Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

*SPOILER ALERT* Breaking Bad: and now, the end is near.


Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 20:21


Yes, as a whole, Breaking Bad is one of the great television shows of our time. Like all great programmes – The Sopranos and The Wire, especially – it pulled that great trick of making everyone slightly repugnant in their own right, fueling moral quandaries about who you were rooting for. In Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan and co discovered an actor who managed to make meek mean, who transformed helplessness into a form of psychopathy, who valued greed and integrity and was as ruthless as he was cowardly. It’s difficult to now say that the programme is overrated (something I believed at the start of season five) but much of Breaking Bad has still been extremely frustrating to watch, often eye-rollingly slow and even mind-numbingly boring at times. I’ve often felt that Jesse’s constant lazing and nodding out around the house with his stupid stoner buddies surrounded by pizza boxes was some sort of TV version of limbo where the viewer would have to wander around forever. Watching it evoked the same hypnotic lethargy of going off piste on GTA for hours.

Yet so much of it has been amazing. So many hand-over-your-mouth moments under and on top of trains, hitting the bonnets of cars, down the barrel of guns at children, in Hank’s eyes, in RVs and in the aftermath of bombs. But the second half of season five – although that too had a couple of less than exciting episodes following the straight to the point punch of ‘Bloody Money’ – has been especially satisfying. ‘To’hajiilee’, with its brilliantly off-kilter ending right in the heat of action, ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘Granite Slate’ were all masterfully delivered. So what happens now? What does ‘Felina’ hold? Why call an episode ‘Felina’ anyway? Vince Gilligan has spoken about a conclusive ending and about the lack of redemption. There will be no black screen.

Where we left him (and seriously, for the last time, don’t read ahead if you’re not up to date) Walt was at a bar in New Hampshire, completely resigned. His son rejected him. Skylar is to an extent off the hook thanks to Walt’s warped ingenuity. The bulk of his money is gone, although there’s still a large amount left, but it, like Walt, is in limbo. The cash is pointless considering he can’t get it anywhere. Saul has left. Jesse is being tortured physically and psychologically, locked in a purgatory of cooking meth with the threat of the murder of the kid propelling him. The true psychopaths of the series, Todd and his uncles, are now reigning supreme. Lydia (Cat from Lip Service!!! Maybe that’s the Felina reference? Lolz.) is ultimately calling the shots, in a dangerous position as Todd’s obsession. And then, channel surfing, the Gray Matter twosome come on screen, Walt’s original nemesis duo, the people who he feels in a roundabout way took everything from him before he even had it, the Sliding Doors version of his and Skylar’s life. There they are, taunting his existence and flaunting their riches. Walt was finished after the phone call to Walter Jr./Flynn. He called the DEA, effectively handing himself in, ordered a drink like a death row juice and waited. Until he saw them. Then he was gone.

Up to that point, logic would dictate that Walt, still angry at Todd and his uncles’ gang, was about to head off and confront them in what would probably end in a massive shootout with some kind of opportunity to save Jesse. Maybe he would rescue Jesse. Maybe both would be caught and forced to cook forever more a punishment worse than death. Maybe Walt would free Jesse and take the ricin. Walt has been dying the whole time anyway, and death would in fact be a sort of redemption. Or maybe not. Maybe when he jumped off his bar stool he was going to settle the original score with Gray Matter.

Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz are the root of Walt’s dissatisfaction. In them he sees his parallel life, the riches he could have had, the respect and name-recognition he thinks he deserves so much that it drove him to dispense with logic, fairness, any kind of moral code, safety, and common sense to go from Mr. Chips to Scarface.

We’ll know soon what happens, but until then, if you’re up to date, (and if you aren’t then you really shouldn’t have read this post!) here are some interesting lead-up-to-the-finale articles.

Some theories on what ‘Felina’ refers to.

How a cancer patient influenced Breaking Bad. – Forbes

The fictional New York Times column about Gray Matter referenced in the second last episode. – New York Times

Vince Gilligan says no bad deed goes unpunished. – Telegraph

Here’s an interview with Breaking Bad’s director of photography, Michael Slovis. – Ottawa Citizen

The LA Times thinks making blue meth candy would be a fun thing to do as an accompaniment to watching the finale. – LA Times

Five theories on how Breaking Bad will end. – CNN

Here are some more thoughts on the ending. – Wall Street Journal

Bryan Cranston and Lyndon Johnson. – New Yorker

The world according to Team Walt. – New York Times

‘Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Context, Politics, Style and Reception of the Television Series’, is a new book – AZ Central

What Breaking Bad can teach us about business relationships – Business Week