Fans Mourn As 'Breaking Bad' Comes To A Close

Sep 30, 2013

AMC’s critically-acclaimed series, Breaking Bad came to an end last night.

Joanna Robinson, editor for the media website Pajiba, joined Here & Now to talk about the show and its ending, which she called “somewhat satisfying.”

“Every loose end was tied up,” Robinson said. “There was none of that ambiguity of The Sopranos that frustrated people. So I think the fans really really loved the show.”

Just a week before its close, the series won two Emmys for outstanding drama series and outstanding actress in a drama series. The same night the show was winning at the Emmys, 6.6 million people tuned in to watch that week’s episode.

For the uninitiated, lead actor Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a chemistry teacher who turns to producing and dealing meth after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

With the help of former student Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, Walter creates a lucrative drug empire to secure his family’s financial security.

Over the span of five seasons, Walter goes from a chemistry teacher with a side hustle to a criminal mastermind tangling with all sorts of pond scum drug dealers, including an Aryan brotherhood gang.

In the end, even though Walter is on the run from the law, he makes time to seek revenge against his enemies.


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OK. We want to put up big, flashing, yellow lights. We want to put up police tape, warning signs that say: run while you can if you don't want to hear about last night's series finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad," OK? If you do want to hear, gather around because joining us to deconstruct one of the most anticipated series enders in recent years is Joanna Robinson. She's features editor for the media website Pajiba and contributing writer and podcaster for's The One Who Knocks. Joanna, welcome.

JOANNA ROBINSON: Thank you for having me.

YOUNG: So if the "Seinfeld" crew ended up in prison, "The Sopranos" goes to black with Tony sitting in the diner, Bob Newhart wakes up and tells Suzanne Pleshette that his whole show had been a dream - these are endings that have thrilled in that last case and frustrated viewers - where would you put the season ender for "Breaking Bad?"

ROBINSON: I think it depends who you're talking to. But every fan that I've talked to of the show loved it and was so satisfied with the ending for each and every character. Every loose end was tied up. There was none of that ambiguity of "The Sopranos" that frustrated people. So I think the fans really, really loved the show. If you talk to some critics, I think their concern is that the show didn't surprise enough. And I don't know if a series finale needs to surprising to be satisfying.

YOUNG: Well, isn't that maybe what other shows have discovered? You can surprise somebody, but if you frustrate them by not having a clear ending - The New York Times says the best thing about the finale of "Breaking Bad" is that it did actually end.

But let's dial back for those who didn't watch the past five years or maybe are going to get started watching them now. Walter was the science teacher turned meth dealer with the help of former student Jesse. When Walter finds he's diagnosed with cancer, he wants to make money for his family. He slowly corrodes over the five seasons, tangling with all sorts of pond-scum drug dealers, including an Aryan Brotherhood gang. At the end, at the finale, he's on the run from the law, and essentially he does lose everything. But you say the loose ends were tied up. Go through some of them.

ROBINSON: Well, you know, every question mark we had was answered. What's going to happen to all of the pond scum that he associated with that were left living? What happened to some characters who had died a couple episodes ago? They are going to be found now, so they're not going to languish out in the desert somewhere. And you say he lost everything, but actually, if you kind of look at it, Walter White got exactly what he wanted, which was to leave a legacy for his family. That was his concern, that he was going to die from cancer and not be able to provide for his family. So he found a way to get the money to his family. He got revenge on the people who wronged him, and he died sort of - he went out on a high note, so....

YOUNG: Well, but he had to die though, didn't he? I mean, he wasn't a good guy.

ROBINSON: No, he wasn't a good guy, but he was redeemed a bit because last season, he went as low as he could go. And this season was about a bit of a climb out of that to redemption. And so, in the end, when he was honest with his wife, Skyler, about why he did everything and when he saved his former partner, Jesse Pinkman, he inched towards redemption. But, yeah, in the end, he had to go. He couldn't have a happy living ending, and the cancer is going to get him either way.

YOUNG: says that he had to die. He was literally the bad guy. He literally put on a black hat. And in the, you know, in the ways of Westerns though, the part of him that was the good guy, it's the same sort of storyline that a Western would take. He got up and he marched back into town and he took care of business before he had to die. First, business with his estranged wife. He actually is finally honest with Skyler about why he got into the meth business. He was always telling her it was to support the family. Let's listen to a clip.


