If there are two figures whose opinions I rely on to help me navigate the complicated world of modern television, they are Oliver Stone and Britney Spears. One is a famous director, one is a pop star, but neither was impressed with the Breaking Bad finale.
[Spoilers, everyone! You shouldn’t have clicked on this article if you haven’t seen the end yet, but in case you did, stop now!]
In an interview with Forbes, Stone (who knows a thing or two about violence on screen with credits that include Platoon and Natural Born Killers) called Vince Gilligan’s send-off ‘ridiculous’:
“It’s all unreal to me,” he said. “I don’t know if you saw the denouement [of Breaking Bad], I happen to not watch the series very much, but I happened to tune in and I saw the most ridiculous 15 minutes of a movie – it would be laughed off the screen.”
His biggest beef was with the authenticity:
“Nobody could park his car right then and there and could have a machine gun that could go off perfectly and kill all of the bad guys! It would be a joke,” he insisted. “It’s only in the movies that you find this kind of fantasy violence. And that’s infected the American culture; you young people believe all of this shit! Batman and Superman, you’ve lost your minds, and you don ‘t even know it! At least respect violence. I’m not saying don’t show violence, but show it with authenticity.”
He’s got a point. Even by Breaking Bad standards, where Walt has made some pretty preposterous escapes and entire plots have hinged on what can generously be called convenient coincidences, the final showdown was fairly absurd in its mechanics. It’s even big fans like Norm MacDonald had to come up with conspiracy theories (in Norm’s mind, Walt died in the car in New Hampshire and the rest of the episode was a dying man’s fantasy dream) to explain the leaps of faith required from even the most credulous viewers. He was kinder than Stone, but his discomfort with the end was just as tangible.
While both are technically right in their criticism, they’re also analyzing the show on the wrong terms. In the email exchange for the finale here at Paste, I alluded to “a vague sense of frustration because of the sheer amount of things that had to go right, like some kind of Rube Goldberg machine that felt too unrealistic,” but that was in the midst of an otherwise rave review. What a lot of skeptical viewers like me came to realize, over the course of the show, is that the genius of Breaking Bad came in the aesthetics; specifically, the images. It evoked more emotion and did greater narrative work through visuals than anything that’s come before. This is a show you could love on mute.
But if you watched Breaking Bad for the dialogue, or judged it by how well the piece of the plot fit together, you’d sometimes be disappointed, because, well, it was sometimes pretty bad. As a visual chronicle of Walt’s descent, though? It was brilliant.
Oh, and Britney? She just didn’t want Walt to die, and left us with this tiny thread of hope: “Maybe they’ll do another episode where the ambulance comes and revives him or something.”
How about it, Vince?