To borrow a phrase from Game of Thrones, “What is dead may never die”, when it comes to beloved television shows and the fidelity of the fan armies that sustained them when they were on the air. But while the passions of those fans (and eager television executives with dollar signs in their eyes) must be respected, their burning desire to always get just one more taste of their beloved and cancelled shows, can sometimes undermine the cleanest and most well constructed series endings.
Breaking Bad is a prime example. It has been eight months since Vince Gilligan’s illustrious crime drama came to an end with the main character, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), laying in the dirt – dead or nearly – while surrounded by the crumbs of his ultimate legacy. In the intervening months between then and now, the praise and criticism for that end has mostly subsided. We now hear speculation about Better Call Saul and which characters from Breaking Bad might appear on the prequel/spin-off, but now Cranston is ever so slightly giving legitimacy to a theory that White may not be dead.
Appearing on CNN to promote Godzilla and the play All the Way (in which Cranston plays former President Lyndon B. Johnson), the actor was asked, point blank, if White was actually dead. Here’s a brief transcript of Cranston and host Ashleigh Banfield’s interaction:
Banfield: I’m going to ask you really, seriously, I wasn’t so sure you died. I really wasn’t,” Banfield said. “Your eyes were open and I thought, ‘what if the police just take him into custody, he gets better, breaks out and just goes nuts?
Cranston: Hey, you never saw bag zip up or anything.
Banfield: Is he dead?
Cranston: I don’t know.
Banfield: No movie, no nothing? No Walter White ever again?
Cranston: I don’t… you know… I don’t… never say never. Let’s just say that.
Vague and intriguing, but is there any merit to Cranston’s words, or was he just having a little bit of mischievous fun with Banfield and the rest of us? Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure, but prior to this exchange he did talk plainly about his mission as an actor who has found success in a certain type of role.
You’re a victim of your success, perhaps. Once you do something that gets notoriety, they offer you roles that are similar to that and you become derivative of yourself. And I just didn’t want to do that. I keep wanting to change things up.
One can, if they are so inclined, stretch the meaning of “change things up” to include reprising the role of Walter White on Better Call Saul (if that were to happen), since it might show the character at a different, un-seen point in his journey. That adds color to the work that already exists and perhaps enhances our understanding of the character. But a movie or even an event series where we see Walter’s journey continue? That can’t be anything other than a rehash for Cranston – and despite the brief joy that would come from seeing the resurrection of a truly unique character, one imagines that the lasting legacy of such a continuation might be one of disappointment (and, for lack of a less dramatic word, betrayal).
Breaking Bad didn’t end abruptly and it didn’t really end with ambiguity. You can argue with the way he did it, but Gilligan gave the audience closure and took the long way to get to that ending and make it fit within the framework of the show, all while we watched and absorbed the story that he was telling. To sloppily sew a new ending onto that doesn’t just cheapen that “journey” for us as viewers, it makes all further endings seem suspect.
All over the internet, fans clamor for these kinds of returns when a show dies or leaves the stage of its own accord (myself included), though usually they do so for shows that meet less than satisfying conclusions, bolstered by the scattered success stories and the ocean of movie rumors and supportive cast members and fan communities.
Community is the latest, and that’s no surprise considering the uproar that has come every time the show’s future seemed in doubt, but this time it feels different. This time it feels like some are going through the motions, even though this is the realest threat to Community‘s future that there has ever been. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie cries can still be seen on the internet, but even Dan Harmon, the general of the Communie army, seems less than eager to keep the show going. And after watching the final episode of last season, which Harmon surely knew might be the the last episode ever, that isn’t exactly distressing news. Community feels done. Harmon seems spent, and without two of the major cast members (Chevy Chase and Donald Glover) from the bulk of the show’s run, the fight for continuation to fulfill a hashtag mandate feels like an obligation.
Fans put their whole heart into these shows, though, so it’s understandable why these “campaigns” take root, but at the end of the day – and I hate to use such a heavy analogy – we’re a bit like Dawn in the “Forever” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, desperately trying to bring back someone (or in this case, something) that we loved. Thing is, if there is nothing left of what attracted us to these shows in the first place, if the stories have run their course, or if the show has come to an end naturally, then what are we fighting for?
Again, it’s a heavy analogy, but much as death gives life its meaning, these stories matter more because they have an ending. Nothing, save for The Simpsons, lasts forever. We ought respect that more and ache less for hollow reunions and easy money – because at the end of the day, the punch of a story should matter more than sentimentality.
Godzilla is in theaters now. Better Call Saul is set to premiere on AMC in November 2014.
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