Sep 302013
 

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Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry. But you’ll always be the enemy.

– Abe to Peggy (after Peggy accidentally stabs him) Mad Men, The Better Half

Okay, who had Lydia getting the ricin, the Aryan Brotherhood getting the M60 bullets, Todd getting strangled by Jesse, Jesse getting away clean, Walt dropping dead in Uncle Jack’s meth lab, Skyler cutting a deal with the feds with the help of Walt’s voluntarily-donated GPS coordinates, and Flynn getting $9 million of Gretchen-and-Elliot-laundered drug money on his 18th birthday?

You all did.

In Felina, the finale to a series that dropped one shocker after another into the closing minutes of countless episodes, the diabolical twist at the end is that there is no diabolical twist. Not this time. There’s no ambiguous final shot, no jaw-dropping last line; what you see is what you get. And what you get is an answer to the musical question (scored by Marty Robbins, the Marx Brothers, and Badfinger, no less) is: can a bad guy who used to be a good guy redeem himself in the final hours of his life — and should he even care, when he can perform one last big bad deed and go out with a bang?

As it turns out, the answer to both halves of that question is yes — sort of. You might also have guessed correctly that Robbins’ “El Paso” was going to be featured in this episode, since it’s about an outlaw who shot a romantic rival for the hand of a girl named Felina (some sources spell it Feleena), went on the run, came back for Felina because getting away with the shooting would be worthless without her at his side, even knowing that the “mounted cowboys” were going to shoot him on sight. (And “Felina,” of course, is an anagram of “Finale.”) So who, or what, is the “Felina” Walt comes back for? Skyler? Jesse? His money? His pride? No, actually, it seems to be…his kids. For real. Of course he wants to blow away the baddies (Lydia with a contaminated stevia packet, the Aryan Brothers with a contraption Walt builds to make the big-ass gun rotate back and forth). But most of all, he wants to scare Gretchen and Elliott into agreeing to put the bundles of cash Walt drops off to them into an “irrevocable trust” for Junior and pretend it’s from them. (Walt pays Badger and Skinny Pete one fat stack each to pose as $200,000 hit men, using five-dollar laser pointers as decoy weapons; for such scientifically-minded people, the Schwartzes sure are easy to fool.) And he wants to see Flynn coming home from school and to stroke Holly’s sleeping head for what he knows will be the last time because the cowboys are coming. The other stuff he could possibly have gotten someone else to do by proxy, but for this, he really had to be there, no matter the risk.

And to top it all off, he wants their mother to know that he knows how full of shit he is. Walt asks for five minutes of Skyler’s time, and she’s expecting another earful of horse hockey from him about how he did it all for the family, but he shocks her by admitting otherwise. “I did it for me,” he tells her. “I liked it. I was good at it…I was alive.” Then he compounds the shock by handing her the Pick 6 ticket with the GPS coordinates, and tells her to give it to the DEA and tell them that’s where Hank and Steve are buried, and it’s also where the $80 million was buried until Uncle Jack and friends stole it, and that they are the ones who shot Hank and Steve. So now Marie will get a proper burial for her husband, Skyler will get to stay out of prison, and his last words to his wife will become part of the story she passes on to her children about him. Maybe they’ll all hate him anyway, but at least now they’ll hate him for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.

When I was combing the AMC press site for a photo to use with this post, I was really hoping to find one of Jesse driving away from the Aryan Brothers’ compound a free man at last, cackling madly all the way, because even though Jesse has limited screen time in this episode, it’s about his redemption and release at least as much as it’s about Walt’s. Back in Kafkaesque (309), Jesse told his therapy/recovery group the story of being challenged by a shop teacher to make a gorgeous wooden box with inlays, one he worked for days on getting just right, and then giving the box to his mother as a gift — only to not be able to live with the congratulations his therapist gave him for doing good, and admitting that he didn’t give the box to his mom, he sold it for an ounce of weed. Now we see a dramatization of Jesse’s creation of the wooden box, the joy he got from getting good at something, only to see him jolted back into the present and how being good at something (making blue meth) has now brought him nothing but misery. He’d probably give anything now just to suck at everything. Walt doesn’t go to the compound intending to free Jesse, but to pump Jack Welker and his posse full of lead for stealing his money and “partnering with” Jesse to make blue meth instead of killing Jesse as they had agreed. But when Walt sees that Jesse is not a partner of Jack’s but a prisoner, Walt goes out of his way to save him, tackling him to the ground just as the M60 killing machine in his trunk is about to go off. Jesse’s background and personality couldn’t possibly be less like Walt’s, but they both wound up in this place for the same reason: a longing to create, to make things that people loved, that they couldn’t see any other way to achieve.

