On Sunday night, Breaking Bad aired its final episode for 2012. Breaking Bad is a show tailor-made for discussion due to its habit of constantly shocking and surprising the viewer, leaving them desperately wanting to see what happens next. Because of that, I figured the best way to talk about the past eight episodes is to get a ragtag group of fellow Breaking Bad-fans and have an in-depth discussion on the highs, the lows, and what we think will happen next. I'm joined by J.D. Lyons, Jeremy Flores, Matt Legarreta (of the new website GeekBinge), and Jake Wilbanks.
Don't let the discussion end here. Post your thoughts on the season and predictions for the series' end in the comments below.
Jeremy Sollie: Welcome, everyone. I'm glad you all could make it. Grab a seat on the metaphorical couch. What were everyone's thoughts on this half-season as a whole? Were there any specific problems you had with it?
J.D. Lyons: The whole season has been a thrill for me personally, though there were a few problems for sure. I wasn't a big fan of the train heist, seemed a bit forced. Like the show had a heist for the sake of having a heist. I dunno, kinda rubbed me the wrong way. But some of the best acting has been done this season. Anna Gunn was holy shit amazing in the episode directed by Rian Johnson. The scene in the bedroom where she's arguing with Walt was incredible. Hank has gotten better and better each season. Loved the scene where he's drinking scotch with Walt, talking about his past job as a tree marker and talking about chasing monsters. Dean Norris doesn't get enough credit.
Matt Legarreta: The season as a whole worked fine for me, with such fantastic episodes as "Dead Freight" and "Say My Name" proving that this show is still capable of delivering the goods. That said, the limited episode number is really starting to make itself known, for it doesn't seem like certain elements get NEARLY the amount of attention they deserve. And for this reason, some of the later plot advances feel a little half baked and poorly executed. Everything was happening so fast this season that we really had no room to breath, and in my viewing experience at least, the show suffered for it. Also, too little Saul Goodman. With the impending danger gone, I don't think the show knows what to do with him anymore. Hopefully, a more straight forward narrative next season will help the show immensely.
Jeremy Flores: It was a great season even though season 4 is still my favorite. There were some messed up moments (like Todd shooting the kid, Walt killing Mike). I had problems with Mikes carelessness, specifically tying only one of Walts hands on the radiator instead of both and leaving the methylamine there with Walt (why not have someone watch Walt while he was doing his hazard pay deeds?). Also, the lack of breakdown of the Czech business was problematic since the show has always been so meticulous about how the meth and money are distributed.
Jeremy Sollie: For some reason leading up to this season I was worried that it would take a drop in quality. Maybe it was just the dark cloud of "Lost" that floats ominously over TV, but I was worried that Breaking Bad might not be able to sustain its constant excellence and trip up in the final season. Thankfully I was proven wrong. This was another fantastic season of television that cemented Breaking Bad as my favorite show. That being said, this season wasn't without its faults. This season occasionally felt more disjointed than previous ones, probably due in part to the writers wanting to put as much as they could in the final season. Regarding the season's problems, I did find it interesting to hear complaints that this season moved so fast that some elements were poorly executed. In seasons three and four there were complaints like Matt's that the show was moving too slow in the early episodes. Now that the show is packing each episode full of plot, people are complaining the exact opposite. I'm not saying their complaints aren't valid, I just find it interesting how this season has differed from previous ones. Overall though, great season that perfectly laid the groundwork for the final one to be even better.
Jake Wilbanks: As a whole this season has worked extremely well for me. There were a number of episodes like Dead Freight, Fifty-One, and Say My Name that definitely stand in my favorite installments of the entire series. I think its been terrific seeing an entire season/half-season of a fully turned Walter White where he has his own turn looking over things and being completely ruthless. Another great thing about this season is the focus thats been placed on all of these side characters and how good and heroic theyve appeared when compared with Walter. Characters like Mike and Jessie had some OUTSTANDING scenes, and the arc that Mike had this season was particularly effective for me. I cant remember ever being as depressed about a television as I was about Mikes death. That moment in the show and how cripplingly depressing it was stuck with me for what seemed like the entire week.I honest to goodness cant think of any problems I had with this season. Maybe its because Im still coming off the high that was Gliding Over All, but I think this has been a fairly flawless string of episodes, which gets me even more excited for next season. I cant even imagine whats in store. If theres anything I could nitpick about its maybe a slight lack of Aaron Paul. Hes always been my favorite character of the show, and I personally wished there had been more of him this season like there was such an emphasis on him last season, but thats more of a personal preference than anything.
