End of Watch: Breaking Bad – “Felina” (Season 5, Episode 16)

I usually spend my opening paragraph hailing the wonders of the technical crew for Breaking Bad — they deserve it — but now it’s time to pay homage to the man that made it all possible: Vince Gilligan. Vince spent his early years as a writer (and later executive producer) for The X-Files. His next big thing after that became Breaking Bad. He’s written thirteen episodes, including “Full Measure”, “Box Cutter”, “Face Off”, and “Felina” — this series finale. Gilligan had effectively re-imagined the network television series. Before, an executive producer fought for ratings to a single end: staying on the air. Breaking Bad, though, declared its expiration date at the beginning, deciding its own fate. Before, only a miniseries would have the comforting assurance of a decided story. Gilligan, though, had provided himself the same comfort by deciding what would happen at the beginning — not scrambling for story every year he got picked up for another season. After Breaking Bad, I hope we see networks willing to pick-up and let-go shows after only a few seasons. Vince Gilligan, we here at Tonight’s Watch salute you.

“Felina” begins with a scene I never thought I would see: Walt prays. He pleads with God, Buddha, or whatever deity he believes in, “Just get me home. I’ll do the rest.” The unsettling request just might have been answered because Walt manages to make it home. We have to assume Walt has come to settle all scores. Gretchen and Elliot can often be considered the highest ‘score’, as they are thought as of the root of Walt’s significance issues. Man, are they gonna get it. And by ‘it’, I mean all of his remaining funds. It turns out Walt has discovered how to gift his money to his son: through charity. Gretchen and Elliot would gift Walt’s money to Walt Jr. on his eighteenth birthday, and no one would be the wiser. Of course, being mortally frightened by Walt, the couple agree. Just as it seemed as though Walt can be a decent human being, he has “two of the best hit men in the world” train their laser sights on their chest. Just in case. As it turns out, those laser sights belong to — not the most lethal assassins on this globe, but — Badger and Skinny Pete holding laser pointers. I’m glad we got to see those two one last time.

Jesse is now a master craftsman, living a rich and vivid hallucination brought on by months of being locked up. Jesse’s craft is not wood, but meth. In reality, Jesse has become a walking corpse, a shell of a man, barely animated by his single hope of escape.

Since the mid-season premiere, I’ve heard three theories about the ricin Walt retrieves from his home. The first, and more popular, theory had Walt saving the ricin for Lydia, as a way of tying up a loose end; the second theory had Walt taking the poison himself — a sort of shortcut towards his inevitable end; the final theory hypothesized the ricin would be used on Jesse, ending the feud. I found myself contemplating the options while Walt sat four feet away from Lydia’s meeting with Todd. That’s a pretty brave move, sitting within earshot from two people who want him dead, and he only ups the ante by pulling up a chair. After displaying a fair amount of gusto, he continues to tell a lie so convincing I almost believe it myself, despite knowing better: how do you make Meth without the Methylamine, like Walt proposes? Whatever the case it looks like has a plan–that begins with poisoning Lydia’s Stevia. Chalk up a point to scenario one theorists.

Walt’s next stop is Skyler’s apartment. He’s righting all of his wrongs; checking off the list. Walt finally admits to Skyler, and himself, “I did it for me”: the meth cooking, the killing, every bad thing Walt did was for Walt, not for his family. And who could blame him? He got the fulfillment every man desires — he likes it, he’s good at it, and it made him feel alive.

Walt arrives at his meeting with Todd and his uncle, where Walt is scheduled to be executed. After a tense conversation about how Walt is doomed, they invite Jesse to join them (once again due to Walt’s unadulterated brilliance), where Walt jumps on Jesse and unleashes a full load of fifty caliber bullets onto the building, fired from a jury-rigged machine gun in the trunk of his car, ripping through everyone with body mass three feet or more off of the ground. That leaves three: Jesse, Walt, and Todd. Todd, almost unfazed by the whole thing, looks towards the window — and Jesse strangles him to death. Todd deserved no better, but I was still sad to see him go. Walt offers gun to Jesse so he can claim revenge for everything Walt has put him through. Jesse has quenched his bloodthirst, though, and tears out of captivity into whatever fate his freedom holds.

If Jesse won’t kill him though, how will Walt die? Unfortunately (or fortunately), Walt was hit by a ricochet bullet (somehow) in a vital organ (presumably) and is slowly bleeding out. Walt opts to spend his last moments with his true love: the chemistry equipment. As he collapses and dies, the camera, placed overhead, pulls out and we hear an upbeat blues ballad.

As far as endings go, Breaking Bad does not disappoint, like some other series have. Most of the important questions were addressed, loose ends were tied, and the audience was satisfied. The real question, though, is “does Walt deserve this?”. Up until the final two episodes, Walt had been utterly despicable. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with the ‘dying man’s retribution’ I witnessed in Walt’s final days. Scarface, an oft-referenced inspiration for Walter White, left the world madly screaming obscenities — not repenting for his sins. Walt’s moment of clarity came too late in the season for my taste, causing an unbelievable reversal in character. It is feasible to believe imminent death could be a cause for radical personal change, but Walt had felt The Reaper’s scythe on his jugular more than once. It’s more likely Walt had resigned himself to making reparations after his son asked him to quietly expire.

Overall I enjoyed the finale, but Walt’s fall fell short of what our morality should expect for an anti-hero of his magnitude. Cruelty had always been a byproduct of pragmatism for Walt, does he truly deserve to slip sweetly into his goodnight? Or was Hank right to expect him to fry in the chair?

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