"The show makes the star, not the other way around." It's an old television-industry adage, one repeated nearly as often as it's ignored. No matter the shininess or popularity of a given celebrity, audiences have proved happy to shun them if the TV show constructed around them is lacking. Unlike the movie industry, which ranks actors' influence on their ability to deliver big opening weekends at the box office, TV demands a more lasting commitment. And that, in turn, demands more than a familiar name. Anybody will watch something once. The trick in television is getting them to watch again and again.
"Felina" brought Breaking Bad to a close in the most perfect way imaginable. It squared each circle. It righted all the wrongs. Everything that had been done was undone. The pieces fit together. The keys were in the car. The car was in the compound. The gun was in the trunk. The cat was in the bag. And the bag's in the river.
In the end, there was no art. Only science. And this was sort of the problem, wasn't it? After five-plus years of watching everything break bad, the finale gave us 75 minutes of watching everything break just right. There was plenty of sweet coincidence and even sweeter revenge. The timing was deliberate, and immaculate. Where Heisenberg's plans once rained down on Albuquerque with all the grace and subtlety of an exploded airliner, Walt's endgame tumbled like dominoes. Everything, even the promised M60, fizzed and popped so perfectly it felt almost sterile. Walt — and at the end it was only Walt — finally got his clean lab, his pristine experiment. As he lay dying, surrounded by the beakers and tubes that were his most constant companions, he could smile and rest easy knowing that the purity of his last cook was 100 percent.
Andy Greenwald: What do we want when a beloved television show ends? Closure? Hope? Surprise? Or one last twist of the knife?
We've experienced all four over the course of this past decade of exceptional television. (And that's without counting TV's most common exit strategy: not having an exit strategy.) And I fully expect Sunday's Breaking Bad to incorporate elements of each. (Closure? No more blue meth would suffice. Surprise? I couldn't even begin to guess. Hope? Well ... maybe there's a Denny's next to Skyler's minimum security prison so Flynn won't have to go hungry.) But to be honest with you — and, yes, I'm speaking to all you would-be fortune-tellers out there: the Nazi hunters, the self-riciners, the Jesse truthers, and the inexplicably devoted Todd-ites — I don't care much about the specifics of "Felina." At least not from this side of it. All I want is for Vince Gilligan to have the time, space, and security necessary to end his epic tale in exactly the manner he sees fit. You want a prediction? Here's one, and it doesn't involve baby Holly: Come Monday morning, we'll all be in agreement that he was able to do just that. Here's another: As roiling as these past seven weeks have been, I still stand by what I wrote back in August: Walter White's story will end with his death.
The hardest part of being a scientist, I imagine, is the patience it requires. A true experiment demands a rigorous and exacting process. It allows for no short cuts, it tolerates no half-measures. Wobbly, soft concepts like "questions" and "predictions" — the latter often translated by ordinary humans as "hope" — are permissible in the beginning stages but are banished when the real work begins. Once the test is under way, it can't be manipulated. Purity demands a clean methodology. Desire, personal beliefs, or expectation can't play any part.
It's this latter point that cuts the deepest. No one wants to invest time, blood, and money into something and ultimately be proved wrong. None of us wants to be disappointed. Nobody wants to suffer. Yet running a successful, controlled experiment means giving up any notion of control over the outcome.
It turns out that Walter White, master chemist, is a terrible scientist.
Before we talk about the cigarettes, or the lies, or the gasoline — hell, before we decide on drinks or order up some of that scrumptious-sounding tableside guacamole — let's take a few moments to talk about a chemical reaction rarely mentioned in relation to Breaking Bad: pleasure. As we zoom toward the finale, nearly every discussion regarding the show focuses on its extremity: of tension and terror, of planning and execution. Yes, Breaking Bad is and always has been a thready adrenaline rush, but the reason it has reached an audience that extends beyond jittery thrill-seekers is because the show has always paid equal attention to our endorphins.
Look, I'll be the first to say it: Much of "Confessions" was excruciating. Some of it was terrifying. But weren't there a few parts that were just delicious? I'm thinking of the opening scene, the Route 66 Diner, Todd pacing in front of it, trapped like all our pawns, under the dome of that familiar and yawning cerulean sky. The episode was directed by Michael Slovis, the man given much of the credit for Breaking Bad’s relentlessly inventive visual style. I may be partial to the work of Michelle MacLaren, who shoots a cup of coffee like a heart attack, but Slovis is remarkable in his own way. He is to dusty desert vistas what Dalí is to clocks, always able to find the surreal lurking in plain view.