Jeremy Sollie: Last season was built around a cat and mouse game between Walt and Gus. What do you think the theme was for this year?
J.D. Lyons: I think the theme of the season has been revelations - both dark and light. Jesse finally began seeing just how evil Walt is, and Skyler did too. Of course Hank's big revelation at the end was one as well. Walt realized that he was chasing the wrong dream, that even this dark twisted life could become boring and mundane, and maybe he had it good all along. This last revelation might have come too late, obviously.
Matt Legarreta: I think the overarching theme of this season was questioning just how high a man can fly before being brought back to reality. After defeating Gus Fring last season, Walter White felt damn near impenetrable. And just like Icarus in the Greek myth, his overconfidence caused him to fly too close to the sun. He expanded his "empire" to a point that he was doing it simply to show that he could. And right before he was about to lower himself, his wings have been melted. He's crashing back down to the ground and, hopefully in the final season, will finally realize that he is NOT as invincible as he thinks he is. Sadly, I think this lesson will be learned a little too late.
Jeremy Flores: All kings have their reign, and then they die."
Jeremy Sollie: I'm with Matt that this season was all about Walt finally coming to terms with what he has wrought. Breaking Bad wasn't subtle with showing how self-centered Walt had become this season. He was feeling impervious, and nothing Mike, Skyler, or anyone else could say was going to change that. The only person who could convince Walt to give up his dream was himself, and this season was all about realistically getting him to that point.
Jake Wilbanks: I think the entire idea of this season has been seeing Walt literally at the top of his game, walking a mile in Gus shoes and realizing all the crap that comes with being in charge. Especially in this last episode, you see Walt achieve what he truly wanted, but of course hes not happy. Its been his first full season of being pure evil, and the seasons also been about how everyone else (especially Mike, Jessie, Saul, etc.) is reacting to this new and improved Walter.
Jeremy Sollie: As J.D. mentioned, Walt begins to realize that maybe he was chasing the wrong dream. When he tells Skyler that he's out, do you believe him?
J.D. Lyons: I did actually consider the thought that maybe Walt lied and isn't really out of the business but I think he's truly over it. It had become so 9-5 and boring for him. He was just spending too much time away from his kids and I think really did miss them. Would it surprise me if he was outright lying? No. But I do think that he is underestimating how easy it is to just get out. It's NEVER that easy. There are loose ends aplenty.
Matt Legarreta: I think Walt would LIKE to get out of the meth businessthe real question is if the world will let him. With Hank hot on his trail, I don't think giving up will be quite that easy. And it's no longer just him cooking in an RV; like Walt himself said back in Season 4, if he decided to just not come into work one day, a company big enough to be on the DOW Jones would crumble. And well he was talking about Gus' operation at the time, the same rule applies here. If Walter White truly wants to get out of the meth business, he'll have to deal with Lydia, Todd, Declan, and (I imagine) a bunch of angry Czech Republicans first. That assault rifle in "Live Free or Die" is starting to look better and better, isn't it?
Jeremy Flores: I believe he is. He already has enough money for ten lifetimes."
Jeremy Sollie: I definitely believe he is out, but I'm very interested to see how. We don't know exactly how much time passes between Skyler showing Walt the money and Walt quitting, but it would have to be a couple days at least. Perhaps Todd learned over three months how to make meth up to Walt's standards and has now taken over the business. Even then there would have to be much discussion between the numerous people Walt was in business with. So yes, I fully believe he is out, but I look forward to seeing how he wrangled his way out of it.
Jake Wilbanks: Yeah, actually, I do. Given the fact that we only have 8 episodes left, I feel like the entire series has been building Jenga pieces one by one with Walter and his empire, and the home stretch next year is going to be Hank pulling out the bottom pieces, if that makes any sense. I think if Walter went back into his empire itd almost be redundant considering thats really what the big drive of the first half of this season has been.
