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What does it mean that now for the third time I feel compelled to write about Breaking Bad (comments after Season 1 here, after Season 3 there)? Even after the cycle has closed, and the show experienced a mostly worthy finale, it is worth reflection, I suppose. Mainly because it maintained an impressive position about people’s characters: given the impulse, people can change, and whoever tells a story about people staying the same is a liar.

Not just Walter White, whose change from nerdy teacher and family man to ruthless murderer and drug lord plays at the heart of the show. With him, it’s actually easy to see how his insulted vanity only waited for the opportunity to break bad and show them all what kind of man, what kind of leader has always been hidden under the seemingly soft shell. His early efforts of managing his classes, his family and his career (with the key event of being cheated out of a lucrative business venture, as he would put it, years before the show’s narrative even started) leave no doubt that he is a hurt diva, and immediately garbs the opportunity to prove his true self.

But also the changes in his wife, or in Jessie the Apprentice, are fascinating to observe. They’ve had five years to grow and age in the show, and that alone would have left them different persons. Given what they had to experience and process over these five years, they arrive at the show’s finale as people very different from those they were before. Or maybe – just as with Walter – their part in the story has violently ripped away all the covers and costumes, and allowed them (or forced them) to be more close to their true self, having shed a lot of the costumes and masquerade they put on because it seemed expected of them. Skyler can be cruel and determined, Jessie can be unforgiving and himself. Is the morale of all this that sometimes a dictator is needed to get the most real character out of somebody, because only upon suffering they can decide whether resistance is called for? And only resistance to an evil force activates the primeval instincts that are sometimes necessary parts of personality?

Walter Whyte certainly created the his own enemies, he turned the flock of humble followers into mortal enemies, triggering his own downfall. He achieved this by being too greedy, not about the money, but about proving that he can bring down empires (Gus’, in this case) and replace them with new ones of his own design. Greed triggered by pride… a fatal combination. As summarised by the resident Breaking Bad philosopher Nazi Uncle: “Jesus, what’s with all the greed here? It’s unattractive.” That’s right. We learned many dimensions of greed over the course of five seasons of Breaking Bad, be it the greed for money, the greed for control, for being the most clever person in the room, or the greed for family and normality. Most of Breaking Bad’s characters are too eager to achieve their goals, and get to feel the consequences.

Did they wrap up the show the best they could? I suppose so. I have no doubt everybody was very, very keen on finding the best possible route towards the end credits, and the result was good. When looking back at the show in a couple of years’ time, I will probably not remember how this played out in detail (whereas I am already looking forward to seeing the final Sopranos episode again sometime soon, or the finale of the British “Life on Mars”). What I will remember is the two Mexican killers walking up to the old lady’s (witch’s?) house in their shiny grey suits, passing the crawling pilgrims, starting to undress. I will remember a pink teddy bear floating in a swimming pool, and a glass eye sucked into the pool’s filter. And I will remember the foggy eyes of Jessie when he is wandering through his own house like in a dream, seeing the party going on around him, not sure how he got there, whether this is what he was trying to achieve.

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