So here it finally comes. After six years AMC will begin running Breaking Bad’s final run of eight episodes, and the hype machine is at a all-time high for the celebrated crime drama! Newspapers, blogs, forums and various other media outlets are exploding while reminiscing on the show that has rightfully gone on to be considered one of the very best dramas to ever air on television, and it’s easily the most anticipated series finale since Lost. It’s a particularly massive feeling for me, as Breaking Bad is a show I’ve kept with right from the beginning, unlike many of it’s viewers who tuned in late to party. I watched the show evolve from an underdog (which plenty of people compared to Weeds), into a pop-culture phenomenon (and something no one in their right mind would compare to Weeds!). It’s been a really fascinating process for me, as it really is the first show I’ve watched from start to end while it was airing. All of my other favorite shows (The Wire, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, South Park, Mad Men, etc.) I only started viewing after they had already completed their run, or I caught up with them in later seasons. Breaking Bad is a show that has essentially matured with me, and as early as season 2 people were referring to me as “The Breaking Bad Guy”. I might be sounding overtly dramatic here, but in a way a legacy of my own will be ending with that of Vince Gilligan’s masterful neo-noir-cum-black-comedy-cum-psychodrama, but what a hell of a show we’re talking about.
I remember the first time I heard about Breaking Bad, and now it really does seem to carry the mark of an omen. I saw an article for it in New York Magazine, and it immediately caught my interest. I had watched Malcolm in the Middle as a teen, and was interested to see Bryan Cranston take on a drama. Of more importance however, I was super into crime fiction at the time, as I was reading a lot of crime comics (Criminal, Scalped, Sin City), and just devoured these bloody stories that were certainly removed from reality, but closer to it than the fantasy and sci-fi stories I had previously indulged in. I had started to watch Dexter at that time too and while I was fully enjoying it, I still felt it was missing a bit of the punch that crime comic books had. I decided I’d give Breaking Bad a shot, although I think I never expected to watch more than a few episodes.
Needless to say though, the pilot episode just blew me away. Not only was it’s head-and-shoulders above any other contemporary show in terms of style and mood, but I valued that the show had a black sense of humor and non-linear format to it (not unlike a Vonnegut novel). It didn’t take me long to sing the show’s praises and I did indeed find a small group of friends to watch the series with, all while most other people I recommended it too simply dismissed it for the time being. Unfortunately, due to the writer’s strike Breaking Bad’s run was fairly brief that year, with the first season concluding after just 7 episodes airing. The show wouldn’t return for another whole year, but during that time Breaking Bad’s existence remained a constant fixture in my head.
When season 2 finally did arrive, I found myself even more immersed in the show than even before. The season was even more unpredictable and engaging than the first, and it also made me seek out some connected forms of entertainment. The summer after Breaking Bad season 2 aired, I would go on to watch the entire series of The Wire, upon hearing it was an even better crime show (it was), and shortly after that I would go on to purchase the box set for the brilliant sketch comedy series Mr. Show, after hearing that Breaking Bad actor Bob Odenkirk was best known previously for creating that show. In other words, I’m not just thankful to Vince Gilligan for the hours of entertainment he’s giving me in the form of his own show, but also for introducing me to several other great ones in the process.
When season 3 premiered, I began to not just follow the show’s weekly premieres, but also scourged as many press interviews and reviews as I could. I would tell my friends interesting factoids pertaining to the show’s production, such as how Jessie was originally supposed to be killed in the first season, or how Vince Gilligan had actually cast two ex-conflicts to play as The Twins. I also feel that this was the first season of Breaking Bad that really cranked out “holy shit!” moments like it was the pope’s outhouse, from Hank’s brutal gun battle with The Twins, to the season’s closing image of poor Gabe getting a most untimely fate. I honesty started to feel bad that people hadn’t been watching the show, as this was above-and-beyond the best thing airing on TV at the time. I started to wonder though if the show would primarily remain merely a critic’s darling, or if it ever would obtain the large audience that it so richly deserved…then season 4 happened.
By the end of season 4 it felt like everyone had finally caught up to the fact that Breaking Bad was the bee’s knees. The first three seasons had been put on Netflix shortly beforehand, which gave newcomers the ideal means to get caught up. Not only could they ingest the continuity-heavy show at a swift rate, but they did so in the sanctuary of the internet which promoted conversation and forum discussion. So yes, Breaking Bad had finally found the means to extend their viewership and just in time too, as season 4 was flat out amazing! The tensions, the build up, the pacing, the set pieces, everything about the show’s fourth season was pitch perfect, and it climaxed with one of the most memorable faceoffs (literally) in television history. Also, this was the season that completed Walt’s journey from a sympathetic character into a villain unlike most. His dissent had been immensely twisted, but perfectly calculated by the writers who knew when to pull back when necessary. Walt was no longer sympathetic, but that didn’t make him any less compelling. I was so immensely proud with this season of Breaking Bad, and I also was glad to hear that Vince Gilligan would end the show after a subsequent 16-episode deal. Breaking Bad’s story was finally coming to an end, and I was so eager to see how it would.
Thing is, as the first half of the final season began to rear it’s head, I was starting to realize that maybe I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the newfound popularity Breaking Bad was receiving. Sure, I was glad that Gilligan and his writers were certainly getting more recognition and lucrative gain, but I had a sense of a child-like appreciation for the series, where a part of me wanted to keep it as my little secret. A selfish feeling perhaps, but I noticed there was some backlash to the show when it got popular. As the fifth season aired I was as enthralled by it yet again, but other people I talked to said they were a bit disappointed. They mostly gave me petty reasons for it, such as bringing up why a highly skilled killer like Mike would let someone sneak up behind him, or that they felt the series wasn’t going anywhere anymore as Walter was now pure evil. All of this got me thinking: will people be upset with the show’s ending? Similar series that went on to massive popularity like The Sopranos and Lost had endings that fans complained were half-assed (I agree on the latter but not the former), while less popular shows like The Wire and Six Feet Under had endings that were immediately lauded. When anything gets this popular it’s near impossible to appeal to everyone when it comes time to curtain close, but if there’s one thing I’m sure about Breaking Bad it’s that it won’t leave any loose ends. Throughout the show’s run, I’ve seen Vince and his writers return to story elements you never would of expected, and it all tied so well with the show’s syncopation. If there’s one thing I can count on with the fans, it’s that they want every little last bit of story drained from this thing. THAT will definitely happen.
I will be writing reviews/recaps for each of these eight episodes as they air for this site, and yes I will be calling this column The Legend Ends. It is ostensibly borrowed from the tagline to last summer’s Dark Knight Rises sure, but come on, which franchise do you think deserves that moniker more at this point? Feel free to post predictions on how Sunday’s premiere will go in the comments section of this page. I for one have little idea, and I’d like to keep it that way…for the moment.