For four seasons, Breaking Bad has chronicled a nice guy's descent into evil. The series creator, Vince Gilligan, has shown the slow transformation of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from an unassuming chemistry teacher with lung cancer into a murderous drug kingpin. Now the fifth and final season is upon us, premiering July 15 at 10 p.m. on AMC, and the big question is: Will this guy -- can this guy -- turn things around? Will he ever be redeemed, or will he merely sign off as a monster?
By the end of the fourth season, the transformation already seemed complete. Inseason 1, White's moral infractions were understandable. He began making meth so he could provide for his wife and his special needs son after he died of cancer. But that tiny foray into drug making turned out to be a gateway to all kinds of evil, including murder. By the season 4 finale, in which he orchestrated the killing of his nemesis Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), White appeared to have not a scrap of soul left in him.
So where does he go from here? How do you end this show? Gilligan is well aware of the high expectations from the show's loyal fan base. "That is the trick when you're trying to come up with an ending for something in the writers' room," Gilligan said in an interview with Digital Spy last month. "We want to satisfy [the fans] and yet, if we give folks exactly what it is what they think they want or we think they want, we're not being surprising or fresh. There's always that eternal tension between giving folks exactly what they want, or what they expect, or what they hope for, and giving them something that subverts their expectation."
The fact is, viewers themselves are conflicted about what should happen to White. They've followed his story, seen the events unfold from his point of view. But he's made a lot of extremely poor choices, which has made it very difficult to continue liking him. Viewers are in that uncomfortable position of rooting against the very guy whose story they've been following. Truth is, he doesn't deserve a happy ending. So how exactly do you end it in a satisfying way?
"I will say, at the end of the day, we're gonna do our damnedest to make this thing end with a blast and end on a high note, in a way that will satisfy everyone," said Gilligan. "But I think, as we all know, there is no satisfying everyone! But we'll do our best."
One possibility is to infuse some hope for the future of White's protege, Jesse (Aaron Paul). Perhaps he could be redeemed, even as White gets what's coming to him?
As far as the plot of season 5, all we know is what we've seen in the promo video, which you can watch at the bottom of the post and which hints that things will pick up right after the (literally) explosive events of the season 4 finale. And that nifty "All Hail the King" poster AMC has released tells us a bit about Walter's position in the drug hierarchy.
Despite the lack of plot info, we have faith that the show's brilliant writers will come up with something subtle and intuitive for the swan song, an ending that leaves us feeling like the show was, in the end, a good investment of our couch time.