Okay, so, as I said in an earlier entry, I thought that Breaking Bad was essentially dead after season four’s final shot. You probably remember that the two episodes of the show on this list are both from season five. I freely admit that I was completely wrong on my prediction, and I am glad to have been so.
Felina is the last episode of Breaking Bad. People will argue that Ozymandias is better, and, in a lot of ways, it absolutely is. In fact, the only way in which this episode is superior is that it actually resolves one of the most complicated and character-driven shows of all time in a completely satisfying way. It’s not that you didn’t want more after the episode was over, and because of that we got Better Call Saul, but nobody felt like they desperately needed more. The show was over, it was a masterpiece. Roll credits.
Even the episode’s title is brilliant. It’s an anagram for finale. It’s a reference to the song “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, which Walt listens to at the beginning of the episode and which describes the plot of the final scenes. It’s a combination of 3 chemical symbols: Iron, lithium, and sodium, which are key ingredients in, respectively, blood, drugs, and tears (however, while lithium is used to synthesize meth, Walt never uses it within the show. However, it’s used to treat some mental health issues, including Walt’s possible undiagnosed chemo-induced bipolar disorder). Supposedly it’s also a reference to Schrodinger’s Cat, which represents an opposing thought experiment to the quantum model of Walt’s alias, Werner Heisenberg (kinda). While the last two are unconfirmed, the first two are definitely true, and that alone is worthy of respect.
Okay, quick refresher from last time: Breaking Bad is a show about Walter White’s decline and fall. Walter starts as a sympathetic guy with cancer who decides to partner up with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to cook meth so he can provide for his family after he dies. By the fifth and final season, Walter is no longer sympathetic. In fact, at the end of Season 4, you probably were on team “Please kill him now, cancer,” because he’d just done something unthinkable in order to motivate someone else to kill for him. He’d dragged his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) into it, even though he’d worked to hide it from his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). For the first half of Season Five, Walt manages to become a drug kingpin, amassing a fortune and piling up bodies everywhere. By the time of this episode, Walt has lost his empire. He has left his family, betrayed and been betrayed by Jesse, and tried to find a new life, but, ultimately, he fails. He’s even told that he should die by his own son. Dejected, he calls the DEA and tells them where he is. Then, he sees Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz on TV. These two, arguably, indirectly caused everything in the series.
They were Walt’s ex-girlfriend and best friend, as well as his partners when they founded Gray Matter, a successful pharmaceutical company. It’s not ever clarified fully what happened between them, but Walt ended up leaving the company and not becoming a millionaire, despite clearly being the most brilliant scientist of the three. When Walt sees them on TV, they deny that Walt contributed anything to the company. This motivates Walt to do one more thing before he gives in.
He holds the two of them hostage until they agree to give money to his family to make up for screwing him over. Then, he finds out that Jesse is still alive, but is being held captive by some of Walt’s former partners. Walt returns home one last time to try and help keep his wife out of trouble, finally acknowledging that he didn’t become a kingpin for the altruistic reasons that he said. It was because it made him feel alive.
Walt goes to where Jesse is being held. After a tense conversation with Jack (Michael Bowen), the one holding Jesse, Walt tackles Jesse to the ground and activates a remote controlled M60 Machine Gun, because sometimes television shows us exactly what we
want even if we didn’t know we wanted it. Walt then kills Jack as revenge for Jack’s earlier murder of Walt’s brother-in-law Hank. Walt then offers Jesse the opportunity to kill him, but Jesse chooses not to, before seeing that Walt has been shot by a stray round from the machine gun. Walt then gives Jesse the keys to a getaway vehicle, allowing Jesse to escape before the authorities arrive. Walt then wanders around the meth lab, smiling, until peacefully passing away from the bullet wound, surrounded by the one thing that really let him feel alive.
As I said, this episode manages to really finish the series. Part of it is that it mirrors the pilot in many ways. The show both begins and ends with sirens heading towards Walt. In the pilot, Walt fails to shoot himself, but, in this episode, dies by shooting himself. The bullet is implied by one of the final shots to be in his left lung, the same place that the tumor was found in the pilot. Both episodes were actually directed and written by Vince Gilligan, the show creator, something he only did four times. Walt’s even wearing the same basic outfit in both episodes.
I said in an earlier review that a great climax can overcome even a poor build-up. This show did the opposite. It has a solid climax, but it’s not overwhelming, and it didn’t need to be, because the build-up had been so fantastic. Walter gets a slight blaze of glory, but really, he gets a quiet death that he’d longed for on some level since the beginning. More than that, by choosing to save Jesse, which the episode indicates might not have been his plan the entire time, Walt slightly redeems himself, enough to make the audience feel that he’s earned this end.
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