Tuesday, 1 October 2013

BREAKING BAD, 5.16 – 'Felina'

Tuesday, 1 October 2013
"Cheer up, beautiful people. This is where you get to make it right." -- Walt
written & directed by Vince Gilligan

One strength of Breaking Bad has always been its smart logic. There haven't been too many occasions where you feel the writers' hand steering everyone around. That's one of the reasons its world and characters have always felt so real to viewers, beyond the career-best acting from all involved. However, this does mean clever viewers can occasionally predict what's going to happen next. The series finale of Breaking Bad didn't surprise me, for the most part, which is perhaps the only reason I can't give awards it full-marks. That said, it was a supremely satisfying hour, bringing the crazy story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) to an emotional ending I have few qualms about.

"Felina" was all about Walt exacting revenge on those who wronged him, clearing the air with those who care for him, saving the one person he hurt the most, and tying up loose ends. In an hour of inevitabilities, I was most surprised by Walt's plan to get his remaining $9m to his family—by breaking into the Schwartz's mansion and making them promise to "donate" it to Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) on his 18th birthday, so he'll never know he's accepted money from his pariah of a father. That was a clever ploy and I'm grateful I didn't guess it, helped by virtue of the fact few people even expected Walt's ex-business partners to feature this season. Even nicer was an unexpected farewell for 'comedy sidekicks' Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), who returned to help Mr White by posing as top assassins, ready to kill the Schwartz's if they breathe a word of this arrangement to anyone. It was so great writer Vince Gilligan found a clever, plausible way to involve those two.

As I said, the rest of the finale was a check list of things Walt had to do now he's back in town. The flash-forward had already clued us into a few things, and they came to pass, but I loved how dishevelled Walt was breezing around like a ghost from the past. His interruption of a weekly meeting between Lydia (Laura Fraser) and Todd (Jesse Plemons) was particularly brilliant; coming across like a half-crazy hobo hoping his reputation was still enough to earn him a seat at the meth-making business table. Of course, it was all an act just to slip Lydia that vial of ricin we've known about for so long. Lydia being the target had come to feel inevitable once Hank and Jesse were taken off the list, especially as the show kept reminding us she's an ardent tea-drinker, but it was still a fun moment of realisation.

The most emotional scene quite rightly belonged to Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn), as she gave him five minutes to say his peace in the kitchen of the new house she's living in. Cranston and Gunn were magnificent together, as you could still sense the deep love their characters share, despite the fact it's been tarnished so irrevocably. I especially loved how Walt gave her the lottery ticket GPS coordinates to Hank and Gomez's bodies, but the moment that most touched my heart was seeing Walt stroke the head of his daughter for the last time. I don't mind admitting that simple moment really choked me up.

For the White's as a couple, it was also only right that Walt finally confessed that the explanation that he did all this "for his family" was a hollow excuse. He did it because it he was good at it, he earned respect from it, and it gave him a sense of power. It made him feel alive, as he put it, at a time when death seemed like a certainty because of his lung cancer. It was very satisfying to see Walter White so humble and honest. Plus it was a nice touch to feel that Skyler can escape the hell she's in by using the whereabouts of Hank's body to cut some kind of deal with the DEA. A happy ending, of sorts.

Every finale needs some action, of course, and that came courtesy of Walt's daring plan to slaughter Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and his goons single-handed. Once again, many people had guessed the machine gun he bought was intended for this task, and so it came to pass... but it was still a glorious moment and a cool showcase of Walt's ingenuity and forward-thinking. Gaining access to Jack's compound to talk about another business arrangement, while secretly having an home-made automated machine gun in the back of his Volvo, to be triggered by a keyring in his pocket... it was genius. The moment when Walt realised his plan was going haywire and he had to annoy Jack enough to bring the shackled Jesse (Aaron Paul) into the "clubhouse", before hitting the deck and activating the gun, was such a cathartic moment of wrath. Even better was seeing Jesse strangle psycho Todd with his chain, exorcising the months of rage he's been bottling up over Andrea's murder. Or the moment Walt killed Jack, not persuaded by Jack's plea to keep him alive to recover his stolen millions. It was the final sign Walt had moved on, past the money "where he lived" (according to Jesse), and in so doing clawed back some of his soul.

The final moments of "Felina" carried the anticipated feeling of weight, as it dawned on you that a truly fantastic drama was winding up a five-year story. Walt asking Jesse to kill him, only to be flatly refused.... brilliant. Jesse driving away, but not before sharing a look of understanding with Walt—a feeling that there's still residual respect, despite the horrors Mr White has wrought on his life. Jesse speeding away to freedom, laughing with a feeling of joy he hasn't experienced in months. And then Walter White himself, dying of a gunshot wound sustained during his own attack, taking a look around Jack's meth-lab... gazing at the equipment used to create his beloved blue-meth that still brings a sense of pride to his eyes. For awhile there, he was the best damn chemist in the world. And then, quietly dying... sprawled out on the floor, as the city's cops poured into the compound and found him in the warehouse. The mighty Heisenberg, the infamous Walter White; his story all told, his life at an end.

I'm very happy with this finale. Would it have been nicer to feel more surprised by more of its events? Of course, but to some extent that's the price you pay for discussing things in-depth between episodes with intelligent folk. I'm just glad it all made sense and wrapped everything up that was important. I can understand people thinking it was too neat, or lacked some ambiguity for fans to chew on forever more... but you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. I tend to favour a clear, logical ending for a show that was always very meticulous... even when the writers admit they often improvised their way out of narrative corners. It's crazy to believe they originally intended to kill Jesse by the end of season 1 (and the Writers' Strike gave them a chance to reconsider that direction), or that the awesome Gus Fring character was only invented because the Cousins were proving to be too limiting as mute bad guys.

So farewell Breaking Bad. You finished as you started: with utter confidence in the story. I was gripped from the first moment I saw Walter White driving an RV through the desert in his white underpants, through to him lying dead in a meth-lab run by neo-Nazis. There are few shows that last five seasons without huge dips in quality, or that create indelible characters viewers will reminisce about for a very long time. It also had the greatest spectrum of human villains I've ever seen, in any art-form.

I loved this show's fine craft and amazing performances. I loved its indelible dialogue and beautiful direction. I loved its unforgettable characters and smooth, passionate storytelling.

I loved Breaking Bad... but it's over, and now I feel blue.

  • The sequence with Jesse fashioning a wooden box was a call back to season 3's "Kafkaesque", where he told his drug support group about the time he carved a beautiful box and sold it for an ounce of weed.
  • Did you notice that baby Holly's clothes were similar to Walt's colour scheme? Green inner, white-beige on the outside.
  • The song the finale closed on was Badfinger's "Baby Blue".
29 September 2013 | AMC