Breaking Bad premiered its first episode on AMC in January 2008. Five years, five seasons and 62 episodes later, one of the greatest television dramas of all time came to an end last night as Vince Gilligan’s landmark series took its final, bloody bow. In a TV landscape that has, in recent years, found it difficult to satisfyingly wrap up beloved shows in a way that hits the right emotional notes while also tying up loose ends, Breaking Bad’s final episode may prove to be one of the most fulfilling and well-made farewells ever. And while we’re sure to keep “Felina” on our DVRs for repeated close inspection of the episode over the next few weeks, here are a few quick takeaways.
Music, Once Again, Tells the Story
Breaking Bad’s final moments come courtesy of Badfinger’s song “Baby Blue,” from their 1971 album Straight Up, and it’s easy to imagine Gilligan sitting at his desk while conceiving his hit series and sticking a Post-It Note on the wall with the title of this tune in bold marker. The song’s lyrics fit Walter White’s journey (and its ultimate conclusion) nearly perfectly: “Guess I got what I deserve . . . / That special love I have for you / My baby blue.”
It’s also worth noting the Marty Robbins song that plays near the beginning of the episode while Walter is stuck inside the snow-covered car he’s stealing. While seemingly entombed by snow, cold breath streaming from his mouth like his soul escaping from his body, Walt opens the glove box and pulls out a Marty Robbins cassette. Once he finds the keys and gets the car started, Robbins’ song “El Paso” starts playing on the stereo. Here, again, Gilligan lets the music tell Walt’s story: “Maybe tomorrow / A bullet may find me. / Tonight nothing’s worse than this / Pain in my heart.”
This is Walter White’s Episode
We get to visit with nearly every remaining major player in the Breaking Bad universe during the finale, but make no mistake about it: “Felina” is Walter White’s episode. Skyler, Flynn, Todd and Jesse all had big (mostly devastating) moments in the penultimate episode “Granite State,” and Uncle Jack and his crew got theirs in “Ozymandias.” The series finale, as it rightfully should, belongs to Walter White. It’s his story to finish and, through him, we get to witness the tormenting and use of his nemeses (Gretchen and Elliot), the delivery of the truth that will finally let his wife move on with her life, and the destruction of his enemies (Lydia, Todd, Uncle Jack and the rest of his gang). Jesse gets his moment to shine near the episode’s conclusion, but the series ends right where it was meant to end: focused solely on Walter White.
Breaking Bad Learned from Other Series Finales
One of the things that have made many recent series finales so divisive is their inability to tie up loose ends, answer questions and provide closure while also delivering a deeply moving, emotional conclusion. For every fan out there that loves the mystery and intrigue of the controversial endings of Lost and The Sopranos, there are just as many (if not more) folks who cried foul because they didn’t get the answers they wanted. Breaking Bad’s finale pulled in nearly every net the show had cast during its five-season run. Walt’s family will get his money. Gretchen and Elliot get their comeuppance (in the words of Walter White: “This is where you get to make it right.”). Badger and Skinny Pete are happy. We know where the ricin capsule went. We know what Walt needed that enormous gun for. Walt finally admits the truth: that he did it all for himself, not his family. Jesse gets to kill Todd. Jesse lives. Walt dies. All of the series’ big questions were answered and that makes for a very satisfying way to end a show’s run. If there are a few threads left dangling, they’re minor (What happens to Brock, for instance, now that Andrea is gone? Does Jesse go find him?). Unless, of course, you’re Huell and you’re still hanging out in that safe house wondering what the hell is going on.
What Does Jesse Have Left?
That extremely cathartic moment when Jesse Pinkman speeds through the gates, alive, and begins his primal scream that’s a mixture of happiness, sadness, frustration, relief and elation is so incredibly telling of the character’s newfound freedom. Sure, he’s made it out alive. He’s got his life. But what else does Pinkman have left? He has no money. His girlfriend is dead. He’s been beaten both physically and psychologically, and he’s a shell of the human being he was once was. Yes, Jesse got his long-awaited retribution against his former teacher when he refused to kill him even though that’s what Walt wanted. Jesse is going to live, but at what cost? Maybe he’ll find Brock and raise him so the kid has the life that Jesse never had. Maybe he’ll meet up with Badger and Skinny Pete, or maybe he’ll make that trip to Alaska after all, erasing any evidence of the life he’s left behind. Who knows?
Walter White Finally Accepted His Fate
Breaking Bad has always been about Walter White fighting for his life. He started by fighting cancer and moved on to fighting people like Gus Fring and Uncle Jack, but no matter what he’s always been fighting. On top of that, Walt was constantly lying, either to himself or to someone else. “Felina” finally put a stop to that. Walt may have come up with a plan to see certain things through in this final episode (the money, the ricin, the Nazis, etc.), but he knew all along that this was a suicide mission. Walter White didn’t, for a minute, expect to make it out alive. He had finally accepted his fate. “I did it for me,” he told Skyler in their final meeting. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really . . . I was alive.” For the first time, Walt was able to admit what we all knew all along: that his meth business (and all the various criminal activity that came along with it) was for his own benefit. Cooking meth transformed him into a superhero kingpin named Heisenberg. Meth, though he never used it in the traditional sense of the word, was Walter White’s drug of choice, and it killed him just like it does your common junkie. He died alone, with nothing and no one left to care about him, and surrounded by nothing but the tools that got him high.