Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
With all the hype surrounding Breaking Bad, the final episode had to be one of the most hotly anticipated series finales of all-time. It’s a great episode, although perhaps not in the highest tier for Breaking Bad standards. Anyone tuning in tonight just to see what all the fuss was about might not even have thought too much of it at all, but Felina isn’t for them. For all the fans who have stuck with the show since the beginning and withstood its heartbreaking emotional unpredictability, Felina is a welcome, satisfying conclusion.
At the end of the episode, a title card even thanks the fans for helping make the show what it was. The show’s been good since long before it had a big fan base, but in later seasons especially it really did grow into a juggernaut partly due to the eager recommendations of its fans. Picking on Breaking Bad fans for their enthusiasm even became a popular internet trope. We’re like Ron Paul supporters; we just have to proselytize. I, for one, feel entitled to that.
Sincere and welcome bits of fan service pepper the episode. Prior to Felina’s airing, I joked to my friends it’d be a clip show a la Seinfeld’s finale. Obviously that doesn’t happen, but we do get a number of well-placed, emotional flashbacks. There are subtle nods to past moments, even totally inconspicuous ones like Walt tapping the meter on a tank in the meth lab. Not only are most of the loose ends tied up neatly, but fan favorite characters I didn’t expect to see again show up and we even revisit Hank in a flashback to the very first time Walt’s eyes opened up to the possibility of making money cooking meth.
Actually, undoubtedly the weakest aspect of Felina is its predictability. I’ll try to save most of the spoilers for later, but basically, if you predicted an ending based on the most obvious clues you were probably pretty much right. For a show driven by twists and changes in direction, it’s slightly disappointing. Yet it’s hard to seriously hold that against it. This is the finale; there’s nothing left to drive towards. Vince Gilligan carefully crafted an episode of Breaking Bad that, for once, met audience expectations. It makes for an extremely satisfying finish.
But it isn’t immediately obvious things will turn out that way. Granite State carried just enough ambiguity in its ending to make it unclear whether we’d be seeing redemptive Walt or a full-blown villain Heisenberg in the finale. While I didn’t imagine Walt harming Gretchen and Elliott, the scene at their house makes you wonder. There’s a Clockwork Orange vibe, with sociopath Walt casually strolling around in their home as classical music dances through the hallways. I don’t know who it is that’s playing, but if it’s Beethoven then the allusion must be intentional. But I applaud this use of Gretchen and Elliott; they provide the perfect, plot-sensible vehicle for Walt to see to it that his money gets to his kids.
When the two red dots appear on the Schwartz’s chests, it’s the jumpiest moment of the episode. It also makes Walt’s seemingly casual observation that their house faces east that much more chilling. For a moment it does seem like Walt is in full-blown villain mode. That sense of Heisenberg as a fully arrived super villain quickly vanishes, though, when his snipers turn out to be Badger and Skinny Pete using laser pointers. Right down to the very end the show maintains its dark sense of humor, with Skinny Pete wondering if what they’re doing isn’t “kinda shady, like, morality-wise.” $100,000 makes him feel OK with it. His and Badger’s inclusion in the episode is a fantastic tribute to the fans, but it’s a little hard to believe story-wise. For one thing, the characters have not been typically painted as especially competent, so hitting their laser pointers right on the mark from such a distance is a bit of a stretch. So, too, is it tough to imagine how Walt found and recruited them in the first place. It’d make for a funny deleted scene. But it’s easy to be forgiving of that imagination stretch for the sake of seeing favorite characters one last time.
Walt also gets the chance to give his family a more proper farewell. One of the most revealing parts of his visit to Skyler’s house is that the voicemail is no longer her chipper greeting but the machine’s built-in recording. Also tellingly, Marie is no longer wearing purple – she’s certainly been changed by the introduction of Heisenberg into her life. But her continuing communication with Skyler is a promising sign that what’s left of Walt’s family is going to stick together. Walt even gives Skyler the location of Hank and Gomez’s bodies and finally lets her know what happened at To’hajiilee, allowing for some painful closure (although those bodies, being buried in the desert for months, have got to be pretty gross by now). It’s also nice that Walt gets to see Junior one last time, from a distance, but it’s a little puzzling why Junior is riding the bus. Perhaps the sensible assumption is that he got rid of his car knowing it was bought with drug money.
But it’s Walt’s conversation with Skyler that is the real emotional core of the episode. The camera is positioned during much of their conversation so that the pillar that obscured Walt at the beginning of the scene divides them. It’s obvious that it’s too late for Walt to make amends; he doesn’t even try. He begins what sounds at first like yet another, “I did everything for my family” speech. As Skyler cuts him off he surprises her by instead saying, “I did it for me.” That first couple hundred grand may have been for the family, but the more Walt insisted on being seen as a provider the thinner the excuse became. He admits that he enjoyed being Heisenberg. He liked that he was good at it and he felt alive doing it. That simple admission is probably the best summation there can be of the completeness of the character’s arc. It destroys any division that existed between Walter White and Heisenberg; he tells Skyler this with just about the same casual, half-guilty inflection he used when he admitted to smoking marijuana and liking it in the first season.
