The Machine Gun in the Trunk
Mark Lisanti: On a series that often hinged on a former high school teacher’s ability to fabricate tiny crystal-bombs, convert an evil invalid’s wheelchair into a rolling IED soundtracked by a tinkling bell, and improvise evidence-eradicating magnet arrays strong enough to upend a U-Haul, we were never going to get an ending where our tragically self-actualizing Mr. Chips just slung that trunk-cannon low on his hip and Scarfaced his enemies into fun-size neo-Nazi chunks. That’s not Vince Gilligan’s game. We needed a final moment of “Science, Fuck Yeah!,” even one delivered through a relatively mundane hail of M60 fire, to finish this last cook. That gun, though — there’s your quintessential Vince touch, a blunt-force instrument transformed into a fatally elegant Rube Goldberg–by-way-of–Jack Kevorkian suicide machine. Even when we saw Walt fine-tuning the mechanism out in the desert, we still couldn’t piece together exactly what was to come. There were churning metal joints, sure, and the Car Alarm Clicker of Doom, but not even this brazenly Gilliganian sneak preview prepared us for the queasily giddy sight of the gun rising from the trunk, ready to void the warranty of any massage chair unlucky enough to be in its killing radius.
And within seconds, it was all over. A button press, an electronic chirp. A compound full of freshly Shiatsu’d Aryans lay dead. Outside, the gun, having completed its mission, tacked gently back and forth, shaking its head in reproach. Silly Nazis. Always check the trunk.
It almost made that stevia thing seem quaint.
A Deeper Shade of Blue
Wesley Morris: Walt dropped in on his great loves and his great hates last night — Skyler, Gretchen, Elliott, Jesse, the son formerly known as Walter Jr. — 75 minutes culminated with Walt in a meth lab, wistfully, pridefully caressing a gas mask. We didn’t see Heisenberg’s greatest hit, but we didn’t have to. Its ghost was inescapable — in the antifreeze blue at the top of Walt’s windshield, in the azure of the open New Mexico sky. It was in the pay phone Walt used when he pretended he worked for the New York Times, in Todd’s shirt, the back of a parked car, and in the last sweater you’d ever expect to see on Uncle Jack. “I did it for me,” Walt says to Skyler about the chemical monster he concocted. Last night’s finale (the official, cryptogrammic title was “Felina”) contained trace amounts everywhere.
Steven Hyden: Badfinger was a British rock band that signed with Apple Records in 1968 and was best known for the hits “Come and Get It” (written by Paul McCartney), “Day After Day” (produced by George Harrison), and “No Matter What” (produced by Mal Evans, the Beatles’ ex-road manager). For a few years, Badfinger was basically the closest thing to the Beatles after the Beatles broke up. Later, in 1975, Badfinger’s “Paul” — guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Ham — hung himself in the midst of legal troubles stemming from incompetent business management. Then, in 1983 — after Ham’s bandmates tried (and failed) for years to revive their brief period of fame — Badfinger’s “John,” Tom Evans, also committed suicide via hanging. Since then, bassist Joey Molland has toured off and on as Badfinger (or Badfinger featuring Joey Molland), while the group’s biggest hits have remained staples on a dwindling number of oldies stations.
Ultimately, what separated Badfinger from the Beatles is what separates every band from the Beatles — talent, sure, but it also wasn’t nearly as lucky. To the contrary, Badfinger might be the most star-crossed band in rock history. But last night, when Ham’s song “Baby Blue” from 1971’s wonderful Straight Up scored the final scene of Breaking Bad, Badfinger somehow scrounged up a little good fortune and once again aligned briefly with the zeitgeist. How fitting that Vince Gilligan found the one band whose story is more tragic than Walter White’s.
The Circle of Life
Zach Dionne: Jesse came hard with the callbacks last night, first channeling Walt’s initial cold-blooded murder-via-unorthodox-method:
Then outgrowing his primal scream machine of choice, the go-kart, in favor of a grown-man car:
Musical Interlude: Marty Robbins, “El Paso”
Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Night-time would find me in Rosa’s cantina
Music would play and Felina would whirl
Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina
Wicked and evil while casting a spell
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden
I was in love but in vain, I could tell
One night a wild young cowboy came in
Wild as the West Texas wind
Dashing and daring
A drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina
The girl that I loved.
