SO MANY SPOILERS. DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED BREAKING BAD, YOU DICKNOSES.
Upon seeing the final shot of Breaking Bad—a camera pan out of Walter White, arms and legs spread over a sterile cement floor and at peace (a contrast to his look of exhausted post-breakdown in Crawl Space)—I was left with a feeling of general satisfaction. At a viewing party, I defended the ending to my friends. I said that while the ending wasn’t perfect on its own, it was the lay-up needed to ensure that the show, as a whole, was perfect. I thought I was happy with it. I even lied to myself a bit about feeling euphoric.
And then I thought about how the ending went a little bit too well, tied up a few too many loose ends. Why the fuck was Walt a Ninja? How was he in public for so long without getting caught (when did he go to Staples to print out that fake Stevia packet)? Why were the Nazis cool with him parking wherever? Why do they pat him down, but not check the trunk of his car? I mean, car bombs are still a thing, right? Sure, all of these questions have possible answers, but they’re all highly implausible. Basically, I felt similarly to how Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker felt.
And then I reeled back the other way a bit. I told myself: “Well, Ed. This is a style of storytelling; it’s called magical realism, you ignorant slut. Walt has been doing this shit all series. Think about that train heist. Also think about the other magical elements of this world. Would anyone really own a major fried chicken chain while being a meth lord, after being a general for Pinochet? Hell no, and you loved Gus Fring. You loved the shit out of him. So stop hating, and just let the magic flow through you.”
But that’s the problem with the ending I suppose, it didn’t flow through me. I suspended my disbelief for Gus Fring, but I did it passively. It just happened. Also, you can make those kinds of leaps for mysterious villains. They act as foils for your main character, obstacles so epic that they CAN do more implausible things. But for your main characters, the audience is placed in their shoes, and their reasons and methods need to be fleshed out. As Jack says so eloquently, “Walt can’t fucking Game Genie his way through the finale.”
Compared to the rest of the show’s competently-induced suspension of disbelief, Walter White’s fantasy rampage had me feeling removed, I had to tell myself to go with it, because it’s a TV show and unreal shit happens all the time in TV shows—but I was never immersed in the episode to the point where I thought it could plausibly happen. Sure, I cheered for the badass nature of the ninja-ing and the mass-murdering of the Nazis. And the visceral satisfaction I derived from Todd’s death is not to be understated—alas, I am a man of simple tastes. And I might’ve popped a semi for Jesse’s freedom. But despite the satiation of my primal needs in that episode, I still, somehow, felt removed from it.
And then I was upset. Vince Gilligan, what the fuck dude? This show was so brutal. This ending was so soft. And I see you in these writing/directing credits for the very last episode. You’ve gotten soft man. You soft motherfucker, I hate you.
And then I saw the following Vince Gilligan storyline ideas from a reddit thread about a recent podcast:
‘A few separate ideas Vince Gilligan also mentioned on the podcast (Breaking Bad Insider):
Skyler going to NH with Walt and they are in a motel room. She is talking to Walt about something random when she is in the bathroom, her door is closed. She stops talking and Walt responds but she then does not. He repeats “Skyler?” then opens the door to see a dead Skyler who cut herself; her body in a bloody bathtub. (They scrapped this for being unnecessary and that Flynn would not have left home no matter what.)
A separate unrelated scene shows Walt carrying a suitcase into the desert. Blood is dripping, Walt opens the case; dead Holly with cut off limbs..once again, twisted and gruesome.
VG hired the writers and they decided to scrap both.
Lastly, in Felina’s M60 scene, when Kenny got hit, his body was still sitting straight on a chair and his face would be 80% gone since the M60 would keep hitting him. They had pros create concept art of what Kenny’s face would look like. They scrapped this as it made Jack and Todd’ deaths look like nothing near as awful. Considering Jack and Todd are of higher prominence in the series, it would not have been logical.’
‘This is something he pitched to executives around season 1 that they found too disturbing to put on the air. It was early on, because it involved the death of Jesse, which we all know didn’t end up happening.”
So there would have been this big, mean, tough drug dealer who had killed Jesse. This character later became Tuco, although some elements of him were included in later antagonists. Walt is so furious about Jesse’s death that he kidnaps the drug dealer and locks him in a basement. It wasn’t made clear if this was the basement of the White’s house, but I believe it was just the basement of an abandoned house nearby.
Anyway, the drug dealer was tied to a chair, and Walt had rigged this rifle to a tripwire, and pointed it right at the drug dealer’s heart. The guy could trigger it at any time and kill himself. Every day at the same time, Walt comes by and cuts off a piece of the dealer, cauterizing the wound with a blowtorch or something, his plan being that eventually the dealer will be so demoralized that he’ll pull the tripwire and kill himself. But the dealer is such a badass that he just lets Walt keep torturing him, and refuses to kill himself.
