Breaking Up with Breaking Bad… in style

Ben Dowell reviews a dazzlingly exciting, sharply profound finale over a cup of tea and bacon roll at Chez Netflix. He even got a personal message from show creator Vince Gilligan...


It had to be marked in a special way. You cannot say goodbye to a series like Breaking Bad without doing something slightly special.


So instead of sitting on my sofa, laptop on my knee, tucking into another brilliant morsel of my favourite show, I found myself this morning in a swish Soho hotel watching the series finale – fortified by some tea and bacon rolls supplied by Netflix, which hosts the show in the UK.

It is a novel experience watching on a much bigger screen and in the company of mostly strangers. You see how people you don’t know have watched the five series, the 60 hours plus of this exhausting, wonderful, profound piece of television.

And the other thing you don’t get at home is a personal message from Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan, welcoming you to the event and hoping you were going to enjoy it. (Spoiler time: we did).

You can see his message below.

My new found friends were united by a love for the show and the astonishing thing about the shared experience was the way everybody watched in rapt silence. (Except perhaps at the end, when certain Nazis got wasted, there was a cheer, a laugh and a whoop of delight. But we’re only human). This was an experience characterised entirely by reverence and, mostly, complete quiet.

(By the way this is where the real spoilers start so if you haven’t seen the finale I would suggest you stop reading now)

One of many reasons I started loving Breaking Bad was the way it championed the little guy – starting from the moment Walt marches into Tuco’s lair with his psychotic, armed henchman around him to the canny destruction of Gus Fring.

Of course it’s been harder to root for him as the series has gone on. Effectively killing Jane was the turning point for me (and a few others I’d venture) but somehow there was this lingering, vestigial longing for it to turn out OK for him, not matter what he did.

And the finale delivered that in spades. Holed up in his New Hampshire hut, his wife and son loathing him, his money stolen, his cancer seemingly returned, Walt was clearly having far from an A1 time of it.

As my learned colleague Tim Glanfield points out in his review this morning, the utterly bleak nature of preceding episodes, had led to the feeling among many fans that the last episode would be a depressing spiral of misery.

But with the kind of breathtaking nimble brilliance that has been the trademark of Vince Gilligan and his crack shot team of writers over the course of the series, if you are expecting something in Breaking Bad then usually it isn’t delivered.

Walt managed to enact a retributive justice that was fabulously satisfying.  Using his brilliant eye for detail (Lydia), courage (The Nazis) or worldly cunning (Gretchen and Elliott) he won through with style. He sorted his family and the narcisstic and amoral out. No baddie went unpunished – whether it’s the smug couple who swindled him out of their fortune (“Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right”), kid-killing dead-eyed Todd or those Nazi psychopaths.

For some (like my fellow audience goers at today’s screening) the best bit was when the Nazis got wasted.  For others the finale’s defining moment will be when Jesse broke out of the gates and drove off.

But what was so powerful about this final episode, and the series as a whole were those extraordinary moments of heartfelt, convincing human drama. When Walt and Jesse leave each other, the complex array of emotions in their faces, was a wonder to behold.

My standout scene is when Walt says goodbye to Skyler and stands over the crib of his baby Holly, and you think of what lies in store for all of them. The weight and poignancy of the moment, like so much of what we have seen, forces you to catch your breath….