I suppose there’s something to be said for sticking with a TV show from Day One.
(WARNING: SERIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD)
Hello, my name is Katie, and I am a “Breaking Bad” noob. The show has been on the air for 5 years, but I only just started watching within the last 2 months. It all began when one of our loyal YH writers, Sarah Osman, invited me to attend a musical co-written by her sister that sends-up the smash-hit AMC show. I was trepidatious, considering I had barely ever watched a frame of the show. I knew the gist, but I was afraid that all the little nuances and in-jokes would be lost on me. As it turned out, the show was fantastic, and actually served as a perfect remedial course on the show leading up to the premiere of the second half of Season 5 on August 11. I knew the series finale was coming, so I decided to take my own crash course on “Breaking Bad”.
Yes, I admit that my primary reason for getting into the show was so that I could be a part of the series finale. There is just something magical about millions of people all experiencing art simultaneously. Even in this day and age when watching live TV has gone the way of the 8-track, people still love to tune in to a television event in real-time. The advent of social media adds to this unique connectivity. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to experience this show that clearly has meant so much to so many people. For 5 years, my Twitter and Facebook feeds would be clogged with #BreakingBad posts every Sunday night – in a rare twist, they were almost ALWAYS brimming with awe and excitement. Seriously, I don’t think I ever saw a single NEGATIVE post about “Breaking Bad”. Obviously, this show was something special. Obviously, I was missing something. Better jump on the bandwagon before it was too late!
Thus, I dove headfirst into the meth-addled sea, including watching all of the first-half Season 5, the first 4 episodes of Season 1, and as many in between as I could fit in before the finale. If there were any holes that needed filling, the Breaking Bad Wiki was happy to help. In two short months, I was up to speed. I was ready to tune in at 9pm sharp on Sunday, September 29, 2013.
75 minutes later, I found myself staring at the TV screen wondering, “…That’s it?” All the posts I had seen on Twitter (including those from East Coasters who had seen the finale first) were all nothing but praise, so I had high hopes. And yet, I came away from it feeling rather unmoved. It all just seemed too obvious, too anti-climactic. Not to say there weren’t some great moments – I audibly gasped along with Elliott and Gretchen when laser pointers suddenly appeared on their chests; I shouted “STEVIA!” that moment when I (and the rest of the world) suddenly realized who that vial of ricin was for; and I think we were all felt a sense of justice when Jesse took out Todd. Other than that, I felt a distinct lack of… drama. I was hoping for something on the scale of, say, “Ozymandias”. Now THAT was an epic episode. I guess there was something eerily poetic about Walt dying in the middle of the mega-meth lab he helped to build, not of the cancer that was already killing him but of a gunshot wound he sustained trying to protect Jesse. On paper, that’s beautiful. But in reality, I was left cold by the execution. And it appears I am the only one.
So, this begs the question – was my reaction to the finale so different simply because I was only with the show for two months?
Like any relationship in life, it takes time to build up emotional attachments. The earlier you get out, the less impact it has and the easier it is to move on. The average “Breaking Bad” fan has had FIVE YEARS to establish deep bonds with these characters. Thus I wonder if the positive fan reaction to the finale wasn’t greatly in part simply because these fans were saying goodbye after 5 long years. I was still in the beginning stages of this relationship; I had not yet developed the emotional investment, and thus perhaps I was viewing the finale from a more objective, detached angle.
I’ll use “Frasier” as an example here. “Frasier” was one of my favorite TV shows ever, but I think we can all objectively agree that it did not have the best series finale. It was also a bit obvious, and fairly cheesy – Marty gets married, Daphne has her baby, and Frasier skips town on a whim to pursue a woman we’re supposed to believe is the love of his life (even though he had just met her a few episodes prior). Granted, the show was canceled rather suddenly, so the writers had to scramble to wrap things up. However, I expected way more from a show that had won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series FIVE FREAKING YEARS IN A ROW. But ya know what? I was still emotional during that finale. Not because it was good, but because it was OVER. These characters that I had grown to love were now going away forever. Period.
So it may have been the same for the millions who tuned in to the “Breaking Bad” finale last night. Was it brilliant? I propose that it was not. Was it expected? I propose that it was. But in the end, only two things matter:
(1) The legacy of the show, which is unsurpassed. No matter how it ended, the journey was the key. We all knew from Episode 1 that Walter White had a death sentence. The point of the show was witnessing his decline and how exactly his end would come.
(2) The loyal, hardcore fans were satisfied. (Or “sadisfied”, as one of my Facebook friends termed it.) When all is said and done, those millions of people who have stood by Walt, Jesse, Skyler, Hank, and all the rest since January 20, 2008, got the ending they wanted. Creator Vince Gilligan had the good timing of running a TV series during the height of the social media movement, and more than ever he could gauge audience reaction and expectations in a more intimate manner than ever before. He knew his fans, and he gave them exactly the closure that they hoped for.
Breaking up is hard to do, and Vince let his fans down mercifully. I, on the other hand, made a clean break before things got too serious. But that doesn’t mean “Breaking Bad” wasn’t a phenomenal show. Objectively.