Last night was basically the televised drama Super Bowl. But what did you make out of Breaking Bad series finale “Felina”? Let’s talk about my Breaking Bad theories (with spoilers).
From the launch of Breaking Bad in 2008 to today, showrunner and creator Vince Gilligan has issued one line to explain the show.
But what if that’s just the window dressing for understanding Breaking Bad rather than the main purpose of the show? The show certainly chronicled Walter White’s journey from castrated science teacher to drug kingpin, from when it was a “fun” side job with the occasional murder to a full blown criminal enterprise.
Some viewers weren’t happy with series finale “Felina”, feeling that Walter White deserved more punishment for his crimes. Instead, he wrapped everything up and died on what seems to be his terms.
I would argue that Walter White’s journey began before Breaking Bad even started and ended before his death.
Breaking Bad was not a journey to show how one man went from good to evil. Breaking Bad was a journey to show Walter White conquering his own pride.
When we’re reintroduced to Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz in season one, we find that Walter left their joint venture on bad terms for reasons unclear. In season two, we learn that Walter White left Gray Matter in a huff during a Fourth of July gathering with Gretchen and her family.
Walter White may not have been “evil” by the standards of the show at that point, but he was prideful enough to leave years of his work — and apparently several billion dollars — on the table over just his ego.
In “Felina”, we see a resigned Walter White. According to the Breaking Bad podcast, around four months have passed since Walt first departed for New Hampshire. Solitude and his impending death at the hands of cancer have left Walter with nothing but time to think, reflect, and evaluate.
So when Walter not only admits to Skyler that he did it all “for me,” when he opts to avoid talking to his son rather than needing to be heard one last time, when he opts to shoot Uncle Jack in the head over listening to him talk about money for one more second…that was Walter White overcoming his own ego. That was him realizing the monster he’d become in service of nothing than his own pride.
Walter White made things right for everyone but himself. He’ll die a villain, a monster who was more meth than man. Even his name will die as Walt Jr. moves on without any ties to the man he once called Dad.
Breaking Bad is not a happy ending. But it the story of one man realizing that the world will continue to revolve. Just not around him.
And now, my notes.
-The commercials sucked. But they cost about $400,000 per spot, about as good as it gets outside the Super Bowl. The price you pay for one of television’s finest hours.
-Walter White’s a man of science. But as he sits in that snow covered car with police sirens nearby, he turns to God for help getting out. I’m not sure what that says about the overall themes of the show but it’s an interesting moment.
-The timing of Walt leaving the watch Jesse gave him on top of the pay phone didn’t entirely make sense to me in how it ties into his relationship with his former chemistry student. But a man en route to death has no need for time, I suppose.
-Walt browsed through Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz’s house with a complete lack of regard that only a man who’s living for another 24 hours can possibly do. The way he soaks in every accent of opulence — a life that could have been his — is both playful and kind of heartbreaking.
-Elliott has big fucking ears.
-Obviously, good to see Skinny Pete and Badger one last time. And also good to see that Walter opted for trickery rather than one last evil act of actually hiring hit men to watch over them.
-Last week, I kind of wanted Walt to take them out just on principle for their downplaying of Walt’s role during the Charlie Rose interview. But this episode was all about Walt rectifying the evil he fostered, not exacting revenge on anyone who’s ever wronged him. It was the right call to leave them only with the burden of doing good for Walt’s innocent son and daughter.
-Jesse’s dream of a box he made in woodshop is a callback to season 3 episode “Kafkaesque” in which he admits he sold the cherished item for weed. His snap back to reality is extremely depressing.
-If you thought Lydia maybe didn’t deserve her fate, Lydia and Todd’s icy and manipulative reception of Walt show that they deserved every moment to come.
-The scene with Walt behind the column in Skyler’s house was just so beautifully shot. Amazing reveal and a tremendously acted scene. Four months without Walt seem to have given Skyler similar clarity as to her place in the world as well as her relationship with Walt. If it’s not love, it’s at least an understanding.
-Skyler crying as Walt says goodbye to Holly one last time…that Emmy that actress Anna Gunn received this year was well-deserved.
-“All thing things that I did, you need to understand…I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was really…I was alive.” My god. The perfect 20 seconds of writing, acting, and production.
-The most heartbreaking moment — but also proudest moment for Walt — was Walt looking through the window, seeing Walt Jr., and knowing he couldn’t say goodbye for his son’s sake or his own. Walt may have admitted he did it all for himself but his love for his son was still a factor.
-The Nazi clubhouse really could stand to be a little nicer after coming upon $80 million. The massage chair was a worthwhile purchase, though.
-The Rube Goldberg machine gun was just perfect. The tension as to whether Walt would be able to execute the plan and get his car alarm, this scene can be dissected all day. But one last brilliant scheme by Walt — pulled off without a Tio Salamanca or a Nazi crew to organize a hit — was the perfect way to cap a show that was largely built around the failures and success of Walt’s schemes.
-In an episode full of amazing moments, Walt opting to shoot Uncle Jack in the head at the mere mention of money was my favorite. The blood splatter camera only added to the visceral nature of both Walt’s choice and the violence of the execution.
-Walt’s realization that Jesse was a prisoner and not a partner leading to one final act of contrition…I love it. Almost as much as Jesse strangling the shit out of Todd for months of abuse. And that face?
Joy. Relief. Freedom. Well done by the director and Aaron Paul.
-Some people on Twitter complained that Walt and Jesse’s relationship deserved more resolution. But on a show in which little things mean a lot more than they normally do — this show spent an entire episode on a fly, afterall — the little mutual head nod and tears streaming down Jesse’s face said more than any dialogue could have.
-Walter White gets to spend one last minute with what he built in the Nazi meth lab. It’s sad. Science was his true love, the one thing he could control, the one thing that he couldn’t hurt with his lies and misdeeds. Science will always be there, unaffected by his crimes.
-Will this ending make everyone happy? Of course not. But was it the perfectly tidy ending that a show that prides itself on having no loose ends deserved? Absolutely. This isn’t LOST, every single question the show offered up — even the ricin that never worked — found their ways to being wrapped up.
It was a creative impossibility and Vince Gilligan and crew made it all work. Even if you don’t love Walter White’s final fate, you have to admire and respect what this creative team accomplished.
Will that dull the impact of the show over time as people have no reason to debate it like a Sopranos or even a Seinfeld? I think so. Debate means passion and passion means staying power.
But we witnessed a show do what seems impossible and do it stylistically, beautifully, and with a Shakespearean theatricality rarely seen in television or film. This was a beautiful work of art. We’re all fortunate to have taken part.
I want more like this!
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