So one day, Walt Jr. stumbles across this basement somehow. By this point, Walt’s cut off like half the guy’s limbs. He’s up to the knees. And good kid that he is, he tries to help the guy, who is passed out when he comes down. The guy’s eyes flicker open, and he says, “Who are you?” to which Jr. responds with his name. Realizing that this is Walt’s son, he waits for Jr. to get close to him, and then he pulls the tripwire, killing both of them.’
Uhhhh. Holy shit. Vince Gilligan isn’t a soft motherfucker at all. He’s fucking insane. He wanted to make a TV show that was somewhere between the Saw series and straight up snuff porn. My respect for him has risen, but only out of fear. And I began thinking about the importance of not attributing the entirety of a product’s success to its founder and creator.
Imagine the writer’s room when Vince Gilligan pitched these ideas.
Vince: . . . and then Walt opens that bloody suitcase he’s been carrying around in the desert for a few days. And then he opens it up. And it’s his fucking BABY AND SHE’S CHOPPED UP, FUCK YEAH, LET’S DO ANOTHER LINE MOTHERFUCKERS.
Writers: Vince, AMC’s not going to let us show a chopped up, mutilated baby corpse on TV. And we shouldn’t. It’s unnecessary. It’s brutal for the sake of being brutal. There are ways of putting emotional weight into things without going overboard. We’re trying to lead the viewer to feel something, we don’t need to shock them every single time. Even if we do kill the baby, why do we have to see its corpse? What does this add? That baby killing is bad? Also, as always, we don’t do coke in the writer’s room.
Vince: Okay. Fine. How about Holly survives, but the final scene of the series is that she’s a meth addict, AND SHE’S ADDICTED TO HEISENBERG’S SHIT.
Writers: Okay, I mean, that’s pretty dark, but I suppose that works a bit better.
Vince: And then we show a homeless Jesse FUCKING HER.
Writers: No . . .
Vince: FINE, we’ll just fucking do a pussy-ass ending like you bitches want. I GET FINAL SAY. WALT BECOMES A NINJA, KILLS ALL THE NAZIS, SAVES JESSE, KILLS LYDIA, GETS THE MONEY TO HIS FAMILY, IMPLAUSIBLY GETS REVENGE ON ELLIOT AND GRETCHEN’S UNGUARDED HOUSE. ALSO BADGER AND SKINNY PETE WILL BE IN THE EPISODE.
Writers: ha ha ha, oh Vince, that’s a good one.
Vince: I don’t take kindly to sarcasm. This is going to happen for real, motherfuckers. I’ve made AMC rich, you idiots. AMC used to play movies that no one gave a shit about except for old people, and now I’ve got 10 mill viewers EASY for this finale. P.S. Fuck you, and your literary understanding. I’m going to make Better Call Saul the most brutal shit you punkbitches have ever seen, and AMC will tickle my taint for it.
*Vince does a line of coke.*
That’s probably exactly how the conversation went.
My point is that complete creative control is oftentimes a terrible, terrible idea. In the case of film/television everyone who reins back the mastermind plays an important part in the process of creating a masterpiece.
Consider the original Star Wars trilogy—George Lucas was the mastermind, but he had many constraints, including budget, being a much less powerful figure in film, and generally not having the experience to feel that he could ignore the opinions of others. Star Wars was great. It was well paced, well-written, and engaging. It gave Joseph Campbell most of his fans. George Lucas was THE most integral part to making it all happen, but he wasn’t the only integral part.
Now think about the Star Wars prequel trilogy (of which RedLetterMedia eviscerates over 4.5 hours, and is AMAZING. Guys, all go watch these now, PLEASE). George Lucas had complete creative control. He shut down, and shut out everyone who opposed him during the production of these films. His pure vision was finally seen. This was going to be better than the original Star Wars, because it would be his unadulterated VISION. But it turns out that George Lucas is an old-washed up fuck who might never have been the original genius we thought he was, because his vision is fucking terrible. One wonders how shitty the original Star Wars would’ve been if George Lucas had the same sort of creative control. I like to think that Han Solo would be a racist Asian caricature, but that’s just me.
Anyway, back to Breaking Bad, because I don’t want to leave the wrong impression about how I feel about it.
The ending didn’t completely suck. There was closure. There won’t be terrible fan theories on it (although probably a shitload of overanalysis over at /r/breakingbad).
And Vince Gilligan is definitely not a hack. All I’m saying is that he’s fucking insane, and he needs people to take care of his vision (but really, him).
And Breaking Bad was amazing—soft-ass ending or not, it was still the best show I’ve ever seen. And at least we didn’t see Vince Gilligan’s director’s cut ending, which I assume would be a 60 minute version of this scene from Requiem for a Dream.