[This post contains spoilers, obv.]
There was something oddly poetic about the decision to screen the finale of Breaking Bad, with the cast and crew present, among a few hundred graves. For a show that has put a decent amount of characters in the ground, the setting came across as one last dark joke. The screening was through Cinespia, which projects classic movies at the cemetery during the summer and generally draws a decent crowd, but never anything quite like this. I waited in line for well over an hour, stretching down the corner around Santa Monica Boulevard, watching people in Los Pollos Hermanos T-shirts and shoddy fake haz-mat suits trade theories about the ending (no one seemed to disagree that Walter White would die, but the means to his end varied from “kills himself” to “faints and hits his head”) and consume last bites of pizza and puffs of cigarettes. We all knew that we were incredibly lucky to be there, in an “I’m watching history” kind of way. Tickets for the finale sold out in 32 seconds.
Aaron Paul opened the show by riding up in the famous meth-lab RV, wearing a higher-quality yellow haz-mat suit than those of the fans. He placated those eager to hear his famous catchphrase, asking if we were "ready for the finale, bitch." He then gave the mic to his wife Lauren to discuss Kind Campaign, her antibullying organization, for which the screening and other Omaze donations raised $1.8 million. He watched her with this incredible loving awe, and I felt intensely jealous that I wasn’t married to Aaron Paul.
Out of the RV also came actors Jonathan Banks (Mike), RJ Mitte (Walt Jr.), Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring), and Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman), who sat onstage around Aaron. I think they were all smiling, although I was mostly just watching Aaron, so I can’t really be sure. Aaron Paul is a really attractive person.
I was sitting way in the back of the crowd, and there was a palm tree blocking my view of the screen, and a small woman in a giant Heisenberg hat yelled at me for putting my blanket too close to hers. I had this odd sensation that none of this was real, that I’d probably died months ago and was just imagining this entire scenario in some kind of bizarre, television-themed afterlife. It got weirder once the pilot was projected; I hadn’t seen any of the earlier episodes in years, and had forgotten how nice the show was when it started out. Walt was a simple chemistry teacher, geeking out over different types of flasks, and Jesse seemed more like a goofy ne’er-do-well than a reluctant murderer with a heart of gold. I wondered what would have happened had I watched the pilot six years ago and hated it. Or if everyone had hated it. Or if AMC had hated it. What would my life be without Breaking Bad? It’d be like never reading Shakespeare, in a hypothetical situation in which I actually like Shakespeare.
After the pilot, Bryan Cranston and creator Vince Gilligan, a surprisingly soft-spoken man with large glasses and a tiny beard, took the stage. Bryan got emotional, saying that, "People have been asking the past few months how we feel, and you start to really intellectualize that, say how you think you'll feel… Now that it's over, we can really feel,” at which point a woman smoking weed behind me yelled for him to "Shut up, you've been talking for a million hours." Bryan then said that Aaron was a really good person and his friend for life, and they hugged. Then, I stopped being jealous of Lauren Paul and started being jealous of Bryan Cranston.
Following a riveting sizzle reel of scenes and quotes from the series, most of them classic, if slightly overplayed (no one needs to hear the “I am the one who knocks speech” more than seven times in their life) came the finale. The crowd grew respectfully silent, except for a few outbursts of pure joy whenever a particularly despicable character met a perfectly justified end. Namely, Jesse wrapping his shackles around Todd’s neck, wrestling him to the ground, and choking him to death, and Walt shooting a Nazi in the face. But for all the over-the-top moments of violence, the finale was beautifully subtle. The scene with Walt and Skyler talking in the kitchen, with Walt finally admitting that he didn’t go into the meth business for the family, but for himself, was possibly the most poignant moment of the series. Jesse smiling for the first time in seasons as he drove away from the place where he’d been held captive. Walt walking through a lab one last time, surrounded by the chemistry materials he’d held so dear. Hell, even the Badger and Skinny Pete cameos were brilliant.
After the finale came a Q&A with the cast and Vince Gilligan, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, but by that time I was too overwhelmed with emotion to pay much attention. There was a joke about Huell being stuck in the motel room, a few heartfelt statements about how much Breaking Bad meant to everyone in the cast, an announcement to buy the DVD set. Beyond that, all I could do was reflect on what I’d just seen, and where I’d seen it, and all the hundreds of people who saw it with me, all people who understood what it means to be truly in love with a television show.
More on Breaking Bad: