I had initially thought that the series finale title was simply an anagram of “finale,” Vince Gilligan’s signal to us viewers that the end will be chaotic. But someone much more steeped into the playlist of Marty Robbins pointed out that Felina (sometimes spelled Feelina) was the name of the femme fatale in his song “El Paso”. In the song, Felina sparks jealousy to the point of murder, but in the end, it is she who kills the protagonist, with a single bullet to the heart. C&L commenter MosesGunn broke it down to FeLiNa (Iron, Lithium and Sodium) as the primary ingredients to fireworks. A Reddit user as the primary ingredients of blood, methamphetamine and tears. And a much more philosophical person suggested it might be a reference to Schrödinger's cat. Certainly, at this point there is a question of whether Walter White/Heisenberg could be dead and alive simultaneously. And the answer for that comes tonight.
Ironically, what appeared to be a cheap laugh line (at least, that’s how the filmmaker took it) in the last episode may finally provide the ultimate clue as to this finale. In “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” the dying Mr. Magorium seeks out a young replacement to helm his toy store after his demise. He describes his oncoming death as follows:
When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He's written "He dies." That's all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is "He dies." It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with "He dies." And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it's only natural to be sad, but not because of the words "He dies." but because of the life we saw prior to the words… I've lived all five of my acts, Mahoney, and I am not asking you to be happy that I must go. I'm only asking that you turn the page, continue reading... and let the next story begin. And if anyone asks what became of me, you relate my life in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest "He died."
Or perhaps, it is really only what Vince Gilligan says the finale is all about: woodworking. In any event, it’s time to say goodbye to Walt, Jesse, Skyler, Marie, Flynn and baby Holly.
Walt gets into an icy Volvo. He’s still coughing, and the package of money intended for Flynn is at his side. He looks around for the keys and opens the glove compartment. Oh look, a Marty Robbins tape falls out…oh Felina. He attempts to start the car with a screwdriver (like that would work). Cop lights start flashing behind him. The ice on the windows prevent him from being seen, so Walt just stays still and whispers:
Walt’s prayer is answered. We see the lights of the police cruiser pass and the reflection of the flashing red lights in Walt’s glasses.
Immediate danger over, Walt finds the keys under the sun visor. He starts the car and Marty Robbins starts singing El Paso.
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing's worse than this
Pain in my heart.
We come back from the commercial break with the Volvo now under the golden skies of New Mexico, its New Hampshire plates proudly proclaiming “Live Free or Die”. Walt is gassing up. His trunk is filled with his cash as well as drugs. He takes a pill. Good god, did he use the gas station engine water hose to swallow the pill? What’s the point of taking the drug if he is going to poison himself with non-potable water? He makes a call, identifying himself as a reporter from the NY Times. He asks for a picture Elliot and Gretchen for an article. He finagles out of the person on the other line (receptionist for Gray Matter? Secretary? P.R. person?) the Schwartzes address. He takes off his watch (AMC identified it as the $6300 Tag Heuer Monaco Calibre 12 Chronograph that Jesse gave him for his 51st birthday) and leaves it on the payphone.
Elliot and Gretchen enter their fancy new home, joking around about the merits of dining at 21 versus Per Se (I’m on Elliot’s side in this argument; Thomas Keller is a culinary god), missing entirely that Walt is waiting in the shadows for them.
As the Schwartzes wonder if their housekeeper has left them anything to eat and whether they should take a vacation to Napa, Walter inspects their immaculately-designed home. Compared to the White home in its heyday, it’s a clear reminder of all that Walt could have had. Compared to their straitened and miserable circumstances now, it’s got to be a smack in the face.
Gretchen is the first to see him, screaming. But Walt doesn’t react. He really likes their new home. The views must be beautiful when it’s not dark out. The very banality of the obvious comments make him even more sinister, kind of like everything that comes out of Todd’s mouth.
Gretchen naturally worries that Walter wants to hurt them after he says he saw them on Charlie Rose. Remember, they made a point of distancing and diminishing their connection to Walt and the last time either one of them saw Walt, he was not exactly nice about that. But Walter’s plans are not immediately obvious. He instead suggests that they walk down to his car because he has something to give them and the big security gates have not allowed him to drive the car closer. Elliot impotently holds up a butter knife, but Walter scoffs, if we’re going to go that way, you’re going to need a bigger knife. Elliot drops it.