Jeremy Sollie: Another ambiguous plot development from this episode was the possibility of Walt's cancer returning. Is it back?
J.D. Lyons: I think the cancer is most definitely back. Walt is rail thin in the cold opening of season 5 and he's taking pills in the bathroom of the Denny's. I just don't think there's any other explanation and it fits perfectly with the story. All signs point to Walt coming back to NM to protect his family from one of his random loose ends, maybe Declan, who knows. Knowing he's dying anyway, and knowing that perhaps he'll be caught by Hank when he comes back (if Hank indeed helps him escape), it would make sense to me if Walt was going to go out in a blaze of glory but up against a traditional "bad guy" and not necessarily the police or DEA.
Matt Legarreta: I think the cancer IS back, but only because of the evidence we saw during the flash forward in the first episode (the pill bottle, Walt's overall state of well being, etc.) Also, I think the only reason he went to talk to Jesse was because he needed someone to talk to after receiving such bad news, but literally could not think of anyone else to do it with. Delivering him his money was just an excuse.
Jeremy Flores: It has to be, right? I think Gilligan was non-committal when someone (forgot what journalist/site) asked him. Walt had his familiar cough and was popping a pill in the opening scene of season 5.
Jeremy Sollie: There's not a doubt in my mind that the cancer is back. Walt has spent the entire season fancying himself as impervious, but he forgot about the one thing that's as deadly as a wheelchair bomb. Since it's obvious, I'm interested to see how long the show will wait before definitively saying anything. I don't see the writers waiting until the penultimate episode and making some grand reveal, because everyone knows it's back. As for how it will factor in, I'm sure that it was vital in both Walt's "retirement" and him giving the money to Jesse. Now that the cancer is back, he wants to revert back to his plan in season one and happily live out his final days with his family. Though that's not going to happen now.
Jake Wilbanks: I dont think the cancer is back. I think itd be an interesting twist to bring it back on top of all the other danger thats about to be knocking at Walters door. That being said, I think the opening of Season 5 is the best evidence against it. He has a full head of hair, and seems to be in fine health. I think the doctors visit was really just another addition to all of the callbacks that were in this mid-season finale to remind us one last time just how far Walters come right before Vince Gilligan uproots every last one of his best-laid plans.
Jeremy Sollie: The finale did something the show had never done before, which was skipping three months in one montage. Some people have criticized it. Did the large jump in time work for you, or are you in agreement that it could have been handled better?
J.D. Lyons: The 3 month progression didn't bother me at all and I wonder if anyone that it did bother isn't just mad that they couldn't see every single that happened because they're such fans of the show. And I completely get that. But realistically, it's fine that they fast forwarded a bit. They've earned it. And maybe it's a boring 3 months ya know?!? Hahaha. It just didn't bug me at all. I wish there were 80 more episodes of Breaking Bad to go but there just isn't. If they have to use a montage to show me three months, it's fine.
Matt Legarreta: My opinion is mixed on the effectiveness of the three month long montage. On the one hand, it was beautifully directed by the always great Michelle MacLaren, and featured some wonderful transitions that put other TV montages to shame. But on the other hand, it feels a little bit like a cop out. The show needed to advance a year in the future but, rather than show us the essential bits over say a three episode period, the show was forced to do it over just three MINUTES. Once again though, I can't really blame Gilligan and his crew for this. They were just working with the limited amount of episodes they had.
Jeremy Flores: I think it was effective in the sense of the show having to move towards the opening scene of season 5. If Breaking Bad had more episodes instead of cutting the season in half, then they definitely couldve had the events in a more detailed way.
Jeremy Sollie: I'm not completely sold on the idea that it is only there because the writers were short on episodes. Would we have liked to see three or four episodes of Walt becoming bored with his rise to the top? Now that business was running smoothly, Walt wasn't getting the same enjoyment he did from robbing trains or taking care of rivals. It wasn't that much different than running the car wash. While I understand that it's a big departure for the show, I thought it served its purpose very well.
