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All good things (or, as AMC’s tagline for the series states, all bad things) must come to an end. And what a wonderful end it is. After five excellent seasons and six years, Breaking Bad ends the only way it can: with Walter White finally admitting his own pride led to his fall and then dying alone with his “Felina” in the meth lab.
There has been much speculation regarding the finale’s title, “Felina,” since AMC announced it some weeks ago. Many pointed out that it is an anagram of “finale,” perhaps meant to drive home the finality of the episodes within the Bad cannon. Others noticed that broken up, the letters spell out the names of three elements on the Periodic Table: Fe for Iron, Li for Lithium, and Na for Sodium. Perhaps the finale will include blood, meth, and tears? Another theory guessed that maybe felina was a reference to cats. Will Walt finally run out of his nine lives? Did it refer to Schrodinger’s Cat?
It turns out that all of these theories do in fact factor into “Felina.” But, it is the ingenious theory of Previous.tv’s Andi Teran that, in my opinion, hits the nail right on the head. In the Marty Robbins song “El Paso,” Felina is a girl that the protagonist loves but can never have. The man is willing to kill others so that no one may have her, even though it ultimately results in his own death. The lyrics of the song eerily mirror Walt’s journey over the past six years, and a portion of the song plays during the episode’s opening. Teran posits in her article that Walt’s Felina is his meth lab - the one place where he was truly in control and superior to all those around him. And, as it turns out, Teran was so very right.
When we left Walt last week, he was hell bent on traveling back to New Mexico, seemingly inspired by the Schwartzes' slight on Charlie Rose and the knowledge that blue meth was still flooding the drug marketplace. It looked as if Heisenberg was on the warpath for one final hurrah. But, as Jesse warned us all several weeks ago, when you think Walt is going to do one thing, he does the opposite.
The man who returns to New Mexico is Walter White. It is a broken and dying man with no hidden identities and no righteous (or misplaced) anger seething through to the surface. There is no black porkpie hat. For the first time since the early days of season one, we spend an entire episode with just Walt and we are able to take stock of just how far he has fallen. Once again wearing a green shirt and tan slacks, Walt is resigned to his fate. He knows he is going to die, just as he did in the pilot. He does not believe himself to be powerful or invincible. He’s just a man, checking off the last few things on his to-do list before passing on.
The sense of impending death hangs over the entire episode. Each stop of the Walter White good-bye tour has a clear sense of purpose. The Schwartzes do not receive the violent end some predicted. Rather, Walt exacts a promise from them (with the aid of his Heisenberg aura to scare them a tad, and the return of Badger and Skinny Pete as "hitmen") to make sure Flynn and Holly are taken care of financially. Walt’s stop to chat with Lydia and Todd gives Walt the chance to exact revenge on Lydia - and a chance to use the ricin.
Walt’s final trip to see Skyler will lead to the recovery of Hank and Gomie’s bodies, giving Marie the closure she needs. Most importantly, though, it gives Walt the chance to finally tell Skyler the truth. Not just about Hank’s death (which, in a way, was a bit more of Walt placing blame at the feet of others), but about his true motivations. Gone are the claims he did it all for his family. Walt, once and for all, admits he continued cooking because he liked it. He liked the power. He liked that he was good at it. He was seduced by cooking, and he let it lead him to his downfall.
The last trip Walt takes is to see Todd and the Nazis. With a nifty surprise within his trunk, one final wrench is thrown in his plans when Jesse emerges from underground. Knowing his time is short, Walt releases his trap, igniting his M60 to spray bullets throughout the compound. But not before jumping on Jesse to ensure his safety. In this selfless act - his first in a long time - Walt gives his life for his surrogate son. Whether it is an action derived from guilt, or a split second decision that Jesse, despite all he did to hurt Walt’s “Felina,” is worthy of life, is something that we are left to interpret.
After Jesse exacts his revenge on Todd, and Walt places one final bullet in Jack’s head, the last showdown between Walt and Jesse commences. But it’s a non-starter. Walt is clearly wounded (mortally, as we will soon see). Jesse refuses to give up his humanity by killing Walt in cold blood. And he refuses to once again be Walt’s puppet by killing him when Walt asks. So Jesse is allowed to finally live free, as the ever present New Hampshire state motto states. And Walt, with one last walk through the meth lab, is left to die.
I’m sure many a thesis will be written in the coming years, ruminating on various aspects of Breaking Bad. Heck, there are probably several in the works as I type this. But, for me, Breaking Bad is ultimately a tale of one man’s rise and fall due to hubris. Like the best Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, a simple man tried to reach out and touch the sun, and pays the ultimate price for his pride.
In closing, I’d like to thank Vince Gilligan for creating such a deep and astonishing series. Thank him for nurturing it throughout these past six years. And, ultimately, bringing this tale to a fitting and sound close. Breaking Bad will sit among the best dramas in television history, and it was fun and thrilling ride.
-- While I didn’t have the success of Andi Teran in predicting how the finale would play out, I do take some pride in correctly piecing together who would be taken out with the gun and ricin. More importantly, I’m happy that both tools were used to their full effect. I’m sure both Chekhov and my high school English teacher Br. Ruhl are smiling somewhere.
-- Once again, music provides a wonderful counterpoint to the onscreen action. While Robbins' "El Paso" plays early in the episode, Badfinger's "Baby Blue" plays during the episode's final moments. Both are excellent choices, giving us deeper looks into Walt's psyche and helping to explain the final steps on his journey.
-- It’s hard to not have some positive feelings towards Walt following the finale. After all, he took every step possible to try and make right his many wrongs. Ultimately, it is too little, much too late. But I enjoy the sense of calm purpose that pervades all he does in the episode.
-- When asked in the future what I thought about the finale, I think my stock answer will be that it ended the only way it could. Walter White had to die (as did the Nazis and Lydia). Poor tortured Jesse needed to be free after so much time being under the control of others. And the White family, including Marie, needed closure. And Walt’s death? Well, “El Paso” describes that perfectly: “From out of nowhere Felina has found me,/Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side./Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for,/One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.”
-- After several high profile series finales that left fans angry over loose ends that weren’t tied up, Vince Gilligan went to great pains to make sure no thread was left hanging. While I can do without the scene of Walt spelling out that Lydia had been poisoned (it's obvious that's the case at the café), I can’t imagine anyone harping on storylines left unattended. And if people think it was too neat, after several weeks of breakneck twists and death, I think the show earned a clean end.
-- This is how you end a show (Dexter, I’m looking at you). Kudos, once again to Gilligan and all involved. It was a joy (albeit sometimes a painful joy) to watch Breaking Bad. I’ll certainly miss it, but I’m excited to see what is next for all involved.