Well, that wasn’t what I expected. We return from the commercial break with the Schwartzes bringing in Walt’s 9.7 million dollars from the car into their pristinely and tastefully decorated home. He wants them to give it to his kids. It goes to Flynn in a irrevocable trust. Gretchen wants to know why they should and he tells them that it’s the only way. He acknowledges that Flynn hates him now but can only hope that in the intervening 10 months before Flynn’s 18th birthday, he finds some way to reconcile it to help his mother and sister. Or perhaps the Schwartzes--who have very publicly donated money towards drug awareness--could make it look like a gift from them out of guilt for knowing his monster of a father. Walt insists that the Schwartzes pay no money to make this happen. Any taxes, fees, etc., are to come from the stash. Even in death, Walt wants nothing from the Schwartzes.
Perhaps eager to get this murdering drug kingpin (and former best friend) out of his house, Elliot shakes on the deal, but Gretchen is begrudging. Walter asks if he can trust the Schwartzes and Elliot assures him he can. But Walt needs a little more assurance, or maybe he needs the Schwartzes to be a little more afraid. He snaps and red laser lights flash on Gretchen and Elliot from outside where that beautiful view theoretically is. Walt informs them he’s given $200K to the “two best hit men west of the Mississippi” to make sure that Gretchen and Elliot know that they need to live up to their promises. If they don’t, they need to expect the unexpected, whether they opt to holiday in Napa or Prague.
Walt returns to his car. Those two best hit men? Badger and Skinny Pete with laser pointers. LOL. The fear is the thing, as Walt too well knows, actually killing the Schwartzes isn’t really going to accomplish much, is it? Still, our favorite science fiction fanatic meth heads aren’t crazy about threatening lives. As Badger says, the “whole thing felt kinda shady, like morality-wise”.
Walt wants to know if there’s still blue meth out there. They say there is and thought it was him cooking. Walt realizes Jesse is still out there cooking. He growls Jesse’s name and Badger and Skinny Pete lament that Jesse didn’t do them a solid and cut them a break on the blue. If you only knew, guys.
Here’s our woodworking that Gilligan promised. We see hands carefully piece together a lidded wooden box, shaping and sanding it. Jesse has made a box. It’s a flashback and a reference to Jesse’s NA group in Season 3, Episode 9 where, inspired by his teacher, he made this artful and intricate box for his mom, but sold it instead for drugs. Perhaps this is the first in a series of regrets Jesse has about the way his life has turned. We’re suddenly kicked out of this daydream of Jesse’s by the rude and painful reminder that those days of art are gone and he is currently tethered in the Nazis’ lab, a slave with no life, no future.
Then we move a series of quick cuts of scenes from previous episodes: Walt’s solo celebration of his 52nd birthday in the diner, pulling the ricin out of the faceplate in his trashed house. And then a flashback to Hank offering to take Walt on a ride along. Wow, they really have made Bryan Cranston look skinny and aged in present day.
Back to the coffee shop with Lydia. This time, Todd sits at the table with her. He likes her blouse. Again, the banality of the conversation is enough to make me squirm. Out of nowhere, Walt joins them. He asks for two minutes of their time but Todd is looking away from the table. Who is he looking at? Walt tells them that he has a new method of cooking meth that doesn’t require methylamine. Walt claims he needs the money, having spent everything he had evading the police. We know that’s bullsh*t, but they don’t. Lydia’s greed is always cranking in the background. As Todd demurs, Lydia wants to know how much it would cost. Walt says a million and that’s a steal. Lydia needs more stevia with her tea. She really likes her tea sweet. As the waiter approaches, she tells the waiter that Walt is just leaving and dismisses him. Apparently, she’s not interested in Walt’s approach at that price. Walt walks away. After he leaves, Todd says he doesn’t think she should do business with Walt and she scoffs.
We cut to a close up of the stevia dissolving into her tea. Vince Gilligan isn't even trying to be sly. Be afraid, Lydia. I sense a Heisenberg move.
Back to To’hajiilee. There's something full circle about being at Hank's final resting place, I'm sure. Walt is cheerfully assembling something that involves an automatic weapon, a car battery, a rotary of some sort and his car alarm. He’s humming more of that Marty Robbins song:
Out to the bad-lands of New Mexico.
Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
Everything's gone in life; nothing is left.
It's been so long since I've seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death.
