Breaking Bad Series Finale Review: Truth and Consequences
Before we begin, here's the song that closed the episode, "Baby Blue" by Badfinger. Click the link to open it in a new tab and let it play while you read.
In 2008, in Breaking Bad's most clear and direct message of its intentions, high school chemistry teacher Walter White stood before his class in the show's pilot and told the dunces of the Albuquerque public school system that chemistry was all about change. To demonstrate this concept, he did some special voodoo magic on the flame of a Bunsen burner and put on a mini fireworks show, to prove to his students just how cool change can be. What he didn't show them was that gas won't last forever, and eventually the flame will die out. Breaking Bad's first 61 episodes were all about Walter White's transformation into Heisenberg the Big Bad Drug Dealer via neat, explosive moments where his inner flame burned bright; the show's 62nd and final episode, "Felina," was all about the flame burning out, no longer able to sustain itself. And so we said #goodbyeBreakingBad with Walter dying on the floor of a meth lab, his enemies vanquished and his family somewhat less stained for the decisions he made, surrounded by the scientific instruments that made him who he would become. And dammit, he had the inkling of a smile on his face, didn't he?
"Felina" was an entirely satisfying finale of Breaking Bad that answered many of the questions viewers had going in and put a period at the end of the series rather than an ellipsis. Unlike some other shows, there was no vagueness about Walter's ending; he died! He died right there in the meth lab that Jack's crew built, even if we never saw anyone take his pulse or heard him draw one last breath. It was perfect in the sense that it concluded all the main threads we were concerned about, and now we can all move forward with the feeling that Breaking Bad is over, for better or worse.
But "Felina" wasn't the mind-melter that so many other episodes of Breaking Bad have been. It was actually rather straightforward for one of the most-anticipated episodes in television history, nearly as business-like in its plotting as the way Walter approached his laundry list of tasks to complete before he flamed out. This is largely in contrast to what we know Breaking Bad to be: daring, unexpected, visionary. There were no big tricks, no attempt to do something more than it should. It was almost non-Breaking Bad.
A quick look at the ol' internet and we can see what Johnny Twitter, Jimmy Facebook, and Bob Bloggerson thought about it, and the opinions obviously vary from over-hyped to perfect. As for me, looking at the final product and considering the alternative, I really, really liked it. But I didn't L-O-V-E it. I was totally satisfied with how "Felina" capped off the series, and entirely pleased with what transpired, but mostly, I'm glad it didn't fall on its face.
Walter mopped things up as we expected him to. In fact, at times it felt like he was checking off items on a to-do list, making stops to say goodbye to Skyler, to get one last look at Walter Jr., to take care of Lydia, and to kill Jack and his crew. Nothing was spectacular or surprising about any of these visits: The ricin for Lydia was purposefully telegraphed via Lydia's obsessive tinkering with her sugar substitute, Walter's testing of the modified garage door opener in the desert made it pretty obvious what he was going to use it for, and Walter's talk with Skyler was subdued and kind of uneventful. Of course, that doesn't mean these scenes weren't great; they still felt like the right things to do given the amount of time Breaking Bad had left to finish its story.
The only startling occurrence was in the way that Walter managed to fit Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, those snotty and boring smack-talking billionaires, into his final act. Yeah, we thought he might go American Psycho on them when we first saw him sneaking into their mansion, but as I wrote last week, I wouldn't have been too happy if he did. Walter had mostly made peace with his decision to leave Gray Matter Technologies so many years ago. Sure, he was pissed that he'd left and sold his share for a thousand bucks, but he'd accepted the fact that he'd made that decision and didn't hold it against Elliott. He didn't like what the couple said on Charlie Rose, but what else would they do? They never owed it to Walter to stick behind him, particularly once he went criminal. So Walter found a better way to use them; they would launder his money into a charitable donation, to be delivered to Walter Jr. when he turned 18. And to make sure they did what he ordered them to, he made up some phantom assassins to keep them unnerved no matter what corner of the world they vacationed in. That was cool, even if the Schwartzes probably muttered, "Yeah, right" as soon as Walter left the room, calling him on his bogus sharpshooters. I like to think that they sent the money to Walter Jr. anyway, because it would make them look good and because whatever, it wasn't their money and they have enough smarts to see that a father's poor decisions shouldn't ruin his kid's life. Plus, that money buys a lot of bacon. Bacon party at Jr's on his 18th!
