I don’t know what the reaction is from the critics, or even a sizable sample of the Breaking Bad fandom, but from our little room in Anderson, Indiana, everyone seemed to really dig the finale, as did everyone on our Facebook thread.
I outlined at the beginning of this season what I was hoping the final eight episodes would do… I wanted them to be surprising, but when looking back, for the events to seem obvious. That’s a very tall order, but if you do it right, that’s when an episode feels satisfying.
I think Vince Gilligan and crew pulled that off in “Felina”. It was a great swansong for Walter White. He got the only end he could possibly receive, but it was a return to form to Walt’s more likable, easy to root for days.
I don’t think a ton of fans “wanted” closure for Grey Matter. Jim and I speculated that Gretchen and Elliot were red herrings last week; there to pull Walt back in but in the end weren’t going to amount to anything. But having them there served several purposes; a plausible way for Walt to get his family their money, gave Walt the best kind of revenge — mostly harmless threats and bluster to people who we kind of feel, deep down, deserve it for whatever bullshit they pulled on Walt way back when, and reunited Skinny Pete and Badger for one last glorious time. And I realize no one will believe me, but from the moment those two dots got painted on the “Black” half of Grey Matter, I knew deep down it was the not-so-dynamic duo.
I think people wrote off that we’d get any sort of positive closure for Walt and his family, and I’ll be damned if the Villigan didn’t walk the tight rope between giving us some sentimentality while still being true to his characters. In their big scene, it is clear that Skyler still loves Walt, deep down, and obviously Walt still loves her. But at the end, he could give her the honesty she needed, and he didn’t feel the need to brag or bluster about the money he’s offering or how she and the children would be safe.
And Skyler, for her part, even though a part of her wanted to say good bye proper, to give Walt a hug, or at least some human contact, could not, would not make the gesture. And that felt right, and dignified both characters.
The way Holly was handled; just perfect. What father hasn’t walked in on their sleeping toddler and doted on them, stroking her hair, and the knowledge that it was a long time ago last he did this, and simultaneously that this was the Last Time, ever made this scene electric. And it was just right that Holly was asleep. There was a lot of sniffling going on in Anderson during this scene, and the moment was well earned.
Walt Jr. was also perfect. The young man seemed like he has the world on his shoulders, and unbeknownst to him, he’s going to be making some very adult decisions regarding his inheritance very soon. Will 10 months be enough, after his father’s death, to allow him to let go enough anger to accept the money? Will he even suspect it’s not from G&E, but from his dad? We won’t know the answer to that question, and neither will Walt, and his sad surreptitious surveillance of his son that final time again felt just right.
Lydia? Her clockwork routine was her undoing, and as Mike said last season, this woman deserved to die just as much as any man on this show. She was in many ways the anti-Walt. Walt did terrible things as a supposed last resort to save himself, and only later started losing his essential humanity by acting out of paranoia and convenience. With Lydia, this seemed like her default setting. I can’t imagine Lydia partnering up with anyone the way Walter partnered with Jesse; the bled for each other, killed for each other, and in the case of Walt, died for each other. Having several of her more irritating habits be her undoing, as well as pride and ego thinking she had smoked out Walt when he was playing her all along, was very satisfying.
The Uncles of Anarchy. The M60 was used, but in a surprising way. Some people predicted some sort of mis-direction, or sciencey wizardry Walt would employ to use it in a not-exactly Scarface kind of way, but building a truck-based Terminator out of a machine gun, a garage door opener, and a remote door lock mechanism was pretty goddamn cool. Yes, it slightly stretched credibility that Walt could line up the car perfectly; that he could get his keys unnoticed, that Jack would get so worked up about Walt’s accusation of being a liar that he’d parade Jesse around before offing him, but you know what? It felt very Breaking Bad, and these men had to die, and I’m fine with that.
And that Walt did it in a way that still left Jesse to go Slave Leia on Todd the Hutt was also perfect; and got the biggest cheer out of our little group tonight. Jesse’s catharsis was ours’. We’d watched the “moral center” of the show get shit on and shit on, and tonight, he wasn’t having any more of it.
Which brings me to the final tightrope walk Villigan walked. Walt and Jesse. I watched a good deal of the Breaking Bad marathon AMC brilliantly put on over the last few days, as their milking operation was in full swing. And no one can tell me that Walt didn’t care for Jesse, nor Jesse for Walt. The tragedy of their relationship is that Jesse would have willingly bled and died for Walt’s approval, but Walt could never trust him to take the chance. He had to make goddamn SURE Jesse did whatever he wanted him to do by lying and manipulation, and when that blew up in his face he continually doubled down on the manipulation and abuse.
It felt right that those two men stared at each other, the last ones standing, across a room full of corpses and blood. That Walt gave Jesse the chance to kill him on his own terms. That Jesse could let go enough of the rage and anger and resentment to not strike his mentor down, to further tarnish his soul, but not enough to forgive, either. Jesse gave Walt the Marcellus Wallace deal. We’re cool, but there is no more “us”. Jesse fled into the night, thrilled to the point of mania to be finally free of his waking nightmare, but also swinging rapidly towards despair and grief at the toll these past two years had brought on him.
And lastly, it felt right that Walt died among the things that truly made him feel alive, the things he was good at, the things he loved; his machines, his science, his chemistry. He had provided for his family. He had redeemed his student. Walt, who struggled to determine the exact perfect time to die in “Fly”, ended up arriving at an excellent moment at the end. He didn’t suffer a long, slow death from cancer. He didn’t endure the indignity of being booked and tried and locked in a cell. He had finished all the things he needed to do, and then he was done.
It wasn’t perfect, but I think taken as an entire season, it’s as close as you can get. I was satisfied. Vince stuck the landing. Everyone involved, actors, writers, directors, editors, creatives, everyone just came together and did themselves proud this final season, and I couldn’t be more happier. Thank you for six (don’t give a shit about bookkeepers quibbles about what is and isn’t a season) wonderful seasons, and thank you for rewarding our faith in your ability and passion as fans by delivering the goods. You did good, sir.