Sunday, September 01, 2013

Not breaking the end of 'Breaking Bad' / How we'll meet the Mother

Tread lightly when guessing the ending.
On a recent Hollywood Prospectus podcast they touched on the inclination some demonstrate to speculate about the ending for Breaking Bad, with only a few episodes to go. It's not surprising that with a show that clearly is heading toward a specific resolution that there would be those who'd play that parlor game of concocting a theory. Perhaps it's a desire to have bragging rights if one happened to think of the same thing that the obviously clever creators did and, by inference, to have been equally clever (at least in one instance). Certainly that's understandable.

I don't know exactly what this suggests about me, and it does seem to defy my analytic side, but I have no motivation whatsoever to try to glean the show's narrative destination. I am more than content to sit back and let it unfold before me. I don't know where it's going, exactly, but I expect I'll enjoy it most by sitting back, both literally and mentally, and going along for the ride.

Does this suggest I don't think I'm as clever as Vince Gilligan and company? No, it states that outright. And I am fine with that.

I don't view BB as a show that must end a certain way to justify what they did along the way (unlike, for example, the way I approached the finale for Lost). It is done well and that is its own justification. Whether Walt is punished as undoubtedly he deserves or he gets away with it or he somehow finds redemption or (better yet) something that isn't quite any of those, I don't expect that to color my impressions of the show's lingering quality. It's not merely a story building up to an ending but one that has been going and will end (because stories must). The story has built up confidence in me about the creators and their ability to put together an ending that will be both satisfying and, ideally, not entirely predictable. But even if it is one that could be foreseen I am happy to go into it prepared to accept what they obviously put much thought into making.

Maybe they will and maybe they'll disappoint, but at least for me it won't be because I tried to anticipate what they're going to do. Ultimately, it isn't about what they do; it's about how they do it.

I concede this makes me a poor participant in this recap era, when we all should be discussing the worthwhile shows between episodes until we have exhausted ourselves. More power to those who have that desire (and time on their hands); it's certainly a marvelous time to enjoy these shows with thousands of virtual others. However, at least in this case, I'm merely going to watch these last episodes and the finale without attempting to guess ahead of time how they'll end it.

Whether that's wisdom or laziness is something about which you certainly are welcome to speculate.


It is a phenomenon unique to television, isn't it? When reading a novel or watching a movie, where the narrative is not serialized, we don't spend the middle postulating theories about how it will end, do we? It's not that sometimes the ending isn't foreshadowed, or if the story is done in a way the ending cannot be obvious well in advance (or sometimes the execution is so poor we simply wish for it to be over), but we don't have those breaks to allow for such speculation.

This must be why for the longest time TV shows didn't really progress, so there was no reason for the audience to concoct theories.

Obviously when one has six days to discuss BB and its one's job to write about TV (and one is inclined to analyze), it stands to reason one would prognosticate where the show may go.

Maybe the point of these days is that as busy as we all perceive ourselves to be, we have too much time on our hands.


The creators of How I Met Your Mother (going into its final season later this month, and about which I've written before), I must admit, have not earned (or at least have not kept) the same level of confidence in their ability to end their series well, but that show has a different direction—its ending is right there in its title.

It was the meandering tale of the other women Ted went through in order to get to the eponymous mother, and despite the dip in quality over the past three seasons, we'll stick with it because the show has arrived at the precipice of the meeting between Ted and the mother. Apparently they will be stretching that out over the course of the entire season, at Barney and Robin's wedding—so, essentially, the opposite of the BB approach (where the story for the final episodes must proceed at a rapid pace). I'm not saying HIMYM couldn't do a good job with that structure, but given the way the aforementioned recent seasons have gone (which, as I have posited in the past, may have been due to stretching out the overarching story longer than it deserved merely because the network kept renewing the show) there certainly seems the possibility the final season could be hampered by having more episodes to fill than worthwhile ways to fill them.

That we will be watching to see whether they can put together a satisfying ending and if they fail in that it likely will spoil the overall series (even tainting the early seasons that we really enjoyed). At best they can salvage a faltering show by ending it well.

By contrast, BB would literally have to present the worst ending in TV history to drag down the series. Sure, there's an apples-and-oranges quality to comparing the two (and it's not quite fair to hold a network sitcom to the same standard as a visionary cable drama), but this does reveal the obvious: Telling a great story week after week without dud episodes between the good ones and not padding out the tale merely to comport with network desires is not merely a quality program but also one where the ending doesn't have to be anything other than what the creators envisioned.

And, as has been seen with the amazing jump in ratings for BB's final (half) season, it indicates such a show is one that audiences will go to great efforts to catch up with in order to be there for that ending—whatever that proves to be.

(I expect HIMYM will get decent ratings at the beginning of the season and for the finale, but most of the season won't be any significant increase over the highest rated episodes from last season. But presumably CBS isn't expecting that—as they shouldn't.)

This is the difference between extremely cautious (and qualified) optimism and unbridled enthusiasm that requires little or no reservation.

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