On…Breaking Bad – Felina (S05E16)

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It’s all over. The finale of Breaking Bad met all my expectations and more. This is going to be a very long blog post because in a sense, I want to savour the ending as much as I can. The ending was tremendously satisfying, tied up all the loose ends, and didn’t end ambiguously. It felt like us fans got the closure we needed. As I watched this episode, I kept checking the time, counting it all down. 30 minutes left. 15. Will they wrap it all up? What’s going to happen? Breaking Bad kept me guessing and gripped all the way down to the very last second. And when that final cut to black came, I let out an enormous breath that I hadn’t even noticed I’d been holding. Here is how to end a show.

Frosted Windows

We pick up right where we left off from last week. Of course seeing the police cars’ signature red and blue lights made me worried, but I knew Walter had stuff to do and he was going to get it done. I loved how incredibly Walter-like he seemed. In the last episode, we saw an empty shell of a man, wasting away in a snowy cabin. But immediately, he seemed much more like the Walt we used to know. I love how immensely physical Bryan Cranston is as an actor (if you watched Malcolm in the Middle, you’ll understand what I mean). The way he winced in pain over dropping the screwdriver was just such a Cranston moment.

Then he mutters, “Just get me home. I’ll do the rest.” Which were just such chilling words to start an episode with. Then he finds the car keys in the visor and whilst it feels very convenient, it was a necessary detail. It felt very fate-driven, as if all the stars had aligned for Walter in that moment. In fact, this whole episode was full of conveniences, but none of them felt contrived; instead, it added to this overall sense of morality and justice that we believe to govern the universe and which certainly, at least, governs the universe of Breaking Bad. So whilst I praise Breaking Bad for its striking realism, it is at the end of the day, a fictional story, and fictional worlds can have their fate – it’s what makes them so compelling.

Laser Pointers

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The phone call was a lovely return to character for Walt: I almost missed watching Walt use his smarts to manipulate people. But the striking thing here was him leaving the watch on top of the phone box. That was, of course, the watch that Jesse had given him on his last birthday. To me, that seemed like the moment where he decided that this was going to be his last days on earth. He had no more need of that watch.

There was a lot of talk online about Walter going to kill the Schwartz’s. I had dismissed all of these because I thought it was incredibly out of character. But I have to admit, when I heard Walter’s phone call and then his subsequent creepy sneaking into their house, I did worry for their safety.

Anyway, this whole scene was wonderfully satisfying. Walt finally got to show Elliot and Gretchen who he really was. Elliot holding the knife up was so pathetic, and Walter’s reaction very much reminded me of Mike’s intonation: “You’ll need a bigger knife.”

Then they loaded up all that money onto the table. But I still don’t quite understand how there was so much money. I thought Walter only brought a box of money with him to that bar in New Hampshire? Or did he drive back up to the cabin, load up and then go back to Albuquerque when the police knew he had stolen a car and thus risked his money being found? Oh well, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The red dot sights was an unexpected twist. Mostly because I thought it was just so implausible to have Walter find two hitmen. After all, last episode, he had talked to Saul about finding some assassins and Saul came up empty. There was no way Walt found two professional hit men in the space of time he had. Which made me instantly incredibly suspicious, so that the moment when Walt stops his car and signals for his accomplices, I knew immediately it was Skinny Pete and Badger. I think I squealed when they revealed themselves! Here’s two characters that I don’t think many expected would make an appearance. I’m glad they had time to fit in one last characteristic stoner dialogue though, one which happened to sum up the show very well.

Now, what do I think about the whole intimidation into starting a trust fund deal? It seems a given that Walt’s family is going to get that money. The question is: what will they do with it? Will they accept it? Because let’s face it, they’re going to suspect something. Walt Jnr. knows that his father just recently tried to mail him some money. I think deep down, they’ll know who’s it really from but I think they’ll accept it. Especially after the events of the rest of this episode.

Flashbacks and forward

Oh wow, the recollection of Jesse’s box story was just so emotionally charged. For viewers who have forgotten, Jesse shared his story about woodworking and his prized box during his rehab therapy sessions. It was a touching story about how he had initially made a rubbish box just to pass the class, but then his teacher asked him, “Is that the best you can do?”. That comment spurred him on to make the best box that he could, and showed that he loved working with his hands. The tragic end to that story though, was that Jesse traded the box for an ounce of weed.

