The Atlantic Wire has turned to two recappers who've never seen Breaking Bad before to put fresh eyes on what some have called the best show on television.
Esther: So, Philip, was that a satisfying ending for you? I know fans of the show are praising it, and it definitely tied up all the loose ends, but something about it felt, well, meh to me. It felt like a finale perfectly constructed to appeal to fans. The neo-Nazis die. Walt's family doesn't. Jesse, who everyone seems to love except for you, lives. Walt dies, but in a semi-heroic way. He's smiling, content with what he has done, even though he has, as Badfinger's "Baby Blue" implied, got what he deserved.
Philip: "Satisfying" is a weird way of phrasing it? I enjoyed it. I thought there were predictable parts to it — like the stevia thing was predicted by basically everyone online, half-jokingly. And there were a lot of "gotchas." There are hitmen outside. GOTCHA, it's these idiots. Look out, Skyler, Walt may show up. GOTCHA, he was in the room already. Walt's going to say he did it for the family. GOTCHA, he liked being a murdery jerk. But overall: entertaining, which is what entertainment is meant to do. The season bounced around a lot, with, what? Seven or eight different plot structures? But it landed well.
And, hopefully heading off some criticism, Yes, We Acknowledge That The Ending Was Necessarily More Emotional For Those That Have Watched The Entire Series And That Such People Are Necessarily Better People Than Ourselves Whose Response To This Series Of Posts Has Been Correct Beyond Our Seeing.
Esther: What about plot holes? (Philip, this is a blatant set up for your stevia joke.)
Philip: That kind of kills the joke. Yes, there were plot holes. For example: Why did Jesse get to live? He is terrible. Also, I now understand that he was a good carpenter or something? Somehow he didn't come off this season as any sort of aesthete. And, of course, there's the stevia thing. I will buy that a chemistry teacher can jerry-rig a rotating machine gun. But could a chemistry teacher working out of the back of his car cobble together a sealed packet of sweetener that's even passably convincing? Much less, between his house and the coffee shop? That's impressive / unbelievable. I can accept that every Nazi was standing in place — and didn't dive out of the way even as the machine gun started firing, given that neo-Nazis are necessarily idiots. But the ricin? Shrug. (The joke was: Deus ex stevia, which seemed funnier last night.) Now, this might be one of those things I'd feel differently if I'd watched the series from the beginning as I'm told the ricin has been kicking around plotlines for a while. Are you going to go back and watch it from the beginning?
Esther: I think I will, eventually. But I want to watch it when the hype around it settles down a little. The hardest, most frustrating thing about watching the show right now has been the ardent fandom surrounding it. If you disagree with anything about Breaking Bad at this moment, you're wrong. For instance, journalist Mark Harris tweeted after the finale: "To the 'meh' 'overrated' 'what's the big deal' 'calm down' crowd: It is really not the moment to peacock your opinion." I love being a fan, and I understand how fans can feel defensive, but Breaking Bad seems to have become sort of a sacred cow in the entertainment world, which is off-putting to people who are still letting it seep in. I want to actually watch the show when there isn't a pressure to love it.
Philip: I'm not going to go watch it all. That's insanity. Plus I prefer to remember Aaron Paul as we left him last night: sobbing and terrible and driving into his new, obviously terrible movie, Need for Speed.
Esther: The thing that suprisied me from these little weekly colloquies is that we've ended up talking less about the show and more about the furor surrounding it. That was particularly evident when, directly after the show we had the cast, creator and Jimmy Kimmel (for some reason) analyze it on Talking Bad. It would be nice for Aaron Paul and the gang—yes for some reason I'm blaming this on Paul—to step back and let the audience absorb and try to understand on their own terms.
Philip: Paul and AMC were co-conspirators in this. As was the audience, as were advertisers. It was this massive feedback loop of this-thing-is-great-right and yes-it-is-great-you-are-right-forever-and-ever. One person I follow on Twitter was pointing out all the dumb ways "brands" were trying to get in on the action, nudging everyone with pointy elbows to show they were in on the coolness. Look how stupid this is.
Maybe your best course tonight would be to dunk lightly. #finale— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) September 30, 2013
AMC, for its part, is a business. It got $400,000 for ads during the finale, so it filled up the extra 15 minutes with ads. Ads ads ads. But again: fair enough.
Which brings us to the most embarrassing spectacle to emerge from the entire weekend, a spectacle so over the top with its hey-hey-look-at-me that even people who were fans had to cringe. And I am referring, of course, to Aaron Paul on Saturday Night Live. Spot one: Hey, hey, Walter White needed Obamacare! Spot two: Hey, look, I'm smokin' meth, bitch! Spot three: Hey, hey, hey, something something meth! Whatever you think about Paul, he was incidental to the last eight episodes. Incidental! He was a pawn of Hank and then the neo-Nazis, then set aside until the conclusion. So this victory tour on Twitter and SNL and Talking Bad (I hear) is like when the guy who played special teams on a Super Bowl team suddenly starts giving morning TV interviews about how they all did it together. Gets up to do a solo version of the Super Bowl Shuffle. ("Sorry, it goes more like this. Hang on, I can get it.") Wears a T-shirt around saying "Super Bowl LXIII Champs." Yeah, nice work, Paul. I bet Cranston was glad you won them that Emmy.
Esther: I think we learned that, despite our lack of knowledge at the beginning, we were able to get absorbed by this show. It's a good show. That said, we may not have had the knowledge to understand why it was a great show.
Philip: I learned that people get perhaps overexcited about things.