Breaking Bad: Felina
One of the hardest things for me as a fan of Breaking Bad has been to not read the multiple recaps that spring up late Sunday night and early Monday morning before I write about the previous episode. There are so many interesting views and opinions about Breaking Bad that I often find things that I missed and I have to fight the urge to go back and change everything that I wrote originally. Today it is especially hard since it pretty much just dawned on me that THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER NEW EPISODE EVER (breathes into a paper bag – ok, I’m good, let’s continue).
Anyway, I think I can safely say that the season finale will be almost universally accepted as one of, if not the best, series finale ever. I thought it was simply perfect from start to finish, and I think the fact that creator Vince Gilligan not only wrote but directed this last episode had a lot to do with it. For all of the amazing writers and directors that worked on this show, this was his story, and I’m extremely happy about the fact that he got to close things out the way he wanted. And he closed it out in a manner that I didn’t think possible: Walter White not only won, but he achieved a sense of closure with his extended family and the audience that bordered on forgiveness in the process.
From a fan’s perspective, I’m not sure if we could have asked for anything more than what transpired last night. First off there was the frankly awesome misdirection of Walt breaking into the Schwartz’s new home and confronting them. We’re set up to believe that their death is the first on a checklist of a Scareface-style, “everybody dies” ending, only to find out that it is merely Walt’s ingenious way of pulling off the impossible, getting the remaining millions of dollars of his empire to his family, through the guise of a charitable trust from two rich benefactors. And then, just as the tension level drops, the two red dots appear on their chests, and Walt’s threats sound as ominous as ever, but then Gilligan throws us one of the greatest fanboy bones ever by revealing that the source of those dots are Badger and Skinny Pete standing outside the window with a couple of laser pens. (Kudos to my boy Shawn for nailing that scenario, btw. Well done.) I loved the fact that after weeks of seemingly relentless horror we got a dose of Breaking Bad’s dark humor almost right off the bat. And how great was Badger’s and Skinny Pete’s doubts about the morality of what they were ding being quickly overwhelmed by the fat stack of bills each received from Walt for their services?
After achieving the seemingly impossible by ensuring his money ends up where he intends it (Flynn is going to be sooooo rolling in the breakfast foods in a few months – no veggie bacon for him), Walt turns up in Skylar’s kitchen. One of the really cool directorial touches this episode was the way Walt seemed to emerge from nowhere or the shadows like a ghost (Marie’s frantic warning to Skylar on the phone reminded me of the way that Voldemort was described in the Harry Potter series as being everywhere at once in the panic and confusion of his return). It’s the amazing scene between Walt and Skylar that Walt achieves some absolution for what he has done, by admitting for the first time to Skylar that he did what he did not simply “for the family” the way he always insisted, but because of he liked it and was good at it. I thought Gilligan used Skylar here as a proxy (along with Jesse later in the episode) for the audience, and let her emotion at Walt’s admission and honesty serve basically as our excuse to cheer (maybe that’s a strong word, at least we don’t feel complete revulsion for him) for Walt one last time.
Next up on Walt’s list is Lydia, and he uses her compulsion and rigidness against her to track down her location (Tuesday, 10 AM), enhance her beloved Stevia with the ricin he retrieved from his old house, seal her eventual fate, and set up his final showdown with Uncle Jack and the neo-Nazi fun bunch. RIP Lydia, you creepy, OCD middle manager from hell.
After a quick “Walt as McGyver” scene where he sets up the BFG to fire from a remote control signal (another cool throwback – “Yeah, Science!” The giant magnet seems like it happened years ago, didn’t it?) Walt enters the compound for the final confrontation with Jack’s bunch. Give them credit, they may be merciless killers and massive racists, but they are unfailingly polite. (“Hey, how are you doing? Could you turn around and raise your arms out like this, please?”) I do believe that Walt went there intending to kill Jesse, but once he saw that he was a prisoner of Jack’s and was basically in as bad of shape as he was, he made the instinctive decision to save Jesse one last time. Then, with one click of the remote the Walt takes his revenge on the men who killed Hank and stole his money, though the writers made the awesome decision to leave both Todd and Jack still alive – hello catharsis moments. This gives Jesse the opportunity to kill Todd personally (and in rather brutal fashion) and avenge Andrea’s (and Brock’s) execution, while Walt proves that the money is no longer his motivation by finishing off Jack before finding out where the remainder of the money is hidden.
It’s at that point that Walt, wounded when he knocked Jesse out of the way of the gunfire, slides the gun to Jesse. He’s basically leaving it up to him to do whatever will make him feel best in a final show of affection for him. It’s a small gesture but an important one, since I think Jesse is acting here as another proxy for the audience. Jesse decides that he’s had enough violence in his life (or perhaps he realizes that Walt is dying anyway given his physical condition and the wound that he notices in Walt’s side), and leaves. Walt follows, but not before he gets a chance to twist the knife in Lydia’s side by informing her that her flu symptoms are actually the ricin working. (And the Lydia ringtone on Todd’s phone and the humidifier roaring in the background behind Lydia were fantastic touches.)
After brief, respectful glance and nod between the two, Jesse literally drives off into freedom and Walt stumbles into the lab to await the arrival of the police. It’s there, surrounded by his beloved instruments that made him legendary, that Walt can die in peace (awesomely soundtracked by Badfinger). And by dying there, he cements his legend completely. The police will never know that Jesse was responsible for the final cooks that spread the blue meth around the southwest and into Europe. His money is going to his family as he intended. He’s atoned in part for wronging Jesse by giving him his freedom and a choice on how to end their relationship (and by giving him the opportunity to take out the “doe-eyed pyscho” Todd). He’s avenged Hank and ensured that his body will be found and given a proper burial. He even got to say a last goodbye to Holly and mend fences with Skylar somewhat, giving her the coordinates that will lead the police to Hank and Gomie’s body, and letting her know that he wasn’t the one who killed Hank. Everything Walt set out to do in beginning (and, everything he wanted to achieve as he became Heisenberg) he did. Heisenberg won. And it’s ok if we feel good about it, which I didn’t think I would have been able to say yesterday. That’s quite an achievement, Vince Gilligan. Well done to you.
A couple of random moments of awesomeness:
- “You’re going to need a bigger knife.”
- Walt taking off the watch and laying it on top of payphone (which, incredibly, Vince Gilligan explained on Talking Bad was simply to ensure continuity. Walt didn’t have the watch when the teaser flash forward was shot earlier in season 5.)
- Jesse going This Old House in the daydream woodworking sequence.
- The eerie way Walt emerged from the shadows and closed Gretchen and Elliot’s from doors and then lingered just out of their view for several agonizing moments, leaving everyone to think that he was going to kill them.
- Badger and Skinny Pete! Literally the only thing they could have thrown in that would have made it better was one more cook montage for old times sake. And for one second at the end I thought that was what Walt was going to do in the lab.
What did you think? Were you as happy as I was with the ending?