Monday, September 30, 2013


A fairly muted but solid ending to Breaking Bad. In "Felina" Vince Gilligan takes pity on his characters and allows them a bit of redemption.  In a way, it's cheap--it might have been more honest to have just about everyone die or be completely miserable, but I guess we've seen enough of that.  And this show deserved a no-nonsense ending with definite closure, and this was it.

We pick up where we left off, with Walt on the run in New Hampshire, breaking into a snow-covered car and trying to hotwire it.  The cops drive by, not bothering to look at a car not being used.  A Marty Robbins tape is in the glove compartment, and when Walt finds the keys (on the visor--people are very trusting in the Granite State) and starts the car, we get to hear a bit of Robbin's #1 hit "El Paso":

I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing's worse than this
Pain in my heart.

The song is about a girl named Felina, but we all know the title is an anagram for Finale (and three chemical elements in a row).

After the commercial, Walt is already in the Southwest.  He's driven a couple thousand miles and has work to do.  He fills up the car and makes a call on a payphone pretending to be with The New York Times. How else can you get the attention of one-percenters like Elliott and Gretchen? (Of course, Walt has picked up his ten million before he left, so he's a one-percenter too.) Their assistant gives up their address. Is he gunning for them? I figured he'd leave them alone and go after Uncle Jack.

He lies in wait as they return home to their expensive digs. They're shocked, needless to say. Here are three old friends, and one has gone crazy and become a wanted meth kingpin. But hey, he built his own empire and showed them.

Turns out he's not there to off them, but has an ingenious plan.  Walt's had a long trip to ABQ and thus plenty of time to figure out how it all works. With E and G's help, they carry in most of Walt's money. He has them promise to give it to Junior in an irrevocable trust when he turns 18.  Just Junior? Doesn't Holly get a taste? What about Skyler, or is she gonna be in prison? And some hazard pay for Marie?  I guess he wants it for his namesake, especially since his son told him he just wants him to die.  And two rich people doing it as a beau gests is buyable, whereas any other way would be stopped by the cops (or turned down by his angry family).  Anyway, Saul is gone, and he usually does this dirty business, so Walt's gotta improvise.

We know the Schwartz's can't be trusted to carry out the plan once Walt is dead, which will be soon, presumably. So he's hired a couple sharpshooters, who are just outside, to kill them if they don't perform in the future.  Walt exits and before driving away picks up Badger and Skinny Pete. Good to see these guys before the show is over.  Not only were they helpful pretending to be aiming guns at Elliott and Gretchen, but they're still living the simple life of Season One.  True, they've seen some violence and death, but they'd still just as soon hang out, get high and talk crap all day.  If Walt had all his money maybe he could lay a few million on them, but he hands over what looks like ten thousand to each, which is the best payday they've seen in a while. Pete can get some nice keyboards and Badger can finally get the Babylon 5 box set.

The guys know the blue stuff is still out there, and they figured it was Heisenberg, but this tells Walt that Jesse is still cooking.  So the Nazis kept him alive.  He's still got to kill him.

At the meth lab, Jesse is daydreaming about woodworking (Vince Gilligan promised there'd be woodworking in the finale). Jesse has talked in the past about making a beautiful wooden box in shop class, and dreamed about being a craftsman. He has become a craftsman, but it's at methmaking, which he's still doing, chained up, when he awakens.

We quickly go through Walt's moment at Denny's picking up the gun and at his house picking up the ricin for those fans who haven't been paying attention. (And it shows he stopped by Elliott and Greatchen's place first, in case you were wondering). He has a flashback within this flashback to a flashforward--he remembers what things were like in the house just before he went on that DEA ride-along that changed everything.

At The Grove, Lydia's favorite spot, she has her weekly meeting with Todd, and who should drop in but Heisenberg.  Another big moment. Cautious Lydia is probably thinking here's a wanted man who'll mess up her business so he needs to be dead, while Todd is probably thinking two's company, three's a crowd.  Walt has a cock and bull story about meeting Uncle Jack at the compound tonight to show him a new method of cooking. We know he just wants to drop by for a little slaughter of the men who took his money and killed his brother-in-law. After he leaves, Todd and Lydia just shake their heads.   Poor guy, he's gotta go.  Lydia puts Stevia in her tea, like always, and we realize it's ricin. Who's got Lydia in the pool? (Actually, I'd guess she was the favorite.)

