Recurring Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks
The strange thing about the final season of Breaking Bad that for a long time, it doesn’t seem like it has any intent of slowing down. We are left in the aftermath of Gus Fring’s death and rather than cutting and running, Walter White plans of filling this massive gap in the market. The first half of this season sees Walter really become the villain figure, as Jesse Pinkman and Mike try to break out of the game, but his manipulative way of talking keeps dragging them back. His business becomes routine and before long, he has more money than he even knows what to do with. As well as a strong story, we are still be introduced to characters who have a few good seasons of material in them. Lydia is one of the most unusual villains we have had in this show and it makes her endlessly interesting as a new face in the series. She is as heartless as they come, her first introduction being a scene where she tries to force Mike into killing nine people just because they have seen her face around Fring’s drug empire. She has few moments of redemption. However, besides from her actions, she never seems like a villain. She is neurotic, always panicky, and cannot stand the sight of blood. She orders a hit on a few business partners and tucks herself away into the corner of the room, as the bullets thunder overhead. She is the last thing we expect from the bad guy who replaces Gus Fring and, as a result, she is the perfect person to do so. The other interesting new face is Todd. At first, he seems a little bland as a character. He acts as a spare body for some of Walter’s plans and, later on, as Jesse’s character arc takes him away from Walter’s, he could be argued to be little more than a Jesse replacement to keep the story going. However, there is definitely something sinister about his lack of character. A massive character development will come up that leaves the audience reeling, yet Todd takes it in his stride so calmly. Soon his expressionless face and polite manner breaks away into something far darker.
But the characters we already have are the ones to watch. It is quite clear that this is going to be their swansong, as there won’t be another series of Breaking Bad. Therefore every actor gives it their all, tying up their character arcs neatly with their performances. Bryan Cranston is nothing short of amazing. A theme of this series is that almost every character is reduced to a shell of their former self and no one quite gets that across as Cranston. Even when he has fully transformed into the villainous Heisenberg, he has a sad, pathetic shuffle to his mannerisms. He delivers ultimatums as if there is no other conceivable way. As a result, when his character does eventually get emotional, it hurts so much harder. A phone call in Ozymandias is endlessly upsetting, Cranston’s voice firm and demanding, his expression nothing short of a breakdown. Jesse Pinkman is little more than an angry husk of the bright young kid he once was. Certain frames are breath-taking, when we see just what Aaron Paul’s character has been reduced to, the actor treating Pinkman like a ticking time bomb, which is pretty much one of the main catalysts of the second half of the season. However, my star of the show, which is saying a lot, was Anna Gunn. At the start of the season, her character is more interesting than she ever has been, rejected to the hostage wife lifestyle and too weak to turn herself and her husband into the police. Her teary monologue as she tries to persuade Walter (or is it Heisenberg?) is show-stopping, but just as impressive is the small expressions she makes, as Walter touches her shoulder in bed at night. He sees his family as the perfect American dream, unaware that his wife is terrified of the man he has become. It is one of the more poignant moments of the series.
So, is the ending just as good as we want it to be? As I said, the show doesn’t seem to be in any rush of budging, but before long, everything begins crumbling apart. And when it does, it does so in moments. In the case of a few episodes, we have gone from the most stable drug empire out there to rushing around, trying to protect the money. There is no clear way out of the situation. The second half of Season Five evolves into a chess game between Walter White, Pinkman, the DEA and many more factors, including a group of hit men that could become the nastier pieces of work in the show’s run time, thanks to a heart-breaking cliff-hanger. Every new development pushes the characters closer and closer to the edge, to the point where every episode could, within reason, be rewritten, so it is the end of the show. However, Vince Gillian endures and his choice ending is fantastic. It is surprising, poetic and… it feels right. I have spent my entire binge-watching of Breaking Bad not wanting it to end, but when it perfects its close as it has, then… it just feels right.
Final Verdict: It ends here. What could potentially be the greatest show of all time, manages to get together one of the best finales of all time. Bravo, Breaking Bad. You will be missed.