(The following review is mostly ambiguous, but it does kind of give the entire thing away, so if you haven't seen this TV series DON'T read this, even if this is essentially the reason why you should watch the TV series.)
Your next box set: Breaking Bad
"Convince yourself, you are someone else..." Is a line from a song, by Swedish band Junip, which was used to preview the finale of this TV series. In a way that is entirely what Breaking Bad is about - convincing yourself you are someone different.
We came to this series very late. In fact, we started to watch it just as it was entering the end game in real time. Real time... yeah, I think that was one of the things that surprised me so much about this TV series; at some point in season 5 the main cast are sitting round the pool in Walter White's modest Albuquerque home and they are talking about the last 12 months - the entire life of the series we were watching. Was it really just 12 months in the lives of these 5 people?
This is the story of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who has let the world walk over him; has lost a potential fortune and is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He is married to a selfish woman, has a son with cerebral palsy and a baby daughter on the way and he's just turned 50. This is bad enough, but through a series of events he loses just about everything he had left, except his family. It is when he has nothing left that he comes up with this idea that he could make crystal meth - a highly addictive drug that is common in the USA but has not really made the inroads in the UK - all he needs is the right people to help him.
Enter Jesse Pinkman - a feckless waste of space ex-student of Walter's who really is just a complete and utter dick, but through Jesse the next 12 months unfolds in some of the most jaw-dropping TV moments you will ever witness!
But... it's about a chemistry teacher and a wanker, how can it be so good?
I think that's why it took us so long to watch it and why there are so many people out there professing to have never seen it: the premise, on paper, looks a bit thin. It's the only thing that is.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul - the protagonists - are chalk and cheese, yet soon you see something developing between them - a chemistry, if you will. Plus the meth they cook is so good everyone wants a piece of the action, which links the two of them together even more. As the short first series segues into series two, we are introduced to the 'real' supporting cast - not Walt's family, but the likes of 'the lawyer', 'the fixer' and the 'villain' - three utterly crucial elements for making this TV series as good as it was.
Saul Goodman - a lawyer (just), who has his fingers in more pies than you could imagine. Mike - a hitman and problem solver who works for Saul, but really works for... Gus Fring, the head of massively successful chicken restaurant chain who is also the largest drug baron in the southern United States. Three characters who would help turn this into quite possibly one of the most spectacular TV shows ever made.
By the end of series two you are still rooting for Walt; he's still the 'hero', but from season three on, Walt really becomes the chemical mastermind persona he has invented for himself - his is Heisenberg and you start to see the flicker of megalomania behind those dark, bespectacled, eyes.
To say that carnage rules the next couple of series is a slight overstatement, but it's never too far from the surface. People get killed that you just wouldn't expect to die and things are never predictable. You think you can guess what is going to happen next and its the last thing that does happen! This is what made this series so enjoyable, you kind of had to give up second guessing it because anything you thought might happen wasn't a patch on what they actually opted for.
Then, at the end of series four, you wonder what the hell a fifth season could have in it. It ends; just about every loose bit is tied up in that explosive perfect season finale. When the final series begins it acts almost like an epilogue - the loose ends of the loose ends seem to get tied up ... But that was the TV show's charm, the ability to lead you down a path only to be rugby tackled from the side. Series five proved that not all of the loose ends were tied up; in fact the ones left were a lot more unpredictable than Gus Fring. As the final series progressed, things just got grimmer to the point where you knew, deep down, there wasn't going to be any form of happy ending...
I liked the analogy that for the entire series Walter thought he was in charge, but in reality he was never 'in charge'. He was always controlled by something - whether it was Fring or his own love of being a super villain. How he took control in the series' final episode and did everything the way he wanted it done was a fitting tribute. A good friend of mine said he felt the finale was rushed (it was 75 minutes long) and I can see that, but I can also see that it was necessary. The time frame of the series: 12 months pass between series one episode one and series five episode seven, but a further 12 months pass from that point by the swimming pool and the bloody riot at the very end, in fact, all the finale action largely takes place on Walt's 52nd birthday.
In the end most people got what they deserved; like real life some things were fairer than others. I'd spent three seasons hoping that Skyler White would die in the most horrible of ways and, remarkably, that Hank, the consummate professional cop would get his man, because it was what he deserved. Or that Jesse would actually live happily ever after with that cute girl and her son; but nothing I 'wanted' happened yet it was still one of the most mind-blowing TV shows ever and like The Sopranos its kind will probably never be repeated.
I watched the finale last night, after managing to avoid most spoilers (no thanks to Malcolm Alsop for almost killing my enjoyment by using his Facebook status to tell the world what had happened) and worked it out that we started to watch the series midway through August (so about 8 weeks in total to watch 60 episodes) and yet I feel as though a huge hole has been excavated in me, one that I don't see any other TV show filling at the moment.
People will tell you that you really should have watched it. Trust them; these people are right. This is essential television; it is culturally superb; it is what television was created for, to entertain, to shock, to get a reaction. Vince Gilligan cut his teeth on The X Files but will be catapulted into the same arena as Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams on the strength of this show. Bryan Cranston is already a huge star and I expect a bright future for Aaron Paul, whose character, at the end, got what he deserved.
So did we.
Addendum: This is the music used to preview the finale: http://youtu.be/W9V-Hh0uTaI it is possibly the loveliest song I have heard all year and the words... Jesus, you would have thought they had been written specifically for the final episode...