Jake Wilbanks: The way that this show conveyed time like it did in Gliding Over All could very well be my favorite moment of this entire episode. Just like a thousand other genius moments in Breaking Bad where Gilligan wouldnt beat you over the head with chunky dialogue, he was showing rather than telling. He just did it in a different way that makes you do a serious double-take when Marie reveals how long it really has been. I love that montage in and of itself, but the way that the show completely changes the way you look at it seconds later is pure TV magic.
Jeremy Sollie: Another point of contention is that some things this season - the train heist and Walt's major prison plan to name a few - pushed the boundaries of plausibility that the show has typically tried to adhere to. Do you agree with the criticisms?
J.D. Lyons: I only agree about the train heist. Not that it was implausible, but more just unnecessary. Seemed like they were just putting in a train heist because they wanted to see a train heist. And they decided to do it in .2 seconds. That bothered me. The whole thing was rushed. Still, I didn't completely hate it and I love Bill Burr so the scene wasn't a total waste. No issues with the prison scenes. Honestly, it just doesn't seem that impossible compared to other things that have happened on the show. I do think it's funny to hear those two scenes singled out as implausible while almost no one mentions the magnets. Ha! All in all, still liked the scenes because they were Breaking Bad and I'm an unapologetic super fan.
Matt Legarreta: I disagree with the criticisms that the Train Heist or the prison montage stretched the plausibility of the show. Maybe I wasn't as finely tuned to it as most were at the time, but while watching these two sequences, I wasn't thinking that the scenarios' successes were highly improbable; the show did a good enough job of gripping me that I didn't worry too much about it. Also, this show has had two planes crash in mid air due to one man's mistake, and other man walking around for a good 30 seconds after having half of his skull blow off. I think two well thought out heists didn't stretch the plausibility of this show very much.
Jeremy Flores: I understand the criticisms, but when it comes to the train sequence, it didn't bother me. Yes, theres the matter of how did Todd, Jesse, Mike and Walt know where the train was exactly going to stop, but Gilligan and the writers did their homework on the whole train sequence by calling railroad/train companies and whatnot (via Nerdist Writers Panel season 5 review).
Jeremy Sollie: I'm also somewhat confused by the sudden complaints of implausibility. While the show is grounded in realism, it can be unabashedly pulpy. Also, Gus did things last season that were just as implausible as Walt has done now but received no criticism (the spidey-sense moment in End Times excluded). When Gus walked towards the sniper last season, no one complained about the implausibility. It was just an awesome moment. But now that Walt has assumed his position, if he did that this season, people would cry foul. I think all of Walt's master plans were done well enough that their inherit implausibility didn't distract me while I was watching.
Jake Wilbanks: I dont agree with those criticisms per say. I can see the exact train of thought those people are on, but I dont agree at all. I think the entire series has built this grounded tone because we were (and are) dealing with a very real universe that Vince Gilligan has molded. That being said, I think the past four seasons have built everything up to such a heightened scale and such an elevated sense of reality now that you can have these big events happen like the train robbery and the prison plan work in an extremely disturbing way. Are they huge events? Yes, but were on a huge scale now. Its like saving up your allowance for about 7 weeks in a row; youve saved it up for one big prize, which is Breaking Bads fifth season. I dont even think it breaks the shows sense of reality. If youre going to make that argument for either of those sequences you might as well lump in Gus rather fantastical death from Season 4.
Jeremy Sollie: This season was packed with fantastic scenes and moments. What were some of your favorites?
J.D. Lyons: Jesse, Skyler, and Walt eating dinner together. I couldn't help but laugh throughout the entire awkward scene. Loved it. The cold opening of the first episode was fantastic. Perfection. Had me running dozens of scenarios through my head as to how he got to that point. Mike holding his hands out and finally saying "Keys asshole. This is the universal sign for give me the keys." Hilarious. Jesse screaming "Yeah bitch!" after the testing of the magnets. The argument between Walt and Skyler in their bedroom. And my favorite scene of the entire season and one of my favorite of the entire series was the opening scene of "Say My Name", culminating in Walt saying "You're goddam right." I got chills and simultaneously wanted to pump my fist and jump off the couch.
Matt Legarreta: The train heist was definitely a standout for me, as was Mike's wonderful and appropriate death. I also enjoyed most of the symbolism at play in "Fifty-One", from the tick-tock of the clock to Skyler floating aimlessly in the pool. Also, seeing Bryan Cranston embrace his inner evil more than ever before was a delight. He knocked it out of the park.
