Bryan Cranston Bryan Cranston

"It's over. And I needed a proper goodbye."

Well, Walter White, you certainly got one. And so did the swelling ranks of Breaking Bad fans, as this remarkable series went out, like Heisenberg himself, on its own terms Sunday night, on a creative high and at the peak of its acclaim and popularity, a week to the night of its Emmy triumph.

Cunningly plotted as always and masterfully directed by Vince Gilligan to maximize the emotional suspense and dark humor, the series finale was not so much redemption as reckoning for the mensch-turned-monster so brilliantly and unsparingly played by Bryan Cranston. It will rank high among TV's all-time great finales because this was a true and satisfying climax to a tremendous show, tragic yet oddly uplifting. Breaking Bad never outstayed its welcome, and sad as we are to see it (and Walter) go, this fiendishly thrilling immorality play achieves modern-classic status by living up to its high standards when it needed to most.

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Sustaining tension through the violent and elegiac end, the explosive payoff was worth the wait: the neo-Nazis' bunker turned slaughterhouse thanks to Walt's last great DIY killing machine, greedy Lydia suffering the Ricin flu while Jesse got to choke the life out of his soulless nemesis Todd before driving off into a euphoric freedom.

There's classic noir irony in Walt taking a bullet to protect his partner in crime, becoming the instrument of his own bloody demise, so when Jesse refuses to deliver the fatal blow — "Do it yourself," he snarls — we know it's already too late. "I want this," Walt says to convince Jesse of his own death wish, but he's already accomplished it, perishing in a bittersweet peace, surrounded by the tools of the trade that made him a criminal legend.

"I did it for me and I liked it. I was good at it," he tells his wife Skyler in the episode's most resonant and moving scene. "I was alive," he reflects with a characteristic mix of sorrow and pride, no longer rationalizing his actions because there's no longer any need to.

Walter White was literally dying to get this over with, and now it is. In the end, he's a hero among villains: cleverly providing for his family's future — thanks, Gretchen and Elliott, you're good for something after all — and ensuring that the fallen Hank (and Gomez) will get a proper goodbye, and burial, of their own.

Breaking Bad is pulp fiction as devastating high art, where everyone involved was working at the top of their game. They were awfully good at it, and few shows have been more alive, all the way to the harrowing and unforgettable end.

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