All the things you need to know about BREAKING BAD and it’s brilliant televised run were summed up in three sentences in last night’s Series Finale:
1) I did it for me.
2) I liked it.
3) I was good at it.
Congratulations, Vince Gilligan and crew. You distilled nearly the entirety of human existence into three concise personal factoids.
Walter White started out the series as a specialized genius who’d been hosed out of (perhaps) hundreds of millions of dollars; the fallout of that saw him performing in the present as a babysitter to the quintessential Detached Youth, toiling in thankless obscurity, careening into middle age with nothing to show for it except a family that barely noticed his presence and a burgeoning relationship with cancer.
By the end, he’d poetically returned to a scarily similar lot in life. But in between these grimy bookends, the man built a tangible, notorious empire using the latent genius he was previously disallowed from cashing in on, provided for the future and safety of his family, and – at least temporarily – beat the disease that was threatening the whole enterprise.
The price? He became a monster. And he ruined the lives of everyone he ever loved in the process.
The cost of getting everything we ever wanted can be laughably disastrous.
And, ultimately, that’s what BREAKING BAD was about. It’s not a morality play – it’s an examination of not only the American Dream, but the Human Condition. We want for ourselves first. We seek to do what we love. And in the end, we want the recognition that we did it well. What most people fail to realize – or realize far too late – is that it’s the pursuit of these things that define us, not the result of having succeeded in them. Or, alternately, having failed miserably.
And that’s perhaps the most profound legacy of the show, as it begs us to ask the question: when you’re forced to be honest with yourself about all that Walter White chased like a Viking funeral…can you honestly say he wasn’t successful?
It’s a dirty, cracked mirror the show asked us to turn on ourselves. And we’re all better off for having looked into it.