I started watching Breaking Bad with the very first episode. A roommate and friend of mine was a big fan of Malcolm in the Middle and wanted to see how Cranston transitioned from comedy to drama. So in 2008 a handful of us sat down on a Sunday night and watched the beginning of Walter White's journey. As you might expect a 20 year old to do, I didn't keep up with the show. I wouldn't watch another episode for over three years. Again, at the behest of a good friend, I was encouraged to watch the show. A combination of AMC marathons and Netflix viewings would catch me up to be ready for the fifth and final season as it started up last year. And now, all those years later, it's all over. Few shows can stick with you over time and allow us to share a real moment, even if what we bond over isn't real. Breaking Bad is done but what it gave us will never go away, at least not for me.
We finally catch up to the Walt we've only seen hints of at the beginning of both halves of this season. He's disheveled, dying, and completely broken but with one purpose left and that's to put things right. One by one Walt gives us, the audience, closure with characters we've grown to love. Walt makes a stop at Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz's house, the two who own and operate Gray Matter the company Walt helped create but through which he gets no credit or money, and cashes in his stock. Walt "asks" the two to take all the money he has left and put it in an account for Walt Jr.'s 18th birthday. It was nice to see the potential motivation behind Walt's initial malaise in life turn into a solution for him. And true to Walt's style when he doesn't have the muscle or money to get something done, he uses his head. Walt hires Badger and Skinny Pete to pose as hired assassins in order to scare Elliot and Gretchen into going along with his plan and it gives us one last moment with those characters too.
Walt moves on to slowly prepare for what he needs to do next. Saying goodbye isn't easy for anyone but certainly not for Walt. His family has been exiled, lied to, and were living with a monster for years and no amount of money will make up for it. Walt is able to have a brief moment with Skyler and makes a revealing admission. Since that first episode Walt has been doing everything he needed to, as he says, for his family. Finally he admits to Skyler it was all for himself. He did it to feel alive again after a life of meek decisions had left him merely drifting along. Before Walt leaves he gives Skyler the one and only thing she could ever accept from a him, the location of Hank and Gomez's bodies. It could give Skyler an out with prosecutors and possibly be able to put her ruined life back together just a little bit.
The final scenes with Todd, his uncle's neo-nazi friends, and Jesse are almost a blur for me. All the sudden you're rooting for the monster you had just finally learned to hate. But these men did something Walt never did, they stole money that didn't belong to them and hurt his family. The massacre of those thugs only served to give one more moment to Jesse and Walt. Injured and already dying of cancer Walt gives Jesse something they both want, the death of Heisenberg. Jesse demands one moment of honesty from Walt before making a choice for sanity and closure in hopes of maybe getting a less haunted and tortured existence.
And then Walt's all alone. He's among the chemistry he loves so much, surrounded by transformation and change, Walt gets a moment of peace. But really Walt's been dead for days and Heisenberg is still alive. Even the final shot of Jesse looking back at Walt reveals no person left, only a shadow of who used to be. Heisenberg dies on the floor of a meth lab as police move in. It's over.
Ozymandias By Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
You can listen to it spoken my Bryan Cranston here
Satisfying. This is how I would describe this final bit of Breaking Bad, and in general. Not relief. Not happiness (that’d be weird). But Satisfying, like after a well executed meal. You are just left utterly content.
Now I haven’t looked anywhere online. But I’m highly certain the reaction to “Felina” is positive. Did it go largely the way most suspected? In broad strokes sure. Fulfilling that expectation just reinforced that satisfied feeling.
Walter White was Ozymandias, King of Kings. He was a lot of things in that Shelley poem. Unlike most Kings he got the chance to look on his works and despair as they all turned to dust before his eyes. Like the snake he is once the Ozymandias/Heisenberg persona was of no more use it was shed. Becoming the more mobile, unassuming but equally deadly Mr. Lambert. As Walter journeyed back to Albuquerque, to his former Empire, Walt became the Hunter in the poems companion piece by Horace Smith. Only he looked back on those great works with a hefty bit of nostalgia for the tools they were not the bewilderment and wonder often attributed in either poem. A sly little smirk coming across his face as he peered at a gas mask used in a cook.
That final shot of Walter lying like a snow angel as the police rush in, camera pulling out of the building towards the heavens. Was that Walts soul somehow making it towards heaven? The argument could and will likely be made as is typical of the internet going over everything with an ultra fine comb. It just wouldn’t be the end of some great work if people didn’t debate and attribute the its final acts. On that final shoot out and shot, let us all just appreciate a great homage in Shane.
Speaking of references, how awesome was the one made with the machine gun? This show has done A LOT of crazy things. Somehow killing a bunch of Neo Nazis in one fell swoop. In a cacophonous rain of gunfire and bullets. Doesn't seem all that crazy.
Vince Gilligan is the real Ozymandias in all of this. Show runner, writer, and director of “Felina”. HIs attention to detail once they came up with a plan and assemblage of house directors like Michelle MacLaren is why Breaking Bad after a slow start turned into a cultural phenomenon. With this great work finished, I despair just a little. Not because one of his old scripts was picked up by CBS. For meBreaking Bad marks the end of the most recent “Golden Age of Television”. That doesn't mean TV is over and nothing will ever top it. Nope, it’s just the end of a chapter. A chapter that closed the past 10 years or so fascination with middle class white male anti-heroes.