After five seasons and 62 episodes, the amazing drug saga of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) / Heisenberg has come to an end. It’s the series finale people – so we knew we needed to bring back the infamous He Said/She Said to really delve into things. Does the AMC phenomenon go out on a high?
Let’s bitch it out…
She Said (TVAngie)
Well, I can’t say ‘Felina’ is the best episode of Breaking Bad ever, but it sure is a helluva finale – and dare I say it, the most satisfying finale I’ve seen in the so-called ‘Golden Age of TV’. Yes, it ties up just about every loose end imaginable but still manages to give us ample points of discussion. There may be room for interpretation regarding some of the characters’ fates, but on the whole, there isn’t anything in the finale that would conjure up any controversy or serve as a giant “eff-you” to long time fans (as many other series finales have been interpreted) “Satisfaction” is really the only word I can think of as the finale delivers on almost all accounts.
Let’s start with the fates of our two main characters: Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul). The eagerly awaited final showdown did not disappoint – it was equal parts nostalgia and tragedy considering how both men confronted each other as shells of their former selves. The hatred in both parties is visibly present, but it is impossible for these former partners to give into it. Kudos to the always-excellent direction (in this case from showrunner Vince Gilligan) for giving us that silent beat before Walt throws himself over Jesse just as he pushes his rigged key fob to begin the onslaught of bullets.
Let’s remember that Walt’s last words to Jesse before shipping him off (to his presumed execution) were meant to kill Jesse a second time – callously revealing that he did nothing to save Jane from death. But seeing his former partner in shackles (which is libel to break anyone’s heart) allowed Walt to ‘do the right thing’, first by saving Jesse from the barrage of bullets, and second by giving Jesse the opportunity to kill Walt and end it all. We see that Walt has been shot while shielding Jesse, but throwing the gun over to him is an important moment for reconciling their relationship.
Walt succumbs to Jesse’s request by saying he indeed wants Jesse to pull the trigger, thus giving Jesse the agency that he’s lacked throughout their time together. Do I believe that Walt is being 100% honest? Not a chance – but what he is doing is finally (and genuinely) putting Jesse first.
Allowing Jesse to decide whether or not to pull that trigger gives Jesse exactly what he’s been craving from Walt for five seasons. This, in addition to killing Todd (Jesse Plemons) so viscerally (literally draining the life out of him) allows Jesse to truly be free. That’s why we see Walt and Jesse give a knowing goodbye nod to one another before Jesse rips through those gates with the wind in his hair. Jesse is truly emancipated from Walt and they both know it. I believe Jesse actually has a chance at being a functional human being after all his ordeals because of these final actions. It’s an incredibly fitting end to this integral partnership.
I also wanted to applaud the opening act and the scam that Walt runs on Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) and Elliott (Adam Godley). These two screwed him over so badly, I feel like I’ve been waiting for a scene like this for six years! Which is why I return to the fruitlessness of the debate on whether or not we should root for Walter White or not. I’m not suggesting that two wrongs (or in this case, several barrels of wrongs) make a right – but the Schwartzes have massively mistreated Walt. The pursuit of wealth and power is a corrupting force (I know – News Flash at Eleven…) but Gretchen and Elliott’s actions come from the same morally ambiguous roots that started Walt on his path to Heisenberg.
I’m not suggesting that they’re worthy of living out the rest of their days in fear (well…perhaps I am…) but seeing them punished, even if it is only temporarily, is incredibly satisfying. Plus it reminds us just how brilliant Walt is. The unstable narcissism that became synonymous with Heisenberg seems to have frozen away in his hideaway cabin. In ‘Felina’, we’re left with only the best parts of him – the delicious ways he’s able to manipulate and one-up, minus the brazen ego. Further to that, this stunt ensures what’s left of his money will go to his children, which, as I mentioned last week, is (pretty much) the only thing I needed to make Walt’s journey worthwhile. (And another bonus – it allows us to say goodbye to Matt L. Jones’ Badger and Charles Baker’s Skinny Pete)
With so many ticks on my checklist, I am still disappointed with Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) role in all of this. It’s unlikely that she’ll get out of this Scott-free – and arguably watching her children suffer through this ordeal and living with her tangential role in Hank’s death is punishment enough for her involvement – but ultimately, I feel that Skyler’s story needs more of a conclusion.
That being said, the goodbye scene between Skyler and Walt is remarkable – the best of the night. The way in which the camera conceals Walt behind the pillar is so brilliantly executed – I could literally go on and on about how visually stunning the scene is, in addition to the superb performances between the two actors.
Perhaps I’m the only viewer who thinks this, but I believe Walt’s admission that everything he did was for the glory of feeding his own ego is only a half-truth. At the end of the day, he did it all for the good of his family and for all of us who have been pushed down or belittled by circumstance (and who hasn’t felt that way at one point or another?). Just as fortuitous as those keys dropping from the Volvo’s sun visor in the cold open, Walt’s descent is primarily due to things going his way for once and being unable to stop his greed.
Perhaps that’s why I continue to root for him despite his actions. He’s been screwed over by doing things the ‘right way’ that when he goes the wrong way – he finally finds some success. Although I don’t condone his actions, it’s not difficult to see why he succumbed to them in the end. The fact that all his final actions are in service of his original intentions – a brighter future for his family – I can’t believe that Walt only did it for himself. Admitting it allows Skyler closure in order to move on (again, demonstrating Walt’s return to his altruistic intentions). It doesn’t absolve him, but continues to show how morally complex he is. In a character-driven show such as this, that’s exactly what keeps viewers coming back again and again (or in this case, purchasing the complete series box set).
