The Last Ride of Walter White: A Breaking Bad Recap for the Series Finale, “Felina”. Yes, there are spoilers, so don’t read it if you’re some kinda crazy-toons pants.
How little pride can you have in yourself and still be willing to live? Is there a lower limit? Can you live in a state of perpetual shame over things you may or may not have done?
When you’re brought up in the Christian tradition, you’re told to reject pride, greed, and envy. These vanities and wants are surefire paths to ruin. The more highly you value yourself, the further you are from God.
Walter experienced his lower limit at that bar in New Hampshire. As he sat watching Gretchen and Elliott, his former friends and partners, disavow any involvement they may have had with him past or present, he felt it. It’s what compelled him into that Volvo. It’s what drove him thousands of miles across the country back to his home. It’s what bought the M60 machine gun, remembered the Ricin, and broke into Elliott and Gretchen’s home.
Pride can save you and pride can destroy you. In Walter’s case, it’s doing a little of both.
Elliott and Gretchen are held hostage by Walt in their home and are given, what I think, is the least of Walt’s fury. They’re ordered to take what’s left of Walt’s money (all nine million dollars of it) and put it in a trust fund for Walt Jr. to do with as he pleases when he turns eighteen. Enough time will have passed at that point - it won’t seem suspicious and the DEA will have slacked up any inquiry into Walt’s finances. And Gretchen and Elliott have nine million lying around, presumably, so why raise an eyebrow? Walt, being Walt, needs assurances that the right thing will be done, so he hires “the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi” to train their laser-sights on the Scwartzes. They’re told that if there’s any disruption to his plan, they’ll be killed. Walt makes his escape and picks up his two “assassins” - Skinny P and Badger with laser pointers. The two of them drop the bomb on Walt - the Blue Stuff is back and better than ever. For Walt, this can only mean one thing - Jesse’s cooking for the Nazis. I can’t quite tell if he knows the score, that Jesse’s being held against his will, or if he is thinking of Jesse as he thinks of himself - someone who’d give up the secret to spare his life.
With Gretchen and Elliott settled, Walt makes his way to town to pick up his machine gun and Ricin. As he ambles along, preparing for his grand finale, we get glimpses of those he’s left behind to suffer in his absence.
Skyler is wallowing in her suffering, smoking away her life and weeping for what might have been. A call from Marie (who seems to have cleansed her house of all its purple - did her “royalty” run out when Hank died?) urges Skyler to watch out for Walt. Little does Marie know, Walt’s in the kitchen with Skyler.
I really wanted the moment between the two of them to be a boost to Skyler, but it’s pretty clear that she’s done for, spiritually. The one bit of good Walt does for her isn’t even that good. But it does seem to satisfy her, even for just a few minutes.
"I did it for me," he admits in his one moment of truth. Finally, a confession. It wasn’t "for the family", it wasn’t to protect anyone, it wasn’t really even because of Elliott and Gretchen. It was Walt, proving he could be something more than he was…to himself. Skyler seems to lighten just a bit at this news - maybe it was just what she needed to hear. Her tears when Walt gives her the lotto ticket, the treasure map to Hank’s grave, are those of a woman who has spent too many hours suffering for her husbands sins. You really, really feel for her. Walt’s convinced that Skyler will be free of him if she trades this information to the DEA for her freedom, but the truth is, she’ll never be free of Walt. She bore his children and she’s living in his pain. She’ll be saddled with his sins for the rest of her life. His pride has robbed her of her own.
Walt’s semi-confession buys him a few minutes with baby Holly, a last goodbye to the daughter that prompted this march into oblivion. Walter sticks around just long enough to watch Flynn get off of the bus, amble into the house, and close the door behind him. Walt’s collateral damage keeps on keepin’ on, and so does Walt.
But enough about the family Walt’s leaving in the lurch - let’s get down to the key players. Lydia, Todd, the Nazis, and Jesse. Lydia and Todd meet for their regular coffee session. Lydia’s luggage is bigger than ever, leading me to believe that the Czech-connect is really rocking and rolling. Todd continues his awkward mating dance as Walt pulls up a chair and starts talking “business”.
Walt’s table-mates are stunned at his appearance and don’t quite know how to handle all this, and then Walt says the magic spell that makes Lydia do whatever he wants her to: he promises a methylamine-free method of cooking that will make their batches better than ever. He’ll show them the method for $1 million and “that’s giving it away”. The two agree to hear him out at the Nazi compound and Walt skulks away. Lydia’s weakness is more money. Todd’s weakness is Lydia. The two conspire to kill Walt for good and Lydia dumps some “Stevia” into her herbal tea.
While Walt’s busy in the desert assembling his master stroke, Jesse’s dreaming of the days he spent building intricate little boxes. He’s showing a great deal of craftsmanship, bathed in warm light, in love with the smell of freshly-sanded and stained wood. This is what Jesse could’ve been. This was his promise. And with a cold snap of a metal leash, he’s back in the meth lab, wasting his life away on the product that put him there. If you’ve never pitied Jesse before, you pity him now.
When Walt drives up to the Nazi hideaway, he swings his car around the front and pulls out the key fob that turns the garage door opener that swivels his giant machine gun to and fro. Jack and company bring Walt inside and give him the bad news - they don’t need his “new method”. They want more methylamine, they’ll get more methylamine. All they want now is a bullet in Walt’s head. Walt accuses Jack of partnering with Jesse. And Jack does what his pride tells him to. This is important - think about it. If it wasn’t for Jack’s eagerness to show Walt that he had all the cards, he and his crew would all walk away unscathed. But he orders Todd to drag Jesse inside by his leash and to show Walt exactly what Jesse’s roll is in the Nazi operation - that of a slave.
