WARNING, THIS ARTICLE DOES CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS.
With TV’s hottest show this year promising to end on the high side of drama (if there ever was an understatement!) this Sunday in the US, and airing on UK Netflix on Monday (30th Sept), fans have gone into overdrive trying to figure out exactly what is in store for Walt & Co. Indeed, the series build-up and the penultimate episode do point to complete destruction – the karmic kickback we knew was just around the corner, that last crippling blow – out of the many our man’s faced so far and overcome with bad-ass genius and resourcefulness. For all those rooting for the meth king-pin here, well, empiric evidence would suggest he ought to get away with it, because, hey- this is Walt White we are talking about, the ‘smartest man we know’, and he will find a way out – whether we want it or not, after all the monstrous things he’s done to the people around him. The producers are tight-lipped about the ending of course, the teaser only teases us with glimpses, and only one thing is clear – it will be a definitive end.
It’s interesting how Breaking Bad has steadily picked up such a huge fan-following – especially for a show which started on slow-burn mode and took its own sweet time (three seasons!) to simmer up to a real pot-boiler. It’s not just about the faith of die-hard fans, or a simple desire to see the underdog get his dues (the way one does while morphing from powerless, rather bullied high-school teacher to ruthless, much-feared drug-lord, ahem), or even Netflix. Maybe it’s the way Walt decides to do an FTW and get his own back from the doorway to death – hesitantly at first, for the highly ‘justified’ cause of providing for his family after his cancer leaves them penniless, and filled with doubts and dilemmas. It has us all rooting for him – even toward the highly questionable role of a crafty and compunctions-less criminal. We don’t realize when the admiration turns to horror. For a lot of fans though, it is still about how the awesome Heisenberg totally turns the tables on his writ fate. After all, it is quite a powerful and disturbingly comforting thought – how a helpless guy can survive with his craft and craftiness, should he just have the balls to let go of all the morality, and should he want it badly enough. And then again, we have this tale of the dark alter ego that takes over and corrupts the good guy completely- that vulnerable family-guy we grow to champion – and turns him into a megalomaniac monster, who no longer has any priority to his original objective (which he uses to lie to himself to validate all his actions) and who actually enjoys all the violence. In a quiet creepy scene early into his metamorphosis, we are shown how he literally gets off on the power-trip, as if the only thing that makes him come alive in his otherwise miserable existence is his parallel and secret life of lies, betrayals and substantial blood-shed. He shows no remorse for any of it, and goes about his work with chilling mechanical precision – a genius the world rejected and who’s now broken uncontrollably bad. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of The Anti-hero, worthy of the ranks of Darth Vader, the Joker, Tony Soprano and Dexter. We loved them, and we love Heisenberg, the not-so-reluctant monster who does not care about the lines (or lives) he crosses – simply because that is the hand he’s dealt and that is how he chooses to deal with it.
He is bullied at every step, he has Skyler for a wife (‘nuff said!), and he’s dying for heaven’s sake! – yes, if ever there was a man deserving of our moral reprieve, it would have to be Walter White. And just when we get comfortable with the idea of watching Walt grow into a powerful drug-lord, overcoming sticky situations and inexplicably caring more for his inept but very humanly messed-up accomplice (and one-time student and all-time junkie) Jesse Pinkman – we also get to witness the attrition of his soul over the accumulation of his empire of crime. It is a fascinating, riveting watch – all unfolding with the slow, compelling and believable drama of reality TV (but so much more real, and intelligent!). The inability and unwillingness to judge the right from the wrong, the uncertainty of situations and human emotions, the voyeuristic pleasure of watching someone else’s nasty, dysfunctional family get what it deserves (Oh Skyler, Marie and Hank, you are all such unpleasant characters!) – these are the themes writers of the show have played on, and with great success. Walt, ostensibly, is quite possibly the only character deserving of our sympathy. His steady rise to crime, from cooking meth in a humble trailer (where he symbolically loses his pants to the desert), is perhaps one we cheer on. It is scandalously delicious how he lives a double life and quietly emerges as the anonymous power whose name gives him such profound gratification – the real man of the family no matter what Skyler and the rest of the ignorant world thinks. Perhaps, a part in us wants to see Heisenberg rise, in the hope that his fall would be just as devastating, and that the name he’s so fond of making people repeat and fear (“Say my Name”), is the only legacy and writing on the wall he gets to keep.
There’s no doubt about this one thing though – BrBa’s an insanely well-crafted saga, with all the elements of a gripping crime-drama – it’s unpredictable with unthinkable twists, has flawed characters you loathe (but always take you back to the revision table with some clever character development), and sudden somethings that hit you in the face with their blinding brilliance and black humour. BrBa is not the first show that gets its ingredients right, but it’s the way it’s cooked that makes all the difference. 99.9% pure addiction. Ah, Walt would know.
