So here we are. The show's over, folks. The final episode of Breaking Bad has aired. Let's give it a look, and attempt to process.
Significant spoilers follow from this point on, both in the post and in the comments. Y'all have been warned.
A friend asked me how I felt about the Breaking Bad series finale, "Felina," shortly after I finished watching it last night. I responded, "It was awesome! It was way too tidy. I don't know. I didn't like it. But I also really liked it. It's complicated." That about sums it up, I'd say.
My general feeling as the credits rolled was: "Breaking Bad? More like Breaking Tidy, amirite?" Although I got so much satisfaction out of watching Walter White's victory lap, I couldn't shake the feeling that everything went a little too according to plan. This is a show where, time and again, Walt's plans have worked out not because he's such a brilliant strategist—things almost always go horribly wrong—but because he's incredibly lucky. And always, even Walt's most successful plans have unintended consequences.
Then again, there is certainly an argument to be made that while Walt's plans in the finale, from the hard-to-believe M60 house-cleaning to the nearly-impossible-to-believe poisoned Stevia, all all went off without a hitch, the wreckage he's left over the course of the show—the deaths he's caused and the lives he's ruined—are the ultimate unintended consequence.
I remain torn, because so many moments in the finale worked for me: Walt watching Junior get off the bus, knowing he'll never see his son again. Badger and Skinny Pete's great final appearance. Big Head Todd and the Nazis finally getting their comeuppance, with Jesse personally, violently seeing Todd into the great beyond. Walt and Skyler's last confrontation, when he finally acknowledges what we all knew: That he was never doing this for his family, not really. "I did it for me," he says, "I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I felt alive."
I could natter on for another couple hundred words and not manage to capture all the conflicting feelings I had about that finale. Instead of that, here's a bit of a "franken-recap" from some of the fine critics I've seen around the internet, talking about the finale and how it all went down.
First up, here's Hitfix' Alan Sepinwall, who was mixed on the episode for some of the same reasons I was:
But it also felt so neat, and so orderly, in such an un-"Breaking Bad" sort of way, that I don't think I can give the show bonus points for its last episode in the same way that "The Shield" or "Six Feet Under" get extra credit for their finales. Most of this last half-season was astonishing, but I don't think Gilligan was just being self-effacing when he said "Ozymandias" was the best episode they ever made. That was, essentially, where the story of Walter White ended. These last two weeks have been an extended epilogue, the first half ("Granite State") gut-wrenching, the second half satisfying and tidy.
Wired's Laura Hudson shares a similar sentiment, though she frames it a little bit differently: That in a way, the show had three finales. "Ozymandias" was the dramatic ending, "Granite State" was the saddest but most honest, and last night's "Felina" was "essentially the feel-good ending, insofar as Breaking Bad is capable of having one."
There are going to be a lot of people who feel like this episode absolves Walt – that it gives them the excuse they were looking for to forgive him all over again. Which is why my feelings on the episode are perhaps best summed up by the “two deadliest hitmen west of the Mississippi,” Badger and Skinny Pete, after they helped terrorize Gretchen and Elliott with laser pointers. “I don’t exactly know how to feel about all this,” says Badger. “The whole thing felt kind of shady, morality-wise,” agrees Skinny Pete.
Much like Walt, the episode simply decides to pay us off, glossing over the atrocities of Heisenberg and the shattered lives of Skyler, Flynn, Marie and Jesse with a kick-ass action scene and a few hundred rounds from an M60. “How does it feel now?” Walter asks, handing them each a satisfying bundle of cash. Better?
Meanwhile over at Vulture, another of my favorite critics, Matt Zoller Seitz, described the episode as having "a feeling of Dickensian reckoning, with closure galore but minus any real sense of hope." I loved his take on Walt as a ghost like A Christmas Carol's Jacob Marley, a man who was "at times vengeful and terrifying, but mostly sad and hopeless."
In scene after scene, Walt doesn't so much enter significant spaces as materialize within them. The cleverest and most breathtaking shot in the episode is that slow push-in on Skyler's kitchen that reveals that Walt was there the whole time, his body obscured by a narrow beam. In the wide shot of Walt sneaking into the Schwartzes' mansion, it takes an unnervingly long time for Gretchen to notice him there, even though he's just a few feet away from her, and then directly behind her. Like Mr. Cellophane in Chicago, you can look right through him, walk right by him, and never know he's there. It all feels a bit like karmic punishment expressed via clever compositions — as if Breaking Bad itself has had enough of Walter and is shunning him. ("In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes!" Marley tells Scrooge. "Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!")
Those three critiques (each of which is absolutely worth reading in full) are a drop in the ocean of great criticism that's currently happening surrounding this show. So much to say, and now that Breaking Bad has ended forever, so much time left to say it. In the meantime, I hope you'll weigh in below with your thoughts on the finale, and on the series as a whole.
RIP, Walt. You were the worst, but your show was pretty much the best.
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