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The end of an empire

Published: October 4, 2013
Section: Opinions


We lost an integral part of our lives this past week, and it will be extremely difficult for anything else to ever fill that void. It was not the federal government, which barely does anything useful to begin with. It was “Breaking Bad,” the critically-acclaimed drama that aired its series finale this past Sunday night. For many, the show was a weekly monument, an appointment viewing. It shaped the way people looked at television and what makes for a captivating series. For me, it presented maybe the most spectacular thing I will witness in my life while sitting in front of my computer.

A little more than two weeks before the finale aired and everyone’s theories about how the series would end would be validated or denied, I decided to finally watch this frequently discussed show. I had seen some clips, understood the basic premise and even knew some spoilers from conversations with friends, but I never thought too much about a chemistry teacher cooking methamphetamine to fund his cancer treatment. How naive I was. I proceeded to spend almost 50 hours of my time during the next two weeks to cram in the entire series before the finale. With the first four-and-a-half seasons on Netflix and a marathon running on AMC before the finale, it was simple to catch every scene. But going through the entire character arcs of Walt and Jesse was not.

Unlike those who watched Breaking Bad like it was meant to be, with weekly episodes each season and a long break between, this felt like watching a movie—a movie that went into extensive detail and was incredibly well thought out. I was able to see the call-backs to previous episodes and recognized foreshadowing that came through some 10 to 20 episodes later on. It reminded me of reading a piece of literature in high school with my English teacher forcing us to analyze every last paragraph for the motifs and symbolism. Nothing seemed out of place or jumped around too fast; it was almost as if Vince Gilligan planned this entire show all at once. I was completely engrossed in this piece of media, and with the end of each episode I had to hold myself back from clicking next so that I could get to class. It was a magical story that never stopped, set in the land of enchantment.

However, there are major drawbacks to waiting until two weeks before a show is set to end to begin watching it. First, there was the complete disregard of anything else in my life as I tried to watch every second. The lack of a community to watch the show with also detracted from my experience. Whether it be on an online forum, discussing with friends or talking around the water cooler, the beauty of television and story arcs is that there is extensive time between chapters to discuss every last bit and then predict what comes next. Fantastic fan theories arise and hopes build for a certain outcome to a major plot conflict, only for fans to be left completely dumbfounded by the twist the director throws at the end. Opinions about the morality of characters—agreeing with Walter White’s justifications for his crimes or whether or not Skyler is a complete bitch—build and crumble weekly. Viewing the entire medium at once does not allow for personal thought about what is happening; one can only feel completely saturated by the imagery, music and dialogue.

As I got closer to the finale Sunday night, spending the whole day watching the last eight episodes of probably the greatest television show I will ever see, I regretted my previous decisions. All of them: From not asking that girl out, to not paying more attention in chemistry so that I could one day cook the blue, but mostly that I had not started watching “Breaking Bad” sooner. I missed out on a lot of great suspense that comes with waiting between episodes, or even seasons, to see whether or not a character is spared. And also the personal joy that comes out of sharing something as awesome as this show with other people. I probably would have understood a lot more if I had given myself the opportunity to really study the show. It was such a shame to squeeze the entirety of a program into as small a window as possible rather than savoring every last second.

A smoker who has just quit has to figure out how to live without a cigarette in his hand. For these past couple of weeks, I have spent pretty much all of my free time with my eyes glued to my computer, and like the millions of others who watched “Breaking Bad,” I have to figure out what to do with my life now. It is such a depressing feeling to instinctively go to Netflix and look for Heisenberg sitting in a Hazmat suit only to realize that there are no more episodes to watch.

If I had the chance, I would have begun watching “Breaking Bad” so much earlier and been able to really savor each episode as it came. There was a reason that it was produced as a television show and not a major motion picture, and I realize that. But I am ever so grateful that I was at least able to see every part of such an incredible piece of art. The characters, dialogues, monologues and plots will live with me for a long time, and I feel all the greater having witnessed it. The deterioration of Walter White was something to behold, and his relationship with Jesse was spectacular. Some of the most powerful scenes known to man were a part of this show, and I am completely in awe.