Obsession, Inc. – “Breaking Bad is a show that rewards close attention”
Remember all the fact-finding, soul-searching, number-nuancing, symbolism-spotting efforts that other show Lost inspired? Well, BrBa is that dope today. Though, unlike Lost, these cues and clues are not pivotal to the BrBa plot – they are just ‘out there’ to be appreciated by the most ardent, observant and discerning fanboys/girls. Creator Vince Gilligan admits to putting in the signs, colour codes, flashbacks, layers and other symbolisms – most of which serve as what fans are calling ‘foreshadows’ indicative of what’s going to happen to characters in the future. This is currently another favourite pass-time of BrBa fans in between episodes – spotting the Easter eggs and trying to figure out hidden messages. Indeed, as the show moves on to its finale, there’s widespread speculation and conspiracy theories being floated around as to how it would end, and how things shown in previous episodes could be momentous – be they weapons, actions and words. It’s quite mad actually, considering people have worked out colour codes used by characters for all five seasons AND their symbolisms. But, yeah, there are some pretty great conversations going on amongst fans who seem quite excited with the bonus cues – kudos to Gilligan and team for that!
Lost fanboy in the writing team?
Shortly after the Buried episode (Season 5, Episode 10), Lost co-producer Carlton Cuse tweeted : I’m loving Breaking Bad — they’ve got flash forwards, lottery numbers and people yelling, “Walt!!”. Fans of both shows probably know what he’s talking about. In Season 5, Walt hides his cash-stash in the desert, and buys a lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates of the location – which he sticks on the refrigerator door. Walt’s lottery number combination 034-059-020-106-036-052 is now as (if not more) famous as Hurley’s winning numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42 (Lost, Season 6). Some BrBa fans cum Lottery lovers will, in all probability, try their luck out with Walt’s treasure-trove numbers – after all, in a strange twist of fate, the Lost numbers did translate to decent winnings of $150 apiece for a whole bunch of Lost fans in 2011 who got 4 out of 6 numbers correct on a US Tuesday Night Mega Millions lottery – apparently, there were no less than 41763 winners for those 4 numbers! A bit of a stretch for similarities, perhaps, but one that does give numbers-and-signs obsessed Lost (+ BrBa) fans something to smile at.
With the Ozymandias episode (Sep 15) already sending shock-waves across the BrBa fan community, what with Hank getting shot down and King Heisenberg’s legacy seemingly in ruins, the internet has been abuzz with showdown scenarios, based on some serious deconstruction of visual and narrative cues and foreshadows, and, well, just wishful thinking. Will Jesse escape from his tormentors, don a Hamletesque revenge-helm and be the one to end it all in his characteristic loose-cannon way? Or will Walt manage to get away, though much like Ozymandias, with nothing at all – no power, no money and no family? And what of Skyler and family? Is there a cataclysmic confrontation or two in the offing? Oh, wait, Gilligan’s tossed us a red herring (again) in the penultimate episode Granite State (Sep 22), and we are quite confused. What was that even meant to be – emotional reprieve post the meltdown that was Ozymandias, or a dangerous calm before the gathering storm? We can only keep our fingers crossed on that one.
BrBa has been building up to an explosive finale all right, and fans will just have to keep guessing and obsessing over all the indicators. In the run-up to D-day from Sep 25 onward, the show’s broadcaster AMC will have a special 5-day marathon re-running of all previous episodes of BrBa in the US. AMC’s tie-up with Netflix for the entire Season 5 also meant UK fans could catch it hot on the heels of the show’s US screening. We also have more of MethMan Madness lined up for the final two episodes, 15 more minutes to be precise – as if the normal hour-long Breaking Bad turbulence wasn’t, well, bad enough! Oh, and the finale’s called ‘Felina’. (Go figure, is that a code for blood-meth-tears, you know, Fe=Iron=Blood, Li=Lithium=Meth, Na=Sodium=Tears? Or are we reading way too much into it, and it would just turn out to be an anagram for Finale – ah, now is there a hint in that as well…)
Loads of people will need to deal with BrBa withdrawal symptoms come October. Until the Better Call Saul spin-off makes it to our TV-sets – which ought to be pretty good by the sounds we hear. And, there’s some good news: Bryan ‘Walt’ Cranston is doing more films and fleshier roles (the man deserved his fourth Emmy, c’mon!) – in fact, he does a Breaking Bad reversal in his recently released low-budget indie Cold Comes the Night – this time portraying a gangster who becomes a family man, it might be pretty cathartic to catch it while the show’s still on and imagine all the deceit, mayhem and chaos getting stripped off – layer by bloody layer. And well, if nothing else, you could always give Walt’s ‘lucky’ numbers a shot on the next big Euromillions lottery draw and see if they are any good!
All 5 seasons of Breaking Bad are on Netflix in the UK, and the final episode will be available from Mon 30th September 2013.