One of my favorite season finales of all time was the end of Breaking Bad
fourth season. The Gus Fring story ended in a glorious reality-bending shot, and Walt had apparently reached his moral low in achieving that victory. While I think that episode still tops my personal best-of list, this series finale arguably accomplishes even more: the story circles back on itself perfectly, everything is out in the open and it ends the era of what might be an even better villain than Gus: Walter White himself.
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Walter White Comes Home
As we rejoin Walt for the last time, he's dodging cops on his way back to New Mexico. Posing as a New York Times reporter, he acquires Gretchen and Elliot's address and stops at their enormous home. He manages to enter undetected, entreating the pair to accompany him to his car for a gift.
I never quite bought the idea that Walt was coming to murder them in cold blood, so I'm pleased to see how his visit shakes out: Walt places the majority of his millions on their living room table, and instructs them to put it in a charitable trust for Walter, Jr. -- he seals the deal by recruiting Badger and Skinny Pete to pose as snipers by shining laser pointers at them. In the end, it seems, Walt is accomplishing what he set out to do all along -- his children will get his money, after all.
Jesse, meanwhile, is still slaving away in Todd's meth lab -- his mind is on that beautiful box he once made in school, but his body is woefully bound to a cable in the basement drug factory of a psychotic Nazi boy. Walt surmises that Jesse must still be alive, since the blue meth is circulating, and catches up with Lydia to offer a phony new cooking method for when the Methylamine runs out. She's unimpressed with his new raggedy appearance and air of desperation, and sics Todd on him -- little does she know that Walt has slipped ricin in with her artificial sweetener.
Before launching his final assault, Walt meets up with Skyler one last time. He gives her the coordinates to where Hank is buried so that she can offer information to the investigators, and he admits to her what we've known all along: "I did it for me," he says of his criminal career. "I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really ... I was alive." He then says goodbye to his sleeping daughter one last time, stroking her now-full head of hair. It's the most emotional scene of the night, as he realizes what he's missed and, more important, what he's going to miss.
When Walt finally meets up with the Nazis, his welcome isn't particularly warm. They're not interested in any new cooking method he might have and quickly put a gun to his head. As they're dragging him off to be shot, however, Walt manages to insult Jack by accusing him of partnering with Jesse Pinkman. Jack brings the beleaguered meth slave in just to prove he'd never partner with a rat, and Walt tackles Jesse to the ground. At that moment, he pops the trunk of his car outside, setting off a rotating automatic weapon aimed at the house. Bullets spray everywhere, and the Nazis go down.
When the machine finally runs out of bullets, Jack is left wounded on the floor. He tries to barter the location of Walt's money for his life, but Walt is already wounded and well past caring; he shoots Jack in the head. Todd has managed to avoid the hail of gunfire, but Jesse quickly strangles him with the chain on his arms.
With just the two of them left, Walt slides the gun over to Jesse. "You want this," Walt says, and while it's true, Jesse's tired of being told what he wants. In what I believe to be his only line of the episode, Jesse tells Walt to admit that he wants something. Walt asks for death, but Jesse is through taking orders. He drives away, leaving Walt to bleed out alone as the police arrive. End series.
For the last few days, people have asked me if I was sad that Breaking Bad was coming to an end. Mostly, the answer has been no: I like having a complete story, and while an early cancellation would have been devastating, I've mostly been excited to see the series end on its own terms. That said, I'm still a little bit sad, largely because of what I feel didn't get as much closure.
To its immeasurable credit, this finale completes the story of Walter White magnificently. It was particularly brilliant to see Gretchen and Elliot figure into the story's conclusion, and it was improbably satisfying to see Walt successfully secure a legacy for his children even as he was deservedly going down in every other sense. Right to the end, his story has balanced suspense and inevitability, unfolding exactly the way we knew it would, somehow managing to shock and thrill the entire time. Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston, I salute you.
What we don't have much closure on here is Jesse, which feels a little unfair after all he's been through. This episode was almost entirely about Walt, while the show had been so much more about both of them -- after all this time, I had hoped it might lead up to a weightier final exchange.
Still, I find myself conflicted on that objection. There's a lot going on in their minimal interaction, and based on what we've seen from Jesse, I suppose we got as much of his story as we needed. We know that millions of dollars didn't make him happy, and we know that the inertia of despair was eating away at him. What he has now is a very real appreciation of life outside the lab, and he's quite literally got a lot of momentum behind him as he crashes out of the Nazi compound. I imagine better things for him, anyway, and I guess that's the best he gets.
Ultimately, the series finale probably tied up just the right amount of loose ends -- I'd stop short of calling it perfect, but maybe I want more because in spite of my best rationalizations, I'm just sad that it's over. I'll be thinking about this show and its conclusion for years to come. As a complete and finished exploration of a singularly fascinating character, Breaking Bad
has successfully cemented its place amongst the greatest TV shows ever made.
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(Image courtesy of AMC)