How long can a good thing last before it becomes stale? After 5 successful seasons, Breaking Bad has miraculously avoided the all-too-common decline in quality that plagues so many hit shows. So why make the decision to end the series at all? If the ratings are good, why not simply keep going as long as you can? Fans await each new episode as much as Walter White’s meth junkies await their next fix. Tempting as it may be to keep the ball rolling, I feel the show’s creators are doing fans a service by bringing things to a close. While they certainly risk disappointing die-hard fans by denying future episodes, the creators responsibly ensure that Breaking Bad’s legacy will remain untarnished generations to come.
Most hit TV shows don’t follow this pattern. On the contrary, they typically follow an almost-textbook formula set on the show running indefinitely. Great as it sounds to have an amazing program that keeps on running, this method has the unintentional effect of having the writing lose its edge (“jumping the shark” is the term used by insiders). Fans, that once loved this hypothetical hit show, begin to lose face as it hardly resembles itself in unsustainable successive seasons. Staple characters feel the need to get bigger or wackier – new characters are introduced, taking screen time away from our beloved staple characters – and story-lines just become absurd. Down the road, fans may abandon it, and future generations will overlook any promise it once had.
But how do we know that a 6th or 7th Season of Breaking Bad wouldn’t be awesome? How can we be sure that it wouldn’t top everything that came before it? Well, there’s no way to be certain, however, a few key plot-lines that the show has gone down in the last 3 seasons simply don’t lend themselves to a never-ending series of episodes.
1.) WALT & JESSE’S DYNAMIC IS NOW IRREPARABLE
A hallmark of Breaking Bad has always been Jesse & Walt’s relationship as business partners. Their dynamic begins as an unlikely pairing, but beautifully evolves from season to season, with Walter’s greed and Jesse’s morals driving a wedge between them. Through 5 seasons, Walter & Jesse have been in countless arguments, fist-fights, close calls, and heart-to-hearts. In all seriousness, where could their relationship go that it hasn’t already gone? Could you really imagine the two of them working together AGAIN, without it getting repetitive? Would anyone believe these guys would ever be caught dead in the same room together after Walt sold Jesse out to Neo-Nazis?… or Jesse sold Walt out to the DEA?
A good example of a show that didn’t handle dynamics well is The Office. Much of the show’s charm in the early seasons revolved around the subtle romance between Jim & Pam. The two co-workers clearly had crushes on each other, but Pam’s complicated relationship with her fiancé along with the awkwardness of an office romance made it impossible. And this awkward romantic tension was one of the core dynamics abandoned by successive seasons. When the writers decided that Jim & Pam eventually get married, there was no more tension. Why am I watching? (Truth is, I stopped watching.)
2.) THE SUSPENSE OF WALT KEEPING SECRETS IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE
Since the first episode, Breaking Bad has had a major portion of its suspense being drawn from Walt’s painstaking efforts to keep his illegal operations secret from his family. Tensions were later raised exponentially by occasionally having characters become privy to Walter’s clandestine job as a meth cook. But as Walt got badder and badder, his secret becomes more and more difficult to hide, until soon the whole town knows that he’s a drug kingpin. This, to me, was a point-of-no-return. Without Walter White (the law-abiding citizen) the whole tone of the show is different. Focusing on what happens after he’s found out by the cops turns the show into a man-on-the-run fugitive genre…hardly the Breaking Bad we’ve come to know and love.
A show that continually shifted its source of suspense was definitely ABC’s Lost. Season 1 got viewers very attached to the survivors of a plane crash and their efforts to get rescued off of a mysterious island. The stakes are raised when we realize that a mysterious group of “others” also inhabit the island. This worked very well for about 3 seasons, until the origins of the Others was revealed. By season 6, most of the original plane crash victims were still relevant, the Others were virtually non-existent, and yet the show kept going on. It was very, very messy. Breaking Bad avoided this nicely by knowing not to change its formula.
By and large, what made Breaking Bad so epic was its willingness to take risks; to make interesting characters and play them to the top of their intelligence. The legacy left behind serves as a lesson to aspiring TV writers to always let the characters drive the plot. In a way, the final risk the show has taken is its willingness to come to an end. And in true Breaking Bad fashion, it not only paid off, but the story demands it. Kudos to Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, for having the good sense to take the high road.