It’s been a long ride, but the last episode of the AMC series, Breaking Bad has aired and now long-time fans (like me) can breathe. It’s been quite a ride to see how the character of Walter White went from a high school chemistry teacher with terminal cancer to a king of meth production. Walter White is one of those guys who, it seems, played by the rules and got screwed anyway. He was, as his lawyer said in the penultimate episode, someone who was “just another douchebag with a job and three pairs of Dockers.” He didn’t say that to Walt, but that was Walt’s life before becoming person he grew to be through the course of five seasons. He looked at his life and saw himself has a huge loser who was smart, but lacked opportunities and luck that would propel him to financial success and social respect. With the diagnosis of his cancer in the first episode and the revelation that making and selling meth was a huge cash-cow (thanks to his brother in-law’s aside that’s where the big money is), Walt saw the opportunity to take his knowledge of chemistry and apply it to the money-making scheme of manufacturing methamphetamines. With the help of his former student, Jesse, he launches an operation that quickly grows into a huge payoff in terms of money. However, because Walt has finally found “that thing” he’s really good at, his character morphs into someone who can compartmentalize his life and hide the darker elements from his family — who, as he keeps saying throughout the series, is the reason he got into the meth business. He knows his time on earth is limited, so he tries to provide for them by leaving them as much money as he can before leaving this vale of tears.
We’re dealing with the world of illegal drugs. When a new player starts to cut into the business of others, they want to know who is supplying a superior product and how they can either shut him down (with a bullet between the eyes), or control him. This is where the series got more interesting (and, some would say, improbable for a guy of Walt’s background). But it’s a TV show, so you just go with it because the thing about Breaking Bad is that it continued to surprise the audience with twists and turns that were so unexpected that it was easy to see why people (myself included) got hooked. We all kept wondering “What’s next?” And Vince Gilligan (the creator of the show) didn’t disappoint his fans. He kept the story unexpected…or should I say uncertain. When Walt assumed the name of Heisenberg, those in the know could see that Walt chose this name for the way Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” in quantum mechanics showed that the more we know about a certain particle, the less uncertain we can be about its momentum. We think we know who Walt is from his family life, his love of chemistry, his desire to provide for them, but his inability to “grow a pair” and be a man in a stereotypical gender archetype. It’s only when we, as the viewer, are certain about how “particle Walt” will behave in his place in the world does he grow more uncertain in his actions when new particles are introduced. Those particles are the logistics of cooking meth without getting caught, the distribution of “the product,” the underworld of very greedy and violent drug lords, what to do with all the money rolling in, how to keep his family in dark about his new, illegal venture, and how to keep two or three steps ahead of his brother in-law — who is a DEA agent looking to find the creator of the “blue meth” that Walt cooks. You put all that together into the long arc of a narrative and you have some really wonderful elements in play that keeps the viewer off-balance, but intrigued by the story.
Breaking Bad is one dark tale, but in the course of its telling, one gets to see the many sides of its central characters that makes one sympathetic to Walter’s plight — even though he’s doing all these terrible things to achieve his supposed noble ends. There’s very little for me to criticize Vince Gilligan and his co-writers for their story. Once you accept the characters and the world they inhabit the more you can suspend the disbelief that a man of Walt’s background can do all the things that he can. Yes, there’s a certain comic book element to the show (especially in the latter seasons), but this is a show that’s supposed to entertain. It’s not a documentary. Overall, though, I was really riveted to Breaking Bad (as was most of the country). As an early adopter of the show (I started watching when the series started in 2008) I was amazed that Breaking Bad could get away with as much as it did. It just got darker and darker, but the more Vince Gilligan took me down the rabbit hole, the more I enjoyed the ride. I will miss seeing “what happens next,” but considering all the factors that were going against Walt from the outset of the show, it was only a matter of time before the uncertainty of “particle Walt” would reach his inevitable end. There were no loose ends, or vague endings for Breaking Bad. Gilligan tied the narrative up in a tight bow and basically said “Here. Watch the story of Walter White from the beginning to his eventual end and, if you want, chatter away about what you would do differently if you were in his shoes.”