There’s no good way to end a highly acclaimed television series. The viewer’s expectations are insurmountable, and most likely contradictory. We want the characters to live forever and get what they want, but if a writer does this, we’ll complain that the end was cliche and boring. It’s the great human contradiction: we want to live forever, but if we did, life would have no meaning.
All of us brought this trepidation to “Felina,” last night’s Breaking Bad series finale. We were ready to be fulfilled by getting the end of the story, but also to be let down. Nothing against Vince Gilligan and his writing staff, there’s just no way to give the viewers what they want. (Unless, of course, you go the Six Feet Under route–but that show’s on a different plane of existence.)
With that said, the finale was successful in eschewing our expectations and taking the easy out, and was an overall satisfying experience.
(If you haven’t seen the episode yet, be warned, what follows will spoil everything.)
Here’s what went right.
1. Walt finally admits that he didn’t do it all for his family. He became a crystal meth kingpin because he liked it. It made him feel alive. Thanks for finally being honest, Walt.
2. The big showdown with the neo-Nazis was thrilling and surprising. Most people thought Walt was building a bomb in the desert. Nope. Heisenberg was constructing an automated oozi death trap. Because it was unexpected and a new twist on the gangster gun fight, it wins.
3. Jesse strangles that little sociopath, pile of human shit Todd with the shackles Todd burdened him with. Thank God Todd didn’t get shot in Walt’s trap. This allows Jesse and the audience the sweet satisfaction of him dying at Jesse’s hands. Ever since Todd shot that kid on the dirt bike, we’ve all wanted Jesse to get his revenge. Now, the deed is done.
4. Jesse doesn’t shoot Walt. That would have been the obvious move. It would have brought narrative satisfaction, but thankfully, Jesse is allowed to decide to not kill his former chemistry teacher/meth lab associate.
5. Jesse lives. I’m not sure why he was made to suffer so much in the final episodes by being tortured and shackled by Todd (rot in hell, bitch!), but when he crashes through those gates, leaving the Nazi compound, I was elated.
6. Walter dies. He had to. This story is so indebted to Macbeth. If Walt had lived, it would have smacked of twenty-first century political correctness. The best part? He shot himself. Everything bad in this show is because of Walter White’s narcissistic, sociopathic desire to be on top of an empire. He’s been metaphorically shooting himself and his family for five seasons, in the end, the last shot is the kill shot.
7. The last scene, Walt caressing a meth tank, was beautiful. It’s Macbeth pining over the throne that built him up and killed him in the end. Or Ahab marveling at the whale before it destroys him. Walt sees the police lights in the reflection of the meth tank and falls, leaving a smear of blood. So satisfying.
All empire’s fall, and Breaking Bad gave us a new twist on that old story of ambition, greed, and delusions of grandeur. A valiant effort in the often futile task of writing a series finale.