There are only two impressions anyone gets to make in life: a first and a last. People say you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, but you never get to change a last impression. A last impression is the lingering aftertaste. It’s the visual that sticks with us forever.
This Sunday, we’ll be left with our last impression of Breaking Bad. When we look back, the series’ finale is the episode that will stay freshest in our minds. And it will remain there for far longer than any single episode since the pilot.
Breaking Bad’s finale will be the one episode by which the series is measured for the rest of history. It’s the one episode that we’ll evaluate for years to come when we ask, “what did it all mean?”
Only a handful of other shows have garnered anywhere near the fan attention and constant gossip that Breaking Bad has. And so many have had their legacies tarnished by an ending that did not live up to the quality of the series.
There was just as much buzz about Lost a few years ago, until its purgatory ending earned fans’ derision. Battlestar Galactica left an awful lot of resolution to a mystical God that made the characters’ struggles feel pointless. The Sopranos and The Wire left their fair share of fans dissatisfied with their lack of resolution.
But Breaking Bad is not likely to end like the others. This was a show that had a climax in mind, almost from the very beginning. In fact, creator Vince Gilligan has often credited the writers’ strike in 2007 for buying them the time to find out where this show was going — a luxury few creators ever get.
Throughout the entire show there has existed a sense of foreboding, a sense of building towards something. The stakes of one scene escalate the next. The obstacles of one episode become the complications of another. The solutions of one season become the crises of the following. Rachel staying with Ross will not satisfy an audience that has been through this roller coaster. If there was ever a show that felt like it needed an explosive finale, it’s Breaking Bad.
If the finale is a critical failure (which is very unlikely), then the show’s prior greatness will be diminished a little, as the last impression we have of it won’t quite hold up to our memories of the episodes before it. The show will blend into the other mortal members of the TV hall of fame.
On the other hand, if the finale is a success, then it will reflect on even the pilot episode. It will become the turning point in history when people began to take TV more seriously than they did movies.
It’s not difficult to imagine what the future may look like if the finale is the success we all hope it will be. Breaking Bad will become the show that will set the precedent for other shows that have a predetermined ending. It will continue to influence studio execs when their writers ask them for more time to turn around fewer episodes.
Film classes will show episodes of Breaking Bad alongside The Godfather for the next three decades.
Grown men twenty years from now will wear “Better Call Saul” T-shirts instead of Boba Fett ones.
Movies will have to evolve to catch up with TV.
Most writers will tell you that an ending is the hardest part to write. It has to feel earned, yet still surprise. It has to tie up loose ends and bring characters to their final destinations. And while juggling all that, it still has to be at least as fun to watch as everything that came before it.
Great endings have always been reserved for movies. For decades, it has seemed like this amazing feat could only be achieved by a story near the two-hour range. We can look back on the best TV series finales with fondness, but none of them have produced the same visceral reaction that we get from the endings of Chinatown, The Shawshank Redemption, The Matrix, or The Godfather.
Breaking Bad is the first show that has a real chance to end like the greatest films have — to make that last impression we can never forget.