The phone rings in sad new home of Skyler and the kids. It’s Marie, calling a truce. Marie knows Walt is in town. Marie says he’s a Unabomber. Calls are coming in of a manifesto, plans for bombing, etc. Marie has always had a flair for the dramatic; I can’t see Walt raising his profile like that and risk being caught. Marie assures Skyler they are absolutely going to catch him. There are officers stationed at likely places, including her home. Skyler is quiet and does little more than smoke her cigarette. Maybe she’s beyond being scared after all she’s been through. After she gets off the phone, the camera slowly moves and we see Sky is not alone. Walt’s with her. This entire episode has been Walt quietly off in the shadows, trying to avoid notice. Unabomber, my ass. Skyler grants Walt just five minutes. She wants to know why he’s here. He tells her it’s over and he needed a proper goodbye. He doesn’t want that last horrible abusive husband phone call to be their last contact. There’s something so heartbreaking about two people who still clearly love each other at some level coming to grips with the fact that their lives together are irrevocably over and each will pay the price for that in the future.
She wants to know how he can promise that the Nazis won’t come back. He says they won’t after tonight. Walt is still protecting her from having too much information. He gives her the lottery ticket telling her that she can trade with the DA the location of Hank and Gomie’s bodies, and tells her that is where the Nazis stole their money and buried her brother-in-law.
Walt starts to say goodbye and the weary Skyler tells him she doesn’t want to hear that everything he did was for the family again. His family is in ruins, so she has a point. For the first time, Walt acknowledges that this wasn’t for his family, it was for him.
Walt wants to see Holly before he goes. He strokes her sweet little curly head as she sleeps. How do you say good bye to your child knowing that she’ll never have any authentic memories of you, just what people will say (and knowing nothing they say will be admiring)? Skyler looks at him with love still in her eyes, amazingly. For that brief moment, you can see her mentally going back to the time when they were a family, together and united. It’s hard to not get broken up and teary. Walt leaves without another word or touch. But you know the connection is still there.
The watchers watch Flynn get off the bus and head home. Walt watches from outside the house as well, careful to not be seen by his son or the watchers. Can I just point out that the Albuquerque police appear to be as adept as the Miami Metro police? How can a wanted man walk around the home of his wife and children that they’re monitoring without them noticing? Walt then walks away, his image becoming less and less focused as he moves away. That was his proper good bye to his son, giving him the space he needed, but making sure he was safe in the bosom of loved ones. As a parent, that hits you in the gut.
Walt is waiting at the Nazis’ lab for them to open the gate. One gets in (to make sure there’s no funny business?) and directs him to the “clubhouse”. Walt plays dumb to not park straight in as the Nazi wanted. They pat him down and find only a wallet and the keys. One of them wants him to lift up his shirt to prove he’s not wearing a wire (not the smartest folk, these Nazis). They refuse to give him his keys and wallet back. Inside, Uncle Jack is impressed with Walt’s hair growth. Uncle Jack tells him they’re not interested in Walt’s new recipe, and Walt entreats Todd to explain to Jack why this is important. Instead, Todd says to Walt that he shouldn’t have come back. Walt keeps looking at his key fob. Obviously, the plan is to shoot Walt, but Jack doesn’t want the mess in his living room, so he directs the lucky gunman to take him out back.
As he is about to be led away, Walt yells that Uncle Jack betrayed him by not killing Jesse but partnering with him instead. Jackpot. Walt knows exactly what button to push to belay his execution. Offended, Jack tells Todd to go get Jesse to prove that he wouldn’t partner with a rat. Jesse shuffles in, shackled as usual (Walt uses this commotion to palm the remote) and the two of them just stare at each other. Jesse is a wounded animal that Jack is proud of torturing and Walt is a broken shell of Heisenberg. The tension is brutal.
Anachronistically, one of the Nazis is mellowing out in a massage chair. Everyone copes with stress in their own way.
The tension finally breaks with Walt attacking Jesse, knocking him down on the floor. Walt then hits the remote and the contraption he made pops out of the trunk of his car, and it starts shooting bullets at the building, mowing down everyone, except Todd (who was pulling Walt off Jesse), Walt and Jesse. The rain of bullets seem endless. When it finally does end, Todd pulls himself up, crawls over the bodies of his cousins, looks out the window and sees Walt’s machine, still rotating back and forth. Suddenly, Jesse wraps his chains around his neck and strangles Todd. My god, you can actually hear his neck snap.
Uncle Jack is not quite dead yet. He’s hit, but still moving as Jesse is wrestling around the floor with Todd. Walt walks over and grabs a gun, pointing it at Jack. As Jesse savors this sweet vengeance (probably the only murder that Jesse will never regret), Jack sits up and lights a cigarette. He tells Walt that if he shoots him, he’ll never find out where his money is. The sentence is hardly out of his mouth when Walt unceremoniously shoots him in the head, his blood splattering on the screen.
