Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of 'Breaking Bad.' Read ahead at your own risk.
AMC's 'Breaking Bad' ended its five-season run with the violent, cathartic "Felina" on Sunday night. It was perhaps the most anticipated television episode of the year, and expectations were high that it would deliver a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Walter White. But did it? Was "Felina" satisfying? Fresh off the episode, I've thrown together my thoughts on the episode -- and 'Breaking Bad' as a whole -- below.
Against all odds, 'Breaking Bad' had a happy ending.
Yeah, I didn't expect it either, but after two of the show's most devastating, shattering episodes, "Felina" was essentially a comedy, bringing Walter's story to an end with a surprisingly lighthearted touch. 'Breaking Bad', in its final scenes, revealed itself to be something other than the Shakespearean tragedy we had all thought it would be. We assumed Walter White's character arc would be a single, linear downward slope, but it was rounder. Walter White found a sort of redemption at the end of his sixty-two episode journey. The question is, did he deserve it?
The overall yield of Walter White's life was negative, of that there's no question. He's responsible, indirectly or otherwise, for the deaths of over fifty people, including his brother-in-law. He tore his family apart, doing damage that not even his $9 million could undo. But he regained a certain nobility in "Felina," which saw him doing his best to make things right. Of course nothing he could do would undo those deaths, or un-ruin his family's life. But Walter White's story has been one of a man losing control of his baser, more violent impulses, a midlife crisis run rampant. The last two episodes have been about the death of that ego; Heisenberg, as writer Peter Gould stated through various interviews, died with Hank. Walt's greatest sin was convincing himself he had control. When Uncle Jack took that from him, he began to see himself for what he really was -- and that, ultimately, was the key to his redemption.
There is a part of me that wishes that 'Breaking Bad' had stayed true to the tone it had been setting for the past few weeks. I had been preparing myself for an ending with no redemption, only judgment and punishment. I had a very clear image in my head of how I wanted the show to end: Walt, Todd, Uncle Jack, the Nazis, dead, with Jesse the lone survivor amongst the carnage, but still just a shell of a person. It would have been easy -- and satisfying -- for the show to have that kind of dark and depressing ending.
But what we got instead was the closest thing the show ever had to a giddy episode. 'Breaking Bad' has always sandwiched its dark comedy in amongst the tragedy and existential suffering, but "Felina" brought those elements to the forefront, consciously subverting our expectations for a bloodbath with something that was at times farcical: the entire scene with Gretchen and Elliott was so brazen that you couldn't help but laugh, but the reveal that Badger and Skinny Pete were involved at the end of the episode lended it a lighthearted tone that carried on through the rest of the episode. (Walt poisoning Lydia? A rather hilarious resolution to the years-long question of Chekov's ricin.)
It was tonally jarring, and I'm not sure that necessarily worked in the episode's favor. I'm also not sure how I feel about Walt receiving such total absolution -- sure, he did his penance in that cabin in New Hampshire, but did his final blaze of glory have to be portrayed so damn heroically? That final shot, as pretty as it was, almost suggested a certain martyrdom to Walt. Even after his self-realization and change of heart, I'm not sure if I can reconcile that with the show's extremely moralistic tone.
But scenes like the one between Walter and Skyler -- and later between Walter and Jesse -- make me want to try. Walter finally comes clean to the two people he's wronged the most, admitting that he was driven entirely by ego. Those two scenes were what make me most willing to forgive Walt; he still deserved to die for everything he'd done, but at least he knew it. This newly found humility and honesty earned him partial forgiveness from Skyler, Jesse, and the audience. Again, I'm not sure if it was enough to warrant his heroic treatment in the show's final minutes, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.
But for a series that's always dwelled on loose ends (Jane, Brock -- Huell's still in that motel), 'Breaking Bad' wrapped almost everything up with a pretty bow. Lydia? Poisoned, and deservedly. Todd? Strangled by Jesse, and more than deservedly. Uncle Jack? Shot in the face with blood-splattering gusto by Walt. (I would like to remark how happy I am that Uncle Jack begged in the way that Hank refused to.) The Nazis? All killed by Walter's intense, awesome robo-gun (there's the scientifically ingenious Walt we've missed!). Skyler, Flynn, and Holly? They'll get some of Walt's money -- enough to live comfortably -- though they'll never know it came from their dad, who they will grow up continuing to hate. Even Hank and Gomez will be exhumed and buried properly. Marie will have closure. Even Jesse gets to drive off into the night, weeping and screaming for joy at the same time. This exhileration he feels about being alive makes me hope that he will find some happiness in the future, but it's just as possible that he could end up in even worse shape than he was at the beginning of season 4. With the spectre of Walt gone from his life, though, he has a chance at real peace. I hope he takes it.
I would have liked for "Felina" to dwell more on the tragedy of the whole thing. People are still dead, lives are still ruined. Brock doesn't have a mother. Marie doesn't have a husband. Jesse has hardly anything left to live for. I would have liked a messier ending, or at least one that wasn't quite so happy. But the one we got, for the most part, still felt deserved. As all great endings do, it recontextualizes the entire way we'll look at everything that came before it, and it will be worthwhile to rewatch the series knowing that this is where it all leads.
'Breaking Bad' was one hell of a ride -- one of the greatest in television history. I'm glad I got to be there when it happened, and I'm glad I'll get to watch it over and over again.
What did you think about 'Breaking Bad's' finale? Did Walt get what he deserved? Sound off in the comments section below.