Jeremy Flores: There were a lot of great moments this season even though they were mostly somber, but nothing beats these three words: Yeah, bitch! Magnets!
Jeremy Sollie: The two best scenes of the season are the Walt vs. Skyler argument in the bedroom and the incredibly uncomfortable dinner scene between Walt, Jesse, and Skyler. This season made the Walt/Skyler storyline the best its ever been. My other favorite moments were the train heist, Mike's death, the cold open of "Buyout", the prison murders, and the reveal of cooking meth in bug-bombed houses.
Jake Wilbanks: Breaking Bads best moments have always been the moments where Im screaming at my TV, and those moments were pretty common this year. The moment where Todd shoots the kid in the desert is one of the most haunting moments of the entire series, where we get to see these horrifying moments without any sort of filter. Hanks realization, Rian Johnsons dub-step sequence and every single moment Walters being just plain cocky around Saul or Jessie really stood out too, but its the last 15 minutes of Say My Name thats probably going to stay with me the longest. Perfectly depressing television.
Jeremy Sollie: We ended this batch of episodes with Hank finding out who Walt really is. Since this has been a moment the show has been building towards since season one, it's a reveal they really needed to get right. Did the reveal work for you? And what do you think Hank's reaction will be?
J.D. Lyons: The Hank revelation was fantastic. Walt had become increasingly sloppy in his arrogance and it makes perfect sense that it would be his pride that was his undoing. Wearing his hat in public, the flashy car, the Rolex, keeping that book and storing it out in the open. All sloppy sloppy moves from a man feeling invincible. The fact that it was on the toilet was hilarious. Things are literally going down the shitter. They turned one of the biggest revelations on the show, if not the biggest, into a poop joke sort of. BB has always had a sick, dark sense of humor and this fits perfectly.
Where Hank goes from here is really up in the air. The fact that Walt is Heisenberg REALLY looks bad for him. The fact that they're family, they've spent significant time together, Walt paid for his recovery therapy with drug money, all of this puts Hank in a very dicey spot. He may see his only choice as helping Walt to escape on his own to a new identity in New Hampshire. Wouldn't surprise me if Hank let Walt get away on the one condition that he never come back.
Matt Legarreta: Ultimately, I think the Hank reveal really worked for me in how low key the entire affair was. Throughout the past five seasons, we have expected the moment when Hank found out that Walt was Heisenberg to be this big, The Usual Suspect style reveal. Instead, it took place when Hank was taking a crap. This kind of clever reversal is classic Breaking Bad in my opinion, and the perfect way for Hank to finally learn the truth. That said, I could have gone without the on-the-nose flashback. Then again, I guess for people who haven't revisited the show in a while, it might have helped jog their memory a bit.
I don't think Hank is going to outright reveal to the world that his brother-in-law is the reclusive Heisenberg. No, what happened to the former ASAC of the DEA will be constantly circling around in Hank's mind. Hank is just as prideful as Walt, and I'm sure he doesn't want to admit that the person he's been looking for for such a long time was right under his nose. He'll let the situation fester, try to subtly gather more evidence to support his hypothesis, and only react when something Walt does pushes him to do so.
Jeremy Flores: The final scene was pretty great. Its very simple but oh so massive.
As for what Hank does, its pretty tricky. Hank must be taking the biggest deuce in his life just processing all the events in the past year and all the subtle clues that Walts suspicious actions gave away. Then theres the revelation of Hank knowing that Walt paid for his rehab, not to mention that theyre family.
Jeremy Sollie: The Hank reveal worked wonderfully for me due in no small part to what preceded it. After a season full of blatant foreshadowing of death and doom, the final scene of the season was the family happily conversing next to the pool. It was unnervingly happy and cheerful. Because I spent the whole scene waiting for zombie Gus to rise out of the pool or the house to blow up, Hank's reveal had a larger impact. The show wound up the suspense as tightly as the could, and then gave the audience the reveal they're waited five seasons for via a character dropping a deuce. I'm glad Hank didn't find out about Walt any other way because he wasn't in "DEA" mode here. He was in "family" mode. And having Walt so close by yet completely unaware makes it all the better.
