By Kayla Upadhyaya, Managing Arts Editor
Published October 3, 2013
It should go without saying that the following discussion of the “Breaking Bad” finale will contain information as to what happened in the “Breaking Bad” finale, but people tend to be particularly sensitive about spoiling with this show, so this is your very fair, explicit spoiler warning.
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“All bad things must come to an end,” declared the AMC promos for “Breaking Bad” ’s “Felina.” And for the first time in a while, we got a series finale that really did feel like the end. After two weeks of episodes packed with tension and horror, “Felina” plays out much more quietly, replacing the breakneck speed and instability that defines the whole series with an almost dreamlike fluidity.
In the opening scene, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) — stuck in a stolen car covered in snow as red-and-blues swirl around him in blind pursuit — calls, earnestly and for the first time, upon a higher power to take him home. Keys magically fall into his lap, and everything that follows in the extended episode has a fantastical, unreal haze covering it that so starkly contrasts the slashing realness of all that precedes it.
Walt haunts scenes perfectly framed by Vince Gilligan’s directorial hand. Todd (Jesse Plemons) and Lydia (Laura Fraser) don’t notice him sitting just feet away in their usual meeting place. After Marie (Betsy Brandt) calls Skyler (Anna Gunn) to warn her Walt’s back in town and probably coming for her, the camera shifts to reveal he’s already there, hovering. In a perfect example of how “Bad” uses sound mixing and other techniques to set tone, evoke emotion and even provide narrative to an extent no other show has accomplished, Walt lurks in the shadows of Elliot and Gretchen’s (Adam Godley and Jessica Hecht) home, the silence and shadows more threatening than Elliot’s tiny knife could ever confront.
It’s a marked change of pace from the rest of the whiplash-inducing final season, and the mostly unsettling series reaches a surprisingly settled conclusion.
“Felina” ’s standout moment comes not from its most violent outbursts, but from a quiet confession from Walt to Skyler. “I did it for me,” he cuts her off as she tells him to stop giving her bullshit about doing it for the family. “I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.” Most of us knew Walt’s motivations were never about others (except for the contingency of the few-but-loud Team Walt soldiers insisting he was a Family Man who lost his way, a victim of uncontrollable circumstances — they’re, hopefully, eating their words and then some). But to hear Heisenberg himself spell it out and show his true baby-blue colors — in what’s possibly the only moment of pure honesty from the character since season one — satisfies more than anything else in “Felina.” Gunn (who gives off some serious Carmela Soprano vibes with her physicality — worn but resolved — in the scene) proves just how worthy she is of the little golden statue she won a week earlier, capturing Skyler’s surprise in a single look.
“Breaking Bad” has always been immensely punitive, and while not a religious show, it often possesses an Old Testament view of consequences and justice. “Felina” doles out justice with machine gun robots and Stevia packets. Walt built the legend of Heisenberg on material wealth, but as he learns in “Ozymandias,” “Granite State” and “Felina,” money can be stolen and empires can crumble. With almost everything stripped away from him, Walt sets out on a direct path toward justice, driven by the one thing he has left, the one thing that reignites Heisenberg mode: his pride. Walt’s determined path in “Felina” is not wholly redemptive, but there is definitely a sense that what’s supposed to happen, well, happens. Lydia dies at the hands of the the Chekhovian ricin. The neo-Nazis get what they deserve in a Tarantino-esque shootout that allows for one last Heisenberg-helmed tech trick.