By the time Uncle Jack is taking his last breaths, Walt doesn’t care any more about getting his money back; when Jack taunts him that if Walt finishes him off, he’ll never know where the money is, Walt doesn’t hesitate to administer the last dose of ammo. And of course, Jesse has to be the one to knock off Todd, quite possibly the most pathetic mercenary one will ever see. Todd hesitates when Jack demands that he bring Jesse out to prove to Walt that Jesse is in shackles, and he’s right to; he knows that once he takes Jesse off the dog leash, he’s toast. After Jesse strangles Todd with his handcuff chain, he and Walt are the only ones left standing, and Jesse sees that Walt has been hit by one of his own bullets and probably won’t last much longer. A lesser show might have ended it right there, with Jesse thanking Walt for saving his life and the two of them exchanging platitudes about the meaning of life and death.

But of course, that’s not this show, and for Walt to redeem himself, he must give Jesse, the man he has put through a million hells, the opportunity to administer the final bullet. However, Jesse refuses to pull the trigger unless Walt tells him he wants it, and when Walt affirms that he does, Jesse still can’t bring himself to do it. “Then do it yourself,” he says, and we don’t know if Jesse’s refusal is born of being burnt out on gun violence or a desire to prolong Walt’s suffering, but he does get to overhear Walt informing Lydia (who has called Todd’s cell phone, to the tune of Groucho singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”!) that that’s not the flu she’s suffering from. Which means that now Jesse knows he’s a free man, and even if the life he gets to go back to doesn’t figure to be anything to write home about, almost anything would be better than what he’s had to experience over the last few months. When Jesse’s about to leave in a getaway El Camino that probably belongs to one of the Aryan Brothers, the two men exchange knowing glances and nothing else. They both understand they’d have been far better off if they’d never met, and Jesse even more so than Walt; no need to say anything more.

“Guess I got what I deserved” is the opening line to Felina‘s closing song, Badfinger’s 1971 power-pop classic “Baby Blue,” which plays as Walt slides to the floor bleeding out. (Too bad, now they don’t get to use that as the ending song for Mad Men. Oh well, I’m sure they’ll think of something.) In the end, Breaking Bad is a show about people getting what they deserve, albeit with quite a bit of collateral damage along the way. In other words, bad guys die, but so do others who just happen to be in the way. Marie, Skyler, Flynn, Holly, and Jesse live, but suffer incalculable losses that may or may not make the remainder of their lives, to their own minds, worth living. But at least they get a chance to find out, which Walt doesn’t.

I’m going to guess that if any BB fans have a complaint about this final chapter, it’s that it’s too morally upright, too neat, that Walt should have gotten away with it. But how could he have? He was already marked for death in the pilot by his own body; it was just a question of how and when he would die, not whether he would. “It’s easy money until we catch you,” we hear Hank say, in a flashback to the pilot, and Walt expected from the beginning that he would die before he was caught; he didn’t even want treatment for the cancer until his family put the full-court press on him. How fitting, then, that Walt would pass away to the strains of a song written and sung by Pete Ham, a man who got the very opposite of what he deserved in life; he hanged himself three years after this song fell off the charts, three days shy of age 28, spurred at least in part by exploitative business managers and agents making millions off his work while leaving him and his family penniless. Unlike Ham, whose suicide note identified his manager as “a soulless bastard, I will take him with me,” Walter White did, at least, get to leave a nest egg behind and take the baddest of the bad guys with him. Maybe it’s not as good as someone at his deathbed having a “special love” for him, but he was no one’s victim but his own.

