A Tale of Two Finales
WARNING: INCLUDES SPOILERS
I was in the definite minority earlier this year when I was not a big fan of the series finale of Breaking Bad, a show I watched with great engagement through its many years. The thing with these serialized shows is that the writers and producers are making it up as they go, making choices on the fly about what direction a character or dramatic thread might take. This is unlike a feature film where the whole thing is mapped out and early scenes can foreshadow the conclusions or meanings the filmmaker is intending from the start.
In the case of Breaking Bad, the creators went down a path I just wasn't into, playing up and even celebrating Walt as The Smartest Guy In the Room. And one of the ways they did this was to have Walt excel at boy fantasies of whiz bang contraptions and stunts. This shark got jumped when they pulled off the daring railroad swap of liquids in the previous season. It was followed by Jesse's magnet stunt and culminated with Walt's rigging of the rapid fire machine gun in the trunk that, miraculously, went off without a hitch and killed all the right people. The fact that most people loved the ending shows that they were heavily invested in Smart Guy Walt.
Me, I wished Walt would have stayed on that bar stool in New Hampshire and waited for the police, realizing that having lost the respect of his son there was no point in continuing down his delusional path. Walt's arrest could have been followed by a fifteen minute denouement back in New Mexico where Walt faces the devastating impact of his deeply misguided actions. Or failing that, when Walt confessed to Skylar that he "did it for himself," she could have responded with a slow hand clap, saying "I hope that made you feel better, but you still ruined everything that mattered, you prick." Or failing that, Walt's machine gun trick could have killed Jesse. I was interested in some consequences.
By comparison, the season finale of Homeland played out in a way that I appreciated. Many did not share my opinion. They wanted to see a cliff hanger ending, which is exactly what I did not want to see. I'd had enough of Carrie's stunts, and as Brody was headed for execution I was afraid that the writers would have Carrie do something amazing (like Walt would have done) to free him or something. To me, Brody's execution was emotionally satisfying because it was the only way that he could change the narrative around himself in a way that might bring his family a measure of relief. And, in fact, they used the denouement structure that I wish BB had used. Of course, along the way we had to suspend our disbelief as Saul is presented as single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East, a thread that might have been a deal breaker for others. And so it goes.