As for where it goes from here, I'm not sure. I wouldn't be surprised if the first episode is largely made up of Hank leaving the bathroom and trying to keep things close to the chest while subtly questioning Walt. He's going to have to think long and hard about how he handles the situation. Not only because of the blood ties, but because of his job.
Jake Wilbanks: While Ive heard a few complaints about the finale in general, there were a lot of things that really, really worked for me, if not the entire episode. One of the things that worked extremely well for me was this Hank reveal that came at the very end of the episode. To be honest, Im surprised it didnt happen sooner, but just seeing that look in Hanks eyes after 4 1/2 long seasons of hunting and anguish it was a blend of surprise and overwhelming joy, especially after everything Walters done this season. To me, it was one of those things weve known was going to happen for so long that when it finally did happen it wasnt even expected somehow. I just remember the exact moment I realized Hank was in Walts bathroom I screamed Wait, thats WALTS bathroom! and I was all the more excited for where things are going to go next year.Obviously, Hanks going to just launch an all-out assault on trying to call Walt out on this now that the cats out of the bag. Ive actually heard and tossed around the idea with some friends that either Walter is going to pull a Heisenberg and put Hank in a tight spot bribing him with the fact that he paid for Hanks physical therapy with that very same drug money or Hanks going to lose his job on the police force considering how long hes been warned to stay off the Heisenberg case.
Jeremy Sollie: Finally, where do we see the show going from here?
J.D. Lyons: Where do we go from here? I don't know but I can't wait. I addressed some of my theories earlier. We'll see what happens. I just love that every time I think I have this show figured out or narrowed down to one or two plausible scenarios, they throw me a perfectly placed curve ball that makes perfect sense and is something I had never even considered.
Matt Legarreta: I think the final season will be a fun game of cat and mouse between Walt and Hank, which should be an absolute thrill to see. As for why and how Walt ends up eating alone at a Denny's on his 52nd birthday, I'm going to guess that either Declan's men or some unknown Czech Republic faction will off his family, and that Walt's buying the gun not for self-defense, but to go on one final, revenge seeking suicide mission. That's just my take on it though. Knowing the deception of these writers, I'm probably completely wrong.
Jeremy Flores: Hank obviously has to take Walt down, but I doubt hes going to confront him just coming out of the john. The show's so good that it's really hard to predict what happens even though the last scene of this season suggests such an easy prediction of what's going to happen next. I also think Skyler dies. Why? Walt always keeps a memento for deaths he feels responsible for (cuts crust off sandwiches like Krazy 8, takes the eyeball from the teddy bear from the plane crash, keeps the Leaves of Grass gift from Gale, etc). In the diner, hes using her maiden name and arranges the bacon just like she did.
Jeremy Sollie: I've never been so unsure of what will happen next in Breaking Bad. I don't think we will only get to Walt at the Denny's in the final episode, but that would mean a span of nine months in four or five episodes. Jesse has to come back in to play, and I can't see the show not bringing Saul back in as well. There's a ton of balls in the air and the stakes have never been higher. And knowing Breaking Bad, there will be blood.
Jake Wilbanks: Like I said earlier, next season is going to be the season I think Walter finally stays out of the meth business, but its going to be a little too late. I think Walts empire hes in the business of and this great life hes built for his family is about to completely collapse, its just a matter of how its going to happen. Obviously Walters going by a different name at the Dennys on his 52nd birthday, which to me, means hes on the run, but hes definitely fighting back against someone. The prediction that Ive heard made a thousand times over is that Jessie is going to end up killing Walt, but thats probably the most predictable ending there could be, and Breaking Bad is anything but predictable. It may sound lazy on my part, but the only real prediction I could make about the second half of Season 5 is that very bad things are going to happen. In one years time, I think well be picking our jaws off the floor and rising to our feet for a perfect finale of one of the best shows to ever grace television. In Gilligan We Trust.
Breaking Bad returns for its final run of episodes next Summer. Until then, you can read an interview with Vince Gilligan here, hear an interview with the entire writing staff here, buy a CD of Dave Porter's fantastic score here, and read my reviews of the season here.
Don't forget to let us know what you think of the season in the comments!