Spoilers for Breaking Bad’s series finale.
Throughout its five season run, Breaking Bad has expanded the boundaries of the television drama like nothing else. Creator Vince Gilligan made a world where morals fought and counteracted against each other, where justice was blind, and where a high school chemistry teacher could become a large-scale meth kingpin. Walter White, the series’ protagonist, has transformed into something inhumane, more of a monster than a man. Gilligan has long described that Walt would change from Mr. Chips to Scareface, but Walt is so vile that he makes even Tony Montana seem like Ned Flanders in comparison. Could anyone be so merciless as Walt has been, killing anyone close to him if they posed a threat? The amount of hatred and lies Walt has amounted throughout Breaking Bad’s run makes him perhaps television’s most ruthless antihero. But as cruel as Walt is, it’s hard to not sympathize with his ambitions, contributed to the series’ amazing writing and Bryan Cranston’s mighty performance. “Felina” saw Walt coming to terms with himself and his past, not denying the irrationality of his transgressions.
The past two episodes of Breaking Bad heavily led up to the finale. “Ozymandias” saw Walt’s elaborate empire fall down right before his eyes. “Granite State” featured Walt at his most vulnerable since the series’ pilot, alone and helpless in New Hampshire, slowly dying of cancer. The finale, “Felina,” centered on Walt’s return to Albuquerque and his former friends and family. The conclusion of “Granite State,” which featured Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz belittling Walt in an interview with Charlie Rose, suggested that Walt fully embraced Heisenberg; that he had become the beast that so many people claimed him to be. The episode asked the audience many questions: is Walt seeking redemption or revenge? Does Walt want forgiveness or death? Is he concerned about his family or his money? Is Walt his former self or has he completely broken bad?
With “Felina,” Gilligan answers these questions by allowing Walt to pursue all of his interests. Walt meets Elliot and Gretchen in their house, but to ask them to give his remaining $9 million to his son in the form of a trust (while using a Heisenberg-like tactic to convince them). Walt goes to his wife and says goodbye to her and Holly, as well take a final glance of Walt Jr., who now takes the name of Flynn. But Walt tells Skyler openly that he did what he did not for his family but himself. “I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.” Walt does not try to justify his statement: he was greedy, power-hungry, and selfish, he knows it and now admits it. Even the giant shoot-out at the end implies that Walt wasn’t simply looking forward for vengeance. He kills Jack right before he can tell him where the rest of his $81 million is, poisons Lydia with ricin instead of trying to make another deal with her, and has Jesse murder Todd, the most seemingly innocent enemy Walt has faced.
Walt is not doing what’s necessarily right, but not doing anything wrong either. Rather, he takes the blame for his crimes and tries to destroy any of the wrongdoings he has caused in his life. He cares not for himself but for others, blindly entering Jack’s hideout knowing he will die in one way or another.
Walt may have lost everything he had, but he won his war at the end. He may not be forgiven for his sins but he left the world with people still caring about him. Skyler may hate her husband, but her grim look conveyed a look of sadness. And Jesse, whose life has been nearly destroyed by Walt, can’t help but cry in pain for the loss of his partner.
As Walt lies out on the floor of Todd’s meth lab, slowly falling prey to his bullet wounds, surrounded by the police, the Badfinger’s “Baby Blues” starts playing. With its opening line “Guess I got what I deserved,” “Baby Blues” suggests that Walt isn’t unhappy with the way things turned out for him, but satisfied. The final shot, a zoom out of Walt’s motionless body, had me tearing up for a man who deserved no pity. But Vince Gilligan has proved that sometimes even the bad deserve the better. And there ends a perfect note for one of the finest accomplishments on television, if not the greatest.