As with anything hotly — nay, insanely — anticipated, the “Breaking Bad” finale was bound to divide critical opinion. Some found it the perfect cap to the series, while others took issue with its too-neat wrap-up of plot. A roundup of reviews below.
Needless to say, the below excerpts contain SPOILERS.
Meanwhile, EW’s twitter account angered more than a few fans last night by live-tweeting the finale — on East Coast time. In terms of social media, more than 5.5 million Facebook interactions took place last night regarding the show; SocialGuide counts 1.47 million tweets.
About that last fifteen minutes. I’m not crazy about it. It
boasted major firepower and nearly mathematical score-settling, which is what a
good many fans wanted and needed. Jesse strangles Todd with his handcuff
chains. Walt shoots Uncle Jack dead, not even giving him a chance to bargain
for his life. Walt tells Jesse to go ahead and shoot him because he knows he
wants to. And Jesse, who told Walt on the phone in “Rabid Dog” that
he would never again do anything Walt wanted, made him say, “I want
this,” then told him, “Do it yourself” — and Walt did, quite
accidentally, via a ricocheted bullet.
As Walt dies, he gets the classic God’s-eye-view,
spirit-leaving-the-body shot. The echoes of Travis Bickle’s final rampage in
Taxi Driver feel, if not inevitable, then appropriate, because
“Felina” isn’t just a finale, but a comment on finales, and the
finale’s creative and marketplace need to satisfy as many viewers as possible,
whether they saw a show’s main character as a super-cool antihero, a pathetic
scumbag, something in between, or none of the above.
I admire Gilligan’s desire to dot every i and cross every t,
and I adored many individual moments of the finale: the Badger/Skinny Pete
punchline to the Gretchen/Elliott scene, Walt finally being honest about his
motivations (and stroking a sleeping Holly’s face while Skyler watched and
cried), and the sheer visceral thrill of Jesse giving Todd the choking he
deserved, to name just a few. This was cathartic, this was definitive, this was
as gorgeously-acted as “Breaking Bad” has always been.
But was it ultimately too neat?
As Gilligan said, he had to make the ending that’s right for
his show. A hard cut to black in the middle of a confounding final scene that
will be analyzed like the Zapruder film is not the way “Breaking Bad”
should have wrapped up. This has always been a much more plot-driven and
precise series. Each of the full seasons (not counting the strike-abbreviated
first) concluded in a way that built on everything that came before, whether it
was something planned from the start (the plane crash in season 2) or
improvised later by the writers (Gus replacing the Cousins as season 3’s big
That being said, for all that “Breaking Bad”
itself has been very orderly and precise, Walter White has not been.
Jesse Pinkman built the perfect box. He sawed it off, sanded
it down, hammered it together, smoothed it out, and carried it away with all
the pride of a first-time father. This is the fantasy-memory he retreated to
when reality became too broken for him to face at last – the one time in his
life when he felt he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, the one time
he made everything fit.
For better or for worse, that box is Breaking Bad.
Written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan,
“Felina,” the show’s 62nd and final episode, closed the lid on the
story of Walter White and virtually every other character still on the show.
How could it not, when Walt’s final master plan went off without a hitch? The
man and the show both tied off every loose end.
“Felina,” the sixteenth episode of the series,
showcased every facet of talent that made “Breaking Bad” so
persistently thrilling no matter how absurd and tangled its plot twists grew
over the course of many close calls and brutal deaths. Gilligan’s script
contained numerous subtle visual and auditory hints at eventualities that
unfolded with a mixture of black comedy and dread. In less than an hour, the
episode fused them together into a form of dramatic satisfaction particularly
notable for being so specific to episodic television, as it artfully united
several thematic ingredients kept in play throughout each season and gradually
deepened from one episode to the next.
The “Breaking Bad” finale was the best I’ve ever seen.
I’m biased. It’s my favorite show. But the ending felt
perfect. The tone felt different from every other “Breaking Bad” episode, yet
it paid off an astonishing number of setups: Lydia and that Stevia crap. The
box Jesse talked about in group therapy. The Schwartzes. Badger and Skinny
Pete. Hank inviting Walt on a ride-along, two very long years ago.
But instead, we get Jesse driving a muscle car and
woo-hooing his way into freedom, which is sort of indicative of
“Felina” as a whole. It seems like an episode written for the fans
instead of for the show, and it falters because of it. For five seasons “Breaking Bad”
cooked up some the best drama on television hands down, but unfortunately, for
its final hurrah, we got an unsatisfying batch. [C+]
The 75-minute finale written and directed by Gilligan
perfectly capped a final arc that was all forward momentum, with barely an
ounce of fat on it, and almost nary a false note. Beautifully played by Bryan
Cranston, the episode saw Walt devise a brilliant way to launder his money, and
— much like the Gus Fring chapters that remain the show’s highlight — used his
wits to overcome a seemingly impregnable foe.
Much like Walt, the episode simply decides to pay us off,
glossing over the atrocities of Heisenberg and the shattered lives of Skyler,
Flynn, Marie and Jesse with a kick-ass action scene and a few hundred rounds
from an M60. “How does it feel now?” Walter asks, handing them each a
satisfying bundle of cash. Better?
It does, partly. It’s highly enjoyable to see the neo-Nazis
go down (especially Todd), and for Jesse to escape screaming and laughing into
the night. But I can’t quite shake the empty feeling, as though something
meaningful has been traded for something pleasurable. Walter White didn’t just
get off easy; he got what he wanted, the way he always has, and convinced us
all to let him get away with it.
In short, he won.
I’m quite certain that many, many people adored Vince
Gilligan’s kickass ending to “Breaking Bad”: it’s easy to sense that from even
a brief surf in the celebratory waters online. Nothing I write can erase
someone else’s pleasure: and why should it? Pleasure is an argument for itself.
But if you don’t want to read a critical take, stop here. In my own way, I also
enjoyed aspects of the finale, particularly the scene with Skyler. And yet, I
did not like the episode. Maybe it was just me—I’ll read all the recaps, and
I’ll soon find out—but halfway through, at around the time that Walt was gazing
at Walt, Jr., I became fixated on the idea that what we were watching must be a
dying fantasy on the part of Walter White, not something that was actually
happening—at least not in the “real world” of the previous seasons.
And, if that were indeed the case, I’d be writing a rave.
In what may be the first recorded (and distinctly
over-tweeted) perfect finale in television history, AMC’s “Breaking
Bad” came to a close Sunday night.
Not only did Vince Gilligan’s five-season, hyper-violent
prose poem to midlife male frustration tie up virtually every loose end in
sight, it contained the Holy Grail of all storytelling: an Actual Moment of
Truth. And not just this particular story’s truth, but one that extended to the
beloved and bloated genre Gilligan both elevated and mocked.
Perhaps the best thing about the finale of “Breaking Bad” is
that it actually ended. So many shows, notably “The Sopranos” and “Lost,” have
gone dark without anything approaching finality. Here, the writers were so
determined to not leave unfinished business that the last episode was called
“Felina,” an anagram of finale. And almost every loose end was tied. In some
cases, a little too tightly, and in others, not quite as much.