And then there were two. Jesse looks at Walt with the gun, unsure what Walt’s next move will be after this total Heisenberg ambush. Walt puts the gun on the floor and kicks it to Jesse, who picks it up and points it at Walt. Walt tells him to go ahead and do it. Jesse yells that he wants to hear Walt say it, to say he wants it. He looks down and sees a bloody stain on Walt's jacket and shirt. Walter whispers, “I want this.”
Jesse waits for a beat and then drops the gun.
Given how much Jesse has beaten himself over the murder of Gale Boetticher, this seems a wise move. No matter how angry he is, I can’t see Jesse getting over killing his quasi-father figure in Mr. White.
“Lydia the Tattooed Lady” is Todd’s ringtone for Lydia. Walt reaches into Todd’s pocket and retrieves the phone. Lydia wants to know if it’s over and Walt tells her it is. That’s when Lydia realizes her organization skills may have failed her. Walt’s alive and it’s all over? Yup, you backed the wrong horse, Lydia. But then Walt deals the final blow.
Lydia got the ricin in the stevia. That's what she gets for being so rigidly scheduled. We see her in bed, looking worse for wear. But that’s no trifling cold. I don’t think that humidifier is going to help her now. A fitting end for the risk-averse sociopath.
It’s back to the two of them again. Walt and Jesse look at each other, no words adequate for what they have gone through. Jesse nods, gets into a car and speeds away, blowing past the gates of the compound, hysterically crying and laughing at the same time. He’s free, from the Nazis and from Walt. I don’t think he’ll stop racing until he runs out of gas or hits Alaska, whichever comes first. Okay, maybe he goes gets Brock first. Jonathan Banks on “Talking Bad” insisted that will be Jesse’s first stop.
In the quiet aftermath, Walt looks down and realizes there’s blood on his shirt. Did he not realize he’d been hit until then? He’s inadvertently killed himself protecting Jesse. I like that. There’s a sweet justice in that. He walks to the lab. As the opening bars of “Baby Blue” by Badfinger play, Walt looks nostalgically at the lab equipment as we see police cars race up. And then he collapses, leaving a bloody handprint on one of the giant vats. The final shot is the camera flying up higher and higher as he lies on the floor with a slight smile on his face as the police swarm the lab.
- I want to thank all of you for your shares and participation in these recaps/reviews. I’ve averaged about 4,000 words per episode and that’s a lot of writing and a very long day after a morning full of Sunday shows. But it’s been gratifying to see the response. I’m taking a short break from reviews, but if there are any broadcast shows that you’d like to see C&L review, please let us know. The networks are premiering their new line-ups now, so this is a good time to evaluate what shows you’d like to see us follow. The Walking Dead will be returning October 13th and Amato will be following that.
- If you’re not ready to be completely done with Breaking Bad, I hadn’t mentioned it before, but the official podcasts have been a revelation of backstory and information about the episodes. One of the oddest things I’ve learned from last week’s show was that one of the film canisters was actually run over by an airplane and the scene where Walt calls Flynn at school had to be reshot. Cranston: “Sometimes you got to suck it up and do it.”
- You kooky BB fans. As it turned out, the phone number of disappearer Ed on the front of his vacuum cleaner repair store is a real one and people have been calling it to find Robert Forster’s voice on the voicemail. That was a real vacuum cleaner store used too. No truth to the rumor that Saul is still hanging out in the basement.
- More proof that Aaron Paul is a stand up kind of guy. Hope the fans watching the finale with him are enjoying his generosity.
- I’ve raved on and on about the camera work and direction of Breaking Bad—I would love to take a class analyzing the series on a technical and writing level, I would imagine that it would change the way I write and watch TV—and AV Club has done one of their “film school” analysis of the cold open of Season 5, Episode 9 to really break down how brilliant the filmmakers have been.
- Fun fact: Vince Gilligan admitted on Talking Bad that the reason that they had Walt remove his watch and leave it at the gas station was that he wasn’t wearing it when they filmed the 52nd birthday breakfast at the diner and needed to establish the continuity. That’s a serious commitment to details.
- I don’t know who is responsible for this, but I ran across the comprehensive Breaking Bad playlist on Twitter this afternoon. Impressive work.
Farewell to Breaking Bad: