Tuesday 26 September 2017

Breaking up from Breaking Bad

After five gripping seasons, 'Breaking Bad' comes to an end in a few days. But can the creators give us a finale worthy of the hit show?

Ed Power

Ed Power

The entire world has gone Walter White crazy, it seems. With the final episode of Breaking Bad airing in the US this Sunday (and available on Netflix Ireland the following day) the series' shaven headed anti-hero has achieved terrifying pop culture ubiquity.

A school teacher whose response to a cancer diagnosis is to reinvent himself as an avenging crystal meth dealer, White (chillingly portrayed by Bryan Cranston) is on the cover of the New Yorker, alongside Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, and all over the internet (typing 'Walter White' into Google pulls up 130,000 recent news stories).

Last Sunday's Emmy awards were essentially a victory parade for BB, which, from humble ratings, has come to define the zeitgeist. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan certainly looked pleased as he was festooned with awards.

Nonetheless, it also puts the writers and producers under an uncommon degree of pressure. With what feels like the entirety of humanity watching, can they deliver the perfect ending? Or will they fumble, just as Lost, Cheers, Friends etc did by signing off in less than memorable fashion?

The third option, of course, is for Gilligan, who conceived Breaking Bad while working on The X-Files, and has shepherded it through five catharsis-soaked seasons, to 'pull a Sopranos' and fudge his way to a conclusion by trying to baffle as many viewers as possible.

You may recall the mix of confusion and fury that greeted the last installment of the New Jersey crime drama, after it wrapped up not with a display of poetic justice or a spectacular twist, but with the screen turning black and Journey's Don't Stop Believin' ringing in the audience's ears. If you were a devotee, there is every chance you have still not forgiven creator David Chase for his chutzpah.

"The final episode of a TV show heaps huge amounts of pressure on the show-runner," says Tim Brandon, of the television and movie website Mild Concern.

"There is a need to honour everything that has come before to please the diehard fans, to fit in with the ethos of the show as a whole and at the same time rise above every other episode and end on a high note. Ending badly can really tarnish the memory of the series as a whole and a finale should feel like the natural conclusion and not too forced or feeble."

With the internet going supernova with speculation and spoiler rumours, Breaking Bad's producers should bear in mind the seismically underwhelming finale of Lost, which tried to tie up the baffling desert island saga with a neat bow. Instead, it succeeded only in infuriating those who had stayed faithful through its ever more ludicrous narrative arcs.

By appearing to suggest that the characters had died in the airline crash that set up the story in the first place, it was implied that the ensuing six seasons had taken place in some sort of purgatorial fantasy land – and that none of what had been shown was exactly 'real'. Creator JJ Abrams defended this damp squib fade-out, seeming to dismiss the complaints of those who had expected some hard info alongside the tearful send-off.

"I thought it definitely provided an emotional conclusion. There may have been specific technical things people felt they wanted to understand, like what the island was exactly or why it was ... It's like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. If you show me what's in there, I promise you it will disappoint me."

The gossip website Gawker spoke for many when it called out this argument as "incredibly dumb".

"I have taken a creative writing class or two," thundered Gawker's Max Read. "Do you know this thing they teach you? 'Don't end your story with all your characters being dead.' It is like cheating. It is worse than cheating! It is the wussiest thing a writer can do. And these smug dickheads went ahead and did it."

So how DO you sign off on the right note? A frequently cited case is The Wire, the gritty crime saga from HBO, the same network responsible for The Sopranos. Rather than pursue the oblique route, The Wire, which made a star of Irish actor Aidan Gillen, ended in a conclusively damning fashion, with most of the villains benefiting from their cynicism and avarice and one key character tumbling into junkie-dom. It wasn't upbeat – but it was certainly conclusive.

'Some shows do this well," says Tim Brandon. "Six Feet Under springs to mind as one that ended spectacularly by playing out each character's life to the bitter end in a closing montage, while others go on much longer than they should and end with a splutter when no one really cares any more.

"Dexter is currently stumbling over the finish line after a finale season that has left fans struggling to remember why they ever loved it.

"For the five series of Breaking Bad Walter White has been on a journey and I have faith in Vince Gilligan to do the show justice with a finale that will leave viewers reeling but satisfied."

The Lighthouse Cinema is presenting the last ever episode of 'Breaking Bad' on the big screen on Monday at 6.15pm. Tickets will be available through competitions only. Log on to www.lighthousecinema.ie for more information

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