NEW YORK — Any Breaking Bad fan could be forgiven for concluding that Sunday's finale held no major surprises.
That's because this AMC drama series has delivered surprises, shock and OMG moments dependably since its premiere five seasons ago.
Just like it did on its final episode.
For those who don't want to be reading how yet, stop reading! And let's take a few moments for you who aren't ready to find out what happened to tear your eyes away from this article.
The finale closed the loop on a scene that began Season 5, and found Walt (series star Bryan Cranston) with a beard and a full head of hair at an Albuquerque, N.M., Denny's restaurant. There, he made a swap for a different car than the Volvo he had stolen and driven cross-country from New Hampshire, where, until the final moments of last week's episode, he was holed up, a most-wanted fugitive from the law.
More to the point, Walt in that deal at the Denny's men's room became the owner of a very serious rifle.
The scene, flashing forward several months ahead to Walt's 52nd birthday, was no less tantalizing than bewildering to viewers when it aired. On the finale, it revealed itself as a key piece of the series' finished puzzle.
As the finale began, Walt — cancer-stricken and a hunted man — was headed back home to Albuquerque for a last showdown.
In a byzantine and sinister arrangement with the couple who had become tycoons from a pharmaceutical company Walt co-founded but received no benefit from, Walt made sure his children would get the $10 million drug money he left behind with the couple — or else.
Walt then dropped in on his estranged wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), who had made it plain she hated him.
“Why are you here?” she asked him coldly.
“It's over,” he said, “and I needed a proper goodbye.”
After all this time, he justified out loud his descent from life as a meek, ill-paid chemistry teacher to a life as a legendary druglord. Before, he had always insisted he did it for his family, to leave them provided for after his death from his terminal cancer.
“I did it for me,” he declared to Skyler. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was alive.”
Walt's former meth-cooking sidekick, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), was still enslaved to a group of bad guys forcing him to cook crystal-meth for them using the laboratory-pristine process Walt had pioneered and prospered with. Walt rescued Jesse: His assault rifle mowed down the bad guys by remote control from the trunk of his car.
Freed, Jesse was last seen speeding off, screaming in hysteria, rage and gratitude. Against all odds, he had lived to face another day.
For Walt, the outcome was much different. As the cops descended at the scene of the mass slaughter to seize him, he was lying on the floor, dead, apparently from a stray bullet from his own rifle. An inadvertent suicide, he had successfully escaped from the law, his foes and the cancer that was stalking him.
And, yes, Walt used the ricin he had held in reserve for ages. He poisoned Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, who had shown the bad judgment to collude with Walt's enemies on more than one occasion. He substituted it for the sweetener she thought she was putting in her tea.
The episode, and series, ended with Badfinger's “Baby Blue” (“Guess I got what I deserved”).
So did viewers, with a finale that was surprising in its relative lack of carnage, that tied up loose ends and seemed organically fitting, however outlandish at times (Breaking Bad never insisted on stark realism).
Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the series' creator, this series went out as it came in, and stayed: wicked, twisted and wildly creative. Certified with its conclusion as perhaps the best TV drama series of all time, “Breaking Bad” remained as pure a product as the crystal meth White cooked, to his peril and demise.
For five seasons of wickedness, the drama set viewers face-to-face with the repellent but irresistible White and the dark world he embraced as he spiraled into evil. Sunday night was more than the end of a TV series.
It was a cultural moment, arriving as the show has logged record ratings, bagged a best-drama Emmy and even scored this week's cover of The New Yorker magazine.
Breaking Bad has often been described as addictive, and if that's so, the look of the show is its own habit-forming drug.Michael Slovis, the series' four-times-Emmy-nominated director of photography, has been cooking up that look since the series' sophomore season.
“I go for the emotion in the scene, not to overtake it, but to help it along,” Slovis said.