16. I guess we will have to keep watching to see what happens and how this epic story eventually ends.
Can’t wait for Season 5 to start on July 15th, three weeks away, baby!
- Awesomely Creative Fan-Made Breaking Bad Media
- That “Leaked” Breaking Bad Season 5 Premiere Script
- The Killing: Crime Writing, Endings and the Season 2 Finale