Episode Title: “Felina”
Writer: Vince Gilligan
Director: Vince Gilligan
Previously on “Breaking Bad”:
Episode 5.15 ‘Granite State’
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the “Breaking Bad” series finale is how unsurprising it was. That’s the disadvantage of giving your audience so much time to think about your ending. Most of the fans had correctly guessed what was coming. The machine gun and the ricin were used on the people who deserved them the most. The only real twist came when one of the main characters decided not to kill. But it wasn’t out of forgiveness… that’s the wrong word for it.
And Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had at least one more shred of humanity left before the very end.
It seems that most of the shocking moments went into the previous two episodes. But the slightly predictable turns of the finale are easily forgivable because series creator, Vince Gilligan, gave the episode a strong sense of closure. And there was undeniable satisfaction when some very bad people got what was coming to them.
There are full spoilers ahead for “Felina,” so if you happened to miss the last episode of “Breaking Bad” you may want to skip this review or else Lydia will take her tea without sweetener.
Elliot (Adam Godley) and Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht) were the wild cards in this drama. Walt’s former business partners unintentionally gave him a reason to live in the penultimate episode when he saw them denigrate his accomplishments to their company during an interview with Charlie Rose.
Consider this: Walt was so desperate for revenge that he actually prayed to God early in the episode! It did feel like serendipity when the keys of the car he was clumsily trying to steal just fell into his lap. Along the way home, we were privy to Walt’s plans to confront Elliot and Gretchen.
That led to one of the most intense scenes in the episode. Elliot and Gretchen had good reason to be terrified of Walt. The Walter White they knew would never have harmed them. They were less sure about the man standing in their living room. The audience was also in suspense, especially when the snipers set their sights on Elliot and Gretchen.
We’ll never know the full story of why Walt ended his business and personal relationships with Elliot and Gretchen, but his revenge was brilliant. Walt extorted the couple into giving the remaining $9 million of his fortune to his children as a trust fund and he used a very believable threat against their lives to compel them to obey. There’s no guarantee that Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) will take the money, but it’s a much smarter plan than Walt relying on Ed the Fixer (from last week’s episode) to give his riches to his family.
Walt’s ego was also on display when he insisted that Elliot and Gretchen use only the money he gave them for Walt Jr. and Holly’s trust fund. Even if his children never know where the money came from, Walt couldn’t abide any charity that he didn’t provide himself. Note also that when Gretchen accusingly asked Walt where he got the money, Walt simply said that he earned it.
The reveal that the supposed hitmen were Badger (Matt L. Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) was the funniest moment of the episode, followed only by Todd’s (Jesse Plemons) ringtone for Lydia (Laura Fraser) and then by Badger and Skinny Pete’s payoff to address their moral concerns with Walt’s plan.
Walt’s plan for Lydia and Todd was also quite impressive. Walt used his haggard appearance to make himself seem desperate to them. So desperate that they would never assume Walt was an actual threat. Moments later, it was clear that Walt had slipped Lydia the ricin as he originally planned to earlier in the season. But we got one last glimpse of Lydia and Todd’s messed up dynamic as he clumsily flirted with her and she sternly told him that Walt had to die.
While making his way around town, Walt must have used Badger and Skinny Pete to set up anonymous tips and reported sightings to keep the cops off of his trail. This is alluded to during a conversation between Skyler (Anna Gunn) and her estranged sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt).
Marie may never fully forgive her sister for being Walt’s accomplice, but it’s telling that she wanted to warn and protect Skyler. It was a nice camera reveal to show that Walt was already there with Skyler. But rather than give us the same speech that Walt always gives about his motivations, he finally gave the real reason that he broke bad: He liked it. It made him feel powerful and alive.
That may have been the most honest answer that Walt ever gave on this series. But it’s too little and too late. Walt’s reward is that he gets to see and touch Holly one last time. All Walt can dare to do with his son is watch him from a distance. As for Skyler, Walt gives her the only bargaining chip he has left: the burial location of Hank and Gomez. Presumably this will help get her out of trouble with the DEA.
It has to be said that Walt’s plan for Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and the Neo-Nazis was heavily dependent upon luck. Walt’s improvisational genius was on display as he turned the machine gun into automated weapon connected to his car… but he still needed the car keys in his hands and he very nearly didn’t get that chance. But without that opportunity, this ending would have been too bleak.
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was largely sidelined in this episode, but I loved the callback to Jesse’s perfect moment: creating a wooden box years ago. Sure, Jesse traded that box for drugs. But woodworking may have been the one thing that Jesse could do that wasn’t illegal. Not that he had many career options as a slave to the Neo-Nazis.
“Breaking Bad” has always been about Walt and Jesse. This story belongs to both of them. And if Walt couldn’t look into the eyes of his actual son, his surrogate son would have to suffice. I fully believe that Walt went to Jack’s compound with the intent of killing Jesse too. Call it misguided anger over Hank’s fate or a sense of betrayal that Jesse ratted him out. Either way, Walt wanted Jesse dead.
But in the moment that Walt saw Jesse in chains, it must have reminded him of how deeply he cared for Jesse at one point. The expression on Cranston’s face sold Walt’s impromptu decision to save Jesse and allow the Neo-Nazis to be slaughtered by his machine gun.
Todd’s subsequent death at Jesse’s hands and Jack’s execution at Walt’s were both cathartic moments. That left Walt and Jesse with only each other to deal with. This is where everything had been leading to. There were no secrets left between them as Walt slid a gun over to Jesse and basically told him to shoot him.
That Jesse refused was the first moral victory anyone has had on this show in a long time. Of course, Jesse’s decision may have been influenced by the fatal bullet wound that Walt had already received. Or perhaps Jesse is just done killing people or taking orders from Walt.
There are no apologies given between them. And what could be said? “I apologize for letting your girlfriend choke on her own vomit before I let Todd enslave you. Oh… and I killed Mike too. Sorry!” Instead, there’s simply a nod between them before Jesse leaves Walt to die on his own terms while he drives off in triumph. After living through his personal hell, Jesse gets the closest thing to a happy ending anyone on this show was ever going to get. It may be impossible for Jesse to fully rebuild his life after his experience with Walt. But he’s free and his last shout of joy was infectious.
Walt spends his last moments admiring the meth lab that Todd and the Neo-Nazis had set up. Beyond his love for his family, Walt also had a love for chemistry. His immense knowledge in that field gave him the power to transform his life… just not for the better. Walt’s hubris was always his undoing.
But for a man as egotistical as Walt, it had to be gratifying to know that people would remember his name in the aftermath of this shootout. Walt’s legend will live on and his children may yet get the money he so desperately wanted to give them. In the end, Walt won.
There was a lot to admire about this episode, but I’m particularly enamored with the final shots of Walt. His death scene is only glimpsed in the reflection of the lab equipment and the last thing we see in the series are a few cops investigating the drug lab as Walt’s prone body stares upward.
While I would have preferred it if the series finale had been more unpredictable, I can’t fault the decision to go out on this note. “Felina” provided almost everything anyone could have hoped for in a finale. After 62 episodes, Vince Gilligan and his team did not stumble. It’s a strong finish to a great series.