Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Sad – Looking To Life After Breaking Bad

First appeared on Blogcritics.

felina 2I woke up this morning – a beautiful day here in the New York City area – and I felt a deep (and it will probably be an abiding) sadness. While I have anxiously waited for this day to arrive, facing the series finale of Breaking Bad also elucidates an irrefutable fact: after today there will be no more new shows. That is why this morning I am breaking sad and then some.

Recently on AMC there has been a Breaking Bad marathon, which has allowed BB junkies like myself a chance to flip on the TV and drop into an episode. Now, while I have seen them all over the years, it is like catching up with an old friend. How much fun it was to see Jesse (Aaron Paul) jumping out the neighbor’s window in episode 1 of season 1, after having a fling with the woman next door to the meth lab where Hank (Dean Norris) and the DEA were arresting his accomplice. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), along for a ride with his brother-in-law to see what his job is like, incredulously watches Jesse jump into the street, the woman throwing his clothes after him, and he utters the line “Pinkman?”

To say that scene brought a smile to my face was an understatement, but it was followed by a precipitous frown when I recalled how Walt says “Pinkman” in an entirely different way in episode 14 of season 5, basically giving up the guy who was like an adopted son to him. In a way it’s a great qualifier, how far we came from those first episodes, which while having drama and danger seemed to have much more humor in them. In this recent season the specter of fear and death are unrelenting, with only Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) providing any glint of smile for me. Now, with him packed off to Omaha to manage a Cinnabon for unsuspecting customers, any hope of humor is gone for episode 16.

felina 1I suppose I saw this coming, knew all along that things would end poorly, but you live sometimes in a fog of your own creation. Sooner or later all of Walt’s actions had to coalesce into one big mushroom cloud of accountability, but the collateral damage may be just too much for us (well, at least me) to take. Not only am I facing the fact that some characters on the show are in danger of imminent death (Skyler, Jesse, Walt. Jr., Holly, Huell, and yes, even Walt) but I am also dealing with knowing tomorrow morning means Breaking Bad is done. Yes, there will be the inevitable DVD collection – one which promises to have amazing extras as well – but it won’t be the same any more. No new episodes mean exactly what it is – the end!

I have allowed myself (with two young children there is no other way to say it) to get pulled into the extended viewing of only certain TV series. I pick and choose mostly because I don’t have the time to become invested in too many shows because they take serious time away from other things (like playing with toys or watching Disney Junior). So the shows that I chose and have loved that have ended their run – 24, The Sopranos, The Shield, Lost – are gone and, while I felt some loss afterwards about their absence, it is nothing compared to Breaking Bad.

I suppose I became inextricably involved with these characters because show creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan saw to it that these people living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, became so real. Whether the characters were good or bad and if they were regular players or even just briefly seen, a visceral connection was made that kept me wanting more. That is a credit to Gilligan, the writers, directors, and actors. This series became an addiction, and I think that is why now, facing the inevitable end, I am not prepared for my ensuing and painful withdrawal in life without the show.

The thought of character deaths is also disturbing (whether they are actual deaths or disappearances). I don’t like that Huell is just gone, like Richie Cunningham’s brother on Happy Days who ran upstairs with his basketball and was never seen again. No explanation, nothing. I hope (and it will be difficult and probably impossible) loose ends like Huell are tied up, but I am not counting on it. Maybe we will see more of Huell in Better Call Saul, the new show coming from Vince Gilligan that I am assuming will have lots more humor thanks to Odenkirk’s presence.

As for now I fear that we will see annihilation in tonight’s episode that will be unprecedented in a TV series. Yes, one can say that almost everyone died on Lost, but that was more a case of perception and the characters (and the audience) catching up to what was a pretty obvious fact all along. Here we have living and breathing people, characters we have come to care about deeply, and they are not safe – and read this carefully: none of them are safe. None of them.

I believe that “justice” will be fleeting because this is Breaking Bad and not some series that was written by guys who forgot what the characters did in the last episode. There has been an arc of accountability on this show, and eventually people get what’s coming to them – think Gus, Mike, Tuco, the twins, and so on. However, there are also those who didn’t deserve to die but did so anyway – Gale, Jane, Drew Sharp, and Andrea. The truth is that, unlike on other shows, anyone was expendable at anytime.

Therefore, I believe there will be a bloodletting tonight. I think Skyler, Walt, Jesse, and even Walt Jr. are on the list to meet their maker. I also feel like Gilligan (who wrote and directed “Felina”) will make sure that Todd, Uncle Jack, and company are cut to shreds by a man dying of cancer who happens to have an M60 machine gun. Lydia, Gretchen, and Elliot will probably be spared – as a way of saying that the machinations of the bigger world will go on, even as some people live and some people die.

felina 3My thinking is the survivors will be Marie, baby Holly, and Brock. Wouldn’t they make a stranger than strange family unit? One has to never forget that Drew Sharp died for nothing, and when Gilligan took that giant step – allowing Todd (Jesse Plemons) to shoot the kid for no other reason than target practice, we went where we never expected to go. If that kid on the bike could be shot like that, anything is possible and anyone can die.

So now we are facing the end of Breaking Bad. I am sure there will be plenty of tears at 10:15 EST, and then we can all tune into Talking Bad directly afterwards and watch Chris Hardwick try to make sense of it all. Get out the Kleenex and beverage of your choice and prepare yourself for “Felina.” Unless I am wrong, none of us will have ever seen anything like it and perhaps never will again.

Photo credits: AMC

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