That’s it. It’s over. It’s done. “Breaking Bad” has reached its conclusion and as I begin to type this review I have to admit that I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to say.
Well let me get this out of the way; I liked the finale. I thought it was a fitting ending to one of the greatest television shows of all time. Was it the greatest finale I’ve ever seen? Is “Breaking Bad” the greatest show ever? I’m not going to bother trying to address these questions. The value of “Breaking Bad” as a whole, and of this finale in particular will be determined in time. It’s going to be a good, long while before anybody can rank this series with real precision and surety within the pantheon of great television series. That being said, there’s still a lot to talk about.
The most interesting thing about “Felina” is how against the grain of the rest if “Breaking Bad” it is. It isn’t a member of “Breaking Bad’s Greatest Hits”, it doesn’t have those heart-pounding, emotionally draining sequences that have made “Breaking Bad” so famous, especially over these last couple of episodes. For a series that made a name for itself largely based on all it’s twists and turns, “Felina” curiously plays out almost exactly how I had predicted it would weeks ago. No big surprises, the tables never really get turned, it’s methodical, it’s blunt and it’s clear. And I think that’s a reflection of where Walter White is at in his head, it’s a reflection of what he morphed into in the final moments of last week’s “Granite State”. Walter White’s Heisenberg persona came about because he was angry at the world. He enjoyed being angry. He loved to scream and snarl and rage at the world he deluded himself into believing owed him it’s reverence. Because of his crippling self-centrality, the only way Walt could feel alive was when he was asserting his superiority over all he surveyed, and every person within it.
But now, with Heisenberg purged from his system through crushing defeat, Walter White finds a new spark of life left in him, enough to carry him and see his goals through to the end. But not for himself, oddly enough. This entire series has been about a man pursuing his own selfishness and his own gain, a man driven to extremes by his own self-worship. But now, with that side of him having been stamped out of him by karma, or destiny, or God (whichever way you choose to look at it), Walter White has nothing left to do except use his gifting of brilliance and return to the colossal wreck of his own making and set things as right as he can set them. A ghost of his former self, Walt isn’t getting high off the rush of adrenaline such activities would have brought him before. He doesn’t seem to be getting any real joy from his plans, he is simply using the skills he has learned over the past five season in order to do what must be done. And that’s what “Felina” is, it’s taking care of business. It lacks the high-tension and thrills of past “Breaking Bad” episodes because there’s no thrills left to be had. It does what must be done and makes no attempt to glamorize it or make it more exciting it they truly is.
From a structural standpoint, “Felina”, as well as “Granite State” serve as more of an epilogue than a finale. The true arc of the show ended with “Ozymandias”. That was our finale, all the show’s threads coming to a head. “Ozymanias” was the finale, “Felina” is the send-off. And while that structure may bother some viewers, I think it works as a proper antidote to a common TV finale problem: an ending that’s too abrupt. By liberating himself from the expected conventions of television storytelling, Vince Gilligan freed the show from having every major, finalizing event have to happen in it’s final hour. It was a smart move, and one that may mess with some folks expectations, but if the story plays out better this way, so be it.
So Walt kills the Nazis. Jesse goes free. Walt dies. That’s basically it. That’s what happened. It’s so simple and obvious, but those final few moments were packed with so much meaning. When Jesse drove off into the night screaming with joy, finally free from the cancer that is Walter White, a sense of relief washed over me. It was as if, with Jesse’s freedom came the viewer’s freedom. The horrors that this show has put its audience through these past couple of episodes have begun to feel like a cage from which their is no escape, a cage to which only Walter had the key, and it seemed as if there was no way he would ever unlock it. But he did. His final act, though not redeeming, left us with some hope. And given what a gut-wrenching experience this whole thing has been, I’m so very glad we got to experience some hope right here at the end.
The final scene, where we observe Walt as he looks over the Neo-Nazi lab, was, I think, a perfect scene to end the show on. He is in the place that he loved more than anything in the world: a meth lab, a monument to him and his great “achievements”. Walter White is a man who values himself far above all other things, and in “Felina” we finally see him come to terms with that. He’s too far gone to turn back and become the man he should have been, he’s alone because he sacrificed every other person he had in pursuit of his own desires. And in this final scene we see him die, not surrounded by a family who loves him, but surrounded by the cold, unfeeling metal tools of his craft, all of which are as lifeless and empty as his soul. Some would interpret this ending is a victory for Walter White (some critics have gone as far as to say that this finale somewhat undermined the rest of the series’ moral message), but I’m inclined to disagree. There is no victory in dying alone, comforted only by self-love and delusions of grandeur. Walter White died one the saddest and emptiest men who ever lived, and no final act of goodness can ever change that. Losing with a marginal amount of grace is still losing, and Walter White lost long, long ago. He lost in the pilot episode of this show, when he made the decision to let his ego rule his heart and mind, and as a result he lost his family, his soul and his life. The fact that he died with a smile on his face doesn’t mean he won, it only means that he lost touch with morality, selflessness and real love so long ago that he no longer understands what winning really means.
