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Monday, August 12, 2013

No Happy Endings – Why Breaking Bad Will Fade to White


First appeared on Blogcritics.

bad 2 Let me make this clear – Walter White (the always excellent Bryan Cranston) of AMC’s Breaking Bad is the most evil, wonderful, messed up, pernicious, and needy protagonist in television history. He makes Tony Soprano (with all due respect to the late great James Gandolfini) seem like a choir boy in some respects. If you take all of what he has done – or failed to do – White is more deserving of true justice and eternal damnation than Soprano, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis in The Shield), or J.R. Ewing (the late Larry Hagman in Dallas). While all those TV bad boys had their bad and good sides, White is the worst and (dare I say) best of them all.

bad 1This is why I believe show creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan has crafted an ending for White that is deserving of his stature on the TV landscape. I believe that Walter White (along with his alter ego Heisenberg) is going to meet a grim and well deserved ending. You could disagree with me, arguing that DVD sales impel all logic and that no one wants to purchase six seasons of a series where the main character they loved (or loved to hate) dies. I believe this is why Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland in 24) never died, as well as Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, or J.R. Ewing. The viewer likes to believe the character endures – and holds out hope for the future sequel or movie with the same character.

So I believe that Walter will go out, but not with a bang but a whimper. His wife Skylar White (the amazing Anna Gunn) is the mother of his children and loves him, but she also states the obvious again and again. When she tells Walter that she will leave him only when his cancer returns, I think it is foreshadowing of how the show will end. Walter is not going to go out as Heisenberg in a hail of gunfire; no, he is going to be Walter White dying in a hospital bed.

I have thought about this one for a long time, ever since the last episode. The only fitting end for Walter is this way out. He will fulfill the promise of his name (White), and instead of The Sopranos fade to black ending which infuriated fans of the show, I believe Walter will succumb to cancer, his final moment fading to white all alone in that bed, abandoned by the family he professed to love so much that he endangered their lives. There have been many TV protagonists over the years that fans have grown to love or hate. This is what happens, especially when a series has success and goes on for years (sometimes too many). Can you imagine if NYPD Blue ended with Dennis Franz’s character, Sipowitz, dying in a hail of gunfire? What of another AMC series Mad Men? How will people react if Don Draper (Jon Hamm) really does jump out a window to his death (as depicted in the show’s opening credits)?

Mostly television creators and producers play it safe. I can only think back (long in the memory banks) to Rich Man, Poor Man – Book II when the series ended with Rudy Jordache (Peter Strauss) dying from a gunshot wound (from the evil Falconetti played by incomparably great bad guy actor William Smith). That was a long time ago, and that happened because Strauss wanted out, and it was a long time before video of a series was available for purchase. Maybe the producers would have reconsidered if the show appeared now.

So, maybe I am going out on a limb, but Walter White will die because he deserves to die. He does not require any fanfare when he dies, no tributes of any kind, because what he and Jesse (Aaron Paul) did – creating crystal meth as if it were time to make the donuts – is unconscionable. No matter what the initial motivation, no matter how devastating his cancer diagnosis, no matter how worried he was about his family and their future, there are no valid excuses for Walter White.

bad 3If you need proof, recall the episode “Dead Freight” in season 5 when Todd (Jesse Plemons) kills the boy on the bike. Rarely has a series ever gone there, allowing a child to die so needlessly and ruthlessly. Todd’s murder of the boy sort of confirms everything for me – they are all beyond redemption – Jesse, Walter, Todd, and company. They are in a business with no humanity, no heart, and "justice" might even be just too good for them.

I am not predicting what will happen to the rest of them. I suspect Skylar and the kids will be safe (though that’s not a lock either), Jesse will probably go off the deep end or maybe kill himself. I doubt he can go on living with what he has done. I do stand by what I have said about Walter; he will do the opposite of what Neil Young once wrote, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.” Walter will fade away to nothingness, leaving behind a legacy that no one will wish to talk about or remember. Perhaps that will be the greatest justice for the greatest TV protagonist of all time.

Photo credits: AMC

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