Monday, September 30, 2013
I must confess that I haven't had the time to listen to all of John and Chris' Breaking Boos. I started them and then just got intimidated by the sheer number of them and gave up. I will still have to listen to them all and maybe chime in (boo in?) on their discussion in the future. For now, I just wanted to wrestle with my thoughts over the finale and get some much needed blog writing down. It may not be about a film technically, but BREAKING BAD is surely the most cinematic creation in television history, so it feels a worthy topic to break my silence. Before I get into it, I just want to say that this final season of BREAKING BAD has been a marvel, and that Gilligan and crew have more than lived up to the brilliant foundation they established six years ago. They hit it way out of the park. BREAKING BAD, as a totality, represents the tightest and greatest narrative in television history. Looking back upon the show as a whole, my eyes are completely open to this now. Bravo Gilligan and crew. Bravo.
I don't really have the time or patience to get into a full, detailed analysis of the entire episode, so I’m just going to cut right into the last few moments of the series because I think they are executed perfectly:
(SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS. Seriously don't read if you haven't seen the finale and ever intend to).
Here at the end of all things, we have Walt as teacher/father to his two students/sons in Todd and Jesse. He watches one die and lets the other go free. Or in even more symbolic terms, he watches the worst side of himself die and lets the humanity he has neglected go free. It’s a meaningful moment for Walt, but unquestionably an even more meaningful one for Jesse. The poor guy as been through so much, and all at the hands of the ruthless, implacable force that is Heisenberg. When Walt tosses Jesse the gun and gives him one last command, it may be the most expected though wholly essential moment of the entire episode. Jesse, in his ultimate moment of spiritual unboundedness, refuses Walt’s final directive, and rides away a free man. Perhaps some were wishing he would shoot Walt when given the chance, but there was no need to - literally or figuratively, as Walt’s wound will claim what’s left of his life momentarily regardless. Besides, Jesse has already killed Heisenberg. When he strangles Todd and breaks free of his chains, he has freed himself from the physical embodiment of Heisenberg’s cold, clinical ambition. I’m sure others have noted Todd’s position in this latter half of season 5 as being essentially a surrogate for the retired Heisenberg. He’s the meth kingpin, feigning public normalcy as he courts Lydia, keeping Jesse a prisoner for the sake of his product, callously destroying his rivals – replace Jesse’s physical chains with Walt’s psychological ones and you have the classic Heisenberg set-up down to a tee.
But back to Walt (probably the way an outrageous egomaniac such as himself would want me to proceed). In killing the skinhead brotherhood, Lydia, and allowing Jesse to kill Todd and then flee, there is, of course, a sense of The Fall of the House of Usher here - a madman burning down the hell he hath wrought and letting whatever specks of heaven he ever had fly away to search for a new space to call home. Is this redemption? Probably not. Walt’s still an inimical bastard merely finishing off what he started, leaving no loose ends, drawing everything full circle. It’s less about notions of revenge or redemption per se and more about destroying the hideous simulacrum of his own rotten model. He is asserting dominance over his own grotesque progeny, and doing it in his typically monstrous fashion.
And yet I can’t help but have a shred of pity for this wretch of monster, even as I know that he deserved much worse than he got. Perhaps it is because in this final episode the monster has been slightly made human again, if only for a few fleeting moments. As we sift through the wreckage that Walt has left in his destructive wake, it can be easy to forget the abject man from the first episode, struck down by the cruelty of aleatory time and handed a ticking time-bomb for a death sentence. Earlier in the episode, when he tells Skylar he built the empire and piled up the bodies all for himself and that doing it made him feel “alive,” we utterly believe him. Here is a man who more than he ever wanted to provide for his family or build an empire, at his most fragile moment of desire, wanted to viciously master life in defiance of the way it had so suddenly and viciously mastered him. In a lot of ways, as others have mentioned, Walt embodies the nightmarish vision of the deferred American dream. But maybe even more so, he tragically embodies the image of the rebellious ant, determined to fight against the indifferent, overwhelming forces of nature that seem hellbent on destroying his hill. In the final moments of Walt’s death, when we see him standing at the heart of his creation (notice how in that last panning shot the pipes above him form the outline of an RV), it’s easy to see Ozymandias crumpling beneath his own path of cruelty, but also that little ant – shuffling pieces of sand as the rain comes down.