Breaking Bad's Bittersweet Ending

By Kora Burnham

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“I hope he dies,” I uttered after each episode of AMC's Breaking Bad. I hated Walter White, and that just goes to show how amazing the writing actually was—I hated the main character, but I still kept coming back for more. I needed to see how Walt's story would close. Would he lose everything? Would he be the last man standing? Or would the cancer finally take him? Though I had theories, I knew it probably wouldn't be any of those in the end. This was Breaking Bad, after all.

Breaking Bad starred Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Worried that he will leave his family with nothing, he turns to a former student, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, to learn how to cook methamphetamine to make money. Together they perfect Jesse's recipe, resulting in a high-quality drug that, for some reason, turns blue. It's an instant hit on the streets, and soon Walt is thrown into a dangerous, intense world of drug lords and gangs. As the series progresses, Walt's personality deteriorates, and he becomes a terrifying, manipulative monster, selfish and willing to destroy anyone in his way.

The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad were an emotional roller coaster as Walt struggled with his brother-in-law's suspicions, Jesse's guilt, and Walt's wife's fear for herself and her children. Walt comes close to accepting his fate when there's a fatal battle between the D.E.A and members of Walt's gang in the middle of the desert. The last two episodes are almost underwhelming in comparison, following Walt's final plans to secure his family's safety and finances. They show how far he's fallen, and how much he's lost in his struggle for power. The series ends with a neat little bow tied on top; the camera pans out on Walt's body as police agents swarm in.

It's more complicated than feeling disappointed. In fact, I got everything I wanted: Walter White died, and Jesse Pinkman lived. Those were the two things I wanted out of the series, and I got them. So why do I feel disappointed?

I realised that I didn't actually want to get what I wanted. Breaking Bad was excellent at setting up expectations, and then slashing them at the last minute. I was expecting a twist, or maybe just an ambiguous ending, and I didn't get it. Breaking Bad did what many shows can't and finished the storyline, tied up all the loose ends, and gave the main character a chance to redeem himself by choosing to save Jesse's life rather than kill him. I think a part of me expected to not get what I wanted, and when I did, I wasn't quite sure how to handle it.

But then again, that's  the beauty of Breaking Bad.