SPOILERS: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE YET TO WATCH THE SERIES FINALE, “Felina”.
Recap: “I did it for me”.
Sunday evening marked the end of Breaking Bad and the gripping storyline that captivated the world over five years ago. I’ll cut to the chase, “Felina” as the final episode is titled, was a masterpiece. Critics from all over the interwebs have taken to their keyboards to boisterously sound-off regarding their own qualms with the finale, but let it be known that it was a true work of art.
Walt is seen hiding out in a snow-covered car right after he escapes the bar seconds before police swarm the area. Police sirens suddenly creep into frame and Walt becomes still as the old king Ozymandias. He is almost permanently frozen in time as the sirens eventually pass. He struggles to start the engine with a screwdriver, but low and behold as he drops the driver side visor, the keys fall into his lap. He slowly prays out loud, “Just Get me Home…Just Get me Home”. His tone is that of a dying man hoping for one last hoorah, and he is rewarded with such.
We then pan to Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz (possibly a few cabernet bottles deep), arriving at their decadent residence. They don’t notice their old business partner sitting in the shadows of their courtyard and proceed inside. Gretchen turns around as she lights nice romantic fire, and is shocked to see Walt standing in the foyer, staring at the couples pictures. She lets out a scream and Elliot comes to her side wielding a small knife (if that’s what that thing is called). Walt jokingly says “If we’re going to go that route, you’re going to need a bigger knife”. He calmly has them retrieve his $9 million and has them lay it onto the table and directs them to give the money to Jr. on his 18th birthday, utilizing an irrevocable trust. Just to make sure they do as told, Walt raises his hand and instantly two laser sights appear on the couples chest. Frightened and intimidated, Walt informs them that the “two best hit men west of the Mississippi” are outside and will make sure they deliver the money to his children. Walt leaves and picks up none other than Skinny Pete and Badger on the side of the road (laser pointers in hand). It was definitely a treat to see these two again, props to Vince for giving them crucial screen time.
We hear the phone ring, the camera pans across a new landscape, and suddenly Skyler comes into view. Marie is on the other end of the phone warning her that Walt is in town and most likely will try to contact her. She seems void of emotion, probably because what we don’t see is Walt standing in the corner of the kitchen, beady eyes fixated on his once wife. He says goodbye, and gives her the lottery ticket which is where “You will find Hank and Steve Gomez”. Walt also admits that he cooked meth for himself, because he was good at it and made him feel alive.
Walt then interrupts Lydia and Todd’s business meeting and claims that he has discovered a new method of cooking the same grade meth, without the methlymine. This gives him access to Uncle Jack’s compound. Both parties have extremely divergent and dissimilar motives, which is what makes the scene so well-written. I was blown away by Cranston’s ability to make minced-meat of such a difficult scene. He glides on camera and just as effortlessly leaves it’s view. Marvelous job, Bryan.
Walt is then seen in the desert, building some kind of machine. It reminds me of a long weekend I once had sitting on the ground, countless pieces in front of me after an Ikea binge. One last glimpse of the New Mexico skyline before dark was a nice touch in this episode, seeing as it was a largely aesthetic bonus to the show. As we enter the compound, Walt is searched and stripped of his keys. It’s clear that no business is going to be discussed. Just as Walt is about to be executed, he calls Jack a liar and claims that Jesse is not dead but rather his business partner. Todd retrieves Jesse and brings him to Walt just so he can see that Jesse is definitely not a partner and instead a slave. Walt approaches Jesse and tackles him to the ground as he pushes a button on his car keys. The trunk pops open and the M60 machine gun begins auto-firing into the compound with a robotic lever that Walt assembled in the desert (for good measure). As everyone lay dead or dying, Walt shoots Jack in the head (unapologetically) and Jesse strangles Todd.
Walt and Jesse have one more intense stare-off. Walt asks Jesse to “Do it” as he slides him his handgun. Jesse refuses and takes off in a car. Walt receives a call from Lydia on Todd’s cell-phone and asks if she’s feeling under the weather. He then informs her that her stevia was actually ricin. Fittingly, he ends the conversation with a foreshadowing “Goodbye, Lydia”.