Emily Yoshida: I tried not to look at Twitter last night because I find second-screen experiences outside of awards shows and Bachelor finales to be deflating and counterproductive, but after I was pretty sure how I felt about the finale, I hopped on to see if anyone was yelling about anything interesting. One popular joke seemed to be the all-too-perfect apparent seamlessness between Jesse’s final, tearful drive off the Nazi compound and the Need for Speed trailer. We know that the Breaking Bad spin-off will be Saul-centric and most likely Pinkman-less, but superficially it seemed like such a good setup for a big, over-the-top revenge fantasy, had we not just watched Walter White enact his own (and also kill everyone that Jesse would have had on his hit list). I also happened to stay tuned to my first and last episode of Talking Bad to see what Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul had to say about the finale, and I love Paul as much as the next gal, but this only reinforced my general distrust of what actors have to say about their work. Paul saw his character’s resolution as a “victory” and used the word “freedom” a couple of times. This, coupled with the idea of Jesse blowing up cars and avenging his loved ones, all seemed almost comically at odds with what I had just witnessed: a horrendously broken man with no resources and no loved ones to reunite with except for the orphaned child of his girlfriend whose death he undoubtedly feels fully responsible for.
Walt got a tidy ending, but Jesse is fucked for life. If he seemed hollow and joyless hanging with Skinny Pete and Badger again in Season 3 post-rehab and mid-Jane grief, what is left of him now? He’s been kept on a leash in a cage as a meth slave for as long as it took for his hair to grow out to limp, greasy, heretofore unseen lengths; he’s witnessed more carnage than many war veterans. I know many people don’t view the characters in Breaking Bad as people the same way they do the characters in, say, Mad Men, but I’m the opposite: Jesse Pinkman has always been realer to me than Peggy Olson; I’m sorry, we all have opinions — that is mine and I’m stickin’ to it. I take him too seriously as a human being to believe that a happy, normal life is waiting for him on the other side of that fence. He’s free of Todd’s tether, but not the trauma of every White-catalyzed disaster he has faced. Maybe he can reconcile with his parents and sleep some of this off under the clean sheets of a guest bed. If not, he’s always got the warm glow of his Heavenly Wood Shop, like a meth-addled Little Match Girl. Of course, we all know what ends up happening to Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic heroine. She dies on the streets in her sleep.
Sean Fennessey: After the moral resolution, Walter White had to kill some Nazis. After the moral resolution, Walter White had to kill Gus Fring. After the moral resolution, Walter White had to kill Tuco Salamanca. After the moral resolution, Walter White had to kill Krazy 8. Breaking Bad was a video game, a series of escalating levels, and Walter White was Megaman. Life was Dr. Wily, always changing the plan, always presenting a new foe seemingly designed in a lab. Now, Vince Gilligan’s television show feels somehow less complex, less wrought with consequences, and with fewer questions about life’s choices. Walter see villain, Walter kill villain. Next. It’s not that last night’s finale was too clean, too resolved, a well-tied bow — this show’s been all bows. The solution was always termination. Like many criminals, it was Walt’s only option. It’s part of what makes criminals turn to crime in the first place — the end of options, the turn to force. Is that satisfying? It depends on why you watch television (and play video games), I suppose. Are you seeking a satisfying conclusion the way you might complete missions on Grand Theft Auto, or do you like mindlessly killing cops in the streets for hours? Or perhaps you enjoy wandering the landscape, trapped in the existential nothingness of virtual experience. Maybe we all need a new hobby.
“Did you ever get sexually excited? Be honest.”
—On Talking Bad, Jimmy Kimmel asks Aaron Paul how it really felt to kill Todd.
John Lopez: When I originally took my “calling it” guess for the ending in Episode 511’s precap, honestly, I was taking a shot in the dark. Yes, pride had me primed to gloat if I nailed it, but then, literally just before “Felina” started, I took an honest Walt-fessing-up-to-Skyler look at myself and said to my girlfriend, “I have no idea how this will end.” So now that it’s over, I can’t gloat. I guessed, but I didn’t know. I tried to predict it, but I didn’t believe it could happen. I wanted this ending so badly, and yet I had no faith that we were going to get it.
Which is to say: That’s how you end a story. Vince and Friends played me like a broken pinball machine and, man, did I love it. What does it mean, exactly: Did good or evil take the day? Am I a bad person for relishing the first-rate sound effects of Jesse taking the Final Choke Chain to Todd? And what stoner-brilliant scripts will Badger and Skinny Pete write with their new laser-pointer fellowships?
Who knows — but as far as great TV goes, the bar just got reset astronomically high. And for that, as well as a 99 percent–pure show that induced meth-like euphoria to the very end, I am grateful to the Breaking Bad familia.
Sometimes It Was Too Real
netw3rk: More than anything, I guess I feel relief. Breaking Bad is over, and it went out in a deeply satisfying orgy of top-shelf fan service. The pleasure I took in Jesse’s rage-garroting of Todd was … well, perhaps the less said about that the better, but I feel whole and I feel relief.
What I’ll remember most about Breaking Bad is the fights. The way they were choreographed and shot, the sloppiness, and their realistic simulations of anger and physical violence, often in domestic settings. Living rooms, hallways, kitchens, bedrooms.
