Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Some Series Finales Far Surpass Others: Breaking Bad/Dexter

After years of buildup and anticipation, two television series I faithfully followed came to an end within a week's time. Breaking Bad and Dexter portrayed two very distinct stories but they paralleled each other in the fact that both featured protagonists who, on paper, were everyday guys without an apparent inclination towards a violent nature. The stories that portrayed the evolution of their personas may have been polar opposites but those differences and diverse elements are what drew me in as a viewer.

I won't discuss the psyche of Walter White or Dexter Morgan in great detail but I will talk about the weeks leading up to their respective series finales. While there couldn't be enough excitement for one of those finales, the other seemed to pass us by in an underwhelming fashion. In truth, much of that can be attributed to the episodes, and even seasons, that preceded the final moments of these two stories. Breaking Bad appropriately concluded when the series as at its peak while Dexter may have started to run out of steam as the later seasons progressed.

Although this may be true, Dexter will go down as one of my all-time favorites because I was able to get inside the head of a psychopath who used his urges to enact vigilante justice; we were encouraged to root for an individual that would have normally been on the other side of the law. Dexter's fourth season will go down as one of the greatest seasons in television history because of its methodical execution. Everything that made the series great was present in that season and some of the later seasons failed to recapture that greatness.

So when we finally arrived to Dexter's eighth and final season, we were taken aback because the stakes weren't as high as we thought they would be. The day when the world would be introduced to who Dexter truly was never really came. The big moment where he would have to face the fact that the world was now aware of his true nature was something the final season decided not to tackle. Instead we were given a season that, for the most part, could have passed for just another season of the series.

Ultimately, we found out that there really was a man inside of the monster; a man that had now overcome his urge to kill. Dexter is finally able to overcome this unyielding bloodlust yet decides to forfeit the life he always idealized because he still sees himself as a threat to those he loves. I would have been more than fine with a conclusion that sees Dexter living a solitary life only if he had been unable to overcome the urge to kill. But to see him give up on killing and on the life he wholeheartedly envisioned seemed to contradict the character's motives.

On the other hand, I don't think Breaking Bad could have had a more fitting and satisfying conclusion. From the very beginning, we knew that Walter White was on borrowed time but what we saw him accomplish, within a time frame that was a bit over a year in the series, was truly monumental; ethical aspect of it aside. With Walt, we saw the monster within him become more and more prevalent as the series progressed. And while we were treated to changes in Walt's nature, the quality of the series never diminished not did it ever disappoint.

In the second half of Breaking Bad's final season, the stage was immediately set for a showdown that would result in Walt's secret not only being exposed to his loved ones but also to the world. The gravity of the consequences Walt would face was immediately felt by the viewer and our interest as to how this story would conclude was at its absolute high. We knew that Walt would make it to the very first scene we saw in the final season but we still wondered how he would get to this position and how the overall story would conclude.

Walt's ultimate fate seemed fitting because he was able to accomplish what he initially set out to do while quite possibly experiencing the most thrilling year of his life. He went out on his own terms and by his own hand. The final moments saw him admiring the fruit of his labor and what truly made him feel alive during his tenure as Heisenberg. Not only did he avenge the deaths of Hank and Gomez but he also gave Jesse his freedom back; a freedom that I believe he will now cherish.

Vince Gilligan, along with the rest of Breaking Bad's writing staff, was able to structure a series that worked perfectly as a whole and not just in segments. From the very first episode, to the very last, the series was always cohesive and the core of who the characters were was never forfeited for a single episodic thrill or the sake of creating a mediocre plot device. I can't speak well enough of the fluidity that the series displayed throughout its entire sixty-two episodes or how well the characters were developed throughout its run.

A series that can take everyday items (box cutter) or settings that may not be the most exciting and incite such strong emotions among its viewers truly has no limit in what it can achieve with its central characters and with its overall storytelling. Dexter had s phenomenal start and part of me is saddened by the fact that its title character couldn't get a more memorable or a more appropriate sendoff. Breaking Bad could have milked its popularity and gone on for a few more seasons but I truly commend it for concluding once Walter White's story was told.
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