Not a fan, I am. Sequels, prequels, mid-quels, anything spun off or bumped out. I like endings, true endings that will never be undone. I don’t care how tempting the pecuniary potential may be for those involved, I don’t care how loud the audience’s cry may be for another chapter, another episode, another act. We live in a brand-driven culture where “leave them wanting more” has become a weakness rather than a strength, and that’s really too bad. It is, as Wordsworth put it, “a sordid boon.”
The value of conclusions in storytelling has plummeted in recent years, not least of all on scripted series TV, where revivals — bringing a series back for a second life with the same cast — are becoming commonplace. In at least two of them, “Roseanne” and “Will & Grace,” the series finales actually had to be erased — Dan was no longer dead and Will and Grace were no longer estranged — in order to feed the money tree. In effect, the loyal viewers of those shows were gaslighted. Sometimes, the TV revivals jump to movie theaters, where “Sex and the City” was twice seen squandering its reputation for a few more bucks, but they ultimately return to TV months later, as if that’s where they belong.
And that brings me to the news that Vince Gilligan is bringing back “Breaking Bad” as a movie, possibly for theatrical release. Details about the project are slim, but production is slated to begin this month in Albuquerque. According to the website Slashfilm, the film will be a sequel, but rather than bringing meth maker Walter White back from the dead, it will focus on Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Although who knows: Bryan Cranston has said he would happily participate in the movie if asked, and zombies do tend to be popular these days.
That now means that two of what I consider to be TV’s best-ever dramas are breaking the rules of ending, since a prequel of “The Sopranos” written by David Chase and directed by Alan Taylor and called “The Many Saints of Newark,” is currently in the works. Obviously the late James Gandolfini won’t appear in it, but his character, Tony Soprano, may well be in the mix, as a young man. And add to all that the continuation of one of my cozy favorites, “Downton Abbey,” which is coming to movie theaters with the original cast next September, the action picking up two years after the series finale.
Sure, I’ll eagerly see all three of these movies, just as I watch many of the current revivals, just as I have at times read fan fiction; but the aesthetic judge lurking in my consciousness will be offended.
To be honest, “Breaking Bad” has already been a bit compromised for me by “Better Call Saul,” a parallel prequel series that is very good but nonetheless breaks into the world of its origin show. But this next step by Gilligan, picking up with a major character and moving “Breaking Bad” forward, is anathema to me. I understand that classic TV isn’t exactly classic literature, but still: Because readers loved “Great Expectations” so much, should Charles Dickens have written more adventures of Pip? No, no, and no.
I am a purist about finality in storytelling, obviously, and I have many reasons for feeling this way. But the bottom line is that, intuitively, perhaps neurotically, and even slightly morbidly, I feel that disrespecting a full stop just seems wrong and exploitive. If the story is well-written, the end will be embedded in the beginning and the middle, as happened so precisely in “Breaking Bad.” The end is an essential part of the whole series, even though it arrives literally at the last minute. It helps to determine what you take away from what you saw. It gives you emotional release, as you close the book or press the remote and go back over everything that happened. This may be overly serious of me, but in a subliminal way, it reminds you that time is limited, that everything and everyone perishes.
Whether they tie everything up or leave ambiguity, endings distinguish stories from feeds, those endless updates we find on news websites and our own social media. They can be frustrating and they can be hard, as we have to say goodbye to characters we’ve loved watching; but that’s life. Endings are part of life.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.