Out in the empty desert, Walt is working on some sort of remote-control device that is no doubt designed to kill a lot of Aryans, and maybe Jesse.  Good old Heisenberg, never out of ideas.  I can see why they wanted him at Grey Matter.

Around this time we're wondering why no one's looking for Walt.  He may seem different with all that hair, but come on.  Turns out they are on the lookout.  Marie calls Skyler--all is forgiven, or as much as possible. She's lost everything, but still has her sister, so maybe there's hope. Marie tells Skyler Walt is in town, even been spotted, so watch out. But when Skyler hangs up, we know she doesn't need to look out, since Walt has already sneaked into Skyler's new place.

He's got something for her. Not money, which she won't accept anyway, but the lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates which will show the cops where Hank and Gomez are buried--killed by the Nazis, Walt explains.  It's only right they get a proper funeral and their families get closure--and now Skyler can use the info as leverage in any deal she needs to make.  Skyler mentions how Todd's crew (not that she knows Todd) dropped by and threatened her and Holly--as if Walt needs another reason to kill that gang.

Then he tells Skyler everything he's done was for...himself.  Walt is at the end--of his adventure and his life--and it's helped bring about clarity. He can finally admit he enjoyed doing something well, making money, having power, getting respect and all that.  She's thrilled to finally hear the truth, but I actually think he's lying a bit.  Yeah, he did love it, and did it far beyond what reason or his familiy demanded. But he still cares about his family and his plan with E and G shows what he's still thinking about.

Skyler let's him see Holly one last time.  He leaves, and then watches nearby as his son returns home from school.  It's sad.  We're watching this episode, knowing this is the last time we'll see all these characters, and the same goes for Walt.

Night and Walt drives his car/machine-of-destruction into the Compound.  He could park right up to the clubhouse, but pulls in the opposite direction so his trunk is nearer. Odd.  He gets out and is patted down.  No guns, no wire, no big deal. But they take his car keys, which are rigged to set off his invention.

He talks to the Nazis but they just want to kill him. They don't need new plans to cook meth, they're doing fine, and Lydia sure wants him gone. (I'm not even sure if I recall what beef Walt has with Lydia, but I guess he can't keep her alive, since she's the type who kills loose ends, which would include not just Walt but his family.)

So no deal, but let's cap him in the head.  Walt says wait, you've didn't kill Jesse like you were supposed to, you made him a partner.  This raises Jack's hackles--they may be Nazis, but they wouldn't partner up with a fink. So they bring in Jesse and show his miserable condition.  Meanwhile, Walt has inched toward the pool table and picked up the keys there.

Walt sees Jesse and does a Searchers on him (as Vince Gilligan has admitted). He's wanted him dead for a while, but this guy's already been through months of living death, and Walt remembers old times and wants to save him.  So he attacks him, driving him to the ground. They roll around and Todd tries to break it up.  At this point, Walt starts the remote-control machine gun in the trunk that kills everyone who's standing (not lying).

When the dust clears, Todd peeks out the window as Jesse sneaks up from behind and, in the kind of poetic justice you find in action movies, chokes Todd to death with his chains. (Early in the series Walt choked a bad guy to death, and now it's Jesse's turn.) Jack is still alive, though hurt, and says you need me to find the rest of your money, but, in another action movie move, Walt just shoots him dead. (If Uncle Jack had acted so decisively, Walt would be dead now.)

So it's just Walt and Jesse.  Walt slides his gun over to Jesse.  He wants to die.  But this isn't Gale Boetticher time--Jesse's already said he won't do whatever Walt tells him to do.  Doesn't really matter much, as Walt is bleeding out.

One more thing.  Lydia calls Todd (Todd's got a "Lydia The Tattooed Lady" ring tone) and Walt answers.  It almost wasn't necessary, but it's a chance for Walt to tell her he killed everyone and just in case you're wondering, I gave you ricin and you'll be dead tomorrow.  I felt sort of sorry for Lydia, but it reminds you that there's no such thing as a safe investment.

