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by Eric Kohn
September 30, 2013 9:00 AM
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In the 'Breaking Bad' Finale, Walter White's Saga Reaches a Satisfying End, But Leaves the Right Questions Unanswered

Point by point, "Felina" managed to tie up loose ends. Of course the ricin had to go to Lydia (will Stevia packets ever look safe again?). Of course the machine gun was only way for the Nazis to go down (an eye for an eye, after all), naturally by way of one last Rube Goldberg contraption designed by Walt in his desert lab.

Like Pete said, it was a shady proposition, morality-wise, but Gilligan nailed it: "Felina" allowed Walt everything he wanted without letting him off the hook. His farewell to baby Holly was appropriately bittersweet, and it's safe to say that neither Flynn nor Skyler will ever manage to shake free of the damage Walt inflicted on their lives. He won only once he lost everything.

Every devout "Breaking Bad" viewer had a theory for how this episode would go down and because Gilligan evidently believes in payoff, many people probably had the right idea. My own version of suspicions that I'm sure many possessed drew from the final moments of "The Shootist," Don Siegel's 1976 Western featuring John Wayne's final role, as an aging gunslinger dying of cancer who decides to go down in a firefight. In his final moments, Wayne locks with eyes with the righteous young man (Ron Howard) he has tentatively befriended. Howard tosses Wayne's gun away in disgust and the Wayne character nods in agreement. That's more or less where Walt and Jesse concluded their storied relationship as the latter quasi-victim ducked into his vehicle and rode to freedom. No words could resolve their laundry list of tensions; a single, firm gaze did the trick. With a bullet in his abdomen speeding up an end he already saw ahead of him, Walt saw Jesse off and found an ending on his own terms.

Despite the specificity of its resolution, "Breaking Bad" left a fair amount of ambiguity in play. Will Jesse rescue Brock and finally settle down? Could Skyler's plea bargain actually shield her from further persecution? Does Walt's drug money actually make it to his family? And will the rest of the "Breaking Bad" ensemble, not afforded the luxury of watching "Breaking Bad," comprehend the full extent of Walt's destructive antics?

Gilligan's brilliance in this concluding episode stems from an awareness that there's no need to fully address any of these questions. "Felina" provides just enough parting exchanges to leave every unresolved aspect up to fate. The simplicity of such a proposition is a sly rebuke to Walt's central flaw, which was perfectly illustrated by the episode's opening gag in which he frantically attempted to jumpstart a stolen car only to discover its keys. Walt could never accept the possibilities of unknown variables, but life was ultimately too chaotic to adhere to his schemes.

Walt's greatest enemy wasn't the Nazis or Gus or Hank, but a universe that defied the cold rationality of his chemical equations. That outcome casts "Breaking Bad" in an otherworldly light far sturdier than his brilliant strategies, none of which could abolish the specter of defeat. It's here that Gilligan's roots as a writer for "The X-Files" really came into play, because "Breaking Bad" often felt like science fiction (no more so than when Walt relied on cockamamie plot devices like the ricin and automatic weaponry that figured heavily in the finale).

Broadly speaking, "Felina" took on the dimensions of a post-apocalyptic tale from a world that erupted at least one season earlier. It dealt shrewdly with the prospects of coming to terms with failure and diagnosed a malady more common than Walt's cancer: the danger of blindly pursuing self-interest without regard for consequences until they've already arrived. It's a disease inflicted by frail human emotions like hubris and rage, set in motion by a shady disregard for morality and put into action by desperation. It comes from a tendency to think first and feel later. It comes from a dark, awful set of motivations both objectively evil and universally familiar. It comes from Walter White.

Alison Willmore is on vacation, but will return to "Breaking Bad" with a final take on the series as a whole next week.


  • John McGrath | September 30, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    The main reveal about this final episode was Walt's syaing that he did it all for himself, he liked it, he was good at it. Couldn't very careerist "father" say this about the career that consumed him and kept him from his family?

    We went from powerless chemistry teacher to powerful drug lord, based on the same skill he used to earn his teacher's pittance, chemistry. Any release from powerlessness is heady, intoxicating, as shown at the end by Jesse. But to go from powerlessness to intense power is especially intoxicating. he wanted to take care of his family out of love, then duty. But he did his cooking with a love that never ended, even at the end of his enterprise and the wreck of his life.

    Freud said that love and work are the two most important things in life. In our society many of us choose work and exclude love.

    Yet Vince Gilligan alludes to "the Searchers" as an inspiration. In that movie a young mother is killed by Apaches and her baby daughter is kidnapped and raised as Apache. For years the baby's father and her uncle, her mother's brother, search to find her. The movie opens with a song that asks a question: Why would anyone leave everything and roam, what's the motive, it is love, is it hate? For teh uncle it's hate, he hates Indians and wants to kell his niece for turning Indian. For the father it is love, he wants to tell his daughter that he loves her no matter what. All along it is not sufficient for the uncle to plan to j=kill her, he feels compelled to win the father over as the killer, or co-killer. The undle has always despised the father as a weakling. But in the end he recognizes the strength of the father' s love, and converts to the father's view.

    at the end of Breaking Bad we are left with love, as in the Searchers. Love for craft, the dominant love. But also love for Jesse, as both a fellow master craftsman and a substitute son, and love for Walt's biological family. For his biological family Walt is still driven to be the provider-father. And he makes that happen. Missions accomplished. Time to die. Walt moves from classical tyrant to classical heroic warrior, capturing his lost youth and redeeming his misspent life. he dies as a warrior, with a form of warrior honor.

  • Mark | September 30, 2013 1:23 PMReply

    Brilliant recap and review. Thanks

  • LW | September 30, 2013 10:41 AMReply

    Holly, not Hallie.

  • Eric | September 30, 2013 10:45 AM

    This is fixed. Thanks.

  • Luke | September 30, 2013 10:33 AMReply

    That is a brilliant review! You should do it ore often than anyone else here on indiewire.

  • Addison | September 30, 2013 9:49 AMReply

    Check out my Breaking Bad finale recap podcast right here:

    Let me know what you think and thanks for listening!