SciFi Weekend: Breaking Bad; Dexter; Hannibal; The Blacklist; Sleepy Hollow; The Americans; Community; True Blood; Broadchurch; Doctor Who

Breaking Bad Series Finale Elliot and Gretchen 1

Vince Gilligan ended Breaking Bad just as most would have predicted if not for feeling that this was too obvious and trying to throw in a twist. In the end, Walt killed the Nazis, rescued Jesse and then died. Jesse escaped, Lydia was killed, and plans were made to get money to Walt’s family. Realistically Walt’s death was the most probable end-point for the series since the first episode. Initially it might have been from the cancer. Events since then changed how it most likely to occur. It became inevitable that he would face a violent death, but also achieve some measure of victory.

The only surprises in the finale were the details in how everything would be accomplished, such as threatening Elliott and Gretchen with assassination by “the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi” who were really Skinny Pete and Badger armed only with laser pointers. There was no need for a surprise ending, and certainly not a gimmick such as a dream or fading to black. Breaking Bad feels more like a continuous story in a novel, leading to the most likely conclusion. The finale has received universal praise, showing that no gimmicks were needed. Hopefully writers of future series will learn from this.

The success of the finale of Breaking Bad led to inevitable comparisons to other finales. To be fair to other show runners who fell short, the structure of Breaking Bad lent itself to coming to such a definite and obvious conclusion. While I was not satisfied with the ending to The Sopranos, an ambiguous ending was more in line with that show than Breaking Bad. After the full run of the series, it was realistic that Tony Soprano had made enough enemies that one would just walk up to him and shoot him in a diner. It would similarly be realistic to interpret this otherwise and see Tony Soprano continuing as he had for years, as with Sam Malone on Cheers. Breaking Bad had a clear storyline leading to an inevitable conclusion.

Damon Lindelof was blasted on Twitter during the Breaking Bad finale for not providing such a satisfactory conclusion to Lost. While I think they could have done better with Lost, a key difference here is that Lost had developed such a complex mythology that there was no realistic way to end the series. Lindelof defended his ending in The Hollywood Reporter, which was more a plea for everyone to stop talking about it.

The remaining questions are trivial compared to the questions raised by Lost. There was no question to the motivations of the main character. Walt revealed to Skyler that he was doing this all for himself. Did Walt initially plan to kill Jesse, and then change his mind when he saw how he was enslaved? That change in motivation is suggested in several interviews where Vince Gilligan compared the ending to The Searchers:

On the story inspiration for Walt, who was hellbent on killing Jesse, saving his ex-partner out of sudden instinct 
“A lot of astute viewers who know their film history are going to say, ‘It’s the ending to The Searchers.’ And indeed it is. The wonderful western The Searchers has John Wayne looking for Natalie Wood for the entire three-hour length of the movie. She’s been kidnapped by Indians and raised as one of their own, and throughout the whole movie, John Wayne says, ‘I need to put her out of her misery. As soon as I find her, I’m going to kill her.’ The whole movie Jeffrey Hunter is saying, ‘No, we’re not — she’s my blood kin, we’re saving her,’ and he says, ‘We’re killing her.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh my god, John Wayne is a monster and he’s going to do it. You know for the whole movie that this is the major drama between these two characters looking for Natalie Wood. And then at the end of the movie, on impulse, you think he’s riding toward her to shoot her, and instead he sweeps her up off her feet and he carries her away and he says, ‘Let’s go home.’ It just gets me every time — the ending of that movie just chokes you up, it’s wonderful. In the writers room, we said, ‘Hey, what about the Searchers ending?’ So, it’s always a matter of stealing from the best. [Laughs]“

Did Walt have any plan for after he killed the neo-Nazis if he survived? It did not appear that he did. If not for the last-second decision to save Jesse, I wonder if he had planned to jump to the floor, or remain standing and die with everyone else in the room.

We know Jesse is free but from there it is all speculation:

“We always felt like the viewers desired Jesse to get away. And it’s up to the individual viewer to decide what happens next for Jesse. Some people might think, ‘Well, he probably got two miles down the road before the cops nailed him.’ But I prefer to believe that he got away, and he’s got a long road to recovery ahead, in a sense of being held prisoner in a dungeon for the last six months and being beaten to within an inch of his life and watching Andrea be shot. All these terrible things he’s witnessed are going to scar him as well, but the romantic in me wants to believe that he gets away with it and moves to Alaska and has a peaceful life communing with nature.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t realistic to have Jesse wind up raising Brock, providing him with a true happy ending.

What was going through Jesse’s mind when he didn’t shoot Walt? Was this the outcome of Jesse previously saying he would never do what Walt told him to do again, a desire to be done with killing, or did a remnant of his old respect for Walt prevent him from pulling the trigger? Would he have shot Walt if he didn’t see that Walt already had a gunshot wound?

Will Walt’s scheme work and will Gretchen and Elliott really get the money to Walt, Jr.? There’s no way to know. On this show many elaborate schemes have worked well. It was quite fortunate for Walt that Lydia kept to her old schedule and was the one to take the pack of poisoned Stevia. Everything also had to go right for his plan to kill the neo-Nazis to succeed. While throughout the series many elaborate plans were successful, not everything went right for Walt. Most notably, Walt ruined his plans by leaving the Walt Whitman book out in his bathroom, and easily fell for Jesse’s plan to lead the DEA to the money. We also do not know if his plan for Skyler to negotiate with the coordinates of  Hank and Gomez’s bodies will save her, with his previous phone call not appearing to have helped her very much.

