*SPOILER ALERT – This article discusses the conclusion to Breaking Bad.*
All good (or in this case “bad”) things must come to an end. However, in the vast world of television the problem has historically resided in how to end a show that keeps its name in half the country’s mouth, not necessarily when. If you’re someone who watches very little TV, shows like Lost and The Sopranos have become notorious for rattling the cages of diehard fans with their finales in which they felt jilted by loose ends or dissatisfying payoffs. Luckily for the record 10.3 million viewers (compared to the 1.41 million who watched the pilot in 2008) of AMC’s Breaking Bad, the conclusion to the epic drama/love story of Walter White was so beautifully crafted and detailed by creator Vince Gilligan that we didn’t even have to sweat the key element that’s plagued its predecessors.
We’ll lead off with tying up loose ends because this is what viewers talk about most, pre-finale. The main areas we knew that had to be completely cleared up were Walt’s family, Jesse, the Aryans (Uncle Jack and Todd), the new meth business (Lydia), and Walter himself. Not only were each of the mentioned areas covered, but also in ways that were teased in previous episodes, one way or another.
Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz, Walter’s old friends who established the Gray Matter Facility from his research, were partially involved in the story early on in the first two seasons, but quickly fell off the radar and (ironically) became the vessels that will make sure the White family is not at a complete loss. This is only made possible by his last meeting with Skyler, which may be one of the best scenes in the episode because Walt lies about all of his money being gone so that she’ll accept the funds from the Schwartz’s, thinking of it as gifts. This is the very first time he’s wholeheartedly honest about why he’s done what’s been done.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And, I was…I was alive.”
The ricin, which was shown being taken out of the hiding place behind the outlet, got to make its highly-awaited debut by making its way into Lydia’s tea. Walt’s experience of working with her made it easy for him to get to the café before the meeting with Todd and slip the ricin into the sugar she uses religiously. This made it so that any dealings or production of his signature blue meth would be cut off and ended forever, provided he make one last stop at the Aryan compound to kill the last few birds with a big gun.
The M60 machine gun that was shown in Walt’s trunk in the first episode of the last season was finally put to use. But instead of a Scarface-esque send-off, the brilliant mind of Walter once again shines in the creation of a contraption that when Walt pops the trunk from the keys, it raises the mounted rifle and swings it back and forth, burying the building full of Uncle Jack’s men.
In the climax of the finale, smartly titled with the anagram “Felina,” Jesse finds himself aiming a gun at Walt from point-blank range, but then noticing a bullet wound he received, leaves Walt to bleed out and die on his own. The last time we see Jesse is speeding away from the compound caught up in a hurricane of emotion somewhere between a maniacal laugh and a hysterical sob.
Similar to the last meeting with Skyler, this is another standout moment. The roller-coaster adventure Walt embarked on was very much shared by Jesse, chock full of flaring emotions and questionable decisions by both parties, but bonding them to the point of a potential father and son relationship. It was extremely relieving to see him not pull the trigger despite all of the tragedies Walt was responsible for in his life (Jane, Brock) and by doing so, allowed Walt to die on his own terms.
Walking through the lab, holding the respirator mask, touching the tools that made his life most memorable, Walt finishes his last moments on Earth with a smile on his face. In the background plays Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.”
“Guess I got what I deserved/All that time without a word/The special love I have for you/My baby blue.”
Ingeniously included by Gilligan, the song clearly pays tribute to Walt’s love for chemistry, and the product that resulted from that love. He was finally honest with everyone else as well as himself and embraced the true love that he’s had since before his story started. Some of the first words in the episode are, “Just get me home,” and the last scene is him lying on the floor, dying happy, where he felt most at home.
“Chemistry: it is the study of change. Well that’s…that’s all of life…right? I mean, it’s just the constant, it’s the cycle. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.”
This is Walt’s definition of chemistry that he tells to his students in the first episode; how fitting that the entire series was the study of change in Walt, and also the story, as Gilligan slowly transforms the tragedy of an average man turned murdering gangster into a love story about one of the most compelling and complex characters in television history.