Growth, Decay, Transformation: “Felina” Wraps Up “Breaking Bad”
Confession time: I am a recent Breaking Bad bandwagoner. I mean, it’s barely been a year since I started watching. I popped in season one mid-June of 2012 and barreled through the whole thing just in time for the season five (first half) premiere. When the first couple of seasons aired, I had some interest, but not enough to seek out a download link. I think I even vaguely remember being annoyed that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul beat out a few Lost actors at the 2010 Emmys, which seems a little bizarre to me now. I want to go back in time and tell myself, “WATCH IT. You will learn, child.”
So it’s only been a year, but it feels like many more. After the pilot, I knew there was no going back. This show has absolutely consumed me since then. I’ve been nervous for the finale ever since, not due to a lack of faith in Gilligan & Co., but because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet. While “Felina” was utterly nerve-wracking, a fingernail-destroyer of an episode, it did leave us with some solace. When was the last time we thought that about anything on Breaking Bad? It was the perfect end to a perfect show that never dipped or even approached a downhill slope.
The episode title guaranteed us three things: blood (iron, Fe), meth (lithium, Li), and tears (sodium, Na). A simple, straightforward formula that really could be the overarching theme of the show as a whole, but nothing else was needed. Walt’s death was inevitable, so Gilligan got in, got out, and got it done, but not before tying up every remaining loose end. He even gets continuations of almost every flashforward: leaving Denny’s, retrieving the ricin coupled with a particularly painful flashback to Hank prodding Walt to inject a little more excitement into his life from the pilot. Nothing was extravagant, save for a few masterful cinematography moments – the reveal of Walt behind the pillar in Skyler’s kitchen comes to mind.
Gilligan’s approach mirrors Walt’s throughout the episode. Walt knows he doesn’t have much time to accomplish what he needs to get done, pleading “Just let me get home” as police cars approach and eventually leave the snow-covered, stolen Volvo. Once he gets back to New Mexico, posing as a New York Times reporter, he confirms Gretchen and Elliot’s address with an assistant at a payphone, on top of which he leaves the watch Jesse gave him for his last birthday.
He gets to their home and sneaks around, literally standing in the next room completely unbeknownst to them. But of course he doesn’t kill them; he only fools them into thinking he will if they don’t pass along $9.72 million to Flynn on his 18th birthday. His faux-sniper scare tactic (assisted by the dearly missed Badger and Skinny Pete) works perfectly on them, right down to his calculated “Pow!” at the end of his speech. It’s something that would never work on someone like Gus or Jack or Mike, but for a sheltered, upper class couple, it was the ideal move.
Next was Lydia, who got ricin just like he initially intended. He slipped it into a Stevia packet, the only one on the table. He knew where she sat, when she’d be there, and what she’d order. It was a foolproof plan. He also used this as an in with Jack. He claimed to have some sort of alternative to methylamine, which they were running out of. They agreed to a meeting, but Lydia planned on using it to take out Walt.
Walt’s final stop before his visit with Jack is, of course, to his family’s new home. Skyler, smoking, receives a phone call from Marie warning her that Walt’s in town. She seems totally disinterested, but that’s because she already knows; he’s standing right in front of her. Walt, fittingly clad in his typical season one uniform – khaki pants, modest green button-down, beige jacket – just wants five minutes. He offers her the lottery ticket containing the coordinates of Hank and Gomie’s bodies to use as a bargaining chip with a prosecutor. A column separates them during their conversation, a familiar Gilligan tactic. In this scene, Walt finally admits something we (and Skyler) have known for the last few seasons: at a certain point, he stopped cooking for his family. “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was really – I was alive.” He’s letting it all out during this “proper goodbye,” completely genuine and unselfish for the first time in who knows how long. In a seriously heartbreaking scene, he says goodbye to Holly and watches Flynn through the windows of a neighboring home, all while a police vehicle sits outside, completely unaware of his presence. The law so close to Heisenberg without any clue? Sounds familiar.
Finally, Walt gets to the compound. One of Jack’s guys tells him to park, but Walt goes where he wants. He outfitted his car with some kind of rotating machine gun death trap, and it needs to be in the right position to work. They take his keys – the remote to get this show on the road – and they sit on a pool table, light shining down on them. Coming in, Walt assumed Jesse was willingly working with Jack, adding his former partner to the list of people he wanted dead. After promising to kill Walt, Jack brings Jesse in, and Walt realizes he’s wrong. He’s scarred, bruised, and shackled. They both look like complete and utter shit. This is what their lives have come to.
Walt knows he has to get his keys back, so he slides his hand back, remarkably unseen, and picks them up. Almost on cue, he tackles Jesse and hits the button, protecting him from fire. All of Jack’s men are killed. He and Todd survived, though Jesse and Walt quickly change that. Jesse chokes Todd using his chains, and Walt cleanly gets rid of Jack via a bullet to the head. For Jesse, it’s Walt’s turn now. Walt slides the gun towards Jesse who points it towards him but doesn’t pull the trigger. Walt already has a bloody bullet wound, and Jesse wants him to do it himself. The two leave and Lydia, visibly sick, calls Todd, curious as to whether or not “it” was “done.” Walt answers and assures her that yes, “He’s gone. They’re all gone.” and she knows. He also informs her that he slipped her ricin, explaining her flu-like symptoms and leaving her to accept her rapidly approaching death. Jesse gets in his car, but not before exchanging a curt nod with Walt, his former mentor, his former partner. We saw Jesse daydreaming about a woodworking project, his passion in high school, earlier in the episode. Driving away, he’s finally happy again. We don’t know where he’s headed and neither does he, but he’s free from his literal and figurative chains, free from Walt, free from this life. As he departs into his next life, so does Walt. He examines the lab, running his bloody hands along the equipment he knows so well. “Baby Blue” by Badfinger kicks in, starting with the line “Guess I got what I deserved.” The cops pull up. Walt is dead, fittingly killed by one of his own grand complex creations; we could have seen this coming.
He turned on the Heisenberg when he needed to – with Gretchen and Elliot, Lydia, Jack; while crafting his machine – but this time, it was Walt posing as Heisenberg rather than Heisenberg posing as Walt. His coughing fits in the middle of threatening lives and outsmarting his opponents were reminiscent of the Heisenberg of season one, just as he was starting to feel out and come into his new role. There was still a sense of mortality that eventually disappeared, but it returned in “Felina.” His sickness, his isolation, and his impending death allowed him to really reflect on the last year or so, and he finally realized just how far out of reach he allowed this to get. The fabled “Mr. Chips to Scarface” transition was complete, with a little bit of deterioration, some Godfather Part III-era Michael Corleone, thrown in at the end. It’s the cycle, just as Mr. White explained to countless chemistry classes over his career: growth, decay, transformation. Turns out, it applies to people, too.
Posted on September 30, 2013, in AMC, Cable, Drama and tagged Aaron Paul, amc, breaking bad, Bryan Cranston, Elliott Schwartz, Felina, Flynn White, Gretchen Schwartz, Gus Fring, Hank Schrader, Jesse Pinkman, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, Marie Schrader, Mike Ehrmantraut, Skyler White, Steve Gomez, Todd Alquist, Walter White. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.