[Review] - Breaking Bad Series Finale, Season 5 Episode 16, "Felina"

Let us take a moment to appreciate the accomplishment of storytelling that was Breaking Bad. A fully realised, deeply serialised story that never wandered into exploitiveness or rambling elements that didn't add to the over all narrative. A piercing character study that managed to balance organic development with good old fashioned action. That never cut a line of dialogue in favour of a fist fight, and could draw as much tension from a quiet conversation as it could from a ticking bomb. This was a slow burn, turned and timed to perfection.

And I nearly missed it. When it was first announced, I had the same reaction that many had: the dad from Malcolm in the Middle plays a chemistry teacher who becomes a drug dealer. It sounded goofy, and that promo picture of Cranston in the desert in his tighty whities didn't help. So I gave it a pass. It was only half way through the second season that I caught up to it, on the recommendation of someone who knows bad from good. And while it might have been the human soup eating through a bathtub that got my attention, it was those opening images of the season two premiere that made me a devoted follower. As the second season progressed, the increasing nuances of the show made me realise that this was something special, something new, something necessary.

And all good things must come to an end. Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are going to need a bigger knife.

As it should be, this was Walter's swan song. Cranston was on screen for all but two scenes here, giving Walter White the proper send off he deserved. Playing less like an episode than a series of short films, each telescoping a facet of the shattered person who once was Walter White. He went from place to place, putting right what once went wrong, and knowing the whole time that he was going to his death, one way or another. We also got to see Walter at his most Batman, pulling off just marvellous acts of badassery, from knocking an entire window of snow off a car with one punch, to his slipping into the lives of everyone he has crossed paths with on his journey with an effortlessness that is proof of why he was so successful.

While there wasn't a scene in this episode that didn't land, my personal preference is to the first scene, a mostly silent transition from the man we ended on last week to the man he needed to be at the end. He is frail and desperate, alone in the cold, seeking salvation. A thin vale his only security, while the authorities search and prod, hoping he'll reveal himself. A combination of luck and determination allowing him to continue, with no one to answer to but himself. The body weakens, but the force of will is strong. It's the entire series in a nutshell. 

And let's take a moment to congratulate the staffer who was responsible for getting music for the show. If it was Gilligan, then kudos to him for yet another thing he's done right. If it was some intern with a really eclectic playlist, then all credit to them. The series wasn't big on using music, which was for the best. But when it did, they were literally perfect. Meaningful and obscure, and packing just the right amount of tonal dissidence. Few other shows would risk using a bubblegum pop track whose lyrics were seemingly tailor made for the scene, in place of being hamfisted about setting a mood. Breaking Bad lived on subtly and undermining expectations, and it continued to do so right up to the end.

The scene in the Schwartz home was Heisenberg at his most aggressive, the scene with Lydia and Todd him at his most manipulative. The master planner using everything he had available to him in order to throw those around him off his real trail. With the Schwartz's, it was feeding off their fear, wrapping that around his own desperation to make certain that his family was taken care of. With Lydia and Todd, it was using his increasing frailty to suggest weakness rather than intent. With the former, it was about absolute control, with the latter it was about suggesting a lack of it. And it all credit to Gilligan and the writers for making Walter's final day less of a violence filled, vengeance fuelled rampage, then a day of contrition. He accomplished the only task he ever wanted, to provide for his family. He forced his former friends to take responsibility for their actions long ago, by making them custodians of his family's welfare. And he was able to eliminate the last thread of his former empire in the slowest, most painful way possible.

After that, he had expunged Heisenberg entirely. All that was left was Walt. Honest with himself and Skylar for the first time since the series began, he sought her out to put things back into order. He says his goodbyes, tells her where she can find Hank, looks on his son and daughter for the last time, and leaves. Walt and Skylar's scenes have always been the most emotionally charged on the series, but until now there was always a villainy at the heart of them. His "the one who knocks" speech, her confession about Ted, all the times this season they have conspired against their friends and family in order to protect themselves. Their relationship over the course of the series evolved from one of love to one of constant lies, so it was validating to see their last interaction be one laid bare. No posturing, no manipulations. Just sincerity. Horrible, debilitating honesty. Walter, in trying to protect his family, destroyed it. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Even Holly, who will have no memories of her father, will grow up with his legacy haunting her at every turn. Skylar will smoke herself into an early grave, and Flynn will never trust anyone ever again. And Walter never apologised for that.

When he has time to work things out, Walter is unstoppable. When he acts on a whim, it brings him to ruin. This is a reoccurring theme of the show. And in the end, it was what killed him. He goes to extraordinary lengths to make certain he can eliminate Jack and the other Nazis. But seeing Jesse, bound and broken, all the anger and fear that has consumed him before was washed away. Walter was going to die, there was nothing Jesse could do to hurt him anymore. Jesse, by some grace, survived this long, and Walter had the opportunity to save him one last time. And by tackling him, by being just that higher off the ground, he took a bullet. Whether or not you might believe he had originally intended to stand in the hail of gun fire and die along with Jack and his kin, or if he would have thrown himself to the floor, it doesn't matter. He preserved Jesse, and gave himself for that privilege.

And, throwing one last twist at us, Jesse didn't pull the trigger. I thought he would. I thought he had to. But denying Walter his last request was a greater punishment than granting it. And, unlike the last time Jesse stood with a gun to someones head and agonised over whether to take a life or not, this time Jesse was able to step back. He was able to redeem himself and come out the other side alive, which is really more than I think many were expecting. A lot of people lived, in the end. More than I thought. And the ones who lived are the worse for it, so who made out better? Walter had to die, otherwise it would never end. Without a body, the agony he was putting everyone through would continue. His body at least gives a measure of closure to Skylar and Marie. And by wiping out the remains of the Heisenberg Empire, he has removed some of the blight of the blue meth from the world. Walter had to die, because the world is better without him. Which might just be one of the most depressing ways to end a series.

But it was a hell of a fun time while it lasted.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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