Note: This recap of the Sept. 29 series finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad" includes spoilers ...
All of Walter White's Mr. Peabody-like scheming up until "Felina" has been for the betterment of one Walter White. It's something he readily admits to when he sneaks into Skyler's new home midway through the series finale. As he stands in his estranged wife's kitchen, pallid and shrunken, he begins his all too familiar, backtracking soft-shoe.
Grovelling and scraping has been sort of a Walt signature, the weight of which has taken a physical toll on those around him. You can see it in the plumes of smoke billowing from Skyler's ashtray; a graveyard of butts that would put Tom Waits to shame. Even Mike Ehrmantraut's death wish was just for his executioner to stop babbling.
But this is a different Walt. One who doesn't exhale lies like carbon dioxide.
Just when you think he's going to resume his usual sob story about raising money for the family, he has a redemptive moment. "I did it for me," Walt says to his slack-jawed spouse. "I like it. I was good at it. And I was really...I was alive."
Walt rolls his eyes back and savors the truth as if it were Beluga caviar topped with foie gras. After the ride he's been on, it has to feel good.
Skyler is so relieved by his spat of honesty, that she even relents and lets him peer in on their growing daughter. If Holly's curls didn't have you welling up, you don't have a soul. While Walt was watching "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" in the snowy desolation of New Hampshire, Holly has gotten much bigger. A bushy scalp is just a small milestone compared to all the other momentous occasions that'll pop up in her maturation. You can see it in his face at that moment. He's going to miss it all. Some might question Walt's sincerity about the family nest egg, but the love for his children is undeniable. An even more poignant reminder of this is his silent goodbye to Flynn as he's forced to watch him through cracked glass at a safe distance, the cops aware of his return to Albuquerque (because of Carol and his found vehicle at Denny's).
Walt began this journey to leave money for his children and on that account he's successful. "Granite State" left us with the image of the Schwartzes distancing themselves from Walt on Charlie Rose to salvage their company, Gray Matter. When the cops swarmed Walt's empty bar stool, it would have been easy to jump to hasty conclusions and visions of "Funny Games"-type torture porn. Vince Gilligan is much too smart for that, though, and instead Walt poses as a journalist from The New York Times to track down their current address. After quietly marveling at the billion-dollar mansion that could have been, he strong-arms Elliott and Gretchen into setting up a trust fund for Walt Jr. If, out of spite, his family pushes away millions, he finds an ingenious method to backdoor it into their bank account.
To ensure the Schwartzes' cooperation, he threatens them with high-dollar hit men that will stalk them for the remainder of their cushy lives. While they're presumably snacking on Kind bars and Brunello from their Whole Foods haul, Walt assures them, "you'll hear the scrape of footsteps behind you before you can even turn around." The reality is that Badger and Skinny Pete -- the desert Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- have returned wielding laser pointers for $200,000. I don't know which was funnier: Pete's moral dilemma in scaring the Schwartzes, or Elliott's weapon of choice. "Elliott," Walt scoffs at the dainty cheese knife. "If we're going to go that way, you're going to need a bigger knife."
If Walt couldn't give a proper goodbye to Walt Jr., he certainly has one for Jesse Pinkman. After deftly substituting Lydia's prized stevia with the ricin powder and alerting Todd to his return (wink, wink), he enters Uncle Jack's compound armed with one hell of an Erector Set. Who knew that the easiest way to strike a nerve with a neo-Nazi was to question his integrity? To stall his planned assassination, Walt accuses Jack of partnering with Jesse in the meth still circulating around New Mexico; a product Skinny Pete insists is even more pure than the vaunted Heisenberg "blue." This incites a whole rigmarole where Jesse is exhibited like an abused show pony in all his scars and chains. But each detail was anticipated in Walt's shrewd revenge plot as he tackles Jesse to the ground and pushes a button on his car alarm.
There are times when I embarrass myself while whooping and jumping on furniture during big games, but never before has a TV drama had me fist-pumping like the resultant rapid-fire sequence of events. When Walt's trunk flies open and the M60 ripped through the cheap plaster and the flesh of Nazi prison tats, I pulled a Kirk Gibson in the '88 World Series. Then, as Jesse straddled Todd and strangled him with his chains, I think I performed some combination of Deion's high-step and the Ickey Shuffle.
But Walt's pièce de résistance is never to be. After shooting Jack, he kicks the gun over to Jesse. Jesse picks it up and aims it at Walt, but quickly drops it, refusing to remain an accomplice in Walt's god-like machinations. "I want this," Walt pleads.
"Then do it yourself," Jesse replies.
Vince Gilligan called "Breaking Bad" a "finite" show on Chris Hardwick's "Talking Bad." This meant wrapping up all loose ends, something which seamlessly unfolded when "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" erupted from Todd's pocket. Walt calmly plucks the cell phone from Todd's pants and asks Lydia if she's feeling any strange flu-like symptoms. Surrounded by Kleenex and a wafting humidifier, Walt gives her the diagnosis that she's ingested ricin and has only hours to live.
The one definitive survivor in the "Breaking Bad" saga is Jesse, who upon noticing Walt's wounded gut, abandons him, fishtailing away in a black muscle car. He bursts through the gate of the compound, as jubilant as Thelma and Louise when they barreled over a cliff. He's not looking back, not even stealing a glance in the rear-view mirror.
As Walt wobbles over to Todd's meth lab and paws at the shiny new equipment, he looks as if he is going burst into "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," like professed nerd Gale Boetticher. He might have had to step on a thousand corpses to get there, but he did it. Walter White redeemed himself in his own eyes. For five seasons we saw him snarl, leer, and foolishly stumble over every imaginable pratfall. As he fell to the dirt, leaving a bloody handprint on the chrome equipment, there are no more hectoring students, disparaging bosses, or rival drug lords. As he takes his final breath -- evading the police one last time --Walter White actually looks, well, happy.
And now it's your turn to weigh in. What did you think? Will it go down as one of the best series finales ever? Or was it disappointing? Tell us here in the comments.
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