Walt, who had been shot in the barrage of flying automatic rifle shells, scans over the lab at the compound and eventually collapses and dies, just as police raid the area. Screen cuts to black.
Response: I Still Love Walter White
From the beginning, I seen Breaking Bad as a zero-sum game experiment. My understanding of the zero-sum game theory is wedged between the lens of political power and international relations, but it also works with this show. Walt’s actions from the very start of this series set up a scenario where nobody actually wins. Walt taunts, “I won” to Skyler in the series four finale (post Gus annihilation) but in actuality he just survived. There were no true winners in the series at all, and especially none during tonight’s episode.
It’s easy to see how Walt, the Nazis, Lydia, Skyler (Jr/Holly as well), and the Schwartz’s lost, but the true conundrum lies with Jesse’s fate. Although Aaron Paul was largely devoid of actual lines throughout these final episodes, what he doesn’t say is equally telling. For the past few weeks we have seen guilt-riddled skeleton of who Jesse used to be, but as he escaped from the compound he exuded a level of happiness melded with anxiety that not many actors can bring to light. As Jesse ventures to god knows where, viewers are left to ponder. At this point, however, it was too late for redemption. Bryan Cranston called the series finale “unapologetic”, and that is exactly what it felt like. One thing is for certain, Jesse will have to fight like hell everyday for the rest of his life to even attempt to flush these demons from within himself. Jesse didn’t win, he survived too.
“Felina” simply delivered. Everyone was either physically or emotionally dead at the end of the episode. From the opening shot we know exactly where Walt is going and what he plans to do. Breaking Bad took the notion of impending doom and gave it a makeover. The scene involving Gretchen and Elliot was breathtaking and should receive credit as one of Cranston’s best throughout the show. These people, once his friends and partners, are now terrified at the sight of him. He gives them plenty to think about and threatens their lives with distinct precision as he thrusts his arms in the air much like an orchestra conductor.
I’ll also be perfectly honest, I love Walter White. While many claim he turned into this mastermind, villain, evil person, and sociopath, I see him as a unique character amongst simpler characters. Tony Soprano and Don Draper are relatively simple compared to Walter White. Sure, all three characters struggle with this innate sense of identity (who doesn’t ask “who am i?” from time to time), but Walter’s actions are strictly based off a previously long-dormant, animalistic nature. We all have a little bit of Heisenberg in us, just not composed of illicit drug manufacturing and murder. People do what it takes to survive, it’s that little voice in our heads that says “fight or flight”, it’s a racing heart during an exciting moment, and it’s what keeps people out of dark alleyways during the night. Walter White had a death warrant given to him and he gave the world the finger and went out in his way. To be clear, yes he did completely go off the grid and make a series of very bad choices, but at least he went out on his terms. I guess I make this argument in attempting to see Walter as more than some anti-hero or villain, I see him as someone who did what he had to do. He lied to himself and everyone around him for 5 incredible seasons, but he couldn’t fool us. Walt did it for himself and hearing him utter those words was like eating chocolate cake after years of not having it.
Whether Breaking Bad receives a higher critic score than its competitors is a moot point. It is one of the greatest shows ever created. Viewers and critics alike should take a step back and appreciate the show. It was a rare combination of intelligence and tenacity. It took science (bitch) and made it cool again. The show took a wirly, underachieving high school chemistry teacher and transformed him into a demigod. A way to classify how good a show is, is to pay attention to how you feel afterwards. After “Felina” I somehow made my way onto the sidewalk and took a walk to a local park. I didn’t think, I just walked. There was no amazing recap in my head about the episode, only the fleeting anxiety that my favorite show is now over. When a show can bring about such emotions, it should be deemed great, and that is exactly what Breaking Bad was. Thanks to Vince and the entire cast for a phenomenal 5 years of television, you have redefined what it means to make a great television series. Cheers!