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  35 Responses to “Recap: Breaking Bad 516, Felina (Series Finale)”

  1. A fantastic write-up. Your best yet for this amazing show. Thanks so much!

  2. My only real complaint was the keys/wallet deal. For one, it wasn’t necessary at all. The moment and situation was already rife with tension and anticipation. It only fed into taking the ridiculous to the absurd. The aryan threw the keys almost to the middle of the table. Nobody was going to stop Walt from leaning into the table and grabbing the keys? That’s a far reach. You don’t do that on the sly. It’s like taking a hot fudge sundae and then putting peanuts and then sprinkles and then ground cookie and then a squirt of butterscotch and then… It’s too much. Something good to something eh. An idea that should have been edited out. Or like a prog rock. The song already has 400 ideas in it. Do we really need a 401st?

    It was clear that Gilligan didn’t want this to be the Sopranos, and he was refreshingly critical of such an ending in the aftershow (though, he did diplomatically backtrack a moment later; it’s amazing how there is a blue wall in every field). Everything was best tied in a perfect bow and handed to the audience on a silver platter. I’m okay with that. For me, it matched the show. Mad Men resonates. I think about the show and life for long after the episode ends. It affects me. I ponder. Breaking Bad was solid entertainment. After each episode ended, I didn’t think about it again until the next episode. A clean –an OCD cleaned– ending seems very appropriate. Other than conversationally, I’ll never think about it again, and Gilligan made that easy.

    • Agree with you Tappan. Too pat an ending, that will not resonate. BrBa was a slam-bang affair that set your hair on fire with its audacious storylines, knockout acting(Cranston wasn’t the only terrific actor here, Gunn, Norris, Esposito, and Paul are all top shelf.), delovely scenery. It was different than MM, in that it was not too subtle. It excelled at a rock n rollicking roll type of style.
      I am grateful.
      Sucks that Walt died. I was with him all the way.
      Jeez? What does that say about me?

      • Walt was given a death sentence in the very first episode. We always knew he would die, In the end he died on his own terms, not of cancer in a hospital bed. He got what he deserved.

    • Tappan. I appreciate all intelligent views.. and your’s is that. I didn’t really have a problem with the keys & wallet… other than I wondered why they bothered taking them in the first place. Tossing them on a pool table seemed reasonable (they had no idea the keys would fire up the garage door opener and M60). There were plenty of Aryans there to stop Walt if he tried to grab the keys and make a dash for the door. I did think they would have searched his trunk upon arrival however.

      For me.. the finale was near perfect. There were some stretches to be made, but we could say the same of any great tv show or movie. The writers led us on a wild ride of twists and turns.. stuff we never saw coming for 61 episodes.

      I didn’t need twists and turns in the 62nd episode. I am happy the writers were smart enough to realize that just pulling the roller coaster into the gate for us all to exit was the right way to handle it. We all knew Walt would die at some point. We figured he would exact revenge on Jack and the gang. We also figured Lydia would drink ricin… and Todd would be dealt with.

      I believe the writers did an excellent job of not insulting us with some big Hollywood type twist at the end. That would have seemed forced to me… and out of place. I’m happy they gave us the ending we thought they would…. the only way it could have ended IMO.

  3. Great recap, Meowser, as ever. Thanks so very much for doing this.

    I know many people and critics think the finale was a little too pat, tied up too neatly, but despite that I found it heartbreaking. Rather than redemptive, I found Walt’s behavior, well, unrepentant. He damaged and destroyed the lives of those closest to him, fantasizing that his last acts – freedom for Jesse, money for his family, a proper burial for Hank to ‘comfort’ Marie – will make it all right. In his narcissistic universe it will make it alright for him – but them?

    I want to think on some dim level Walt recognized what he had done, but that he was willing to admit he liked all of it, even through the destruction he caused, was a stunning admission of a lack of any kind of responsibility or remorse.

    Brilliant show, and, to me, a very heavy ending.

    • Walt saying he liked it, was him being truthful, at last?, for once?
      I’m pretty sure he was rueful, and tried to make things not as terrible for his people, as he knew that he ruined their lives, already.
      There was no place for him in this world anymore, so in his myopic view, he tried to make things as right as he thinks they should be. Go out with some form of ‘dignity’.

