News Column

The Joplin Globe, Mo., Joe Hadsall column

September 28, 2013


Sept. 28--JOPLIN, Mo. -- After this Sunday, this is it. No more "Breaking Bad."

I jumped on this train late. I didn't become a religious watcher until the fourth season had completed its run on AMC. (Thank you, Netflix.) But I'm so glad I did, because it's one of the best TV shows I've ever seen.

Despite its dark subject matter and despite the lack of truly happy moments, "Breaking Bad" has been the most enjoyable dive into depression I've ever made. It deserves every Emmy it has won, and all the anger over Emmys it didn't win. (Lookin' at you, Jeff Daniels.)

For those of you who haven't watched: "Breaking Bad" is the story of high-school chemistry teacher Walter White. Facing a diagnosis of lung cancer, yet without the means to afford the treatment, he goes into the lab and becomes a meth cook to earn the money he needs.

Show developer Vince Gilligan's description of wanting to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface is accurate. Early in the series, the show is a sort of black comedy, as the Mr. Chips-style Walter bumbles through the drug underworld, juggling gangsters with his DEA brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, who unwittingly gave Walter the idea after taking him along on a drug bust in the first episode.

In that first episode, he hooks up with Jesse Pinkman, a former student whom he failed. Jesse runs from the drug bust, and Walter tracks Jesse down to form a meth-making partnership.

The fascinating part of the show is how slowly it has unfolded. Walter was very likable in seasons one and two. In season three, we still kept rooting for him as he took out bigger and bigger targets.

But at the end of season four, you see exactly what a monster Walter has become. Heisenberg is the new Scarface. Throughout season five we have seen him run an empire, leave it, then pay the price.

It all ends this Sunday. The final episode will air, and we'll see whether Walter finally earns some redemption by doing the right thing (figuring out how to get his family off the hook and out of law enforcement's eye; owning up to Jesse) or if he is full-on, hail-to-the-king Heisenberg (rebuilding his empire; taking out those who crossed him).

Different show

This show is different from a lot of TV shows I've followed. It doesn't have a wide arc of mythology, a sci-fi angle or an engaging mystery. Before "Breaking Bad," my favorite shows were "Lost," "Firefly," "Sherlock," "Fringe," "The Walking Dead" and the like. I gave plenty of sci-fi shows a try, such as "Flashforward," "Heroes," "Revolution," "The Cape," etc.

"Breaking Bad" is like none of those. Yet, it has redefined what the perfect TV show is for me (LOT OF SPOILERS BELOW):

* Great characters. I can't think of a single throwaway character in the entire series. From lawyer Saul Goodman to Jesse's friends Badger and Skinny, every character has a specific, full purpose for being in the show.

* Realistic character issues. Each of the main characters has serious issues of their own, which play into the central drama. Walter's wife, Skyler, reacts to Walter's deceptions in a variety of heartbreaking ways. Hank, the DEA agent who tracks the elusive Heisenberg, fights his own demons, from recovering from an injury that leaves him dependent on his wife to reconciling that his own brother-in-law is a monster.

There was never a moment in the show where one of the characters develops a surprising plot twist just for the sake of giving the story a jolt.

* Slow developing scenes. One of my beefs with network TV is how scenes have to flow quickly from one to the next ("Lost" was a rare exception). The pace is brisk, so a viewer who might be channel flipping gets hooked in quickly.

Cable shows don't worry about that. They develop fan bases with good stories and cinematic scenes. They develop more slowly so that the intricacies of the story can shape the plot.

"Breaking Bad" is the slowest of the slow. The first episode I ever watched all the way through is titled "I.F.T." -- an acronym for the last three words Skyler tells Walt in the episode (it has to do with what she did with her boss, Ted). The episode was basically a played-out domestic disturbance, the latest chapter in a fighting couple's argument. In that episode, Skyler's struggle with what her husband does plays center stage as the isolation between Skyler and Walt grows.

And it riveted me. In that slow episode, the show's depth and complexity revealed itself fully. That's when I decided to start the show from the beginning.

* Outstanding music. There's hardly any music in the show, but when it's there, it's perfect. From perfect, ironic choices (the obvious "Crystal Blue Persuasion" is used perfectly) to the ambient compositions of Dave Porter (the music during the train heist is insane), the music never gets in the way of the story. So many dramatic scenes unfold with no music at all.

When the music in a show is great, it's really great. "Lost" was powerful partly because Michael Giacchino's score was omnipresent yet restrained. Thematic and anthemic, it framed key moments perfectly. Greg Edmonson's work on "Firefly" is also incredible. Compare that with the bombastic, telling-you-how-to-feel music on "Revolution" or "Under the Dome," and the difference is clear.

Finale predictions

Because so much of the show has been done right, I don't see "Breaking Bad" pulling a "Dexter" and finishing with a thud. I know what I would like to see happen:

* No appearances of Badger and Skinny. Their last appearance was that epic description of a "Star Trek" episode featuring an eating contest and a transporter. It was perfect, and that's how I want to remember them.

* Despite everyone who died, I wouldn't be angered with a reappearance of Mike Ehrmantraut. Loved his character.

* I also wouldn't mind seeing a proper funeral for Hank Schrader. Just a minute of a police procession and handing the flag to Marie. Hank earned that.

* Please, oh please, let there be a painful death for Todd. Easily one of the skeeviest neo-Nazis in TV history -- from getting prisoner Jesse two flavors of Ben and Jerry's to picking the lint off of Lydia's back -- I've wanted evil to befall him ever since he shot the kid after the train heist.

* As for Walter, I pretty much have come to terms with how he is dead. I don't think, after the reaming Walt Jr. gave him last episode, that he cares about his family anymore. He may have said he did it all for family, but it's all about pride for him. Proof: After his failed attempt to get money to his family, he calls the cops and waits at a bar in New Hampshire for the authorities to arrive. While waiting, he sees his former business partner say that all he contributed to Gray Matter (remember that? I didn't) was the name.

Walter is dead. It's only Heisenberg now.

I predict he finds a way to take out the neo-Nazis who stole his money, operations and, more importantly, his signature blue product. He is the one who delivers a hideous death to Todd, because he is the one who knocks. Sure, he'll say it's to avenge the loss of his brother-in-law. But it will be all about the return of the king. Aragorn is back in Gondor, only this time, he's wearing one of those rings.

* As for Pinkman: He gets his revenge, takes out Walter by shooting him in the stomach then watching him die, like Walter watched Jane die, then takes over the business. He becomes the new Heisenberg, puts on the hat with "Kill the King" by Megadeth playing, then looks at the camera and says "Bitch." Black screen. End of show. End of series.

That's what I'd like to see happen, anyway. But I'm pretty sure the ending will be much darker and sadder.


(c)2013 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

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