When I was, like, 13, I saw my friend Matt get the shit kicked out of him by his meathead biker of a dad. We were up in Matt’s bedroom playing Castlevania, Matt’s dad yelled up something that I can’t quite recall, Matt mouthed off something in response, and Matt’s dad came through — literally through — the door, busting it off its hinges, and proceeded to pummel Matt. Watching Walt and Jesse fight in previous seasons, and Walt and Skyler’s “Ozymandias” knife fight, all made me feel awful on a much, much, much smaller scale than seeing Matt get beat up by his dad, but in the exact same kind of way. You don’t want to watch this, two people you feel you know because you’ve been in their home for years, and now here they are rolling around on the floor, knocking over furniture, picture frames falling off the television.
Here’s hoping the next hit cable show is something about little kids who find a rainbow forest filled with magical unicorns where everyone lives forever and ever in complete Jack Johnson–like tranquility.
“I Was Good at It.”
Dan Fierman: Breaking Bad doesn’t traffic in reality. It traffics in Hitchcockian nightmares and American desperation. It shows us absurdly overplanned train robberies. Babies hastily kidnapped and safely ditched at fire stations. Superlabs hidden under dry cleaning joints in the desert and neo-Nazis happy to part with $10 million because … well, because. It gives us dudes who look like Robert Forster who drive rusty vans and can make supervillains disappear at the drop of a porkpie hat.
This is not a criticism. Give me a great Robert Parker story over some Annie Proulx shit any day. It’s just to say that one should never forget that the model here — explicitly stated from the jump — is Scarface.
I am of the minority opinion that Breaking Bad is not one of the greatest shows of all time because of this. But this moment in that crappy apartment bought with taxi dispatch money? Walt’s moment of honesty about his motives with Skyler? That was the exception. That was the critical second of actual insight into the human condition. Our worst moments are born of pure selfishness. We do what makes us feel good — especially the things that make us feel powerful and competent and above the muck and helplessness that we all experience. So much of human failure and weakness has its root in this — the desire to feel strong, to feel valued, to have our place in the world confirmed.
To be the one who knocks.
Dan Silver: The wound is still fresh, and thoughts will be coalescing for hours, if not days. But when scrolling back through my memory of this fine finale, my gut is telling me the scene I’m going to remember most was all due to a well-placed load-bearing pillar in Skyler’s kitchen. The subdued implementation of a simple wide-angle lens, a pan across a room, and a slight dolly-in to reveal a stoic Walter was a stark difference from the often hyperkinetic visuals showcased through the show’s run. Those elements, combined with the clever Skyler-Marie bait-and-switch phone call, made it almost hard to believe that Walt was really in the room. It was like the physical manifestation of the ghost that had been haunting his family since he skipped town. It wasn’t until Skyler spoke to Walt, and he answered, that I knew he was real.
Although tense, muted, and minimal, the back-and-forth between Walt and Skyler was the most honest we’d seen this couple since … well, I can’t recall a moment more open. It was a raw, emotional cleanse for both characters and for the audience, one that prepared us for the events to come: Skyler, holding that lottery ticket, moving on to whatever the next stage of her life was going to be. And for Walt and the audience, moving on to his — and the show’s — ending.
But Gilligan Admitted That Great Shot of Skyler Reflected in the Microwave Happened by Luck
As revealed on Talking Bad, his editor pointed it out and everyone was all, “Wow! Nice job!”
Finale As Therapy
Mallory Rubin: The wait before the finale of a beloved show is usually filled with anxiety and want. Will every question be answered? Will all of the characters make it out alive? Will this be a memorable end?
But not with Breaking Bad. On the whole, viewers who spent five seasons watching Walt undergo a transformation as stark as methylamine’s conversion into meth had enough collective faith in Vince Gilligan to know those answers: “Yes,” “God no,” and “Of course.” We mostly wondered one thing: Would there be closure?
And there was, for the viewers and the characters alike. Some people might say this finale failed to match the feverish pace of the rest of Season 5, that, despite a spray of bullets for the cinematic ages, this conclusion felt tame. They’re not wrong to make that observation, but they are wrong to think it matters.
What matters is that Marie can now find Hank’s body. What matters is that Skyler no longer has to worry about masked men coming into her home at night, and that she got Walt to finally admit he did this all for himself, not for his family. What matters is that Jesse is living free, that he got the pleasure of hearing Walt say what he needed Jesse to do, and that he got to choke the breath out of Todd’s body with the same manacles that had robbed Jesse of his life and love. What matters is that Skinny Pete and Badger are still as ridiculously awesome as ever. What matters is that Walt got to use his ricin, look into his wife’s eyes, and lay a hand on his baby daughter’s head.
In the wake of “Ozymandias,” Breaking Bad fans started joking about needing therapy. Only it wasn’t a joke — not really. Watching this show over the years has been like pouring our hearts into a set of glass tubes and pipes — sometimes we came out tasting like the best coffee ever, other times we came out missing our blue coloring, but we were always transformed. And when a show has that impact on its viewers, finding closure is the most important thing.
With “Felina,” Walt got the bullet he wanted, and we got the therapy we needed.