Gay is the television critic.
THE SHOW "Breaking Bad"
WHEN | WHERE Series finale Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Sheriffs have descended on the New Hampshire dive where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had been nursing a scotch, "neat." Earlier, he had essentially turned himself in by calling the Albuquerque DEA. But before the law arrived, he had seen former girlfriend Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht), now married to his former partner, on a TV above the bar. Walter disappears -- and is headed back to New Mexico for a showdown. The episode was not made available for review.
MY SAY On the eve of The End, "Breaking Bad" has suddenly become hot -- a first-time best drama Emmy last Sunday; more than 6 million viewers each watching the last two episodes; a voracious Internet following . . . It's all enough to make long-term die-hard fans shake their heads in wonder, to ask: Why now?
Because what the rest of the world has finally discovered is a state-of-the-art thriller laced with deep-think literary themes about the decline of the American dream and isolation in an indifferent universe, alongside urgent moral questions about society and individual responsibility. But great TV series, like great novels, ultimately have to be about someone, and that's where Walter White -- and the magic of Cranston's performance -- have come in.
There are debates over whether White is a hero for our time, a good man wronged by circumstance. That's a profound misreading of the show. White is a bad man who chose to be bad. This doesn't mean he's not relatable, or human or frail, or sympathetic. That's how Elmore Leonard wrote his bad guys. That's how Cranston played White over 62 episodes, and in those cold blue eyes, we see a distant, slightly disturbing reflection of ourselves.
It's still easy to see why there's a debate, though. White beat his inner Willy Loman only to discover something much worse in its place -- or to quote that oft quoted line (from Samuel Johnson) that opens Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." In Walter's case, one action led to another, which led to another, and so on -- until they all ended up at a vanishing point, or the inside of a dark cabin in the woods. As it turned out, he couldn't get rid of the pain either.
But Walter does have one last move, and it will be a doozy. Magnificent shows, and characters, have a way of affirming our devotion.