In that final, heart-pounding moment, Walt makes a decision - he has to save Jesse. It’s the same decision he’s made, over and over, from the beginning - save Jesse. Jesse doesn’t quite know what to make of Walt’s stares, but then Walt tackles him. We see Walt’s thumb jab the button on the key fob and the Nazis laugh as the pair tussle on the ground. Then…
One long, continued spray of bullets. Sweeping, left to right, working the crowd. A group of men, unarmed and unable to reason with what’s going on, all die in a spray of hot lead.
Todd, Jesse and Walt survive. Todd pops his head up at the window to see what’s happened and Jesse pulls a Jabba the Hutt on him, strangling Todd to death with the chains of his handcuffs. Jack taunts Walt, telling him that Walt will never get what’s left of the money they stole from him. Walt doesn’t care and puts a bullet in Jack’s brain to prove it.
Jesse stares at Walt, and Walt through Jesse. Walt’s already wounded, mortally so. Jesse could kill Walt and Walt gives him the same gun that put Jack down. If anyone should kill Walt, it’s Jesse. But Jesse, somehow, some way, thinks better of this. “Do it yourself,” he says to the man that put him in chains. Walt seems okay with this - after all, Jesse never really wanted to kill anyone. All he wanted was the money.
Jesse stumbles out as Walt hears “Lydia the Tattooed Lady" coming from the vicinity of Todd’s pocket. He pulls out Todd’s phone and gives Lydia - the wannabe kingpin (queenpin?), the woman who has on no fewer than three occasions been responsible for assassinations - the bad news. It wasn’t Stevia. It was the ricin, that long awaited Chekov’s Gun whose target has been a mystery for some time now. Lydia will die. Todd and company are dead. And, now, Walt will die. Jesse, for all his stupidity, his suffering, his sins and his sacrifices, comes out of this with his life. A last nod to Walt, and from Walt, and Jesse and his El Camino go speeding off into the night.
Walt wanders through Jesse’s makeshift lab. He taps gauges, he smiles at the setup and the output, he seems proud of Jesse for making due in unstable conditions. The transformation is complete and all the “prisoners” of Heisenberg are free. It’s time to die, simply and finally, on the floor of a meth lab.
I didn’t sleep well last night after the episode was all said and done. I kept rolling it over in my head, worrying about it, wondering about it. I kept thinking, “could that ending have been better?” No, I don’t think so. It was very good, and moreover, realistic. Everyone knew that Walt wouldn’t survive (or I get the feeling that most people thought he was a gonner). But I wanted Skyler and the kids to be okay. And, if Gretchen and Elliott live up to their end of the bargain, they will be. But what if they don’t? What if they can’t, on principle?
What if Skyler gets lung cancer from smoking too much?
What if Flynn turns down the money?
What if Marie loses it when they find Hank’s body?
What if Jesse isn’t able to outrun anyone who might be looking for him?
The future is uncertain. It’s ironic that a man called Heisenberg strove to make it certain in so many ways. But we’ll never know, will we? We’ll just have to be happy with what we have.
The series is one of many great surprises - terrific writing, outstanding acting, and beautiful direction. It’s so unlike anything else on TV - a little too fantastic to be “real”, but a little too realistic to be merely fantasy. I know there are plenty of people out there who saw Walt as a real, honest-to-goodness hero and not an anti-hero. But I’m heartened to know a number of people who saw Walter’s downfall and say “he had it coming”. I’m also heartened to know a number of people who adopted the “right” attitude toward Skyler. Instead of punishing her for Walt’s crimes, they see her as a victim of them. And in her final moments on screen, Anna Gunn really gives her best performance. As does, I believe, Bryan Cranston.
Deep down, we all knew Walt would fall. Thankfully, he did it in the way we all wanted - burning out instead of fading away, taking down as many of his enemies as he could. Walter White’s last ride, all run out, was a sight to behold.
Not for nothing:
- Marty Robbins? [Called it.] (http://jimmymarks.tumblr.com/post/62070877222/collateral-damage-a-breaking-bad-recap-for-the)
- Walt dying from a gunshot wound and not from his cancer? Called that one, too.. But so did most people, I think.
- I kind of wanted to know more about Marie’s life as a widow. Is she okay? What is she doing? What questions were raised in the wake of Hank’s death?
- No last words from Walt, Jr. But that’s okay - he said his peace last week, and beautifully so. RJ Mitte is a good guy.
- That little flashback from Walt’s surprise birthday party was a nice touch. Hank really did put the germ of the meth idea into Walt’s head, didn’t he? Also: Hank!
- Is Huell still sitting in that hotel room? Is he dead?
- Oh, Todd. Stupid, stupid Todd. You should’ve stuck to playing in your Christian Rock band and playing football for East Dillon High.
- That whole Stevia thing was sitting right in front of us the whole time, wasn’t it?
- What a great show. I gotta get that deluxe edition barrel with the Pollos Hermanos apron.
- Thanks, Breaking Bad people, for making this so great.
(Art by me. First person to get a tattoo of it, I’ll buy them a steak.)
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- jasonbaldwin said:I swear to God, I think we watched two different shows. I couldn’t disagree over inconsequential nuances more. Anyway, nice writeup.
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