From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach W. Lorton, who has finally caught his breath after three days…
I’m sitting in my living room, watching the second episode of the new series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and marveling (no pun intended) at its level of escapism. It’s a 180-degree difference from what I experienced every time I watched Breaking Bad.
Today, I finally put my fingers to the keys to give you my honest, heavily-thought out review of the final episode of the now-Emmy-winning drama. This time, I’m straying from my blow-by-blow, real-time review format; I believe this episode, as well as this entire series being wrapped up, deserves a closer look.
Walter White is dead. Jesse Pinkman is alive and free. Todd, Uncle Jack, and all the neo-nazis have been killed. Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz have nearly $10 million of Walt’s money with a threatened guarantee that it will be distributed to his family upon Walt Jr.’s 18th birthday. And Skyler finally has the truth.
Watching the final episode of Breaking Bad was bothersome for me. As much as I wanted to see the story wrapped up, I didn’t want to say goodbye to this series. It might have been able to last for one more season before being consumed by its greatness, but as much as it pains me to say it, this was the right time and the right way for this series to end.
In proper fashion, series creator Vince Gilligan wrote and directed the final episode. Beautiful cinematography captured the right level of bleakness needed for each scene, from the snow-covered SUV that Walt climbs into, to Jesse’s daydream about creating the box in woodshop that had been referenced to in a previous season. The colors, tones, and perspectives created tension, unease, calm, and serenity where they were needed. The helmsman’s ship was being steered into the docks, ready to be decommissioned, and there couldn’t have possibly been anyone else at the wheel than Gilligan for this seminal moment.
From the previous episode, where Walt had called the authorities and left the line open so that they would track him, we saw a plan spur in Walt’s face as Elliott & Gretchen Schwartz did everything they could to distance themselves from Walt on an interview on Charlie Rose. Nothing would stop him from carrying out his plan. We were reminded of the flash-forward from the episode “Blood Money”, where Walt purchases the RamboGun, and we begin to see him putting a plan in motion to use it against someone. But we’re never quite sure who it is until we get closer to the end.
The final conversations we get to see Marie and Skyler have are poignant and necessary. There have been a lot of unspoken words, and perhaps hatred, between Skyler and Marie since Walt’s disappearance, but it was the only choice for Marie to call her sister and warn her that Walt was back in town. You always knew, even when things were at their worst between them, that Marie and Skyler’s sisterly bond would be stronger than anything the two could have withstood on their own. When Walt is revealed to be in the kitchen the whole time (great use of framing), his explanation finally gives Skyler two important truths: Hank is indeed dead, and Walt’s motivation for staying in the meth business was selfish. However he may have started his journey, insisting that he was trying to protect his family’s long term interests, he admits that in the end, it was all for him. “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.” Walter’s explanation, while not an apology, was the most honest thing he had shared with his wife the entire series, and Skyler knew it. It may not have been soon enough, but it was enough.
Jesse. My heart broke for Jesse in these last three episodes. Betrayed by his one-time colleague and confidante, forced into slave labor by a sociopath, and forced to watch while the second woman he ever truly cared for was gunned down mercilessly, I almost couldn’t bear to see him in this final episode. A shell of the man he once was, Jesse is brought before Walt as a way for Uncle Jack to save face and overcome an insult. Upon seeing the condition he is in, Walt forgives him, and tackles him to the ground as he unleashes a fury of gunfire upon the men holding Jesse hostage. This event gives Jesse a chance to take his revenge on Todd, while in his moment of confusion, he was still asking Mr. White what was going on. When Walter handed Jesse the gun, we could see that Walt had not only forgiven Jesse, but he was letting go. It was time for him to be done with everything, and giving Jesse the chance to end his life was the only thing left to do. Jesse, still hurt at the betrayal, refuses to do Walt’s bidding, and drives off in the El Camino.
Finally, Walt walks through the lab in the neo-nazis’ compound, reflecting and reminiscing. He liked it. He was good at it. And he was alive. Until he wasn’t anymore. And as the camera panned up from Walt’s motionless face, police enter the building, and we cut to black. So endeth the story of Walter White.
Personally, it was hard for me to accept this ending at first. I wanted something emotionally charged for the finale, something that would be on par with the heavy emotion in previous episodes, from the first confrontation between Walt and Hank, to the shootout in the desert that began the episode “Ozymandias”. But once Hank was dead, and my hatred of Walter White was cemented into my heart, I knew there wasn’t much more emotion that could be extracted. Bryan Cranston’s anti-hero was never truly heroic in this final season — there was nothing noble about him or his methods. Everyone that stood in his way eventually had to be supplanted and done away with, including people that Walter himself brought into the picture to be an asset to him. But with Hank’s death, the only people left for a standoff were Uncle Jack’s neo-nazi buddies, and while they were certainly cruel, they were never as fierce an adversary as Hank could have been, or as ruthless as Gus Fring was, or even as hard-nosed as Mike Ehrmentraut could be. Even Saul Goodman could have been seen as a potential threat to Walter had he decided not to get disappeared. So it was hard to stomach this ending. For a while.
But after giving it some thought, there’s really no other way this series could have ended. Walter needed to be faced with Hank’s death before the final episode so that he could see the life he once knew crumble around him. He needed his son to disown him, to wish him dead. He needed his wife to finally turn her back on him, and we got to see all that. In order for a man to come to terms with himself, he has to be brought low. In this final episode, we see glimpses of indignation, but nowhere near as passionately prideful as in previous episodes. Only once does he insist that Hank and Gomez were murdered by someone else, which while true, still made it sound as though he had nothing to do with their death, as if they wouldn’t have been killed if Walt’s actions hadn’t led to it in the first place. But in that moment, he had to give Skyler some closure and also give her something she could use to get out from under the radar of prosecution.
Everything about Breaking Bad was a perfect example of how we, as human beings, can fall prey to our baser instincts, to the darkness that envelops us if left unchecked. Our frailty, our shortcomings, our insecurities, and ultimately, our pride drag us to places we don’t ever want to go. As a Christian, it’s easy to contemplate how someone might respond to any of the situations in this series if grace was in the picture. But it’s not. This bleak desert land is very harsh, very cold, very unforgiving. On this side of the screen, we can rejoice that hope is never truly lost, that forgiveness is only a question away.
But in Albuquerque, judgment was swift, uncompromising, and final. Did Walter White get what he deserved? Perhaps not. Maybe dying on his own terms was too good for him, not enough in the way of justice. One thing we can be certain of, though, is that Walter White was a man. Just like any one of us. When given a desperate situation, how far will we go to feel alive?
Zach W. Lorton is a media producer and professional DJ/MC by trade, and a comedian, actor, and musician by default. His debut music project is set to begin recording in 2014, and will likely take the world by storm, possibly in the form of a Sharknado.