BREAKING BAD: 5.16 “Felina”
Breaking Bad is over, and in the end, there weren’t a lot of surprises. Yes, the ricin was for Lidia, the machine gun for the Neo-Nazis. Walt finally dropped the family-centered justification for his actions and admitted to Skyler that everything bad he did over the last few years was done because it made him feel good and alive. He died from a stray bullet, least partially redeemed, while Jesse lived. In a genius, thrilling scene that opens like a horror movie, Walt intimidates his former business partners into secretly granting his drug money, disgusted as a generous trust fund from Gray Matter industries, to Walt Jr. Everything ties up in a neat little bow by the end of the episode. Some critics, many of whom I really like and respect, didn’t really like this ending. It was too clean, too neat, they seemed to suggest, and let Walt off the hook too much for the horrible things he did.
I’m not a professional critic, simply an amateur who likes to write about stuff he watches (when he can find the time) and I thought it was great. It was so exciting and suspenseful at times that I could barely breathe. Everything that needed to happen happened. Walt finally told the truth about his motivations and though he dies, he manages to wipe out the greater evil that was spawned from his own actions. His family is now safe, and possibly about to inherit a windfall. Jesse, who’s been both morally and physically tortured over the last season or two, escapes and has another chance at life. After watching Walt’s life and hopes crumble around in in Ozymandius and Granite State, I think that some people convinced themselves that Breaking Bad was really a morality play and its only just ending could come from Walt wasting away and dying in a crappy cabin in the New Hampshire snows, unable to accept his guilt, and unable to do anything about the evil Nazis he unleashed on the Land of Enchantment (Yes, that is New Mexico’s nickname.) They wanted, expected Walt to fully pay for his crimes. That would have been a grim but reasonably realistic ending, just as it would have been realistic if Gretchen and Elliot called the cops on Walt right after he left their home, or if he hadn’t been able to somehow magically get the ricin into Lidia’s Stevia packet, or if the Nazi’s had made him park in the spot they originally wanted, or if one of them had checked his car’s trunk, or if Jack had just shot Walt as soon as they brought him into the clubhouse, or if the Nazi lackeys hadn’t all conveniently been killed by the first few blasts of the concealed machine gun (except for Uncle Jack and Todd, who conveniently survived long enough to be killed by Walt and Jesse, respectively). Instead, none of these realistic things happened, every bit of Walt’s complicated plan went off without a hitch, and Walt sacrificed himself to at least partially neutralize a small bit of the darkness he helped create; perhaps this means the monster that is Walt got off a little easy but I’m OK with that. Breaking Bad was one of the best, maybe THE best show, I’ve ever seen; the writing, acting, and directing have all been fantastic. But really, I thought the show was ALWAYS comic book at heart and was never particularly realistic (the bathtub incident, the fulminated mercury explosion, the Cousins, two passenger jets colliding IN MID-AIR above Walt’s house, Gus’s final scene… there are plenty more examples). I think that the ending, for all its tidy neatness, was perfectly aligned with the show’s sensibility throughout five seasons. The brilliance of the writing, acting, and directing frequently elevated the show, but it was never intended to be a moral lesson, just a good, pulpy, comic book story. The ending confirmed that. It was a great ending to a great ride. It doesn’t need to represent other than that.