      • Thinking and thinking and thinking some more about the ending since my acerbic post, you’re probably right, Tilden, looking at it from Walter’s perspective especially. He really ruined his own life and the one’s of those he held dearest. With that realization, he tried to right that world in his imperfect way before his own desired, final, exit.

        But….

        …admitting he liked cooking meth and being a kingpin, happily dying in the meth lab, he does put a lie to the old saw ‘No dying executive ever said he wished he had spent more time at the office.”

  4. Gilligan didn’t mind giving away the means to blow away Jack and His Boys – showing Walt tinkering in the afternoon – and neither did I. He was considerate to make sure we didn’t forget Mr. 50-millimeter and the vial of ricin.

    I sure enjoyed the double twist at the Gray Matter residence. At first it seemed Walt was going real bad, but instead nonchalantly requested that they “shake on the deal” to set up the $9-million irrevocable trust. Then, to set the hook, the $200k, two-hit-men threat that proved to be the Return of Badger and Skinny Pete!

    (a fine bit of comic relief)

    I uttered aloud (to my son who’s a big fan) that Ms. Corporate Procurement had unknowingly taken the ricin – but Alex said how did he know which table? This bothered me, too, but figured if she was OCD about time and place, she would also be that way about the table.

    (plus, the risk was low that someone else would take Stevia – when sugar, honey, Splenda, and Equal, are the more likely alternatives)

    (who ever heard of Stevia before Lydia asked for it a half dozen times in her first scene?)

    My son asked me today what will Jesse do now? He tossed all the money out into the street.

    He only knows how to do one thing well…..

    • Jesse will go to prison, or live on the run, after they find his fingerprints all over the lab, as well as throughout Hank’s notes and from Marie’s witness.

    • Jesse will be in that wood lodge with Dexter.
      Man, can you imagine that conversation?

    • You mentioned the gun machine in the trunk – I was thinking about how much critique there was about the terrible shots the Aryans/Team DEA had in their legendary shoot-out in the desert…..all that shooting and 1 fatality, 1 leg wound? But a machine that will hold steady a machine gun as it rotates? All I can say is YEEEEEEEAH SCIENCE!!!”

  5. Nice recap!

    Vince Gilligan, the cast, the writers and the crew wrapped up five remarkable seasons of exquisite and thoughtfully crafted television that totally respected the viewers throughout the run of the series.

    I was essentially happy with the finale. I’m sure there will be critics and viewers who think the show left too many unanswered questions, but for a show that had so many twists and turns along the way – and like life itself – there’s always going to be some areas left shrouded in mystery.

    I’m truly thankful for the amazing and satisfying adventure this show has been over the seasons.

  6. Comment on another blog: The police are going to find Walt dead in the lab, ensuring his legacy as Heisenberg — even though he never cooked there.

    • Which will insure Jesse’s freedom. The cops already know Walt = Heisenberg, they have been assuming that he’s still been cooking meth since he disappeared. Finding him there will confirm it for them, so they won’t even bother looking for anyone else.

      Jesse is free!

      • The final, respectful nod Walt and Jesse (Pinky & the Brain) gave to one another was absolutely perfect. There was still hostility between the two, but Walt’s affectation for his student, former partner was to the end, genuine. I think Jesse appreciated that Walt was real, and unselfish in that moment, so he reciprocated.
        So glad they didn’t have a let’s hug it out bitch, of tender goodbye. These 2 had walked a hard road together, and the quiet denoument was a lovely chamber piece contrast, to the hard ass rock n roll they lived through.
        I will never forget that moment.
        Beautiful, because it was earned.

        • It was a subtle, powerful moment, a moment Mike Ehrmentraut would have approved of. Mike, obviously, was no saint, but he lived by a professional’s code of conduct, one that he hated Walt for violating and one that he tried to teach Jesse. In Mike’s world, you owed “your guys” a certain respect, not because you loved them or they were your best buddies, but because they were “your guys.” Walt may have gone there to kill Jesse along with the Nazis, but once he saw what had been done to him (not in small part because of Walt’s past actions), he understood what he owed Jesse, “his guy.” Mike, whose actions defined the show’s hard world, would nod approval.