Here in the grim lab of the Nazi’s, a bedraggled Jesse tugs along his leash. He looks so incredibly defeated, but I like to think the daydream shows a bit of hope. I like to think he was recollecting his favourite memories in order to keep him strong and to keep going.

The other flashforwards that we saw in this season then happened. I was slightly surprised at how fast all those scenes went because of the way it was cut. But obviously having full scenes would have been superfluous in a show which is running out of time. Still, I think this part of the episode marked the point where things started to speed up. I distinctly remember seeing how much time was left in the episode and worrying about it all being wrapped up neatly. Would Jesse live? Would Walt redeem himself? Will Walt see his family again?

Lovebirds

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I giggled a little seeing Todd being just as creepy and unsuccessful as he was a few months ago. I noticed how carefully shot this scene was. The constant close-ups of Lydia playing with the stevia packet, the way Walter was sitting just out of sight (like a skulking shadow of a man)…it was a very ominous scene which took place in broad daylight. I’ve been saying it for the last few weeks, but I predicted the ricin would be used to kill Lydia. This scene really really hammered that home especially with that beautiful shot of the stevia being poured into the tea.

I think this scene also served to reinforce how cutthroat Lydia is. Previously, one could almost justify her penchant for ordering hits on people as it was usually about her own safety and the sustainability of her business (and let’s not forget she has a daughter too). But as Walter walked away, and Lydia tells Todd to kill him as if it’d be ‘doing him a favour’ was so cold. It was a scene designed to make the viewer hate her, such that her eventual death would be more acceptable.

Robots

Watching Walter MacGuyver up that automated machine gun was really satisfying to watch. Sitting in the hot desert sun, watching him smile as he realises his contraption works…this doesn’t seem like a man forlorn and depressed. This is a man who’s back to feeling like a king again.

The Quiet

The phone call from Marie was a nice inclusion, if only so we get a glimpse of how Marie’s doing. She seems perfectly fine, which was a little disappointing to be honest. I had hoped we could see more of the fallout from Hank’s death. If only we had more time! But it’s good to see that the two sisters seemed to be a bit more cordial to one another. I like Skyler a lot more than Marie, so for her sake, I like that they’re friends again.

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When the camera then panned around the pillar to reveal Walt though, I was momentarily stunned. I really did not see that coming at all. I thought the long view shot of Skyler was just to emphasise how cramped her new house is (though as a student living in central London, I actually thought it was tons of space…but I understood it was meant to look cramped). He was so perfectly hidden, as he has been this whole episode. I wonder where Walt learned to sneak so masterfully, but I suspect this is just a storytelling quirk.

I also thought it was very gracious of Skyler to let Walt have some time to explain himself; after all, here’s the man who’s essentially turned their family into some kind of national enemy. Remember the hollow husk of a home that Walter visited? And the numerous newspaper clippings showcasing his family? I can only imagine the terror that Skyler and co. felt as the media descended upon them like vultures. Their lives were irrevocably changed by Walter, who had just disappeared without shouldering any of the blame and had left Skyler out to hang. Yeah, if I were Skyler, I would have been mad.

It’s telling that when Skyler asks if Walt hurt anyone on his way in, Walt says he didn’t have to, implying that he would have if he needed to. Finally, we see a Walt who’s ready to tell the truth. Remember a few episodes ago in the hotel room where Walt acts all indignant about the idea of killing? How much has changed! And then the way he so conclusively assures Skyler that those men in masks won’t be dangerous to her anymore, again emphasising his capacity to kill.

But of course, the big truth that comes out is Walter’s confession as to why he did what he did. He did it because he liked it. Simple as that. It made him feel good. It made him feel alive. What I loved about that speech was how simplistic it was. It wasn’t a grandiose speech about morality or life. It was just about a man who was having a mid-life crisis, who was depressed at all his wasted potential. And it wasn’t a self-justifying speech either. Here, Walt admits that it was all selfish.