In comparing the recent finales of Breaking Bad and Dexter, it seems like the Breaking Bad finale was planned from the start while Dexter‘s finale decided late in the series. The opposite turns out to be true. Vince Gilligan had no idea about some major aspects of the ending, and has revealed other endings under consideration.

Dexter and Hannah

It was the opposite for Dexter. While Clyde Phillips, the original show runner, had a different idea, current show runner Scott Buck and longtime executive producer Sara Colleton told Entertainment Weekly that this ending had been planned for years:

Before the season started, you said the core idea behind this finale has been in the works for years. What was the original concept?
BUCK: The kernel idea were the last few scenes. They were what I pitched a few years ago. The main idea was Dexter is forced to kill Debra. And there are many ways that could happen. But those final scenes were pretty much unchanged.
SARA COLLETON: From the very beginning the paradox was here’s a guy who doesn’t feel he’s a human being, who has to fake it. But in faking it, he’s a better brother, boyfriend, colleague that most real people. People think of him as a monster, but he yearns to be human. We’ve seen him go forward on this journey every year. Now we found out what the final price was. What sums up the entire journey was the scene on balcony of his apartment before going on the boat to put Deb down — that’s horrible to say aloud. The voiceover: “For so long all I wanted was to feel like other people … now that I do just want it to stop.” It’s the horrible awareness of what it was to be a human being and how overwhelming that is for him. His punishment is banishment. He sends himself into exile. Killing himself is too easy. When he turns and looks into the camera at the end he’s stripped everything away.

Were there any other versions of the ending that you rejected?
BUCK: The only real variation was what he would be doing. I knew he would be in a self-imposed prison that would be as far from Miami as possible. We’d find him working in some solitary environment where even if other people were around he would make no contact and not talk to anyone. We would follow him home and he would have no human contact.

In a way that’s his new code — avoiding human contact.
BUCK: Yes. For us, that’s the tragedy. The one thing we felt Dexter wanted more than anything was human connections. Even in the first season we see him trying to get with Rudy. Now that he’s finally made that journey and he’s almost poised to have a real human life, he has to give all that up to save Harrison and Hannah.
COLLETON: He went into an absolute shutdown. He no longer has even his voiceover.

 Hannibal Season 2

The above poster was released for the second season of Hannibal. Bryan Fuller explains: “After a horrifying descent into madness in season 1, this image ironically represents the perspective of a scrappier, clearer-minded Will Graham in season 2.  The scales have fallen from his eyes and he finally sees Hannibal Lecter for the monster he is.”

The Blacklist remains the best new network show so far, and has become the first to receive a full 22-episode pick-up.

Sleepy Hollow will remain with a thirteen episode run this year, and has been renewed for a second 13-episode season.

The Americans was one of the best new shows last year. Creator/executive Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields discussed the show at PaleyFest.

Nathan Fillion will guest star on Community, making Firefly references inevitable.

Rob Kazinsky says True Blood “kind of ran out of ideas and now they’ve got an idea again and they’re trying to finish stronger than ever… which they’re going to do next season!”

David Tennant will reprise his role as star of Broadchurch for a US adaptation from Fox. It was an excellent show, but I’m not sure why we need a second version. I imagine that many US viewers neither have a way to  pick up British shows and don’t watch BBC America, leaving an untapped audience for Fox.

David Tennant will also be staring in Day of the Doctor, the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who. Current plans include simulcasting the show in 75 countries.  Steven Moffat has also discussed the upcoming regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi:

If you haven’t seen it, there is a particularly fine interview Steven Moffat has given to Nerd3 in which he discusses, well, a lot of things you don’t often hear Steven Moffat discuss.

One section is devoted to regeneration, and the fact that it would not be a break with Whovian tradition for the Twelfth Doctor to look a lot like someone the Doctor has already met. In fact Peter Capaldi has been in Doctor Who (as Lucius Caecilius Iucundus in “The Fires of Pompeii”) and Torchwood: Children of Earth, and Steven has already had a chat with Russell T Davies over how this will all work.

He said: “We are aware that Peter Capaldi’s played a part in Doctor Who before and we’re not going to ignore the fact. I’ll let you in on this. I remember Russell told me he had a big old plan as to why there were two Peter Capaldis in the Who universe, one in Pompeii and one in Torchwood. When I cast Peter, [Russell] got in touch to say how pleased he was, I said ‘Okay, what was your theory and does it still work?’ and he said ‘Yes it does, here it is’. So I don’t know if we’ll get to it… we’ll play that one out over time. It’s actually quite neat.”

If they try to be too clever I  suspect they might run into problems analogous to explaining why the Klingons look different in different versions of Star Trek. There’s a simple explanation–the same actor played three different roles. Sure, you could come up with an explanation which includes the Doctor taking the form of people he encountered in the past when regenerating. Then how do we explain Karen Gillan’s appearance, as she also appeared in The Fires of Pompeii as a different character before playing Amy Pond?

J.J. Abrams has apologized for all the lens flairs in Star Trek Into Darkness.

And finally, this video on the finale and a farewell video from the cast of Breaking Bad:

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