      • Marie has filled the DEA in on Jesse Pinkman’s confession, don’t you think? Unless the cell phone photo of “dead Jesse” surfaced for the DEA to see, I would have to think that Pinkman is still on the DEA’s most-wanted list. While I really liked Jesse, and he was manipulated by Walt, it was Jesse who encouraged Walt to cook again after Walt walked away from cooking the first time. Jesse, while adorable in so many ways, is [as he once said] a bad guy. While I think Jesse could turn his life around at this juncture, he could just as easily fall back to drugs and this time he won’t have Walt to save him from himself. Oh nix that…I want Jesse to head to Alaska and throw himself into woodworking and live happily ever after.

  7. I think that Felina is the meth lab itself. Toward the end of the Marty Robbins song, the cowboy is shot in the side (“Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel/A deep burning pain in my side) and Walt was shot in the side. The last verse of the song is: “From out of nowhere Felina has found me / Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side / Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for / One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.” The “two loving arms that he’ll die for” are the walls of the lab that he has just walked into, and that “one little kiss” would be his touching that piece of equipment before dying.

  8. Walt died as he lived, surround by the meth lab he answered phones for. He was an Astronaut

  9. I suppose it may be too obvious to note, but Walt was framed in the last shot by bars forming a rectangle high overhead in a way that recalled his lying in the crawlspace laughing maniacally, when Gus put the hit on Hank.

  10. Huge giant smooch to Meowser.
    Incisive, spot on, thought provoking analysis on BrBa.
    Deb, and Anne B have a peer.
    I mean it, FANTASTIC job Meowser. I stand back in awe and…..
    APPLAUD.
    Muchas gracias.

  11. Awww, thanks, you guys! You’ve all been great. Hopefully I will find another series to recap soon.

    • I just wish I had found you sooner… but will dig through archives to read your takes on all previous episodes I can find. I’m assuming they’re here somewhere.. if so, I will find them!

    • I can only hope you do find another series to recap for us – you joint the pantheon of Deb and Ann B in writing amazing recaps –

      I agree with Tilden’s comment:

      “….FANTASTIC job Meowser. I stand back in awe and…..
      APPLAUD.

      Muchas gracias.”

  12. Somebody please put me out of my misery…I’ve had that Marty Robbins song stuck in my head for over 24 hours now…went to bed last night humming it and found myself at it this afternoon as well. It’s like some evil Aryan Brotherhood torture.

    “And away I did ride,
    Just as fast as I
    Could from the West Texas town of El Paso
    Out to the bad-lands of New Mexico.

    Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
    Everything’s gone in life; nothing is left.
    It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
    My love is stronger than my fear of death.

    I saddled up and away I did go,
    Riding alone in the dark.
    Maybe tomorrow
    A bullet may find me.
    Tonight nothing’s worse than this
    Pain in my heart.”

    I was expecting the song because of the episode title, butcouldn’t have guessed how apprpriate the lyrics were…

    Oh well, I guess I should be glad it’s not “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” on constant replay…

  13. One correction: I don’t think Jesse saw that Walt had been shot. Which works better. It gives his final decision not to pull the trigger more dignity, more purity.

    Does it say something about me that I enjoyed Walt’s terrorizing Gretchen and Eliot so much, even more than his machine-gunning the Aryan Brotherhood? The idea of them living in terror every minute until they can set up Walt Jr’s trust fund, and for who knows how long even after they do is deeply satisfying. I must hate yuppies even more than I hate Nazis.

    • It may have been better if Jesse hadn’t seen that Walt was bleeding out.. I never really thought about it.. but good point.

      But Jesse did see Walt’s blood soaked side… they even had a close up shot of Jesse looking at it.. then cut to Walt’s bloody shirt.. and panned up to Walt’s face. Jesse knew Walt would die whether he shot him or not.

      Great group of BB fans here! :)
      I wish I had found this place long ago. I enjoyed reading all of your comments for the past couple weeks. I would have LOVED to have been part of this all along. Guess I should have searched for Br Bad comments sooner.

      Guess I got what I deserved

  14. At the end my wife said, “That was great!” I replied, “It was better than great. It was perfect.”

    Meowser, this is one of the best reviews I have seen. Excellent insight. You have a gift, please continue with another series of your choice.

    Thank you, so much. for all the hard work.

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