Better Call Saul is coming to an end next week and will finally close the book on all things Breaking Bad for the foreseeable future. In a recent interview with Deadline, series creator Vince Gilligan has said he doesn’t plan to return to this universe for years, aiming to take on different projects and move on from a show that has defined his career for more than a decade. His legacy is unmistakable, and I applaud him for knowing when to call it a day.
Breaking Bad came to an end almost nine years ago. Despite the characters of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman having long met their end, the stories they both managed to encapsulate have become so iconic that we’ve struggled to let them go. This is one of the rare shows out there that I believe earns the hyperbolic reputation that precedes it, and for good reason.
Each episode is a beautifully crafted slice of drama always building towards something, with even the smallest occurrences bearing significance on themes, characters, and the tragic climax that awaits us. So much of this is thanks to Gilligan, a man who understands that good television is built upon emotional investment and expert craftsmanship, while knowing that one can’t possibly exist without the other. This philosophy continued onto Better Call Saul, a masterful prequel that somehow managed to surpass the juggernaut that preceded it. Now it’s approaching the finish line, set to give us closure on a world we’ve struggled to tear ourselves away from for the better part of a decade. The time is right to move on.
Breaking Bad became more than just a critically acclaimed television show. It was one of the few media properties that broke through to the mainstream and surpassed that original identity. You walk into any shop or visit any website focused on pop culture, and you’re bound to come across all manner of Breaking Bad content or merchandise. Heisenberg’s iconic hat and glasses, the garish yellow overalls, or the sapphire blue of methamphetamine – all these little references have adopted agency of their own, which makes the idea of leaving it all behind almost impossible to entertain.
Like all the best art, knowing when to let things rest and to stop poking the bear for further entertainment is an ultimatum we all need to expect. We live in a culture of media where everything has to be connected or part of a wider universe, with those behind it prepared to deliver a constant stream of films, shows, books, novels, spin-offs that keep the lifeblood pumping even if its finest hours have long passed us by. Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the gaming industry’s continued reliance on nostalgia pandering and cynical remakes and remasters are all guilty of this suffocating trend, and to see Breaking Bad suffer the same fate would break my heart. It is much too good to sell itself out for such a thing, and Vince Gilligan’s recent comments have me convinced that he is perfectly aware of that fact.
El Camino, the feature film released as an epilogue to Breaking Bad in 2019, was both an unexpected surprise and an anxiety-inducing nightmare. Jesse Pinkman’s character arc in the show’s finale left things open to interpretation. He escaped, and could seemingly go anywhere now all those who sought to hold him down are dead and buried. There was a tragic beauty in watching this character, one of the few who deserved a happy ending, screaming at the top of his lungs while speeding away from a place that was once destined to be his grave. He might have been scooped up by cops in moments, or drive himself to suicide because the loss he experienced was simply too much. We’d never know.
Vince Gilligan changed everything with a movie that felt like an extended episode of Breaking Bad. It didn’t reinvent the dramatic formula, sticking with the same slow-burn storytelling and superb character work all while building towards a conclusion most of us were expecting. Jessie was going to get away, whether it meant creating a new identity or reclaiming a life that time and time again was torn away from him. The destination was expectant, but how El Camino ushered us there with so many poignant moments of loss, victory, and heartbreak turned a once unsure experiment into essential viewing for all Breaking Bad fans. It was the epilogue we didn’t know we needed, and one that justified its existence within minutes because it didn’t try to be more than it was.
Better Call Saul is the same. It’s a prequel, so obviously can’t move too many pieces around or it risks the ire of fans. For years, it dwelled in the past, slowly creeping towards the Breaking Bad timeline with tepid anxiety. I feared that it would drag Walter White and Jesse Pinkman kicking and screaming into the fray, expecting older actors to depict versions of characters they had long outgrown. Instead it was perfect. Their presence is minimal, with every line and action feeding into the overall narrative with meaning. Paul and Cranston return for mere minutes, but that’s all the time we need to contextualise the character of Saul in their presence and lift the curtain just a little higher than we’ve ever seen before.
Kim and Jesse’s cigarette in the rain is especially powerful. A passing of the tormentor’s torch from one unfortunate soul to another, Jimmy’s fading love walking into the rain as Jesse stands oblivious atop the smouldering wreckage. Gilligan links these two shows together flawlessly, ensuring that no reference or cameo outstays its welcome in fear of lessening how much they matter in the eyes of fans.
Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul will remain in the zeitgeist, but no new episodes, shows, or spin-offs will be pumped out to expand a universe that has already given us everything it has. We need more creators with this level of conviction. It would have been so easy to take a property like Breaking Bad and saturate it into oblivion. Shows about every conceivable side character even if they have no right to exist. That we aren’t being railroaded into such a reality is something to be grateful for, and we should move on knowing that some of the finest television ever conceived is reaching its end, and we need to come to terms with that.
I love both of these shows with all my heart, but I’d rather see them put to rest and allow new creative ideas to come to fruition instead of mining the same vein until there’s nothing left.
We see more than enough of that nowadays, so it’s time for an exception.
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