I didn't like the finale of Breaking Bad tonight. And I'm not sure how to process that.
Let me begin by saying this isn't an attempt to be a contrarian or play devil's advocate. I was a fan of this show since it's very first episode. I can fondly remember huddling near the television in my cramped college apartment with my two roommates and being immediately enamored with the unique show. Since that moment, I have been constantly awe-struck by the writing, stylization and execution of the show through five amazing seasons of television. I was with the show every step of the way, and believed the show could do no wrong.
That's what makes Sunday's finale so shockingly disappointing for me. There's nothing more that I would like than to love this episode. And I figured there wouldn't be any sort of effort involved in reaching that goal. But I've sat on this episode for three hours now, and no sort of mental gymnastics have been able to spin that episode into what I had hoped.
Let me add one, large caveat before I get into my issues with "Felina". The execution of the finale was perfect and the ending worked. Walt's maneuvers were clever, the story was neatly wrapped, and, as always, it was beautifully shot and edited. It was a good, maybe even great ending.
But it wasn't the ending I wanted.
The first few seasons of Breaking Bad were kind of a fun romp (at least compared to the last). It was a fish-out-of-water storyline that had a nerdy school teacher mixed with some crazy, bad guys. It had some dark moments, but the show was a lot funnier back in those simpler times.
However, Walt soon found himself in some serious trouble, and the final season promised all of his wrongdoing would come to haunt him in the end. As the season grew darker and darker, and the death count slowly climbed, it became more apparent that this was not heading for a happy ending. Walt's family was in disarray. Hank was dead. The jig was up.
But the season finale undid all of that, and Walt was let completely off the hook. By the very end, not only had he succeeded in his original goal (providing wealth for his family), but he also mended his relationships with his wife (and shortened her prison sentence, to boot!) and saved Jesse before valiantly falling on the knife himself.
As the puzzle pieces slowly fell into place, I found myself in disbelief. I tried to convince myself Vince Gilligan was setting us up for the fairy tail ending only to pull the rug out from underneath us like he did in the half-season finale or at the end of "Dead Freight". But as the last minutes of the episode ticked off, and it became clearer and clearer that Walt's final plan would work to perfection, I fell back on the couch in disappointment.
I thought this final half-season was about Walt finally getting his comeuppance for his four-and-a-half seasons of misdoings. I thought it was Gilligan's way of saying, "I know those five years were a blast, but this is what really happens when a terrible person does terrible things." It would have been amazing and unprecidented to see Walt, in a last ditch effort to save his family future and his own legacy, come up short one last time, because happy endings like that aren't real. To end this episode on a heavy, dark note would have provided a much stronger punch. Because. while the last few episodes have been extremely hard to watch, they have been this show's best, most unforgettable work.
But what the final half-season was really about was making Walt the fun cowboy again. It was about bringing Walt back to a place of desperation and making him as pathetic and beaten up as he was in the pilot episode. It was about making him hit rock bottom, so that he could stoll back into the town he was banished from for one, final showdown and a chance to make everything right.
And I get it. It's a fun play on the common Western trope. And it's not even the fact that it was predictable or overused that bothered me. It just didn't seem like Walt, nor the viewers, deserved a happy ending.
Walt doesn't deserve a happy ending because there never was a real moment of unhappiness since he adopted his Heisenberg side. As he finally admitted in the finale, all of his actions weren't really for his family; they were for himself. And he loved it. You could say Hank's death was a severe consequence he had to face, but the truth is, he always hated Hank. Just go back and watch season one and watch Walter seethe at Hank in every scene they're in together. He may have lost the eternal legacy with his son, but he never respected his son in the first place. And who cares what Flynn thinks? He's going to college now!
We didn't deserve the happy ending, because we were complicit in Walt's actions. We were in Walt's corner from the get-go, and many of us stayed there to the bitter end. We were guilty by association, and we didn't deserve seeing Flynn get an education or watching our best friend Jesse drive away with wild glee from his own personal Hell.
While we and Walt were left unscathed from his unthinkable actions, everyone around him took the brunt of his punishment. His wife, his son, Jesse, poor, poor purple-less Marie. And the collateral damage of Walt's decisions is endless. Lydia, Andrea, Brock, Jane, Jane's father, everyone on the two 747s, Madrigal's president, Drew Sharp, etc. All of these people suffered because of Walt, and who had to foot the bill for all of that strife? No one. Walt won.
To me, the finale seemed to be one last ditch effort to get Walt back on our side. I'll admit, it almost worked on me in the last moments of the episode last week. The theme song, the final donning of the Heisenberg hat, the empty glass at the end of the bar. It was a badass scene that got me ecstatic for the finale. But as the week rolled on, and I considered what I actually wanted in the finale, I realized I was still not on Walt's side. But the temptation continued early in the finale. First, Walt out-witted Mr. and Mrs. Gray Matter. Then he came 100% clean with Skyler. And, finally, he even pulled out his endearing McGuyver side again. I was briefly considering joining team White. But it wasn't long before that all faded away, and I remembered that Walt had passed the point-of-no-return long, long ago. He needed to lose.
Unfortunately, that never happened, and Walt got to end his life just the way he had hoped. He had built and sustained an empire and his own legacy. He had supported his family's future. He had lived the last two years of his life in a wildly fulfilling manner. I guess it's a happy ending for everyone...except me (and the hundreds of other people whose lives were ruined by Walt).