FOREWARNING: ABANDON ALL WHINING, YE WHO ENTER HERE.Breaking Bad
is over. It's way over. It's been over for a while now. If you read past this point, you can't blame anybody but yourself for spoiling it. Spoilering it. Spoilerizing? Whatever.
Though how much of a spoiler any of this is, that's the debate.
WHEN IS A SPOILER NOT A SPOILER?
I actually started this post quite a while ago, soon after the show ended. I was struck not so much by the ending as reactions to it. People were wrapping themselves in hysterics over potential spoilers, erupting in anger over the barest hint of a whisper that Walt dies in the finale. I even saw some people blow their tops over T-shirts and headlines that they misread
as revealing his death.
Their hypervigilance highlights the heart of the problem: a spoiler is an unexpected reveal that gives away all or part of the story. If you know it's coming, it's not a spoiler.
If I tell you that Bob is in the latest episode of Bob's Wonder Show
, that's not a spoiler. If I tell you that according to previews, Steve is Bob's special guest, that's not a spoiler. If I tell you I heard from a friend in production that Steve finally unleashes the wombats of war and takes over the show, that
is a spoiler.
Walt's death in the finale wasn't
unexpected. The rails were laid early and consistently over years. The cast, crew and creators had discussed it as the logical conclusion of the character and story arc for years. Not only did most fans predict it years in advance, these
fans predicted it: that's why
they were on high alert for any mention of death. It was an expected part of the finale that revealed nothing
about the story (i.e. the actually important stuff) in the finale.
An obvious and inevitable event is not a spoiler.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SET-UP AND SPOILER
And then there were a few people who were surprised by what should have been the least surprising part of the finale: that
What show were they
watching for five years?
Nevermind the aforementioned interviews and discussions and predictions. Ignore all of that, and there's still the fact that the very first episode announced that Walt had incurable cancer and only two years to live. There's still the fact that the final season, which took place two years (in-show) later, was about Walt dying - literally and figuratively, with the destruction of his family, empire and ego.
An event announced in the very first episode is not a spoiler.
HOW CAUGHT UP IS CAUGHT UP?But mokie, there was that experimental treatment. Surely that would get anybody's hopes up.
Only if they skipped the second-to-last episode, in which the show pointed at the bleachers again
with Walt saying outright that he was dying. Only if they jumped straight to the finale without watching the fifth season at all, in which we're told outright that the treatment failed and the cancer was back. Only if they completely missed that the season is a countdown to Walt's end, as he is stripped of his family, his friends, his health, his pride, his power, his partner, his operation, most of his money, his reputation, his anonymity, and his self-respect.
But mostly, that part where he told us
he was dying, that's a big thing.
An event announced in the most recent episode is not a spoiler.
SPOILER VS PREMISE
But it's not always that simple, is it?
A few days after the finale, I snarked about "people who apparently missed the part in the first episode where Walt was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer," and a friend cried spoiler. I thought he was joking, but he was legitimately upset, convinced I had infered that the finale was all about Walt's death.
'All about Walt's death' is a bit like saying The Godfather Part II
is all about boat safety. It's such a gross oversimplification and misinterpretation of one event that it misrepresents both the event and the story. Again, what show was he
Answer: the start of season one. He was so far back he hadn't even met the show's premise yet. It was like someone watching the first few minutes of Superman
and crying spoiler when a friend asks if the kid's landed in Kansas yet. Plus he was watching it abroad, outside the cultural bubble that informed all Americans, even those without cable, that Breaking Bad
was not at all about a cancer patient trying to get better.
He complained that there was still "plenty of time for changes in diagnosis", and oh, man. Season one. All I could do was insist that the finale was not
all about Walt's death (because, again, it wasn't) and that it would make sense later.
THE SHELF-LIFE OF A SPOILER
So how long is one obliged to honor a spoiler in the Age of Netflix, anyway? Is there a reasonable time limit that honors different release windows in different parts of the world, but still allows fans to discuss things that may reveal later story developments? How long do you give someone to catch up?
During the first year, lots of folks will still be catching up. It's absolutely reasonable to give/expect spoiler warnings on discussions that reveal things, to politely shut up if you're in conversation with someone and they reveal they're not yet caught up, and enjoy the buzz of anticipation by proxy.
By the second year, it's the buzz of annoyance that some folks aren't caught up yet. There are new things to talk about, sure, but having to dodge a spoiler and the growing plot that depends on the spoiler becomes a hassle. By this point, jokes about the spoiler are also popping up, often told with the puckish glee of intentionally spoiling it.
By the third year, you're so far behind that we've all lapped you, and those jokes have so saturated pop culture that folks who don't even read/watch the series know or suspec the spoiler by sheer cultural osmosis. It's been in the wild three years: that spoiler is your responsibility now. You're either adept enough at avoiding it that you don't need help, or you're not into the story enough to whine about spoilers in the first place.
Or you're not American, in which case I recommend counter-spoiler activity, e.g. threaten to drop spoilers for non-American shows, then barter for a shelf-life that better suits your release schedule.
WHY WORRY ANYWAY?New study shows that knowing spoilers doesn't ruin a story
I'm just saying.