Breaking Bad owns a place in the pantheon of all-time television shows for a number of reasons, from its acting to its direction to its attention to detail.
But what set the AMC series apart from nearly every other drama in history was its simplicity: this was a story about one man, one journey, one devolution from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Vince Gilligan first sold it as to Bryan Cranston back in the day.
So it was fitting, albeit not overly heart-pounding, for "Felina" to be a relatively quiet and especially simple way for Breaking Bad to go out.
Like a majority of fans predicted as the past few weeks unfolded, Walt came home; used the machine gun on Uncle Jack and his crew; the Ricin on Lydia; freed Jesse; and died. That was it. No big twists, no real twists or turns. Just as Gilligan had a mission and a singular vision when he created the show, so too did Walter White on its final episode.
The best show I'll likely ever see in my lifetime is over, its main character is dead - and yet there's little to actually say about the episode itself. The story was as tight and as basic as could be. Pretty much exactly what many believed would happen did happen.
Was Walter White redeemed? I don't think so. I don't think that was ever Gilligan's intent.
Yes, he found a way to deliver his money to his children... but he did so by putting Gretchen and Elliott on edge for the rest of their lives. And, yes, he seemed to offer up a mini prayer in the opening scene, asking someone out there to help him get home... but his goal once he arrived there was to murder a whole lot of people.
There shouldn't be any debate over whether Walter White was a good person. He wasn't. But he wasn't evil, either. It made sense all along that he wouldn't think of killing Hank or Jesse, that he would keep his wedding band around his neck and he'd tear up over Holly or Walt Jr.
Walt was a narcissist. He was an insecure egomaniac. He was a control freak and a liar and a master manipulator. But Uncle Jack and his Neo-Nazi posse were evil. They killed anyone at any time, they gave no thought to life or death or anything except the bottom monetary line. Heck, they took pleasure in it.
But Walt was self-delusional and self-centered. No line in the finale, of course, was more telling than his admission that he became The One Who Knocks for himself, not for his family. He liked it. He was good at it. It replaced the bitter void that had developed inside of him ever since he left the business with Elliott and Gretchen and was reduced to a chemistry teacher and part-time car wash employee.
Walt may have saved Jesse's life (and was that even his intention going in? The best assumption he could have made was that Jesse really was Jack's partner, in which case you've gotta think he originally meant for Jesse to be gunned down with everyone else until he saw the shackles) but he didn't go out a hero. He didn't go out a cackling villain, either. He just... went out. He died by his own bullets, which may have been a disappointment to those hoping Jesse would cap him (bitch!), but it was appropriate, wasn't it? Without meaning to, Walter White killed himself. Doesn't that sum the character right up?
Isn't that what the entire series has been about? A man who thought he could control every situation, who consistently convinced himself he was in the right, sucking the life out of himself and those around him little by little?
The ending felt appropriate. There was nothing flashy or complicated about it because Breaking Bad has spent a season with its foot on the accelerator. It's been just like Walt in the face of Hank learning his secret: frenzied, all over the place, jumping from one dire situation to the next. A few weeks ago, Gilligan himself admitted to TV Fanatic that "Ozymandias" was the best episode the show has ever done, not the finale.
The season didn't build and build toward a suspenseful finale; instead, the finale was a culmination of eight episodes in which both the lead character and the lead writer knew the end was in sight. And after doing everything possible to rail against that fact, to shoot down any claim that the journey was over, both Walt and Gilligan took a breath here and admitted:
It is over. The story is finished. There are no more tricks to play or schemes to hatch. Again, very simple. Very tidy.
And very rewarding for fans of Jesse Pinkman. He had to live. He had been through too much to end up dead or enslaved for the rest of his life. The futures of a widowed Marie and a poor Skyler may not be bright - and all the Blue sales in the world might not be able to sufficiently pay for the therapy Jesse needs - but viewers were at least treated to the welcome sight of this tortured character speeding away, free, a tear-filled mixture of shock, happiness and relief washing over his face as our last sight of him.
This wasn't a jaw-dropping finale, but that's largely because it was a jaw-dropped television show. Gilligan didn't save any rounds for the concluding episode. He emptied them as he went along. Episodes and seasons weren't crafted with a bombshell reveal in mind; there was never anything contrived to tease the following week. The series was logical and detailed and precise, taking viewers on the journey of a chemistry teacher who believed he worked the same way.
Unlike The Sopranos and unlike Lost, this isn't a finale we'll be talking about for months and years to come. We'll be talking instead about the series as a whole. Much like Walter White on everyone he touched, it left a significant mark on the TV landscape.
What did you think of the Breaking Bad finale?
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