Just before 8:15 on Sunday night, hundreds of avid “Breaking Bad” fans at an Albuquerque hotel and millions of others in living rooms across the country, gasped at the climactic ending of one of the best-loved dramas in television history.
That ending won’t be revealed here, because no one who attended the watch party at Hotel Albuquerque on Sunday wanted to spoil the roller-coaster final episode for anyone who missed it.
They did, however, want to share how much they’ll miss seeing their city provide the blue sky backdrops and the gritty street settings for the show’s morally ambiguous characters.
“You could tell that they love our town,” said Mary Holyoke of the show’s creators as she walked out of the watch party, reeling. “The way they shot the horizon, the day-to-night sequences, the scenes driving down Central, the sky, the mountains.
“I feel like Albuquerque is losing a friend.”
Holyoke, an Albuquerque native who had a minor role on the show, said she thinks “Breaking Bad” will raise the city’s “cultural self-esteem” by bringing fame and displaying local landmarks onto the world stage.
After five seasons, the final episode Sunday showed what came of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who turned to making meth when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Fans got to watch as White dragged his family and business partners through his slow-but-sure journey from morality to unrepentant greed and violence.
The 400 or so people who gathered to watch the series finale gasped and applauded throughout, as justice was done and loose plot threads were tied up. They could also buy locally printed “Breaking Bad” T-shirts, paintings and other products. Mayor Richard Berry has estimated that each episode brings $1 million to the city.
That money has come from tourism or “Breaking Bad”-themed products like blue-meth rock candy or Los Pollos Hermanos T-shirts. It also helped local artists who brought paintings to the Sunday watch party.
Most of those artists who showed their work at the finale chose to paint the show’s characters, but Jemez Pueblo artist Jaque Fragua decided to paint a meth pipe in order to highlight the destructive drug.
“It’s such a powerful drug that it’s going to continue its path of destruction beyond this show,” said Fragua, who said he’s lost friends to meth overdoses. “The show has glorified the use of it. I love the show. However, there is the real experience behind it.”
A little more than 90 New Mexicans had meth in their system when they underwent autopsies in 2010, according to the Office of the Medical Investigator. That number rose to 102 in 2012.
For other New Mexicans, “Breaking Bad” was a way to feel close to home from far away, or even to get a second look at familiar places.
Albuquerque resident Christina Juhasz-Wood began watching the show while she lived in South Korea three years ago. At the time, it made her homesick, but when she returned, she began to notice parts of the city she hadn’t seen before.
She saw some impoverished areas and looked for potential sites for crime, she said. That’s not to say she liked Albuquerque less, she said, she just saw it more clearly.
“It’s not my reality or your reality, but it could be a reality of Albuquerque. … It made me pay attention to things that seemed a bit darker,” she said.
Juhasz-Wood said fans of the show and Albuquerque residents she talks to all have had positive experiences from “Breaking Bad,” from being extras in certain scenes to having a pleasant conversation with Bryan Cranston, who plays White.
She also said everyone seems to appreciate how the writers and photographers paid enough attention to detail that residents felt like “Breaking Bad” showed Albuquerque, not just any city.
“They do a lot of work to capture a lot of the details of Albuquerque that they don’t have to,” she said.
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