The episode title refers to a song called El Paso by Marty Robbins, about a man who falls in love with a Mexican girl and gets in a whole world of trouble because of it. His love for this girl gets him chased out of town, and when he returns he’s fatally shot. The final verse of the song reads: “From out of nowhere Felina has found me, kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side, cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for, one little kiss and Felina, good-bye.” The blue meth, Walt’s legacy, is his “Felina”. But, as we learned so pointedly in “Ozymandias”, Walt’s legacy will fade from existence leaving nothing of meaning behind. And that’s how Walter White meets his end; wrapped in the loving arms of his own emptiness and meaninglessness. He loved his own fleeting desire for recognition and power to the very bitter end, and I can’t imagine anything sadder than that.
While we’re on the subject of finales and endings, I have some thoughts, or musings on the subject that occurred to me while pondering this episode: One big thing I took away from “Felina”, oddly enough, was reaffirmation of my love for the series finale of “Lost”. The moments in “Felina” that worked best were the moments where the story stuck to it’s narrative guns, propelling the characters forward to their final destinations. The weakest scenes were the ones where the narrative went a bit out of its way to wrap up “loose-ends”. Now none of the scenes in the episode were bad, Mr. Gilligan managed to wrap the whole thing up as gracefully as he could, but I couldn’t help but notice how very little I cared about each little storyline being wrapped up with a neat little bow. Some friends of mine expressed a desire to know what happened to Brock, which I can’t see fitting into this episode at all. It’s not that I don’t care what happened to Brock, I do, but Brock’s resolution was not a piece of the story at hand, this isn’t, and has never been, Brock’s story. Explanations only need come into play as support for the current narrative, and pausing from the action to say “oh hey, so this also happened to that one other character” undermines the flow of the story-line that really matters. I honestly could’ve done without that final establishing call with Lydia where Walt spells out to her precisely how he killed her. I have to question the logic of disrupting the Walt/Jesse sequence that was going on to further clarify the fate of a character that only now appeared in this final season. Did I enjoy it while it was there? Sure. I enjoyed watching Lydia die as much as the next viewer, but in the broad scope of the episode I can’t say that it really worked well enough to justify its presence.
And that’s what I loved about the “Lost” finale. No further attempts at closure could’ve made the final moments of that show more powerful. Knowing why Walt (har-har) was “special” has no relevance to how and where the characters ended up. “Lost” wasn’t a show about mysteries, “Lost” was a show about characters and the fact that it managed to find a suitable ending for each character arc given a cast of its size is nothing short of miraculous. To say that the presence of unanswered questions (there aren’t as many as people think there are) ruined the ending of the show is to entirely miss the point of “Lost” itself. As much as I admired “Felina” I would be lying if I said that the final moments of it affected me more than the final moments of “Lost”. And while that’s largely by the design of each show (“Lost” is a show that lends itself to more sentimentality) I feel it’s still a testament to how good of a finale “Lost” really had. This isn’t meant as a slam on “Breaking Bad” by any means, “Breaking Bad” did what it had to do, it’s ending is fantastic and deserves all the praise that it gets. I just think that it serves to prove a point about ending a television show: knowing everything isn’t as important has having an ending that means something. And I will, without a doubt, take a finale that answers nothing but retains its meaning over a finale that checks off all the answer-boxes at the expense of it’s narrative.
“Felina” is a great episode of television and the surprisingly simplistic ending that I didn’t know I wanted. “Breaking Bad” has forever cemented its legacy as one of the greatest television shows of all time and I have loved watching every second of it. It isn’t hard to say goodbye to this show, it’s never been a comforting presence that I’ll miss having every week, I’m just overjoyed that I finally get to see the complete picture. “Breaking Bad” is finished and is all the better for it. We finally get to see the disturbing end of television’s most talked-about anti-hero, and while on its surface he may have died on top, there’s a much more powerful and unnerving reality lurking below that ending. It’s a finale with layers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really…I was alive.”
It’s been a joy writing these reviews, so thanks to everybody who took the time to read them. I look forward to picking up with some “Walking Dead” reviews starting with a series recap/review next Sunday.
Have an A1 Day!
Episode Grade: A
Season Grade: A
Series Grade: A
Credit goes to Heisenberg Chronicles on Tumblr for that awesome poster.