Anthony Stokes on how Breaking Bad dropped the ball…
Breaking Bad will probably go down in history as the greatest show on television. Thanks to Netflix, around its fourth season it blew up and became one of the highest rated TV shows in history. However, while I like everyone else love Breaking Bad, in my opinion Season Five held it back from becoming the best of all time.
In some ways Breaking Bad’s fifth season was the resolution of the series’ true climax: Season Four. The fourth season of Breaking Bad is in my top five greatest seasons of television, and is not easy to top. And to be fair, it seemed the producers knew that. The stakes weren’t necessarily raised. The villains of Season Five didn’t have the influence or reach of Gus, but they still did a good job. I have one minor complaint about them, but that’s it.
Season Five’s biggest mishandling was its characterization of its protagonist Walter White. Or should I say its antagonist, which the writers repeatedly shoved down my throat. Creator Vince Gilligan always said he intended to have the series end with Walter White becoming Scarface, but it happened too suddenly. Season Four was all about humbling Walter White, and I can see how defeating Gus would give him an ego, but it was laid on too thick and saw Walt doing outright stupid things.
There’s two examples of how they messed up with the writing. Firstly, the whole “say my name ” scene was when I stopped caring about him as a character. He’s arrogant to the point of being idiotic. The only time Walt had been this stupid was when he was drinking at Hank’s and suggested that Heisenberg was still alive, which was set-up. And then, towards the end of the season, he goes right back to the same old Mr. White, electing to not kill Jesse when he had the chance. Twice. He even pleaded for Todd’s Uncle not to kill Hank.
Secondly, there’s the point in the finale when Walter says to Skylar, “I did it for me”. I’ve got into actual arguments over this, but that’s bullshit. His motivation most of the time was for his family, especially when he was starting out. From then on until Season Five it was about survival, with him being forced to cook at several points. It’s not until Season Five that his motivation is to build building an empire. The entirety of Season Four was about staying alive for Walter White, which is why suddenly making him an egomaniac didn’t work for me.
Season Five in general is the weakest season of Breaking Bad. The show works best when Jesse and Walt are working together. Their whole chemistry is what made this show so great, and Jesse is probably as popular a character as Walter White. But in Season Five they barely interact, which is understandable in the context of the story, but their final lines together were terrible. Mainly because they had no lines. This entire series is about these two characters and they don’t say anything to each other. We don’t even find out what happens to Jesse. Some ambiguity is always welcome and this isn’t as unsatisfying as The Sopranos’ ending, but it seemed kind of rushed and not thought out. Todd’s arc kind of sputtered out too. I thought he’d have some big moment but he was kind of wasted.
When lauding praise on Breaking Bad, I think people seem to overlook the very flawed – but still good – fifth season. Last year when (false) rumours of a sixth season started up, I was excited. A chance to send off Walter White with the ending he deserved. As it is, it’s just a bit disappointing to see such a great character end his story with a whimper.
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.