Though Walter's goodbye to Skyler was mostly quiet, I appreciated how he finally owned up to doing all this for selfish reasons. "I did it for me. I liked it, I was good at it. And I was really alive," he said, the most honest he's been since he admitted to liking Boz Scaggs. Most of Walter's greatest celebrations didn't come from hauling in a ton of cash, they came from being a macho man. Like when he told the original A1 Car Wash owner Bogdan to suck his nuts and quit, or when he blew up Tuco's office with mercury fulminate and roared in his car while slamming on the steering wheel, or when he blew up the sweet new car he'd just bought and made people say his name and robbed a train full of methalymine. Walter had a blast while reinventing himself as Heisenberg; the money to pay for his kids' college tuition was just icing, and an excuse to keep going. Hearing Walter admit that everything he did was essentially an extreme mid-life crisis and reaction to terminal illness was the most important takeaway from the finale for me. Walter was no longer lying himself about his motivations, he was no longer using family and money as an excuse. He built an empire and he loved being the king, it was as simple as that.
Unlike some of Walter's past plans, the way he took out Jack's gang was entirely expected. But wow, was it awesome! My favorite part was when Kenny (OMG they killed Kenny! You bastards!) took a bullet through the brain that continued into his racist friend behind him:
Luck also gave us some special deaths for Jack and Todd, who somehow avoided the automated machine-gun fire. Jesse choked Todd out, which was so damn appropriate, and Walter put one in Jack from close range even as Jack tried the old "If you kill me you'll never find your money—" plea. Well guess what, Jack, Walter didn't care about the money anymore. So, *BANG*:
But I don't know, I did wonder a bit about the way Jesse's story wrapped up. Would Jack really have gone through all the trouble to have Todd haul Jesse in and prove that Jesse wasn't a partner when his plan was still to take Walter out back and shoot him? Was Jack that much of an egomaniac that he had to bring Jesse out to prove he wasn't lying, and was it really the best way to get Jesse in front of Walter? It saved Jesse's life and allowed Walter to grab his detonator keys, but ehh, Jack doesn't seem like that stupid of a person.
I was also kind of looking forward to more of a confrontation between Jesse and Walter. Not because I wanted it (nothing but hearts for Jesse over here), but because Walter had been written to despise Jesse so much in recent episodes. Instead, Walter dove on Jesse to save him, offered Jesse the chance to kill him, and then let him drive away. Maybe Walter'd had enough of a change of heart when he realized that Jesse had been held prisoner, but that didn't change the fact that Jesse ratted on him and teamed up with Hank. I guess I wanted all the tension that had built up between them to blow up instead of fade away.
I did love how Walter's life ended, though. He admired the meth lab while he bled out because it was the meth lab that allowed him to reach his potential, to be better at something than anyone else on the planet. Walter White was a good chemistry teacher and, before he broke bad, he was probably a good husband and great father, if Walter Jr.'s (former) affection for his dad were any indication. But Walter's biggest desire in life was to earn the recognition and respect for his talents and abilities that he thought he deserved, a chance he missed with Gray Matter. Walter was an AMAZING meth-maker, and making meth won him that recognition and respect. He walked among the vats and gauges in his last moments because that's where he was king.
"Felina" never had to redeem Walter White, and it didn't. Breaking Bad never defended Walter's actions, and even Walter admitted the truth: He did everything for himself. But Walter did make efforts to clean up as much of his mess as he could and take care of his family, further exploring the idea that within every good person, there's bad, and within every bad person, there's good. However, in the end, even when he was dying, he chose to be where he most felt alive, and that was among the instruments that made him his greatest.
– This was a really good finale.
– Skyler: "So you'll be going to the police?" Walter: "They'll be coming to me." HELL YEAH THEY WILL!
– Does anyone know of a time that someone in real life kept the keys to their car behind the sun visor?
– Here's the origin of Todd's ringtone:
– It was nice to see Skinny Pete and Badger get one last scene, even if they weren't talking about obscure science-fiction series.
Well? What'd YOU think?
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