So Jesse takes the car and rides off.  He's deliriously happy after spending most of the last two seasons in a funk, but being freed from slavery will do that to a guy. Anyway, he's suffered more than anyone else so let's give him a (relatively) happy ending. Where will he go? Alaska? How will he make money? Woodworking? (He can always falls back on cooking meth, since he's the best in the world.) I'm guessing he won't be seeing Badger or Skinny Pete again, but certainly there's a Brock in his future.

Walt looks at the nice lab, all set up according to the way he likes it.  He lies on the floor, dying, as the cops show up to form their own conclusions, and Badfinger's "Baby Blue" plays.

Guess I got what I deserved
Kept you waiting there too long, my love
All that time without a word
Didn't know you'd think that I'd forget or I'd regret
The special love I had for you, my baby blue

So Walt did what he had to do, and his family will be okay (or at least not dead), as will Jesse.  A little sappy, but honestly arrived at.

Over the years this show has had a lot of high spirits, even within its darkness, but this episode, where we understood it was all over, was a bit more somber.  But we got closure, and it didn't embarrass itself.  The show deserves all the accolades it's gotten.  It sometimes went in unexpected directions, but it never played its fans wrong.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've made it through without seeing a single episode, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the recaps.

Maybe someday I'll see and enjoy the series.

Interesting that an important element of the beginning, providing for the family, was met so spectacularly at the end.

So what would a 20 year old son of a dead drug kingpin do with tens or hundreds of millions? Drugs, I suppose.

4:26 PM, September 30, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Just saw the finale. Truly brilliant. I don't know if it's the best series of all time -- you made some persuasive arguments against that thesis some time ago. But it was the most appropriate and satisfying ending that could have been given to this very show.

(Way, way better than I could have ever dreamed of writing myself. Which is a pretty weak compliment, since I doubt I could write good fiction. But I could definitely have written better endings for BSG and for Lost. Oh well.)

The Marty Robbins song is very pleasant. Here's a much less well known Robbins song that is hardly appropriate for the BrBa finale. But it's the only pop song I know of that's as shocking as Breaking Bad has been.

8:53 PM, September 30, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Quite a song from Marty Robbins. Surprised it wasn't a hit.

BB is a great show, one of the greatest, but it's definitely a smaller show than most of the others people bring up. Which is why the closure the finale provided made sense--it was the story of Walt, from his first diagnosis to his death, as we see him change. That's the center of the show. The Sopranos is about a lifestyle and the central character keeps going on with his problems with work and family, and can be killed at any second, so that ending worked in its own way. The Wire was about life in Baltimore, and it could have gone on forever, in larger and larger circles, so you can't get real closure there anyway, since there's no real solution. Mad Men is about an era, and it ends when the decade ends, but there's no simple solution to the characters' problems--they'll continue on through the special problems of the 70s.

Lost, on the other hand, had a central myster, and BSG had a quest, and both required special, specific endings, and while their endings provided closure, they didn't provided satisfactory solutions to their mysteries.

1:42 AM, October 01, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

My literature teachers always said that the best literature is that which doesn't explicitly state the character's motivations, nor the theme of the book, but lets the very astute reader deduce them. If this is true, then I probably like literature that isn't quite so great.

I thought it was very powerful that despite everything, Skyler still cares for Walt on some level, and he certainly cares for her. At the same time, I was glad that she refused to let him lie about his motivations. But my old lit teacher's voice in my head objected to Walt being so self-aware that he was able to express honestly his true motivations to her -- and again to Jesse shortly afterward. OTOH, if he hadn't, I'm sure tons of viewers would have debated his motivations even if Gilligan made them clear through subtext.

But for me what made it finally classic was the beautiful and yet chilling Badfinger song of love and loss, which clearly expresses Walt's deep love for his own greatness and the meth empire he built. He knows it's dying, and while the song is wistful, he is also dying happy because his empire will clearly be recognized as his, and will die with him. Very moving and yet very twisted.

7:43 PM, October 01, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

The song also motivated me to perhaps buy some Badfinger. I read about them on Wikipedia and was stunned by what a tragic story the band members lived. Do you think that was another subtext intended by VG?

7:44 PM, October 01, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I think Gilligan searched for songs that fit the situation, and "El Paso"'s story worked, and for the ending, a song of loss dealing with something blue worked even better. But nothing worked better than "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

5:27 PM, October 02, 2013  

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