“Breaking Bad” Review: “Felina” Redeems Walt… Or Does It?

As I mentioned last week, I’m now blogging over at Cinemeditations rather than Tinsel. You’ll be able to find more of my writing about film and television over there, including my recent look at the new Showtime series Masters of Sex. Below, you’ll find a portion of my review of the series finale of Breaking Bad. You can find the full review over at Cinemeditations. Thanks again to Rebecca for allowing me to blog here for the past few months! I look forward to continuing the conversation.

It was Gilligan’s Catholic upbringing that partially inspired him to create a show that explores not just evil, but its consequences. We watched Walt gradually slide down a slippery slope until he seemed to be the Devil incarnate, and then we saw his empire crumble, the people he loved forever damaged, assuming they were even still alive. It was Old Testament judgment, an eye for an eye, and while it was tragic, it was also satisfying to see Walt get what he deserves.

But Catholicism is also about redemption. “Granite State” saw Walt leaving his ego behind, and “Felina” finds him receiving some of the grace that by definition he doesn’t deserve. His opening lines are a prayer—“Just get me home, I’ll do the rest”—and God, or the universe, or Vince Gilligan, grants him his wish. What follows is a twisted tale of self-sacrifice in which Walt assures his children’s financial future, reveals the location of Hank’s body, poisons Lydia, says goodbye to his wife and daughter and gets one last look at his son before saving Jesse’s life by taking out Uncle Jack and his gang.

It would be a mistake to interpret this as “Walt wins.” It’s more accurate to say that he dies knowing that he’s done pretty much everything he can to bring closure to the entire affair. He can never get his family back, Hank is still dead, and he’ll never get to enjoy spending all the money he made selling meth. But he finally admits his own guilt and does his best to act not in his own interests, but those of others. Before taking his last stand against Uncle Jack, he visits Skyler and finally says the confession two years in the making: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” Later on, he rejects Jack’s offer to get back the tens of millions of dollars he lost. This is not the same Walter White that just two episodes ago was pushing his last barrel of money—his prized possession–through the desert. As was first stated in the pilot, chemistry is the study of change. Breaking Bad has been the study of Walter White’s transformation.

Click here for full review.

Breaking Bad: Madrigal, Money, and Metanoia

Episode 2, Season 5 by Samantha Curley

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan dropped another prophetic bomb at the end of the second episode of Breaking Bad’s final season when Walt says:

“You know it gets easier. I promise you that it does. What we do is for good reasons. There’s nothing to worry about. There’s no better reason than family.”

Excuse me, Walt, did I hear you correctly? Did you say family?

Walt (Bryan Cranston) continues to deceive himself into thinking he is making the right choices – good choices – for the sake of his family. But this episode, more than any other of the season, begs the question, “Walt, what family are you talking about?” Your terrified wife (Anna Gunn) who couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t speak a word to you (or anyone) the entire episode? Your son (R.J. Mitte) who has been abandoned by every adult figure in his life? Your infant daughter who will grow up having to confront her monster of a father? Your brother-in-law (Dean Norris) that you’ve used and deceived to build your drug empire?

Walt has no family left. Yet, the fantasy of family continues to motivate his downward spiral. “Madrigal” forces each character to confront the question: Why do you do what you do? A question that seems to boil down to either money or family. And let’s be honest, Mike (Jonathan Banks) might be the only one choosing family.

It was eery and unsettling to watch Walt in his cocky attempt to become Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). His calm, yet demanding demeanor; his relational manipulating, flat affect, and plotted confidence. (It physically hurt to watch him cover his tracks in the cigarette and salt scenes with Jesse.) Walt’s every move reeks of Gus, even as he extends a handshake to Mike after their first meeting of the episode. While the new mantra is, “If Gus can manage it, so can we,” let’s just remember where Gus ended up…

As Walt’s storyline becomes, well, pure evil, we continue to hope for the redemption of characters like Jesse (Aaron Paul), Mike, Hank, even Saul (Bob Odenkirk) to some extent. These characters have become the wise sages of the show; the ones who have eyes that see. Jesse’s genuine, yet unknowingly misplaced repentance in the show’s opening scene as he apologizes to Walt, “How could I have been so stupid.” Mike’s warning to Walt about being a ticking time bomb and his ironic, punchy wisdom in the diner: “Here in the real world we don’t kill eleven people as some kind of prophylactic measure.” Hank continues to sense there is something beyond the surface, while remaining unable to exactly put his finger on it. I wonder (with a sense of foreboding) where his good questions and intuition will take him. Even Saul comes through with the lottery analogy pleading with Walt and Jesse to get out while they’re still alive.

Where will these characters be when the bomb finally does explode? When bad is officially broken? We can only hope as far away from Walt as possible. Sadly, there are few avenues of metanoia (deep repentance, change of heart) left as viable ways out.

Join us each week as we blog through the epic final season of Breaking Bad: 

Episode 1: Is Redemption Possible for Walter White?

Episode 2: Madrigal, Money, and Metanoia

Episode 3: Breaking Bad Made Whole?

Breaking Bad Recap: Is Redemption Possible for Walt White?

Our Movie Channel intern, Samantha Curley, will be walking us through the final season of the hit show Breaking Bad. 

In line with what we’ve come to expect from Walter White, it’s clearly not over yet. He may have won this round, but the opening scene of the Season 5 premiere (of a tired, downtrodden, and no-longer-bald Walt) continues to refuse our desire for resolution; for a return to his “normal” life of teaching, fatherhood, and family. The choices and consequences of the last four seasons cannot be undone, the past cannot be unwritten. And even if a happy ending were possible (which it’s clearly not), the question remains: would Walt really have won?

Is winning even possible at this point in the game? Walt persists in acting like it is. Like he can (and will) emerge as the hero, the king. We see this in his smug interactions with Mike and Jessie: “How do we know? Because I say so.” His hubris toward Saul: “We’re done when I say we’re done.” His resentment over Hank continuing to receive credit (especially from his son Walt, Jr.) for Walt’s own perceived victories. And in his confusion when Skyler doesn’t glamorize and fawn over his self-declared win: “I’m scared of you.” That’s not even to go into the appalling final words Walt speaks to the wife he has dragged through the ringer with deceit, danger, and drug-lording: “I forgive you.” What has happened to the pre-fall, high school Chemistry teacher we pitied and rooted for in Season 1?

While beyond rich, the opening scene highlights that Walt is anything but free. Behind the obvious questions surrounding the episode “Live Free or Die,” maybe (hopefully? finally?) Vince Gilligan will be taking us through a journey of forgiveness this season. If we know anything about Breaking Bad, though, forgiveness won’t come easy or peacefully. Gear up for more violence, more death, more lies, and more decisions that will leave you cringing with a confused and righteous outrage.

The audacity of Walt’s words, his complete lack of understanding (let alone remorse) for the tangled web he has woven for every one of his relationships, has turned him into a monster whose ego has become seemingly too big for anyone (or any roadblock) to stop. The math isn’t adding up, though, which means something is about to go terribly wrong.

Join us each week as we blog through the epic final season of Breaking Bad: 

Episode 1: Is Redemption Possible for Walter White?

Episode 2: Madrigal, Money, and Metanoia

Episode 3: Breaking Bad Made Whole?