“Cheer up beautiful people, this is where you get to make it right.”
You may have noticed that despite the fact that I write about television quite a bit, I’d never written anything of significance regarding Breaking Bad. For the longest time I simply refused to write about about it. The reason for this is that I simply felt unqualified to do so. I felt like I was too stupid to analyze or critique the show (Go read one of Donna Bowman’s excellent recaps for the AV Club’s TV Club and you’ll see what I mean). Maybe I am too stupid. Breaking Bad is often quite brilliant and I’m often quite not. So keep those insecurities in mind while reading this post. Hopefully my words can do this show a modicum of the justice that it deserves.
It’s been a week since Breaking Bad concluded with “Felina”, and I still feel the same way: Breaking Bad’s series finale is troublesome.
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the finale. It was a well-acted, expertly-directed hour of television. It had a lot of really great moments and it wrapped pretty much everything up, and yet… and yet I wasn’t 100% satisfied. There was just something that felt off about it all.
At first I wasn’t sure what it was. Or maybe there was just a part of me that didn’t want to know what it was because I so badly wanted for this finale to be perfect. But it wasn’t. And the reason why it wasn’t perfect is because it was. Breaking Bad was a messy show. It was never clean. And yet, that’s the word I would use to describe “Felina”. Clean. Neat. Tidy. Perfect. It all wrapped up too well. It wasn’t just wrapped up – Vince Gilligan put a bow on it. Now, you might be thinking “You thought that blood bath at the end was clean?” Well, yes, I do. It was clean for Breaking Bad. Let’s look at the facts, shall we? Walter White confronted Gretchen and Elliot, but he didn’t kill them. In fact, all of his threats to them were ultimately empty, as evidenced by Badger and Skinny Pete’s laser pointers. Next, we know that Walt Jr. rejected Walt’s hard-earned money, and yet Walt figured out a way to provide for him regardless. Moving on, we got to see Walter finally admit the truth to Skylar. There may not have been forgiveness, but there was some degree of reconciliation. Heisenberg was able to say goodbye to his daughter. Up next, Walt was able to eliminate Uncle Jack and his pack of neo-Nazis, and he did so by perfectly carrying out his master plan. He got revenge on them not just for killing Hank, but for stealing his empire. In the process, he was also able to save Jesse, who has always been more of a son to him than Walt Jr. And finally, Walt was able to die on his own terms, surrounded by the remains of the meth empire that he helped create, the meth empire that ultimately died along with him.
Do you see how all of these events could add up to an unsatisfying ending? Vince Gilligan appeared to be creating one show, and then, in the last second, he swerved and created something else. After seeing 61 episodes of Walt’s unforgiveable transformation into Heisenberg, we are delivered a finale in which he begins to redeem himself. Walt wasn’t the villain of this episode, he was the hero. Cheer up beautiful people, this was the episode where Walt made it right. He killed the bad guys. He saved the good guys. He provided for his family. In a (very) roundabout way, Walt ultimately accomplished what he set out to do. We are shown time and time again that crime doesn’t pay, and yet, in the end, crime did pay, didn’t it? Obviously, the people that Walt has left behind in his wake may be irreparably damaged, but in the end, Walt himself “won”, at least as much as he ever could have expected to win. He wasn’t killed by his cancer, he wasn’t killed by Hank, or Tuco, or Gus, or Uncle Jack. Walt died willingly by his own hand, and frankly, I don’t feel that he got what he deserved.
This entire episode felt like a tale of redemption. It told the story of an ultimately good-hearted man who made a lot of mistakes and realized too late what he had done. It told the story of a man who stopped deluding himself and sought some form of atonement for what he had done. Maybe this could have worked had it been introduced earlier, but at this late stage, I just feel like it wasn’t earned. All season Gilligan (and many others) have criticized Walt supporters, and yet this finale vindicated “Team Walt”. I’m not sure why this bothers me as much as it does. I mean, I believe in second chances. I believe in forgiveness. I believe that a man can change. I just don’t believe that this man can change. Or I don’t believe that he would.
Maybe I’m alone on this, but I wanted Walt to died a slow, painful death. I wanted everything he ever loved and cared about to be stripped away. Ideally, I wanted to see Walt dying slowly of his cancer, alone, forgotten, and unloved, stripped of his power, of his empire, and of all his accomplishments. This was the direction I saw the show going. I was certain of it. This was not the ending I received. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the ending I received. Maybe the ending I wanted was never possible. Maybe Walt’s ego would have always led him to suicide before he reached that point. I just didn’t want him to go out on his own terms, because pretty much nobody else received that luxury.
I know that there are many who felt differently. I know of one person in particular who sobbed her way through the finale. The word “perfect” has been thrown around a lot. As I said earlier, it was perfect in the sense that things ended as perfectly as they possibly could for Walt, but I don’t believe it was a perfect episode of television. In a lot of ways, it felt rushed. I would have liked to have seen the secondary characters get a little more closure. I know that this was Walt’s story, but doesn’t it feel like Jesse got a little shorted in the end? What about Walt Jr. and Mary? For a show whose supporting cast felt nearly as important as the “protagonist”, I felt a little robbed in that regard. And yet, all of these issues only really feel like issues when you look at “Felina” on its own, and to do so would be to do a large disservice to this phenomenal show. While it’s not the ending I was necessarily hoping for, it doesn’t get enough wrong to tarnish Breaking Bad’s legacy in anyway. I personally don’t feel that a series finale has that kind of power (I’m looking at you Lost-haters). Whether you agree with me about “Felina” or not, hopefully we can all agree that Breaking Bad will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.
In conclusion, “Felina” was a fantastic episode of television. It may have even been a fantastic series finale. What it wasn’t, however, was a fantastic series finale for Breaking Bad. “Felina” wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I thought Breaking Bad was. And yet, I find it hard to get that upset about it. Vince Gilligan gave me one of the greatest shows ever created, and for that I am very thankful. You’re off the hook this time Gilligan. Tread lightly.
PS. Is anyone else going to pretend that Jesse’s final scene leads directly into the Need for Speed movie?