The widely watched “Breaking Bad,” starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, ended Sunday. (Spoilers are below.) More than 10 million people watched the final episode, demonstrating its continuing popularity:
To put it in more perspective, around 2.8 million viewers caught the Season 5, Part 1 finale of “Breaking Bad” when it aired last September. Guess a few more people have caught up with the series since then.
And, of course, that 10 million-plus figure isn’t counting DVR users, or those who caught the episode through other means. According to reports, the episode has already been illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times on pirated sites.
Regardless, AMC is still thrilled. “’Breaking Bad’ is simply unique,” AMC president Charlie Collier said in a statement. “It all starts with Vince Gilligan who really only ever asked for one thing – the opportunity to end the show on his own terms. That is exactly what Vince did last night and, as always, brilliantly so.”
Even though “Breaking Bad” shattered records for the show itself, it still didn’t quite reach zombie status; AMC’s “The Walking Dead” third season finale in April attracted 12.4 million, its most-watched episode. However, “BB” can still brag to Don Draper; that’s about three times the amount that watched “Mad Men” wrap up the sixth season, which got its highest ratings ever with 2.7 million.
Mark Berman writes that the show recreated the sense of community that until recently surrounded television:
For one night, a television show that thrived because of new media options forced viewers to do something very old-fashioned: Gather around a television and watch something as it aired, commercials and all.
The only television programs that tend to draw big audiences these days are things that need to be seen as they air, and these things are almost always live events: Sports, presidential debates, breaking news, award shows. Scripted shows, by comparison, can be watched other ways. They can be recorded, they can be saved, they can be nudged to the side, with the hope that spoilers can be avoided.
But waiting to watch “Felina,” the final episode of “Breaking Bad” meant more than just hearing a spoiler. It meant missing out on the cultural conversation, one that has seemingly been all-“Bad,” all the time, as the show has rocketed toward its conclusion. It meant missing the Monday morning discussions about how the finale worked, and it meant missing the morning-after conversations that can shape the way some shows are remembered. . . .
Live television is no longer live, and this has been the new normal for so long it’s no longer particularly new or novel. We record, we download, we stream and we wait until we have several episodes built up before shotgunning them in one blistering sitting. One episode meted out each week seems so old-fashioned. (Our grandparents trudged in the snow for three hours each way just to sit through one episode of “All in the Family” each week, you know.)
For Post critic Hank Stuever, the show was satisfying all the way through its last episode:
Sunday night’s best scene — in terms of writing and acting — came between Walt and Skyler. He tried once more to explain. Gunn positively smoldered when her character said: “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family —”
“I did it for me,” Walt said, and there you have it: the dark pit of the soul of “Breaking Bad.” Walt was never good. Walt chose evil. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — ” and here he paused. “I was alive.”
It’s remarkable to think back on all five seasons of “Breaking Bad” and see so many perfect notes like that, so much pit-stained anxiety, so much confidence in the story that it set out to tell, but also so much confidence on the part of Gilligan and his writers to let the story tell them where it wanted to go.
When you look back, what you don’t see are the missteps and tangents that can often plague an ambitious and critically praised drama over time — usually somewhere in the later part of Season 2 or first part of Season 3. There just isn’t a weak season of “Breaking Bad.” There’s just superior work, a sprint toward evil that turned into a marathon.
Joel Achenbach writes that Walt’s story is a dark parable about masculinity and age:
At some level this is merely the tale of a middle-aged man in search of a hobby. He’s bored.
Those of us staring into the gaping maw of degeneration, senescence and ultimate obliteration are often driven to take on new activities and interests. You could make the case that Walt went overboard.
If you find yourself with an urge to try something new, my advice is to steer clear of anything that might create a problem for which the activation of a remote-controlled machine gun would potentially be the solution.
The other day I was watering my lawn, closely scrutinizing the nascent blades of grass from the seeds I had dropped a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly it crossed my mind that I had lost my edge. But in a moment like that, you fight back: You don’t give in to that sense of being old, dopey and pointless. In my case, I have a nifty nozzle I use for watering, and it has like 14 or 15 different settings. I can switch among “shower” and “mist” and “soaker,” depending on the hydrological circumstances. Though not a vain person, as you know, I do fancy that I have a knack for watering — that, like Walt with his methamphetamine synthesis, it’s something I’m good at.
For more on how the show ended for each of its characters, continue reading here, or watch “Felina” yourself.