Hello City that Breeds Family,
It’s your friendly, neighborhood bishop here to speak out about a grievous error. That’s right, good people. I come with pitch fork in hand. I stand in the judges box and proclaim the perpetrator guilt. I demand a recount!
“Who, Oh Bishop our Bishop, who could have possibly upset you so?” you ask.
Well, I’ll tell you.
The writers of Breaking Bad, that’s who. They ruined a masterpiece. They destroyed glorious magnum opus. The teased us with beauty, then sold us putrescence. And I demand they be held accountable for their assault upon us.
Now I realize I may be the only person in the entire world who did not think the conclusion of the amazing show Breaking Bad was awesome. I know I may be of a minority opinion. I do not care. I will not be silenced. And by the time I have finished making my case, I believe you will agree with me and join my cry of “Unacceptable! Redo!”
Before I jump in, allow me to provide a disclaimer. If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad and you plan to, you should stop reading because I’m going to spoil stuff.
Now, with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive in.
If you haven’t watched the show, it is the story of a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who discovers he has cancer. To build a nest egg for his family he begins cooking meth with an ex-student/low level drug dealer named Jesse. Quickly in the first season, Walter discovers he has a gift for producing the drug. Things escalate. Walter begins enjoying the criminal activity because it empowers him. He is no longer an average chemistry teacher with no money, an overbearing wife, and handicapped son. When he takes on the persona of Heisenberg (Walter’s alter ego), Walter becomes a ruthless, up and coming, criminal mastermind.
This is what I loved about the show. It is what kept me watching. The “Jekyll and Hyde” struggle between passive-aggressive, capitulating, fearful Walter White and brutal, cold-blooded, sadistic Heisenberg.
The writers did an amazing job in the first four seasons giving birth to Heisenberg. He emerged slowly. He came into the light a step at a time. First came the struggle between White and Heisenberg in season one over whether or not to kill the dealer in the basement. It was our first glimpse of the barbarous side of the main character who was unconcerned about melting a dead body in acid or choking a man with a bike lock.
Next there was the moment when Heisenberg bombed Tuco’s building to save Jesse. This was the first time we saw the fearless Heisenberg in all his evil glory. But the writers held back. They didn’t spring Heisenberg on us all at once. Tuco’s death in the desert was messy and comical as White and Pinkman blundered through their escape.
Then came the terrifyingly calm Gus and his practical partner Mike. It seemed as though Heisenberg had met his match. These were professional criminals, not like the drug crazed Tuco. But Heisenberg rose to the challenge. He ran two men over with a car, watched Jesse’s girlfriend die from an overdose, poisoned a kid, disintegrated more bodies in barrels, and blew Gus up with the unforgettable old-man-in-a-wheel-chair-bomb.
It was these Heisenberg surprises that made us all fall in love with the show. When he stared the rival drug dealers in the eye and demanded, “Say my name” we got chills. When he told his wife with frightening calm, “I am the one who knocks” we danced around the room with glee. When he sat across from Jesse on the couch and said, “I’m not in the meth business. I’m in the empire business” we did celebratory fist pumps. It was fantastic! The rise of Heisenberg was masterful – a work of art!
As the show drew toward its final season there was a single compelling question – who will win? Walter White or Heisenberg. Is he the criminal mastermind or the victimized chemistry teacher?
Mike expressed the tension beautifully after Gus’ death when he looked Walter-Heisenberg in the eye and said, “You — are not the guy. You’re not capable of being the guy. I had a guy, but now I don’t. You — are not the guy.” Or later Mike said, “Just because you killed Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James.”
Perfect! Perfectly written! Is he the guy? Is he??? I wanted him to be the guy, but the guy is terrifying and terrible.
Then came the second half of season five. Suddenly, Heisenberg was gone. In a bizarre turn in the plot, the empire builder had retired. Walt was out of the business and happy to be running a car wash.
Weeping. Gnashing of teeth. Where did the empire go? Where is Mr. Bad Ass Say-My-Name?
I was talking with my friend Cory on the phone after the first episode of the second half of season five aired. Angry that the show was self-destructing I cursed the writers for trying to make Walter back into a good guy. Cory assured me, “Oh he’s still in the business. He’s still in charge. He’s just faking it for his wife.” Cory’s hope was contagious. I watched on, waiting to see the Master of Evil’s plans unfold.
But sadly, no. That is not where the show runners took their master piece. Instead they tossed pooh on the canvas. Heisenberg, the reason we all watched, was gone. In his place they gave us the indecisive and cowardly Walter White who hides behind rocks in the desert, tells Jack not to come, begs for Hank’s life, is tricked into giving up his money, and runs away to New Hampshire.
Lame! Lame! Lame! Lame! Lame!
My suspicion is that the show writers wanted Walter to go out the protagonist. Heisenberg was too evil, too ruthless. He could no longer be heroic. So in the middle of season five they pressed “reset” and regressed the character, confirming Mike’s accusations.
I wish they hadn’t. I wish they had let the villain emerge. There were other candidates for the hero. Jesse would have made a fantastic hero in the end, facing off with super-villain Heisenberg. Or Hank, even though he was obnoxious at the beginning of the epic, he had been redeemed by overcoming his injury. He and Jesse could have made amazing heroes.
If I had a time machine, I would go back before the second half of season five was written, I would find the show runners, and I would beg:
“Please, mister. Please, please, please don’t try to make Walter the hero. He is such a beautiful villain. Let him be the villain. Please let him be the villain. Please don’t ruin it. Embrace the Heisenberg! Bring forth the Heisenberg! We will cheer as Jesse and Hank kill him. You will replace the Godfather in cinema lore!”
The thing is, we love great villains. It was Heath Ledger’s Joker that made the Dark Knight awesome, not the gravely voiced Christian Bale’s Batman. It was Kevin Spacey’s Keyser Soze who made The Usual Suspects one of the greatest movies of all time. We need villains. Great villains make great stories. Without the criminal master mind of Lex Luthor, Super Man is just a muscle bound bully in tights and a cape. The hero is a product of his arch nemesis…and what a nemesis Heisenberg would have been.
Instead they tried to pacify us with an evil Opie in one Todd. Did they really think his goofy smile and innocent ways would freak us out? Please. The Todd had nothing on Gus. And he came no where close to the swagger of Heinsenberg.
I will now officially choose to forget the final half of season five. Instead I will only remember the fantastic rise of Heisenberg. I will remember “Say my name.” I will remember, “I’m in the Empire business.” I will remember, “If that’s true — if you don’t know who I am — then maybe your best course is to tread lightly.”
The Bishop of the CTB