Despite that though, I felt great sympathy for Walter in that moment. I’ve always maintained that he did do it for his family, at least initially, but then his pride overtook that (particularly notable when he turns down the money from the Schwartz’s). And the thing is, Walt’s flaw is very human in nature. This show reminds me of Paradise Lost; clearly the main character (Satan and Walter respectively) are not good characters. Yet one can’t help but sympathise with them, with their goals, with their ambition and their fundamentally inescapable flaws. I think it’s entirely possible to sympathise with someone without condoning what they’ve done. Breaking Bad does that perfectly, by following Walter White through his transformation, and making him not a hero, but simply a man.

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The reaction that Skyler had to this nugget of truth was really inspiring to see. I think Skyler still loves him. I think that’s why she let him talk, and why she lets him see his daughter. I’m also glad that Walter got to see Flynn again one last time, without contacting him. Let’s face it, that confrontation would not have gone that well. As it stands, Walter got the best possible farewell to his family that he could possibly have had.

About the lottery ticket though, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that it could be used to grant Skyler her freedom. I mean, wouldn’t the DEA wonder why Walt had given them the ticket? Oh well. I think Skyler’s probably fine anyway, given how the series ends.

The Storm

Silly Nazis, they didn’t search the trunk of the car! Why would they look around the car’s interior when there’s a perfectly functional trunk to hide things in! Why wouldn’t they suspect a car bomb or something hidden there? Ah well, artistic license and all that.

The next scene though was absolutely brilliant. I knew what was going to happen. I think everyone watching knew that Walt was going to be able to kill all the Nazi’s. But still, it was so tense! The keys being taken from him, the gun to his head, Uncle Jack being such a villain as always…all of it was just incredibly tightly scripted for maximum dramatic effect.

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Then, the way Walter uses his wit again to manipulate someone was just such a fitting way for Jack’s demise to go down. I wonder if in that moment, Walt really believed that Jesse had partnered up with Jack. I mean, the two didn’t exactly part on ideal terms. I think it’s more than plausible that Walt thought Jesse had betrayed him again. Indeed, I think Walt came to the compound not just to enact revenge on Jack’s crew, but also on Jesse. But of course, when he saw Jesse being hauled out in chains, that’s when he changed his mind. At least, that’s what I think but it’s mostly up to interpretation.

The actual massacre was more bloody than I expected. Then again, in the grand scheme of massacres, it wasn’t as bad as the shootout which led to Hank’s death or the shootout that Todd orchestrated against the old meth crew. Seeing Jack’s heaving body though was very gruesome, and of course, well deserved. I love the way that Walt dispatched of him without letting him finish his sentence, a call-back to the way Jack mercilessly killed Hank. It was also notable that Jack died pleading for his life, a thoroughly dishonourable way to go.

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I actually think the hardest death to watch was Todd’s. Not because I wanted Todd to live, but because of its intensely personal brutality. Jesse had so much rage there, so much power and it was all just unleashed in that one extended moment. Funny how Todd barely blinked an eye over all his family dying: his last words were, “Hey, Mr White!” I’m so happy that Jesse got to kill Todd, therefore avenging Andrea’s death.

The Calm

Walt giving Jesse the gun was a fantastic motion from Walt. In that moment, he was acknowledging all the wrong he had done to Jesse. He was taking full responsibility. He was given Jesse a choice. That’s the important bit here: when Jesse shouts at him to say that Walt wants it, Jesse is the one in control. He’s not being manipulated by Walter any longer.

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So when he throws the gun down, that’s symbolic of him breaking free of Walter’s influence. “Do it yourself!” Of course, his last conversation with Walter was about how he was never going to do anything he tells him to ever again. Jesse didn’t need to kill him in that moment. He saw the wound and knew Walter was going to be dead anyway. He didn’t need the blood on his hands in that moment. I also particularly liked how the shot of Jesse holding the gun up with a teary face was very similar to when he was made to kill Gale. Two situations, two different outcomes.

And who didn’t cheer when we saw Jesse get away? Screaming in happiness in the car, finally free from everything. Remember he’s not just free from the Nazi’s but he’s free from that whole world. I hope he has some money stashed somewhere and he can start a nice life over somewhere. Maybe becoming a woodworking teacher.