So it’s a satisfying finale, but is it memorable? In all honesty, I’m not likely to remember this particular episode as a standout when I reflect on the show, but it does serve as the perfect ending to the series. As I mentioned last week, it’s more important for me to regard these final episodes as final act to a compelling story that needed resolution. There wasn’t anything particularly shocking this hour, but it fell in line with the tone of the rest of the series – and more importantly, serves as a benchmark for the kind of quality work television is capable of going forward. Television simply cannot be regarded as the ‘idiot box’ after this show, and that is the legacy of Breaking Bad.
What are your thoughts on the finale or the entire arc of the series, cinephilactic? Are you as satisfied with the way Walt’s journey ended? Did you think the goodbye scene with Skyler was sufficient? Any predictions on the futures of Flynn or Marie (Betsy Brandt)? Do you think poor (stupid) Lydia (Laura Fraser) was able to do anything in her final hours before succumbing to the ricin?
He Said (Cinephilactic)
The moment I finished watching the finale, I immediately thought to myself “what am I going to say about this?!” It’s a hard task to wrap a series up in a single episode (even one that runs for 75 minutes), so I have to give props for more or less nailing the ending. And yet I’m also inclined to echo the thoughts of Alan Sepinwall in that there was something missing for me: the spontaneity. I won’t suggest that I wanted Vince Gilligan to pull a fast one on me and do something completely out of nowhere, but using the ricin capsule on Lydia and saving Todd and Uncle Jack to kill last feels expected. If anything ‘Felina’ feels like the final piece of a puzzle being fit into place: you can already see the full image, but it’s not complete without the one remaining piece.
And so, with that, Breaking Bad comes to an end. There’s been a lot of digital ink spent on the series and its impact over the last eight weeks, and I’ll echo your sentiments, TVAngie, that the series confirms that TV naysayers need to take a hike if they’re complaining about the potential of the medium. Has this final half season been over-hyped and over-analyzed? Almost certainly yes, and yet I, too, think that the legacy of the show will survive long after this last hour has disappeared in the ether*. Let’s face it: Breaking Bad is one of the few series that unfailingly tackled an adult subject and explored all of its darkness, unabashedly examining the descent of a monster that we nonetheless root for (Walter White is infinitely worse in my mind than Don Draper; though perhaps not Vic Mackey).
*If nothing else, expect it all to come back in two months when end of year lists are released (including likely appearances on one or both of ours!)
Coming back to the finale and even this final season, I do feel like it became a bit more of “the Walt show” than I anticipated (or hoped for). I would have liked to see more of Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul, and perhaps less of the despicable Nazis, who seemed to railroad the plot of S5 in order to show just how bad you have to be to “out-bad” Walter White (I guess after five seasons the only worse place to go after Tuco, the Cousins, and Gus Fring are Nazis and a European drug conglomerate). With that said, I can’t deny the pleasure of seeing Walt use science to engineer their destruction, seeing him die amidst the machinery that made him feel “alive” or witnessing the tearful goodbye to his family, especially the scene when he strokes the head of a sleeping baby Holly. The ingenuity of his plot to blackmail/threaten Gretchen and Elliot confirms for me why Walt was worth cheering for – even if the same no-holds-barred attitude left a trail of human wreckage in the form of poisoned children, overdosed girlfriends and simple chemists shot in their apartments.
Ah so many memories. That’s what I’ll take away from Breaking Bad. It’s probably already cliche to say that for me the series really ended with 5×14 ‘Ozymandias’ and these last two episodes have been more of a denouement, but that’s almost how it is. The moment that the confrontation shifted from Hank vs Walt to include the Nazis, it was clear that Hank was a goner and the focus of the series would shift.
As for those who remain, there’s enough ambiguity left to help us sleep at night. I hope that Jesse would find Brock and raise him outside of the drug world. I like to think that Skyler one day forgives Walt enough to convince her kids that their dad wasn’t a greedy asshole that ruined their lives. The phone call suggests that the sisters will reconcile (eventually) and form a matriarchal version of an extended family. And Lydia…well knowing her she probably just laid in bed and watched infomercials because she knew there was no one left to act for until the ricin consumed her (both she and Todd both earned their well-deserved deaths, even if I would have preferred a little more than her non-reaction compared to the violent end of her infatuated monkey).
But those are just my crazy ideas. Regardless of what may have happened after that final shoot-out, at the end of the day Breaking Bad is a series that confronted me, challenged me, made me feel sick and made me love/hate nearly all of the characters (sometimes at the same time). I can’t say I’ve ever had quite the same relationship with any other series and it’s genuinely frightening (and more than a little sad) to think that I may never again. Thanks for the memories…
Breaking Bad has now completed its run on AMC and will forever live on in our hearts. But in case our hearts fail us, you can always pre-order the entire series on DVD/Blu-ray.
Thanks for reading along with us, Breaking Bad fans. What are your thoughts on the finale and the series as a whole? What was your favourite moment or character? Do you think the show changed the way we watch/speak/read about TV? Hit the comments with your contributions and opinions