** Spoiler Alert – for a show that last aired almost 10 years ago, but that I finally got around to watching: Breaking Bad **
Breaking Bad revolved fatefully around Walter White, the lovable psychopath who confounded even existing discordant conceptions of anti-hero. Walt, and the twisted morality universe he inhabited along with his family Skyler, Junior, Hank and Marie. And, of course, his tragicomic foil, the sensitive gangster Jesse Pinkman. In short, it was thrilling, eloquent, convoluted, barbaric, repugnant and mesmerizing. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.
If you’ve seen it…If you lived through these people, and others like Gus Fring, Hector Salamanca, Tuco, Mike Ehrmantraut, Gale Boetticher, Saul Goodman, Don Eladio, Jane, Gomey, Badger & Skinny Pete, uncle Jack, Todd and Lydia…If you’re familiar with the business operations of places such as Los Pollos Hermanos, A1 Car Wash, Vaminos Pest Control, Madrigal Electromotive, Beneke Fabricators, and Gray Matter Technologies…
Well, I bet you know exactly what I mean.
But we are, of course, a music site. And I’m here to talk about Breaking Bad’s music. More specifically, one song in particular: the very last one heard, over the last scene shown.
The song choice was…stunningly perfect. After a brief caress Walter White’s bloodied hand streaks down a gleaming metallic tank, his chilling detente with Jesse having just been sealed with the subtlest of nods, he collapses to the floor, an oddly peaceful look across his face, and the chiming guitars of Badfinger’s rueful ‘Baby Blue’ sweep in. With this shiver-inducing opening lyric:
“Guess I got what I deserved”
And then, as the camera slowly pulls away from Walt’s cancer- and bullet-stricken body, comes the last line of the verse:
The special love I have for you / My baby blue
Walt’s signature blue methamphetamine. In the end, his one true love. The pristine product that transformed him from a dying high school chemistry teacher to the indestructible drug kingpin Heisenberg. Simply amazing; like a junkie, I’ve compulsively watched it over and over.
Is it possible uber-masterful series creator Vince Gilligan wrote the whole damn thing – 5 seasons and 62 episodes of what would become acknowledged as the premier television drama ever made – just to get to that one flawlessly synched final scene?
And if not – I mean, that couldn’t really be (could it?) – I’m almost equally curious to know: at what point in the show’s plot development did a convergence of this precise song and the culmination of the astonishingly sweeping, labyrinthine story arc first come into focus? Early on, when Walt’s primitive first batches emerged from the RV with their unusual coloring; Sometime midway through, as blue meth production peaked in the customized industrial lab below the commercial laundry; or not until the approaching coda as Walt, having survived all ruthless adversaries, is ultimately fallen by a stray shot of his own ingenious design while taking out an entire neo-Nazi crew.
When?! I’d just like to know exactly how that bolt of brilliance struck Thomas Golubić, the highly accomplished series musical supervisor (The Walking Dead, Six Feet Under) and thus the person tasked with such impactful and destiny-altering choices. When, indeed.
As an aside, if anyone could kindly recommend me for that role of music supervisor on a future production I’d be eternally grateful. Or even just a consultant of some kind. Great, and thanks in advance.
Sadly, the calamitous history of the band chosen to play over Breaking Bad’s climactic final scene had more in common with the darker-than-dark alchemy visiting the tragic characters throughout the series. As the first post-Beatles band signed to Apple Records, Badfinger’s sound, looks, heritage, and support had positioned them as the expected heirs to The Fab Four throne. ‘Come and Get It,’ their first hit, was bestowed to them by Paul McCartney; George Harrison produced another smash, ‘Day After Day,’ while Badfinger also served as George’s backing band for much of his breakthrough triple-record All Things Must Pass as well as The Concert for Bangladesh. These early critical and commercial successes, plus still more Beatle-esque tunes like ‘No Matter What,’ and ‘Without You’ (later to become an even bigger hit for Harry Nilsson), seemingly situated Badfinger for an inevitable destiny of rock and roll renown. Yet, what followed instead were a series of shady management rip-offs, the inglorious demise and dissolution of Apple, and a subsequent lawsuit from Warner Brothers that effectively left them shut down by their own record company. Just a few years following their gilded ascension, they were in crisis, ruined and done. Bankrupt and grimly embittered, Badfinger’s leader, Pete Ham, committed suicide by hanging at age 27. Incredibly, Eight years later the band’s bassist, Tommie Evans, also hung himself. A more cataclysmic storyline could scarcely have been written for the series.
Watching the finale at home in Minnesota on Sep. 29, 2013 was Liverpool-born guitarist Joey Molland, the sole surviving member of Badfinger’s classic lineup. “I only found out that day that they were going to use the song on Breaking Bad,” he says. “So…I was surprised. The mix was different, as was the way they edited the whole thing, but I thought it was great.”
Now, it turns out that in the decade since that last indelible scene – since I caught on to the historic run of Breaking Bad – a fair amount has actually been written about it. And, well, I kind’ve got my answer. Music Supervisor Golubić, whose work along with original composer Dave Porter so enriched the operatic cinematography of the entire show, had thoughtfully studied the possibilities from among the recorded history of music, trying to identify this critical final piece of the production.
“Before I saw the scene, I had pulled together a number of ideas,” recalled Golubić, “one of which I thought worked pretty beautifully against picture.” (this was ‘No More Excuses’ by The Bees). “But once I saw that beautiful shot, and saw the scene in context, I realized why Vince was so strongly attached to the Badfinger song. It’s tricky for us as music supervisors in that we keep pulling together ideas and revising them. None of us know the right answer until we are at the very end of that process and have cut and locked picture (final editing) to work with. Vince is just really talented at knowing what the effect is he is looking for, and knew early on that Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’ was the right choice for what he was looking to do. It took until the final picture was assembled that I was able to also see what a fantastic choice it was.”
It was Vince. Vince Gilligan. Of course it was. The ultimate series visionary who could best envision it. (and with that discovery, it seems this plot line resolved a lot more quickly than those in the show). But, you did notice Golubić said “early on,” right? Just how early? Some 36 years after Badfinger’s release of ‘Baby Blue’ in March of 1972, Breaking Bad premiered on Jan. 20, 2008. Could it have been about that early?
“I am the one who knocks.” “Say my name.” “Tread lightly.” And, “I did it for me.” These terse but dazzling lines were among the most unforgettable that Vince Gilligan composed for Walter White – as portrayed by Bryan Cranston and spurring Emmy wins for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series four times. If you know Breaking Bad you understand the emotion behind the words was irresistible. Gilligan did not, however, write “Baby Blue.” But, in his haunting distillation of the song to wed Walt and his prized pure meth, whenever it was that he chose it, it’s every bit as addictive.
The final scene (though it plays a lot better following the 60 or so hours that preceded it)