BRYAN CRANSTON: (as Walter White) You need to understand...

ANNA GUNN: (as Skyler White) If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family...

CRANSTON: (as Walter White) I did it for me. I was good at it, and I was really, I was alive.

YOUNG: So one relationship is, you know, not smoothed over by any means but at least he addresses it. Another plotline that nicely gets tied up involves ricin and Stevia, the sweetener. Explain.

ROBINSON: Last season started with a flash forward, and this season also started with a flash forward. And we saw Walt gathering two weapons: one was a giant gun and one was a vial of ricin, which is a kind of poison, slow-acting poison, that he actually cooked a couple seasons ago. And then in interview this season, Vince Gilligan, the show creator, had said, as soon as we had Walt cook that ricin, we knew we had to use it before the show was over. I think in some other shows that were less diligent about tying up all their plotlines, they would've forgotten about that vial of ricin. But this show is so meticulous that they knew they had to use it.

And so all of us who are huge fans of the show were wondering, where is the ricin going to go? Who's going to get it? And they've also shown Lydia this - who is, you know, one of the villainesses of the show, shown over the past couple seasons using the sweetener Stevia in her tea. She drinks it a lot. She always is asking for Stevia. So I think a lot of us suspected it would go on the Stevia. And once again, it's what I said about the show, not really surprising us but satisfying us.

YOUNG: Well, let's listen to part of the phone call where Walt tells Lydia he did put it in the Stevia.


LAURA FRASER: (as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle) Who is this?

CRANSTON: (as Walter White) It's Walt. How are you feeling? Kind of under the weather? Like you've got the flu? That would be the ricin I gave you.

YOUNG: Joanna Robinson, you mentioned how "Breaking Bad" was a show that went back to details from previous seasons. Last night we saw Jesse meticulously working on a wooden box. Of course, that's something that he was just imagining. He'd previously said how he wished he could do woodworking. He explained how it felt to do that, so he was dreaming about doing that, something, you know, viewers would pick up. What about lines? What lines from last night jump out at you?

ROBINSON: I think that one we already mentioned were Walt says, you know, I liked it. I felt alive. That was a huge thing because it wasn't just him being honest with Skyler. It was him being honest with himself, almost for the first time. I think he believed his own hype for five seasons, and this is him finally coming to terms. I really liked that encounter he had with Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz who - that was a great call back to the beginning of the series with the whole Gray Matter industry and his feelings of frustration around that. I'm so glad they brought those two characters back because it just felt like completing a loop.

YOUNG: Well, and let's explain to people. Elliott and Gretchen - Elliott was Walter White's former college roommate; Gretchen, a former relationship. He thinks they both conspired to steal his ideas and form this hugely successful pharmaceutical company. It's never really explained if they actually did. But as you say, they came back into the program last night and they paid for it. Walt walks into their home, and he tells them both that he has hit men watching them. He wants to make sure they help him get money to his children.

ROBINSON: At the very least, Gretchen and Elliott are guilty of last episode lying about Walter's contribution because whether or not he took a buyout and he made a decision to not be involved in Gray Matter, they completely wrote him off last episode. And so he got a little bit of vengeance here, so.

YOUNG: Yeah. What about the show itself? Is it still resonating with you today?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. I keep chewing it over and over and deciding whether or not I'm happy with Walter White's ending, and I think I am. I think I am. And I'm happy that Jesse Pinkman survived because I thought that was very important plotline. And we weren't - like I was sure that it was going to come down to Jesse versus Walt. I was pretty sure Jesse - Walt was going to die. I didn't know what was going to happen to Jesse. I think a lot of people are calling it fan service to have Jesse Pinkman survive, but I think it was important, given what he represented in the show to have him make it out alive.

YOUNG: That's Joanna Robinson, features editor for the media website Pajiba, contributing writer and podcaster for's The One Who Knocks. We'll link you to her blogging from last night, if you're ready for it, at Joanna, thanks.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

YOUNG: OK. Someone who's not ready, Meghna, you can take your fingers out of years now.


What did you say? Oh, OK. OK.

YOUNG: Absolutely nothing happened.


YOUNG: Nothing happened.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm going to watch it tonight.

YOUNG: Oh, nothing happens. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.