A flashback in the episode shows Jesse daydreaming, or perhaps hallucinating, about the box he made for his mother in high school that he ended up trading for drugs. Fans wanted to see some of Jesse in high school and although he isn’t in Mr. White’s class, it’s a touching reminder that Walt’s isn’t the only tragic journey the show has chronicled.
With his family business handled, Walt prepares to meet his destiny. The way Walt dispatches with the neo-Nazis ranks right up there with setting off the mercury fulminate at Tuco’s and blowing half of Gus’s face off. Leading up to this episode I had my doubts that Walt planned to use the M60 on the neo-Nazis because he’d still be hopelessly outgunned. When we see Walt tinkering with a robot in the desert, we know what he’ll get his assist from. It ends up being science that saves the day after all – and a robot, just like Jesse wanted way back in the second season to get them out of the desert.
While it’s plenty macho, there’s a little bit of sloppiness to the final scene. For one thing, if the neo-Nazis are going to bother inspecting both Walt and his car so thoroughly, why on earth would they skip over the trunk? Walt must have known Jesse and Jack were not true partners even if he knew Jesse was behind the cook because Jesse would never team up with such sadistic villains, but nowhere do we see that thought process carried out. It seems Walt truly believes they’re partners, but the way he needles Jack about it – and he needs to needle Jack to buy himself the opening he needs to grab the remote for his gun – says otherwise. And the fact that out of a roomful of people, the four main characters are the only ones still breathing when the gun stops firing is great for the plot, but not for believability.
Nonetheless, it’s still pretty damn well-executed and fun to watch. Seeing Jesse take out Todd is utterly gratifying, a pure catharsis. Another brilliant piece of writing is Walt putting the last bullet in Jack’s head before Jack can spit out the location of the remainder of Walt’s money. Walt not only doesn’t need it, he doesn’t want it. And, like many fans predicted, Walt poisons Lydia by putting ricin “in that Stevia crap” she’s always putting in her tea. Every one of these deaths and the subsequent final standoff between Jesse and Walt not only works in the context of the show, it provides the right character his right redemption in a way that is totally pleasing to fan expectations. Sadly, whether an oversight or an omission due to lack of time, Brock’s status is not addressed. I suppose most people will imagine that Jesse, who drives away from the neo-Nazi compound with the thrill of life filling him once more, will see that he’s taken care of somehow.
The closing song is a little jarring. Aside from the opening lyric, it doesn’t really make a heck of a lot of sense. The song in the teaser is better, and also contains an apt lyric: “Maybe tomorrow a bullet may find me.” It’s fitting to see Walt, dying or dead from a bullet he took out of his own M60, lying on the floor of a meth laboratory as the series closes. Whether he dies in this scene or not, the story of the great Heisenberg is certainly come to a definitive close. His family is safe from prosecution and all his work as Heisenberg was not for nothing. Still, I wish we knew for sure whether Walt survives that gunshot wound or not. It may be classy to end such a powerful artistic statement as Breaking Bad with a question mark, but with everything else pretty neatly wrapped up I wish they didn’t dangle Walt’s fate.
While it may not have been as unpredictable and wild an episode as some others in the series, Felina didn’t need to be. The bad guys get their comeuppance and no one else who’s innocent suffers. I’m thankful the show didn’t try to do anything outrageous or unpredictable with this last episode. It doesn’t really give us anything we didn’t see coming (although the M60 contraption is sure to be a series milestone), but it’s as close to a happy ending as the series had any chance of having.
It’s bittersweet to see the show go. It already feels nostalgic. There’s no doubt every participant knew they were part of something special. You can see it in the blooper reels. No matter how severe the scene, they are having fun. Every actor will be defined by what they did in this show forever, and although Aaron Paul will probably get tired of people yelling “Bitch!” at him on the street, he and everyone else deserve tremendous praise for their work on the show. Breaking Bad brought characters to life, made an audience feel for them, jolted and surprised and amused us for years.
So is Breaking Bad the greatest show ever? Such a distinction is probably impossible to make, but people will be arguing very persuasively in its favor for a long time to come. Felina is a perfectly satisfying wrap to a perfectly satisfying series, a closing chapter that makes Breaking Bad one of the most complete and rich stories ever told in the medium of television.
The post Breaking Bad 5.16, Felina Review appeared first on WhatCulture!.