Comparing television shows is never fair in many ways, especially individual episodes and individual scenes. You are looking at works that have very different, very elaborate histories, where the path to point B is marred with peaks and valleys.
But when you look back at Sunday night’s series finale of “Dexter” and penultimate episode of “Breaking Bad,” it is hard to ignore how both Dexter Morgan and Walter White, by choice, elected to make their escape from their current lives in secret. No one knew their destination, and in one case, they were presumed dead.
Both situations were meant to be a characterization of Hell. For Walt, it was being cut off from the very people in his family that he originally set out to protect by starting his “cooking” business, knowing that they were out there and thinking the worst of him. Meanwhile, for Dexter it was having to accept what he believed to be a truth about himself, that he would ruin the lives of anyone he ever came in contact with. One Hell was escaped, as Walt found his inner Heisenberg and decided to not go down without a fight; meanwhile, another left us dangling by a thread.
So why do we adore one depiction of Hell and hate the other? The answer is simple: One feels significantly more earned than the other. For Walt, he had no reason to stay in his mind. He would have only been arrested or killed, and his family would have never forgiven him in that moment. It was the culmination of five seasons’ worth of violence, drugs, and brutality. As sorry as we felt for him upon seeing Robert Forster charge him for friendship, the moment was owned. Tragedy does not instantly beget sympathy, but the work in “Granite State” was so brilliant that we continually had to remind ourselves of this.
Dexter, meanwhile, gave us an ending that was not needed. His departure was a left turn from what we were told for three weeks, which was that he intended to try to get to Argentina to be with Hannah. Then again, that was a left turn from where he was at the start of the season without her there. The continuity and the emotional buildup was not the same. Plus, there was no Robert Forester, just Dexter dressed as a lumberjack in a way that made us think of “Monty Python.”
With just these two scenes, there was a polarizing reaction like no other. While we felt within “Granite State” that “Breaking Bad” may have cemented itself as one of the top five shows of all time (regardless of the finale), “Dexter’s” ending caused it to go from being a great show to just one that was just mediocre with some good moments. We’ll still remember the first four or five seasons fondly, but with three bad ones to follow we felt ourselves having a had time sticking with the show.
For “Breaking Bad,” we are starting to think that Walt could move to Arizona and leap across the entire Grand Canyon. Why? These writers would find a way to justify it.
This is the penultimate edition of our “Breaking Down Breaking Bad” series, where we take on concepts and scenes in a critical manner. If you want to take a look at some other editions in this series, just be sure to click here.