127. Breaking Bad: After the End

I have finally arrived at the explosive conclusion of the legendary series that is Breaking Bad.

When I first heard about the series, I didn’t think much of it. Then when Sir Hopkins’ letter to Mr. Cranston surfaced on the internet, along with the much-publicized fact that the series’ third-to-last episode has a perfect score on IMDB, and that the series has made history by being the highest-rated television series of all time, it became one of the things that I thought I’ll come around to doing next year, just like what I thought about starting this blog.

Then just like how I started this blog way ahead of schedule, there came the day that I thought to myself, “Eh, I’ll just watch one episode as a teaser, and I’ll get around to watching the rest of it come 2014 when I actually have time.”

Now, I’m not known to be a television kind of person. You could call it commitment issues, I guess. I can sit through a 2-hour movie, no problem, as long as it’s even remotely interesting. But to ask me to watch 24 hour-long episodes per season of a series… There had better be a really good reason for me to invest that kind of time into it.

I don’t think I’ve finished a full television series before. I stuck with Glee for about three seasons before dropping it, and I managed to watch about 8 episodes of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who before deciding that the genre and story just wasn’t for me. So the only series I’ve finished were animes, and those don’t really count, because, y’know, they’re not real television.

So in that way, you could also say that Breaking Bad made history as the first (and at the date of writing, the only) television series that Joseph Ng has finished watching from start to end.

To be honest, when I first heard about the premise of “high school teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to meth manufacturer to earn money for his family”, I was expecting a very different kind of show. Probably one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find that the series was very heavily drama-based, and the show became one that was very unique to me because of that.

The story of Breaking Bad is a complex, dark, and dense one. The drama and intrigue that unfolds within each episode could easily be spread over the course of an arc, or even a full season of another show. But Breaking Bad isn’t that kind of show – it plows on, relentless and fearless, creating believable conflict and realistic tensions between the cast of characters that twists and turns multiple times within a single episode. I found myself, at times, reading the recap of episodes on Wikipedia and going, “Wait, that happened only earlier in this episode?”

The very concept behind the series is an ambitious one: “to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface,” series creator Mr. Gilligan said concerning the story. From the very start, Breaking Bad set out to challenge conventions, the most prominent of which was that while other television series focused on maintaining the status quo, the creators decided that it would be about change; and boy, did it change.

It’s no spoiler by now that our protagonist, the mild-manner high school teacher Walter White, makes his transformation from a pathetic, miserable man in the first episode to a borderline complete monster by the end of the final season; but that’s not the only change that we observe. Over the course of the series, we also get to see unlikeable characters becoming likeable; monstrous villains becoming sympathetic characters not so different from you and I; and even the dynamics of the various characters’ interactions with one another evolves with the story.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that which happens within us – the viewers. Most of us would start off the series feeling sorry for Walt and wishing that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Jesse Pinkman would just die and get it over with. Towards the end of the series, we realize that the tables have been turned on us – at the end, we feel sorry for Jesse and wish that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Walt would just die and get it over with. The process of change that the showrunner, writers, and directors bring us on is one so gradual and subtle that most of us might even fail to notice it – just like how Walt fails to recognize his increasing villainy and decreasing humanity.

When I finally arrived at the third-to-last episode that was awesomely titled Ozymandias, again I was expecting a very different episodes. You know, one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. But true to its nature so far, the show completely subverted that, and instead handed to me an hour-long drama of Walt’s realization of how far he has fallen, and how irredeemable he has become.

Then the final two episodes came, pulling no punches and hitting as hard as it could, culminating in an explosive conclusion reminiscent of Scarface, the whole time maintaining the self-control necessary to prevent it from spiraling into a bloody self-parody.

If there’s a word to describe the series, it’d be “brave”. Here is a show that was unafraid to be itself, that was strong enough to resist the temptations of pandering to its audiences or following the latest trend. It simply told its story like a hard, bitter truth, and this spirit was reflected in the incredible performances put on by the entire cast.

After the end of a long, tiring, emotionally draining journey that lasted all of about 50 hours in total, I can finally rest easy knowing that I have had the privilege of enjoying a genuinely unique, groundbreaking series. I’ll even go a step further to say that if Mr. Hemingway had been alive to watch this series, he would have been proud.

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