The short phone call with Lydia (what a creepy ringtone by the way, good job Todd being creepy from the grave) was the icing on the top of the cake. I don’t think the scene was necessarily needed as it was pretty clear that Lydia had been poisoned via ricin. But it was utterly brilliant to be able to see that cutthroat ice queen die in such a horrific way. The woman who takes such pride in her appearance was taken down in a way which left her coughing and looking like shit.

Ozymandias

Felina

So here we are in the final hour. As Walt looked around the meth lab, you could see how happy and content he was. He had won. He managed to leave money to his family. He fulfilled his wish of being the best at something. Like he said to Skyler, he felt alive. In his dying moments, I am sure he felt wonderously implausibly alive. Honestly, despite how terrible things went for him, I was slightly jealous of Walt in his last moments. Few of us can hope to experience such ecstasy and satisfaction. I suppose we can all live vicariously through Walter.

As he lay in a puddle of his own blood, the mask next to him, surrounded by his one true love as the police closed in…I finally felt resolution. I think there were moments in this episode where I panicked and didn’t want it to end. But that final shot with the gorgeous music (“Bad Blues” by Badfingers) was just a truly well deserved ending. The finale was everything that a finale should be. It wasn’t particularly exciting, not like Ozymandias was two episodes ago, but it gave us what we needed: closure. With every loose end tied up, I could very happily bid farewell to this most amazing franchise.

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Anyway, I was going to write a section on the morality of Breaking Bad but this blog post is super long as it is. So I think I’ll reserve that for another blog post in the near future. Thank you for reading my reviews, I hope they supplemented the episodes well!

BONUS: Prediction Round-Up

I made some predictions in my blog post about the 2nd episode of this half-season. Here’s how I did.

Walter – Dead, irredeemably dead, going to have a hubris-fuelled downfall (definitely not dead to cancer)

Correct! Walt essentially killed himself. And he died proud, proud of what he had done and what he had accomplished. It was his hubris that had the final blow, and as he lay there surrounded by that cooking equipment, he finally accepted who he was. Very satisfying.

Skyler – Alive, has a moment of redemption and complete badassery, gets away with the kids

Correct! To be honest, I’ve found Skyler a very positive character in this season and she’s had multiple moments of redemption and badass. And she still has her kids, hooray!

Walt Jnr and Holly – Both alive, but never find out the full story though Walt Jnr has his suspicions, and he makes up with his mother

Half-correct. They’re obviously both alive, but Walt Jnr. at least finds out what happens. He does seem to have made up with Skyler which is fantastic.

Hank – Alive, proves Walter’s guilt to the DEA but Walter dies before he can be prosecuted/imprisoned, career ends in tatters

Incorrect. L Enough said really.

Marie – Alive, still a crazy kleptomaniac, probably won’t see much more of her in a major situation for the rest of the season

Half-correct. She is alive, the kleptomania wasn’t really mentioned again, it’s debateable whether she was in a major situation in this season. She was certainly involved but she didn’t get a huge breakout moment, but was instead just a secondary character.

Jesse – Alive, but mentally traumatised forever, won’t turn on Walt to the DEA but orchestrates own way to get back at him or is somehow forced to get back at Walt; I think there will be a scene with Jesse and Walt pointing guns at each other, but I don’t know how that’ll end…I hope he’s the one that brings down Walt

Hm, half-correct I guess? I mean, he does turn on Walt to the DEA in the form of Hank and Gomez but they weren’t officially working for the DEA at that point in time. He did orchestrate his own way to get back at Walt. And yes, Jesse did get to point a gun at Walt! But of course, he doesn’t bring down Walt…and that makes total sense now that I think about it (and somewhat contradicts my first prediction)

Saul Goodman and Crew – All alive, but probably going to end up in jail

Half-correct as far as we know! Saul’s alive, possibly escaped jail. Huell might have starved to death in that safe house though…

Lydia – Dead as a result of this major drug war she’s started

Correct! And by ricin as well, which I predicted.

Todd – Also dead, or at least imprisoned

Correct! And out by the best way possible: a brutal death by Jesse’s hands. The one he deserved.

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