The camera pulls back to show a dead Walter White dead clutching a filter mask on the floor of the barn containing his precious meth lab that Todd’s Aryan gang boss uncle had “reappropriated”. The cops, guns drawn, enter carefully to arrest the highest profile criminal New Mexico has ever seen. Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” rings out, telling a tale of love and regret. Breaking Bad is done and the finale suitably rounded out the story with conviction and the kind of surprises those that loved the series enjoyed.
Vince Gilligan did himself, his cast and crew, and especially the fans a high honour in writing and directing a finale that left few things unanswered, and those that are allow the faithful to dream their own endings for the few that remain.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had to die. There was no way around it – this man had devolved into the brutal, wildly intelligent and yet elementally childish criminal mastermind Heisenberg, and he needed to pay the piper. Walt’s final conversation with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) not only offered his final goodbye to his lover but also some restitution for her in his admission that, in the end, he did this all for himself. A complete backflip on his protestations over the last couple of seasons that all this he had done for the family which Skyler found impossible to believe.
The reveal of Walt in the kitchen with Skyler as she got off the phone from Marie (Betsy Brandt) was another great example of the subtle yet explosive reveals the series has become known for.
Walt needed to be in control of something; he needed to be powerful; he wanted a legacy. Heisenberg gave Walt that and the lines blurred consistently between the two incarnations of White, right down to the final scenes. The man with the black hat may have consumed him but throughout the finale White set a few things right – intentionally and otherwise – though he may have used his dark side to do so.
The confrontation with his former partners and friends Elliot & Gretchen Schwartz was one of the great surprises. The penultimate episode GRANITE STATE saw Walt catch an interview with the pair on TV and he vanished. Viewers knew he was going to see them and it had long been postulated they were the real reason Walt wanted to build his meth empire because he’d bailed early on their company and after he left it made them millions.
They had robbed him. They had taken away his legacy. Was the ricin for them?
Thankfully no – a far more virtuous reason drew him to see the Schwartz’s though with a great Heisenberg twist they were brutalised into following through on his request (we assume). Having his final millions end up in Walter Junior/Flynn’s (RJ Mitte) lap when he turned 18 allowed Walt to follow through on his rationale from S01E01 as to why he got into this in the first place, way before it got all out of hand – to provide for his family.
Including Badger (Matt Jones) & Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) to round out their stories made perfect sense and was a marvellous plot device to force the Schwartz’s hand. It also revealed that while Heisenberg was a cold-blooded killer Walter White was a much gentler soul who still had great affection for his college friends.
There’s some speculation that Flynn might waste the money but given his display of protection and care for his mother against his father in the last couple of episodes it’s extremely likely he’ll give most of it to her so that they can have a much better life. Will they connect that it came from Walt? Maybe. Will that change their mind about the cash. Maybe. The joys of being invested in a fictional world where in part you choose your own ending.
As brutal as it was, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser) also had to die. Sure, she left behind a daughter (like so many other characters left family behind after they died in the series), but she was only concerned about self-preservation and making money… but she didn’t like getting her hands dirty. We saw that when she whimpered for her life earlier in season five and then again when she arranged for Todd (Jesse Plemons) & his Uncle’s gang to ambush the current meth cook’s gang and take them out to reclaim the gear to get quality & distribution “back on track”.
We all knew when she poured that pack of Stevia into her coffee what it really was. That Walt later got to tell her what he had done was delicious – effectively dead at her own hand.
Todd, Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) & the Aryan gang also had to die. It would have killed Walt to know that he had gone to jail yet his recipe was still being made at a lesser quality and sullying his reputation. Jack & co had been Walt’s vicious lap dogs many a time over the last season and with TO’HAJIILEE they had gained not only the upper hand but Walt’s nest egg and Jesse (Aaron Paul) who he expected them to “send to Belize” – so his surprise that quickly became jealousy when Pete & Badger revealed the blue meth he was famous for was still circulating – and now at a higher quality than before – meant he knew Jack was putting Jesse to work. This sealed their fate for sure (had it not already been sealed when he purchased the M-60).
Jesse didn’t have to kill Todd, but it was the perfect ending to that dysfunctional relationship. It was more than revenge. Jesse watch Todd gun down a kid who stumbled over them when they stole the methylamine from the train without a second’s consideration. It immediately sparked conflict that was never resolved, even through the mix of violence and kindness Todd & co showered upon Jesse while he was their prisoner. Gilligan allowing Jesse to take Todd’s life made perfect sense and provided an outlet for seasons of frustration and horror that Jesse had experienced simply by being associated with Walter White, his former high-school chemistry teacher.
The final and ultimate showdown of the series – Walt and Jesse – was always open to going two ways.
Walt didn’t expect to live coming out of his confrontation with Uncle Jack. He knew he was a dead man walking thanks to the return of his cancer. He went in knowing at some point he’d die, as was evidenced by him attempting to say goodbye throughout the episode. He knew the end was near.
That he threw himself on Jesse to protect him where previously he’d given Jack nod to kill him was an impulse and sign that deep down Walter White loved his student like a son. He saw the potential in him. They bonded over many meth cooks and they learned things from each other. This was the reminder that Walt clearly loved Jesse. He considered himself to be like a father to the wayward young man.
No question Jesse deserved to kill Walt. Walt had manipulated him so many times throughout the series it’s surprising Jesse hadn’t taken his own life out of sheer desperation sooner. When Jesse saw Andrea assassinated by Todd for him it was the end – he had nothing to live for, so in part perhaps that he didn’t kill White was acknowledgement that he didn’t want to become like his former mentor. Certainly it was an acknowledgement that he was never going to do what White asked him ever again – a claim he’d made a few episodes before.
Seeing Jesse race out of the compound into the darkness left his life open to possibility. Did he call the cops? Did he go to look after Brock? Did he drive go on the run as he was always on the DEA’s radar (though his work with Hank (Dean Norris) & Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) was all off the books and ultimately died with them). Who knows. Jesse was free and that’s enough.
Accidentally taking a bullet from his ambush and bleeding out may not mav been the firey end many expected for Walter White, but it allowed the character some dignity with himself and his “precious” in his final minutes. The thing that made him famous; that gave him his power; that made his “Baby Blue”. Being found with the lab rounded out the series in a way we did and didn’t expect from the video taped confession Walt made in S01E01 though it made it all that more poignant.
Walter White was no hero. Creator Gilligan didn’t like the character for what he’d become yet we all can connect with elements of this mild-mannered teacher who seeks greatness however misguided he may have been. His desperation, his love for family, his pride, his ego, his desire for self-preservation – all human qualities that we can relate to at various levels.
Like lots of great buried treasure across the entire series the final episode was perfectly titled. FELINA – not only an anagram of finale – but also the combination of elements Fe (Iron) Li (Lithium) Na (Sodium): Blood, Meth & Tears.
This finale episode may not have had the tension of some others in final part of the series but it delivered great satisfaction to fans. It was the denouement for the series – the rounding out of the story; the coming down of a tale of good vs evil in its personification; the tale of a man did all these things because he liked it, because he was good at it, and because it made him feel important.
Breaking Bad drew us into a world most of us will never experience and allowed us to live vicariously through a character we loved even though we know we shouldn’t. It was stunningly good television.