(This post contains spoilers for The Sopranos, and obviously Breaking Bad…)
Having just watched the final episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad, I wonder how the ending will be remembered long term. Let me make clear that the show was brilliant; this post is about the ending, as compared with the endings of other brilliant shows.
Overall, the finale was pretty much just what I thought was going to happen. Actually, pretty much everything about it was predictable. I feel like it didn’t take a genius to figure out Walt would go on a suicide mission to take out “Uncle” Jack and rescue Jesse in the process. And just about every other moment was predictable from the laser pointers to the Walt being in the house with Skylar already.
Now, I’ve stated this before, but I’m going on record with it here. The series finale would have been much more iconic and memorable if it ended after the first 8 episodes. Not only did the mid-season finale have some amazing and memorable scenes (the giant pile of money and the prison hit sequence) but it also nailed what could have been one of the best and most talked about final shots in a series since the infamous Sopranos cut to black.
For those of you who don’t know, the Sopranos ends with mob boss Tony Soprano in a diner with his family eating onion rings while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” plays on the juke box when all of a sudden on the second instance of the lyric “Don’t stop–” the screen goes black for a few seconds and the credits roll in silence. For years now viewers have debated over whether he lives happily ever after or the sudden stop means he was shot there in front of his family. In my opinion the ending was not ambiguous, but rather subtely implied, not spelled out enough to crush all discussion and interpretation, but leaning one way enough to make the series feel resolved.
Breaking Bad could have pulled off the same thing by heavily implying that Hank goes on to take Walt down, but by not showing anything leaves it open for discussion. It’s the difference between the conversation being (with the real finale) “Did you see the finale? Walt avenged Hank, cool stuff,” and (if they had cut to black with Hank on the toilet) a conversation that lasts for years and makes the show timeless.
Granted, these past 8 episodes have been pretty cool to see Walt completely exposed to the public but I don’t think they really did anything that special with them to warrant giving up the buzz of ending the series right there with Hank on the toilet. The episode 16 finale was cool, but an episode 8 finale would have been iconic.