Well, that's it. No more Breaking Bad. The show's final episode, "Felina," aired last night, and a whole lot went down, just as it had to. Some characters met gruesome ends, some have a chance at new beginnings, and the one character who drove it all is dead, but got everything he wanted.
Remember that interview Vince Gilligan gave a few months ago, where he called the ending "a victory for Walt"? Well, it was. In fact, I thought it was too triumphant. In that same interview, Gilligan followed up the "victory" proclamation by saying, "You might see the episode and say, 'What the f--- was he talking about?'" Well, now we've seen the episode, and I can't for the life of me figure out how anyone could see that ending as anything other than an unambiguous, soaring triumph for Walter White.
Why? Let's briefly run through what happened. Yes, Walt is dead, but that was going to happen pretty soon from the cancer anyway. And before that: 1) He figured out a way to get a ton of money to his kids (and terrorize Gretchen and Elliott while he was at it). 2) He figured out a way to help Skyler get some leverage with the DEA, and was finally honest with her about his motivations all along ("I did it for me"). 3) He killed all the Nazis (well, except Todd) in grandiose fashion, avenging Hank's death and allowing Jesse — who got to kill his captor, Todd, himself — to go free.
And finally, he got to spend his final moments alone and content in a meth lab — "his precious," as Gilligan called it after the finale aired. When Gilligan put it that way, it reminded me of the last scene of Cheers, of all shows: Sam Malone, by his lonesome with the bar that was always his true love. And to paraphrase that show's theme, another critical aspect of Walt's victory: everyone knows his name.
As I work through my feelings on the episode (many of which were positive, despite what I've said thus far), I'm reminded of a piece Time's James Poniewozik published before the final eight episodes began airing. In it, he argued it wasn't Breaking Bad's job to punish Walter White. And he was right: it was the show's job to conclude in as satisfying a manner as possible. And on the whole, it did: these last eight episodes were, more often than not, marvelous, and the finale featured many riveting moments. Not to mention, the show did punish Walt, making him suffer the indignity of his entire family turning against him and watching his brother-in-law get shot before his eyes.
Even so, as a viewer, I wanted to see Walt suffer just a bit more than he did. If even one thing had gone wrong — maybe the Gretchen/Elliott plan could have backfired — I don't know if I'd have these mixed feelings. I can't shake the idea that everything went too right at the end for this man who'd committed so many wrongs, even if I was captivated along the way. And with that I ask, for the last time:
What was the worst thing Walter White did this week?
See, this is what I'm talking about — even the "worst" things Walt did in this episode had, at the very least, noble side effects. Threatening Gretchen and Elliott, for example: they're innocents, and now they'll have to live in fear because of Walt, but he was at least trying to get his family a bunch of money.
Then there was killing Lydia. On the one hand, I wondered what purpose it even served Walt. She tried to get Todd to kill Skyler last week, true, but Walt doesn't know that when he serves her up some Stevia-laced ricin. Is he simply getting back at her for working with Jack and the Nazi gang, selling the blue meth? Is he still mad about the time she showed her face at the car wash? (Seriously, let me know if I missed something obvious.)
On the surface, it seems like one of Walt's least-justified killings. On the other hand, Lydia is rather murderous herself, and didn't exactly have a happy end coming, so Walt could be seen as serving up karmic justice here. Walt in "Felina" is who he wanted to be throughout Breaking Bad — a guy who actually had believable justifications for even his most monstrous actions.
Thoughts on the episode in general:
I've spent basically this whole post talking about my issues with "Felina," but there was a lot to like, too. For one, Gilligan promised a conclusive ending, and he delivered. Sure, we don't know exactly what happens to Skyler going forward, or even what Jesse does with his new lease on life, but Breaking Bad is Walter White's story above all else, and the show definitively wrapped up all story arcs in the context of how they relate to Walt — in addition, of course, to Walt's personal story.
What's more, I thought Gilligan and Co. did a good job wrapping up the stories in a satisfying way individually, even if I'm on the fence about how they all combined to essentially make the episode a victory lap for Walt. Sure, I wasn't crazy about the way Gretchen and Elliott were re-introduced last week, and I was still conflicted throughout most of their standoff with Walt last night (even as I appreciated the tension and black comedy ). The reveal that the "hitmen" Walt threatened to sic on Gretchen and Elliott were Badger and Skinny Pete, though? Tremendous, and it retroactively made the entire scene before it better.
Equally tremendous? The machine gun payoff. Breaking Bad's writers created a tall task when they had Walt buy that hulking weapon in the season 5opening flash forward, but the wait to see exactly how he'd use the thing was worth it. It was one of Walt's best-ever bits of technical MacGyvering, and seeing the thing go off with a bang (and then another bang, and another, and another ... ) was as intense and satisfying a deployment of the weapon as anyone could have hoped for.
And then, that last scene. Yes, I was torn, how utterly perfect an ending it provided to a guy who didn't deserve it. I also enjoyed the hell out of it. If Walt's ending didn't sit quite right with me, the use of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" to play out the series somehow did. That song playing over a guy lying dead in a meth lab as police descend upon his corpse seems so incongruous ... and yet it wasn't. It was right for the sendoff Walt gave himself. It was downright joyous, and in a series (and specifically, a season) filled with so much darkness, I was grateful for it. Oh, and the shot of Walt from above was a neat callback to this.
One more thing: kudos to Andi Teran of previously.tv, who correctly guessed at a connection between "Felina" and the music of Marty Robbins, who once wrote a song featuring a heroine named "Feleena." The cassette tape Walt listened to as he began his journey back to Albuquerque? Marty Robbins.
Bonus: the most heartbreaking Jesse Pinkman moment of the week
It was the moment he was jolted out of his woodworking fantasy back to his reality of cooking meth for neo-Nazis, but the show of him driving away near the end was so triumphant that it was easy to forget the despair of that scene. And I'm also thankful for that — Jesse's had a rougher season than anyone, so I wondered if Gilligan & Co. would finally show some mercy on him at the end, and sure enough, they did. Ride on, Jesse.
And... well, that's a wrap. I've greatly enjoyed my time covering Breaking Bad here at PolicyMic, and I'm sad to see the show go. But in truth, there was no ground left to cover creatively. In that way, I'm glad it's wrapping up now. My reservations about the finale aside, this is one of the best shows I've ever seen, and the final half-season only served to cement its place as one of TV's greatest dramas. And far from the finale marring my opinion of all that came before, I can't wait to watch it again. Thanks to the PolicyMic team for letting me chronicle these last eight episodes, and thanks to Vince Gilligan, his creative team, the cast, and crew for bringing this phenomenal show to life.