Breaking Bad: End Times, the Penultimate Show of the Penultimate Season

Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Bryan Cranston as Walt – where to from here?
As we barrel towards next week’s season finale, Breaking Bad has me as breathless as anything I’ve ever seen on TV. Part of me is almost jealous for those people who haven’t seen it yet and get to catch up later on DVD, because so many times this season an episode ends and I want nothing more than to hit “next” and keep going. If you are out there and are planning on catching up on Breaking Bad some weekend soon, lock your doors, order a pizza and don’t expect to see anyone until Monday morning at the office when you’ll be like me—the guy who won’t stop talking about Breaking Bad.

This season has been a wild ride. Most notably, this has been the season where Walt took a backseat. Still the main character, Walter White gave up both screen time and story (a brave move for star and producer Bryan Cranston) to let the other characters shine. And shine they have.

My wife is sick of me telling her that Gus and Mike are the coolest duo on TV. Unless Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson and Robert, the guy with half a face from Boardwalk Empire, get together. They might give Gus & Mike a run for their money.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito as Gus
But until that happens we have the baddest of all badasses in drug kingpin Gus Fring. Expect to see Giancarlo Esposito on the Emmy stage next year because he has had a half dozen or so scenes that would make any actor jealous. From his death defying march into a line of sniper fire, just daring them to kill him, to his post-self-poisoning cry that Don Eladio is dead and anyone else who wants a piece of Gus should come outside and face him—and prepare to die in the process. Strong words for a guy who needs help standing upright with his gut full of tainted tequila.

The guy doing the holding, Mike (Jonathan Banks), is possibly my favorite right hand man of all time. His laconic delivery and matter-of-fact toughness has been exhilarating to watch as he has taken Jesse under his wing.

Actor Aaron Paul did snag an Emmy for playing Jesse, but I started the season worried because Jesse began in a dark, near-catatonic state of grief over the shooting of Gale. Sad, sorely missed Gale. (don’t get me started)

Luckily Jesse’s PTSD was short lived and he has blossomed into a second nucleus which the show can revolve around when Walter is off making more foolish decisions. Gus, always ten steps ahead as Walter says, masterfully manipulated Jesse into a crucial lynchpin in Gus’ operation. It remains to be seen whether that decision to bring Jesse back from the brink will be a bad one for Gus.

Series creator Vince Gilligan has been open about the fact that Jesse was originally supposed to die at the end of season one. What a different series it would have been.

That choice to keep Jesse alive highlights one of Breaking Bad’s strengths—the ability to adapt. There have been many times when I wondered how the hell they were going to write themselves out of a corner they painted the show into. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

The show’s writers even recognized that Walt’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) was becoming one note and unnecessary. How great would it have been if the writers of, say, The Sopranos had actually taken the time to notice that Dr. Melfi was superfluous after season three.

Breaking Bad - Anna Gunn as Skyler with Bryan Cranston as Walt
What do you do when your marriage takes a turn for the illegal?
Bringing Skyler into Walt’s secret life as a meth cook has been an added dose of adrenalin for a show already pumped as thick with it as Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. Skyler has embarked on her own slew of bad decisions, like Walter, all done with the best of intentions. Let’s just say as a crime couple they are no Bonnie and Clyde.

Last night’s penultimate episode of the season provided one of the most crucial moments in Walter’s growth as a character. Faced with the execution of his family he has once again taken extraordinary measures to keep them safe. In prepping for them to go under protection he finally admitted out loud that he knew it was time to pay for his own actions. To take the consequences of his own decisions.

So many times Walter had something to hide behind—his cancer, his dedication to his family—but now Walt is growing up and admitting his role in the criminal empire he helped create. And he has acknowledged his own feelings that it may not end well for him. “It’s time to stop delaying the inevitable,” he said last night.

For Walt, who spent much of this current season angrily making things go from bad to worse with his boss, Gus, this honesty was a major milestone, unlike the lie he and Skyler concocted to excuse away the sudden influx of cash rolling in.

The other player that ran the risk of being sidelined only to rise to the forefront as the ticking time bomb set to explode Gus and Walt’s business is Hank (Dean Norris), Walt’s brother-in-law and a DEA agent. His post-shooting hiatus from the force brought another scary start to the season as he sat, bedridden and wheelchair bound, being a real jerk to his wife and not interested in his job any more. But once the fire was reignited, Hank has been within spitting distance of cracking the whole operation wide open, if only his former bosses would believe him and Walt would stop getting in his way.

This entire season has been a slow tightening of the noose around Walter’s neck. And boy is he dancing fast on the end of the rope trying to survive. Now, he has taken the fight to Gus. Damn, I wish I could hit that “next” button right now.

So one episode left and then we face the reality that only one season exists after that. When all is said and done I won’t be sad though. Better to go out strong than to string things along. The story the team behind Breaking Bad is telling cannot continue. As Walt himself said, it’s time to stop avoiding the inevitable.


Eric Beetner is an ex-musician, one time film director, and a working television editor and producer, as well as author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and one really great dog. His upcoming novella Dig Two Graves will be out later this summer, along with short stories in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, and Grimm Tales.

Comments

  1. Cathy Zhu Chen

    Gus Fring’s character is one of all-time favorite criminal masterminds and I really don’t think Walt is his match. He’s made it very clear since the boxcutter episode that he doesn’t tolerate redunancy. Once someone becomes replaceable, their life is as good as forfeit. Since Season 1, I’ve felt ambivalent about Jesse’s character but his troubled dynamic with “Mr. White” (which is what he still calls Walt even though school days are long over) continues to define the act of breaking bad in Walt’s challenge of Gus’ authority. The question is–can and will Jesse break bad from “Mr. White”?

  2. Chuk Goodin

    That first paragraph totally sums up the show. I hate when an episode ends.

    I also noticed Jesse calling Walt “Mr. White” even while literally holding a gun to his head.

  3. Mack

    I’ve thought about how I would like the series to end. What if Skyler ends up the boss. She has been getting tougher and more resourceful. She sent a couple of goons to straighten out Ted. She understands business. It might be fun to see her the top dog and Walt the whipped puppy.

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