WARNING: Spoilers, duh.
It’s become kind of a cliche by now to point out that this new golden age of television (which started with the Sopranos) has given much more prominent roles to anti-heroes, lead characters that are deeply flawed or downright evil.
Breaking Bad took this to a whole nother level.
Walter White covorted with Neo-Nazis, was responsible for the death of his brother-in-law, kidnapped his own daughter, let Jesse’s girlfriend die in front of him (when he could have saved her), and then rubbed that fact in Jesse’s face.
And in having White do all that, Breaking Bad accomplished something that no other TV show really accomplished: It got the audience rooting against the main character. In the episodes leading up to the end, at least some audience members really wanted Walt to go down and for his brother-in-law Hank to stand as the main hero.
Other anti-hero shows (like The Sopranos) never really got the audience to straight up turn against the main character.
And yet despite all this, the show found a way to get the audience back on his side in the final scene. In the excellent penultimate episode, Walt is shown at the worst state of life someone can be in: isolated from the world, dying of cancer, hated by his family. It was just enough to get the audience psyched about the prospect of him coming back to town, machine-gunning some Nazis, and distributing justice to his old business partners, who screwed him out of a fortune.
And that’s exactly what he did, and it was awesome, especially the machine-gunning Nazis part, which is an infinitely satisfying thing to watch. And that’s part of the magic of TV. It can take a main character to levels of evil that you can’t imagine, and in the span of a few minutes you’re back on his side.
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