Warning: don’t read this if you haven’t seen the finale of Breaking Bad.
The final episode of Breaking Bad tied up all that had happened in the fifth season, and did so effectively. I don’t think anyone can complain about this finale, the way people complained about the finales of The Sopranos or Lost.
Walt managed to complete his final tasks. He needed to do the following things:
- Get his money to his children.
- Get even with Eliot and Gretchen Schwartz.
- Kill Lydia.
- Say goodbye to Skyler.
- Kill uncle Jack and his men, to get revenge for their stealing his money.
Walt began his final journey in a parked, snow-covered car, as the police were looking for him. He was trying to start the car, and said – to God? – “Just get me home. Just get me home. I’ll do the rest.” The police left, and his upturned eyes saw that the keys were under the visor above him.
When he started the car, a song was heard on the car stereo: Marty Robbins singing El Paso1.
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.
And at last here I am on the hill overlooking
Those lines said everything about what was coming. He was alone, he had this pain in his heart about his family, and he was aware that the next day would likely be his last.
As Walt progressed through his to-do list, the episode was eerily silent. There were many long scenes, many moments where people waited, thought, were silent. Walt was quiet, resigned to his fate. Instead of being the one who knocks, he was already a ghost, able to slip in and out of places unseen. I had the feeling that Vince Gilligan, in writing and directing this episode, was trying to make viewers slowly absorb this ending, instead of filling it with a series events and dialog.
Also, many little things that showed that Walt was near the end. The close-up of the license plate on his car, “Live Free or Die,” and his leaving his watch on the pay phone at a gas station. Time no longer mattered to Walter White. Skyler said that he looked terrible; he said, “Yea, but I feel good.”
Walt managed to check off the first to items on his to-do list at the same time. For nothing would humiliate the Schwartzes more than having to launder Walt’s money. The laser pointer trick was clearly sufficient to scare them into never going against his orders. “Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right.”
But it wasn’t hitmen with laser pointers; it was Badger and Skinny Pete. It was good to see them come back, even just for a short time. They were important characters in the series. And they gave Walt some key information. I don’t think Walt planned to kill Lydia until he confirmed that the blue meth was being sold; Badger and Skinny Pete were able to tell him that it was the same quality (“better than ever”) as what Heisenberg had made, which made it clear that Jesse was still cooking. Walt assumed that Lydia was behind this, though, while she was involved, she presumably wasn’t aware of how it was being made.
As for Lydia, it became clear what the ricin was for. I had thought he was planning to use it to kill the Schwartzes, especially since his visit to his old house – seen many episodes ago in a flash-forward – didn’t give any idea of the timeline. I had thought he had gone to the old house as soon as he got back to Albuquerque, but he was seen to do this after visiting the Schwartzes. Walter had either planned to kill Lydia all along, or decided to kill her after Skyler told Walt about how the three men came and threatened her and Holly, telling her not to say anything about the lady who had come to the car wash. But it’s likely that Walt had planned to see Lydia one way or another, as this was his way in to get to uncle Jack’s crew.
Jesse was seen in a daydream, building the wooden box he spoke of in group therapy, with a smile on his face, satisfied of having made something with his hands. He had made this box in high school, from “Peruvian walnut with inlaid zebrawood,” then sold it for drugs. For Jesse, this may have been the defining moment of his life: the time when he did something perfect, yet tossed it away to get high. The sudden cut to him chained in the meth lab shows not his actual progression, but what he might have been versus what he had become.
A key scene was when Walt when back to his house to get the ricin. He remembered Hank having offered to take him on a ride to see him arrest a meth cook. “It’s easy money. Till we catch you. Walt, just say the word and I’ll take you on a ride-along. Watch us knock down a meth lab. Get a little excitement in your life.” Through this flashback, we see the evolution of Walt, from mild-mannered high-school teacher to meth kingpin. But this flashback also shows that Hank, indirectly, sowed the seeds of both his own death, and Walt’s.
Walt managed to both kill Lydia (at least poison her) and set up the meet where he would kill uncle Jack and his men at the same time. He knew that no one would want to take him up on his offer, and it was clearly bogus: he was suggesting some sort of alchemical process to make meth, but Walt was public enemy number one, and there was no chance anyone would work with him.
He then went back to see Skyler one last time, and see his children. “Why are you here?” Skyler asked. “It’s over,” Walt said, “and I needed a proper goodbye.” He couldn’t speak to Walt Jr., since he knew the house was being watched when he came home (though it was probably watched when he got there, and he managed to sneak in in spite of the police presence). But he did get to see Walt Jr., or Flynn, one last time. He made it clear to Skyler that he would be dead “after tonight.” He also admitted that he didn’t cook the meth just for his family: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was… really… I was alive.”
Walt used science yet again to take out the gang. His motor-and-machine-gun contraption was extremely effective, killing everyone but Todd. Jesse, brought in to show Walt that he was enslaved, gave Walt a chance to save him one last time. And Jesse got the chance to exact his revenge, strangling Todd with his chains.
It was no surprise that Walt didn’t kill Jesse. Once he saw Jesse’s condition as a slave, he felt a bit of remorse. And Jesse couldn’t kill Walt, because he saw that Walt wanted it; he didn’t want to give Walt anything he wanted. When Jesse refused to kill Walt, he managed to liberate himself.
Walt: Do it. You want this.
Jesse: Say the words. Say you want this. Nothing happens until I hear you say it.
Walt: I want this.
Jesse: Then do it yourself.
Jesse dropped the gun to the floor, giving up violence, then drove off into the darkness, to live a life in Alaska or somewhere else, screaming his pain, and his freedom, from the front seat of an El Camino.
But first, there was a final moment where Walt and Jesse looked at each other, outside the house. They each nodded in recognition, respect; this last moment summed up their relationship. Walt had saved Jesse once again. Those final glances showed their relationship to be about love and hate; father and son; boss and employee; mentor and apprentice. But above all, respect for each other.
Walt went into the meth lab, checked a pressure gauge, picked up a mask, then heard the sirens of the police, presumably coming because of the gunfire. If he hadn’t fallen and died before they came, he might have tried suicide by cop, or, perhaps, blown up the lab. But he died with a smile on his face, perhaps similar to the protagonist of El Paso:
From out of nowhere, Felina has found me,
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for,
One little kiss and Felina good-bye.
One thing that struck me seeing the final shot where Walt lay dead on the floor. This was eerily similar to a shot at the end of Lost, where Jack lies dead in the jungle, blood coming from the same location on his side as where Walt was hit. Coincidence? I doubt it…
Instead of ending in a blaze of glory – I had expected either a High Noon or Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid ending – Walt died at his own hand: the trunk-mounted machine gun he bought to get revenge, with Badfinger’s Baby Blue playing: “Guess I got what I deserve.” He did, indeed, get his comeuppance. Perhaps this was the most fitting way for him to go.
I’m very familiar with this song, as it was a staple of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire, a song they sang hundreds of times. I especially recalled the line:
Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel a deep burning pain in my side
I admit, however, that I didn’t make the connection between the name of the episode and the love object of the song: Felina. But as we’ll see later, the end of the song may explain Walt’s last seconds… ↩