I don’t know what’s worse: being scared to watch “Breaking Bad” every week because of the terrifying behavior of Walter White or imagining a TV landscape, less than a dozen episodes away, that’s bereft of this riveting monster?
I’m not joking when I share that I’m tense through every episode this season, sure that I’m going to be shocked but unsure as to when. After last year’s descent into madness, I found myself twisted into a moral pretzel trying to both justify abhorrent behavior and root for criminals to get away with it.
This year, there’s no gray area. Everything feels heavier – shadows are darker, expressions hide hideous intentions and every gun is definitely going off. In previous seasons, humor and outrageousness were played up. This time, there’s no backing away from the consequences of deliberate acts that touch on every one of the seven deadly sins.
Gilligan’s promise to turn Walter White “from Mr. Chips into Scarface” sounds like a runaway line from a pitch meeting, but the very real demonstration of it is difficult to watch. When you start out liking, caring about and relating to a character, watching him or her shift into behavior you increasingly can’t understand, excuse or forgive sets you adrift.
If characters question themselves or at least acknowledge the wrongness of their choices, you can still relate to them. But when their corruption is so deep that they are oblivious to the disasters they leave in their wake, you start to root against them, like the majority of the characters on the show.
At the core is the chilling performance Bryan Cranston delivers every week as Walter White turns into Colonel Kurtz. Everyone in the supporting cast is as essential, but the relationship between Cranston’s White and Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman continues to be one of the most unusual and heartbreaking I’ve ever seen. Will Jesse ever find out how many human sacrifices Walter’s made in the name of continuing their partnership? Will Hank, played by Dean Norris, finally reach the end of his investigation into Heisenberg’s empire of blue meth? Can Schuyler, played by Anna Gunn, reach a breaking point? Can I make it through an episode without an “Oh my God, what did he just do?”
I admire a show creator’s commitment to knowing when to end. If you have a trajectory for a story, then you know exactly at what point the story stops. For an actor, it must be difficult to part with the role of a lifetime, no matter how dark or disturbing a place you have to go to in order to conjure it up. For an audience, it’s both a relief to get closure but a disappointment knowing that these characters are locked away for good.
In delivering a final season, split in two, that’s painful in its intensity and terrifying in its darkness, Gilligan rewards and punishes the longtime “Breaking Bad” viewer equally. It’s a fitting end to a show that was never more right than when it went very wrong.