Breaking Bad began as the story of a man with a life-altering change: a cancerous death sentence. In this death sentence, Walter White began a journey, a journey through self-discovery and self-worth. Walt was not a man who lived on the edge. He had the happy suburban life, the happy suburban family, the happy suburban job.
Walter White: life in the status quo.
When he begins cooking crystal meth with a former student, upon discovering the unique money-making idea via his brother-in-law's job with the DEA, it's born from innocence. Walt cooks, because he knows chemistry, and Jesse sells, because he knows the low-end of the drug business. It's the simplest operation. Walt wants the money for his family when he's gone. That's it. There is no blood-thirsty, batshit-crazy Tuco. No calm, collected Gus. No family finding out the secret. No brother-in-law hot on his trail. No death, no despair, no descent.
Walter White: life in the status quo.
Isn't it funny how things change?
Over the course of five seasons and 60-plus episodes, Breaking Bad chronicled the life of an innocent man building his empire and watching it burn because of the mistakes he makes. And perhaps the mistakes were unavoidable. Maybe building an empire can create only one outcome.
What exactly was the turning point for Walt? Did it happen when he watched Jane die, when he plotted to kill Gus, when Hank discovered his dark secret? Perhaps it happened when he choked Krazy-8 to death, when he met Tuco, or even when he went on that fateful ride-along with Hank and renewed his sparse relationship with Jesse Pinkman.
Whenever it happened, Walter White is not innocent. Maybe he never was. Deep inside the walls of Walt is Heisenberg. The dark half. The alter ego that's the meth cook. The sinister force that takes lives. The deeply intelligent, hostile, egomaniacal villain. Walt battled several evil characters over the course of five seasons. He outsmarted Krazy-8, Tuco, The Cousins, Gus, Mike, Declan. But he also outsmarted Jane, Gale, Brock, Hank, Drew Sharp, Andrea. Only Brock survived, though without his mother. Walt didn't ultimately kill any of them, but they all died because of Walt.
The most noteworthy reason why Breaking Bad will live on as one of the greatest television shows of all time (age will eventually dictate if it actually is the greatest) is that it took an ordinary guy, an everyman, and gradually and realistically turned him into the villain. In a series full of bad people doing bad things, Walter White became the worst offender of all. We cheered him on when he blew up Tuco's drug lair. We applauded when he concocted every lie in the book to protect his secret. We rooted for him to defeat Gus. But something happened on the way to his empire: he let Jane die. For better or worse, that was the moment where we all took a second to question the morals of this man. We've been wanting Walt to accomplish his goal, but how can be justify the death of an innocent, addicted girl? She needed help. She needed support. Jesse and Jane would never have worked out. But she didn't have to die.
So began the long descent into darkness.
At every turn, whenever someone crosses Walt, he takes care of them. Only his family and Jesse were, at one time, safe from his wrath. But then his wife turned against him. She has alternately loathed and loved him, much like Jesse, but in the end, she had to let him go. Tragically, the last good person left in his life, Walter Jr., turned his back on his own father. He wants nothing to do with the man that sullied his family's reputation and helped kill his uncle. Can you blame him?
And the most solid relationship formed on this show was the one between Walt and Jesse. Jesse needed guidance. He needed someone to get him out of his dead-end life. Along came Walt. In the same breath, Walt needed someone to get him out of his own dead-end life. They were a match made in hell. That unbreakable bond shattered when it became clear that Walter's love for Jesse was surpassed by his own desire to not get caught. When Jesse aligned with Hank, everything came crashing down.
The genius of this show has been the characters. Rarely does any show produce a genuinely historic, legendary character to live on for years to come. Most will agree that Breaking Bad's most noteworthy creation is Walter White/Heisenberg, but a case can be made for Jesse Pinkman, Skyler White, Gustavo Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut and many, many more. We bought into these characters because they were believable. Nothing was contrived. We believed Jesse could keep making dumb mistakes with the best intentions. We believed Skyler could learn to love with was left of her husband long after discovering his secret. We believed Hank was a superhero, destined to trap Heisenberg. And we believed Walter White, the everyman, could be the hero we all wanted him to be.
Breaking Bad is undoubtedly the greatest show currently on television. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows ever created. And time will tell if it gives the rest of the best a run for their money as the greatest television show of all time. It has created buzzworthy moments that have made us laugh, cry and gasp for air. It has given us characters we never believed we could support. It gave us "I am the one who knocks!", "Yeah, bitch", "Tread lightly" and an almost-unlimited supply of fantastic quotes. And most of all, when all that was ahead was a sharp left turn, it went right. When the impossible came forth, the impossible happened. It never took the easy road, never copped out, and never did what anyone expected. Characters have lived and died not by television's typical standards but by its own set of rules. Vince Gilligan and his Bad writers never played the audience for fools and always gave us exactly what we needed, rarely what we wanted and just enough to keep us wanting more. Until tonight, when all bad things come to an end. I for one will miss it dearly, but to go beyond tonight's series finale would threaten the legacy. The empire, if you will.
When the dust settles and the truths are revealed, there will be one other hero we will have to rely on.
Better call Saul!