Now there is no doubt—Breaking Bad is the greatest drama series in the history of television. If the show’s finale is still collecting virtual dust on your DVR and you’ve somehow managed to avoid spoilers, stop reading (and go watch the damn thing already). Two days after Walter White took his last breath in a neo-Nazi-sponsored meth factory, I’m more convinced than ever that no other show can top what Vince Gilligan and company created over the course of five thrilling, intense, funny, horrifying and thoroughly satisfying seasons. To argue against this is futile. Logic, bitch!
1. The Finale Was A Masterpiece
The expectations for the final episode were impossibly high. Somehow, they were met or exceeded without pandering to the audience. There were surprises–when it looked like Walt was ready to execute his Grey Matter ex-partners, he used them to funnel money to his family instead. There were artful moments–Jesse imagining a simpler, happier life shaping wood instead of chemicals. There was sweet revenge–Lydia’s laced Stevia and the Great Nazi Massacre. And there was closure–Walt left to die, surrounded by his true love, the meth-making machines that both gave him a new life and ended it. As a friend pointed out, it felt like another all-time great TV ending, as the lights went out at Cheers. (Also–cameos by Badger and Skinny Pete!)
2. 99 Percent Pure
Like Heisenberg’s meth, the show itself was consistently good. Only one episode felt gimmicky and too far-fetched, even for a story about a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin–the train heist episode, “Dead Freight.” But most shows that run as long as Breaking Bad have whole seasons that fall flat. Vulture.com did a March Madness-style bracket of the best dramas ever, and one of the worthy finalists was The Wire. That show’s second season dragged–too much stevedoring–and its final season didn’t fully deliver. Lost–eliminated in Vulture’s first round–suffered from a decline in quality each year and an infuriating ending. Breaking Bad never faltered; instead, defying the conventional television wisdom, it improved with age. Perhaps even more impressive, the show refused to dumb down its complex views of morality and right versus wrong, reveling in the grey rather than playing it safe with black or white.
3. The Deepest Bench
Like the Denver Broncos offense, Breaking Bad’s roster is crazy good from top to bottom. Most of the lead actors have won or been nominated for Emmys. And Bryan Cranston’s transformation from cancer-addled milquetoast to empire-building sociopath was nothing short of brilliant. Vulture’s other G.O.A.T. finalist, The Sopranos, was defined by Tony Soprano, an anti-hero unlike any other. As the late James Gandolfini re-wrote the rules for bad guys, Cranston did the same, but with a fuller story arc, as his long-dormant inner villain surfaced and eventually took over. From the stars to the supporting players, the characters were three-dimensional and the actors who played them were compelling. Even baby Holly showed impressive range in final episodes as she cried for her momma and looked scared, like we were, of her pops.
4. Hater Proof
Yes, this show requires a good deal of belief suspension. Slipping ricin into a packet of sweetener is a trick worthy of David Blaine. Rigging an M-60 to fire remotely and wipe out a small army of skinheads is a tall task for a guy who can’t exactly walk into a Home Depot unnoticed. But as far-fetched as some of the show’s elements were, it was so note-perfect suspenseful and smartly crafted that you usually didn’t care. Compare this series to Dexter, another unique, critically praised show about an anti-hero that ended in September. Most fans–including myself–saw its last episode as a mercy killing that came a few seasons too late. With Breaking Bad, I found myself pausing the DVR during commercials to check email or grab a snack–not out of boredom, but to stretch out those final minutes as long as possible.
5. The T-Shirt Test
I doubt any other show has spawned as many possibilities for T-shirts you’d likely find at Urban Outfitters: Los Pollos Hermanos. Have An A-1 Day. Better Call Saul. Vamanos Pest Control. Schraderbrau. Yeah bitch–magnets! It’s a testament to the show’s infectious creativity and its cultural impact.
6. Post-Heisenberg Withdrawal
Like the tweakers hooked on Walt’s Blue Sky, I’m so hungry for another Breaking Bad hit that I may have to pony up for the complete series on Blu Ray–partly because it’s packaged in a money barrel, but mostly for the two-hour making-of documentary. No other show has left me so desperate for one last fix.