“I did it for me.”
After Walter White utters these words, the rest of “Felina,” the final episode of Breaking Bad, almost doesn’t matter. It’s a definitive punctuation mark, the ultimate silencer to the creepy paternalistic Walter fans who have grown so vocal over the last few months, and a genuine turning point for a character who long ago gave away any possibility of anything approaching redemption/ Those words, spoken to Skyler in their last moment together, are the closest thing to kind words he can offer. After two years of betrayal, abuse, and lies, he finally admits what anyone with eyes has always known, and it may actually help Skyler attain some level of peace to hear him acknowledge it. It’s a far more significant character moment than leaving the remaining money behind in secret.
After “Ozymandias” aired, Vince Gilligan stated that it was the best episode they’d done – or would ever do. He wasn’t being falsely modest about the remaining episodes, as it turns out; a rewatch is necessary to assess the former claim, but it’s certainly true that neither “Granite State” nor “Felina” can match that episode for intensity or wrenching drama. Instead, “Felina” opts for a series of payoffs that favor symmetry and logic over shock value, and the result is satisfying but surprisingly safe, especially for a series as prone to risk-taking as this one. While that may disappoint the easter-egg / trainspotting contingent of the fanbase, there’s no denying that “Felina” delivers more or less every character and plot beat needed to bring the series to a fitting, rewarding conclusion.
The major downfall of the last two seasons has been the lack of focus on Jesse, who before then was the series’ beating heart and (relative) conscience, a role that has since shifted to Skyler, much to the dismay of misogynists everywhere. “Felina” doesn’t do a lot to correct this, but Jesse’s final moments on the series might well be the most powerful of the episode. After taking his sweet, brutal revenge on Todd, a profoundly broken, physically unrecognizable Jesse speeds off into the night, laughing and crying and screaming, with no discernible future to speak of. The door was theoretically left open for Jesse to find Brock and start anew, but given what he’s been through and the things he’s done, that sort of rosy outcome would have been a cop-out; The only path that makes sense for him now is a quick one towards oblivion.
If anything is surprising about “Felina,” it’s the degree to which Walt is able to go out on his exact terms; it’s tempting to imagine a scenario that truly humbled Walt, thereby amplifying the series’ function as a tragedy. None of that, as it turns out: Walt is able to dispatch his enemies (with one last crazy handful of nothin’, of course), get one last moment with Holly, terrify his former business partners, poison Lydia, and generally underline that he was a true artist of criminality, all perfectly according to plan. That element that used to drive Breaking Bad to its most crystalline moments of brilliance – chaos – is entirely absent here. Gilligan even lets the final moments play out as a kind of triumph – a word Gilligan used to describe the finale back when the season began – by setting the last scene to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” (If you want real tragedy, incidentally, look up their story sometime.) “Guess I got what I deserved,” the song goes, and it’s all at once cornily on-the-nose, clever, and poignant. The full picture has only just been revealed to us, and only a consideration of the series as a whole will answer whether or not the series holds together as cohesively as one would hope, but “Felina” gets the broad strokes right, and that’s a fair sight better than most. At the very least, it was a generous wellspring of incredible characters, performances, and moments, all rendered with cinematic precision and daring. There has never been and never will be such a thing as a perfect TV series; there are simply too many variables at play. We must simply make do with plain old greatness, and Gilligan and his remarkable writing and directing staff achieved it with astonishing regularity. In the light of their accomplishments, the impulse to poke holes falls away feebly. All hail Breaking Bad.