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Breaking Bad Finale and the Moral Ambiguity Which Gave the Show Its Strength

The finale of Breaking Bad demonstrated clearly this was a show with writers who care deeply about the craft of storytelling as well as the audience who savored every moment as they watched it unfold over the past five years.

Vince Gilligan, on a couch in Hollywood last night during Talking Bad (a show AMC had been doing for fans this season) described how the writers had sat down and tried many different permutations for the final episode. They realized that the show needed closure, and the finale could not be one that left a lot up in the air. They knew they had to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. They knew it required several revisions to reach its perfection and that was evident.

I have not written a single post about this series and publicly shared it, however, I watched it all along the way. In fact, during the final season, I saved Sunday’s episode for Monday in the early afternoon and watched it after I had finished writing my first post for the day.

The joy from watching this show methodically plod along was always a good break from covering the latest perversion of freedom and justice in society. It would give me energy to return to my computer and write another post for the day.

Which is not to say the show was ever an escape from the reality I write about each day. Breaking Bad very much exists in that world. Its characters are in a world where a futile but ruinous and discriminatory War on Drugs is waged by a government that also does not provide universal free health care to its citizens.

This rather cinematic television drama is set in a country, where power and wealth has been concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% and the bottom 99% are struggling more and more to get by in an ailing economy not rigged to support them. Although it exists offscreen, this is the social context for the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who, after being diagnosed with cancer, fights to maintain his pride by relying on his knowledge and skills as a chemistry teacher to cook methamphetamine and sell it to make money to pay his medical bills.

[OBLIGATORY SPOILERS ALERT]

Walter’s pride is front and center in the finale. He cannot remain in New Hampshire in exile from his family. He frightens a former business partner, (Elliot Schwarz), who essentially turned his back on him, into promising he will turn over millions of dollars in drug money from his work to his son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), so he can go to college. He returns to Skyler (Anna Gunn) to say goodbye and give her the lottery ticket with the coordinates for where Hank (Dean Norris) was buried so she can bargain her way out of going to jail. He follows through with eliminating all of the Nazis, who tortured and enslaved Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), because they killed Hank and they have Jesse cooking blue meth when he was supposed to be killed.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it,” Walter tells Skyler. He says he was alive. (He also tells her he spent all the money trying to outrun law enforcement.)

What made Walter “alive”? Was it believing he could do this and all the problems his family faced would be solved? Was it the confidence he was able to achieve, that he was not going to have to endure hardship to provide for his family?

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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