Breaking Bad: 5.16 - Felina
It's hard for any intro to do justice to the anticipation around this single hour of television: Felina, the last episode of Breaking Bad, brings TV's premiere midlife crisis drug tragedy to an end. Will Walt live? Will Jesse die? Will it be a tragic descent into hell, of the kind last seen in this same show two weeks ago, or can our anti-hero find some redemption before the end comes?
After he took off on a seeming revenge mission at the end of the penultimate episode, it didn't look promising, but let's give the poor old guy a chance. There will be spoilers.
It's oh so quiet...The media frenzy and the masterful build-up within the show itself brings us to this episode hopped up on adrenaline, and the Felina episode itself counters that by being a slow, deliberate, careful beast. More so than any of Walt's prior schemes, his last ones unfold slowly, the perspective rarely leaving him as he says his goodbyes and moves with unsettling calm. His stirring into action last week after watching the Schwarzes on TV wasn't revenge, it was merely the beginnings of his final idea to get the cash to his family, and the amazingly tense scene in their home as that's unveiled was a great start.
Walt's quiet, broken acceptance brings us back on his side a little - finally, the smug arrogance takes a backseat. The episode didn't explode with amazing interactions like some earlier this season, but the ones we got really counted: Walt's admittence to Skyler about why he did all this, Jesse finally telling Mister White to "do it yourself". Oh, and the brief return of Badger and Skinny P, just to stop this ending being too sombre.
His final science tricks, turning the ricin on Lydia and the machine gun on Uncle Jack's Nazis, aren't his most elaborate, or even his most unpredictable, but his newfound quiet demeanour and the knowledge that this is really the end do keep the suspense up. Did he always mean to save Jesse at the end, or originally intend to include him among his victims? Probably the second one, but that split second moment of compassion, again, lets us stop hating him for a brief while, especially after he's genuinely suffered for his sins in recent weeks.
And then, finally, Walt dies. Much like Gus in the season four finale, it was fairly obvious he was never walking out of that compound, it was just a question of how. In the end, it's probably appropriate that he died at his own hand rather than Jesse's, both for self-punishment purposes and because, hell, hasn't that kid suffered enough? He gets the happiest ending here, and this being a tragedy, where everyone gets what they deserve, it's hard to argue it.
Breaking Big - Expectation Vs RealityAfter the afore-mentioned horribly distressing Ozymandias episode two weeks ago, I found myself thinking, well, that was the big one back then, wasn't it? The emotional climax of the series, the meltdowns we'd all been waiting for, the moment Walt finally can't run from what he's become. Between the heartwrenching of that episode and the action machinations of the one before, that kinda felt like the pay-off for the whole show.
These final two episodes have been the aftermath, the "What next?". They serve that role beautifully, and the Breaking Bad team have been deservingly lauded for playing the show out in the way that best serves the story. But if you'd built up hope that Felina would be another massive, heartwrenching epic, as TV has kinda trained us to think finales should be, there might be an ebb of disappointment here.
Clearly, it's a conscious decision though. They could've let Walt die in a desperate mess at the end of Ozymandias and it would've been a good (if very grim) ending, but Vince Gilligan and co chose to let him go away, reflect and redeem himself at least a little. Fair enough. Not to mention, Breaking Bad has always been a long-form show, written more like a novel or ridiculously overlong movie than a TV series with clearly marked premieres and finales. I imagine this ending will feel totally natural when binge-watched on DVD/Netflix.
And that was Breaking Bad. All in all, to be honest, I think they nailed it. The final run of episodes has not just been a great ending but they genuinely made it one of their best and most consistent overall seasons. Now, off to watch other stuff, I suppose. This new Atlantis show looks like it might have real potential...