“My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 87104. To all law enforcement entities, this is not an admission of guilt. I am speaking to the AMC viewers now. There are… there are going to be some things, things that you’ll come to learn about me in the next five seasons. I just want you to know that, no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart. Goodbye.”
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what Walt said in the opening moments of the first episode of “Breaking Bad,” but as I sat down to write this, my review of the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” the paraphrasing seemed like as apropos a way to kick things off as any.
I’ll be honest: as much as I wanted to just let the events of the series finale wash over me and accept whatever Vince Gilligan wanted to give me, it was impossible to walk into the proceedings without feeling like a kid at Christmas, giggling and wondering, “What am I gonna get?” We knew the big-ass gun in Walt’s trunk and the ricin he’d retrieved from his house were both going to come into play, but we didn’t know how. Well, not really, anyway. The two big theories I kept hearing about the ricin were that he was going to slip it into Lydia’s tea or drink it himself, but I’d also heard convincing dismissals of both theories, so I really didn’t have any clue how things would play out. Besides, I’ve said more times than I can count that this is a series that never fails to zig when you think it’s going to zag, so there’s just no point in trying to guess. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get really, really excited about the prospect of finding out.
The opening sequence with Walt still trying to slip out of the bar’s parking lot was inspired, since most viewers – including myself – had almost certainly presumed that we’d pick up with him well on his way back to ABQ, if not actually in the middle of his birthday breakfast. Luck may not have started out on his side at first, but in short order, between the still-iced car keeping him hidden from view and the accidental dislodging of the car’s keys from above the sun visor, things quickly turned into a case of Everything’s Coming Up Walter!
Indeed, things continue to work out well for Walt’s plan of action, starting with an apparently uneventful cross-country drive – gotta love New Hampshire’s state slogan: “Live Free or Die” – and a hastily conceived idea to pose as a New York Times reporter to find out where Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz are living these days and pay them a visit. Watching him skulk in the shadows and slip into their home was creepy enough to begin with, but his whole interaction with the Schwartzes was bad on the blood pressure, starting with the way he casually examined their photos while waiting for them to stumble onto him and going all the way through his explanation about why the laser sights had suddenly appeared on their chests. We’ll never know if his closing threat was enough to secure that they’d do his bidding and actually give his money to his family as he requested / demanded, but I like to think that they will, and the fact that it’s coming from them makes the windfall morally acceptable…or at least moreso than it would’ve been coming from Walt, anyway. Either way, it was worth it just to see how much enjoyment Walt was getting out of scaring the living shit out of them. “Curtains.” Classic.
Quick sidebar: I hadn’t even begun to hope that we’d ever see Badger and Skinny Pete again, so it was awesome to see that they were the ones who’d been shining the laser points onto the Schwartzes. Their brief appearance was a nice respite from the tension of the episode, particularly the humor derived from their annoyance that Jesse was in town and cooking up quality meth but hadn’t given his brothers a hookup, yo. I’ve always said that the writers used those guys just enough to make their appearances awesome, never overusing them, so I’d never want to see ‘em in their own spinoff. With that said, however, I’m all for having them turn up on Saul’s spin-off.
With Walt having taken care of business with his former business partners, we get a quick cut to Jesse in the midst of…woodworking? Nah, just kidding, he’s really still makin’ meth like he’s in a fucking chain gang. He’s really just lost in a memory of better times. It’s only a brief moment, but it’s a sad one. It’s also the last we see of Jesse for awhile, but, hey, dude’s in chains, it’s not like he’s going anywhere.
For our part, we’ve got to shrug off Jesse’s situation and catch back up with Walt, who’s finally caught up in time to the flash-forwards from the beginning of Season 5, but there’s a moment that’s new to us…well, sort of, anyway. As he wanders through the White house in the wake of retrieving the ricin, he pauses to recall a scene from what seems like a lifetime ago, when Hank teased poor ol’ milquetoast Walt about how maybe he ought to go on a ride-along with him. It’s hard to tell if it’s a good memory or a bad memory for Walt, but either way he quickly walks out of his home, knowing it’s likely to be the last time he’s ever within its walls.
And so we come to Lydia. Oh, Lydia. Say, have you met Lydia? If you have, then you know she’s painfully prone to repetitive behavior, and it’s something that Walt isn’t afraid to take advantage of. That’s right, if you bet on Walt slipping the ricin into her tea by taking advantage of her tendency to use Stevia, then, congratulations, she’s dead. Hope you’re happy! Walt’s performance was pretty convincing, and so was Lydia’s, to be fair, but she never had a chance against a master of lies like Heisenberg. With that, Walt’s off to the desert, where he’s setting up a remote control system for his spiffy new firearm, revealing only that whatever he’s up to is clearly going to be something elaborate.
Time to visit Skyler, who gets a phone call from Marie, who’s requesting a truce in order to reveal the latest news about Walt. Skyler is kind enough to pick up and listen to her sister natter on about how Walt’s turned up in ABQ but that everything’s gonna be just fine, but as soon as Skyler thanks her and gets off the line, we realize that, in fact, Walt’s been there the whole time. Their conversation is understandably stilted at first, but they soon slip into the same back-and-forth they’ve had in the past, but with one key difference: Walt’s finally stopped telling lies. Granted, he may be picking his phrases carefully on occasion, such as when she asks if he’s going to the police and he replies, “They’ll be coming to me,” but he’s not lying. Not anymore.
Walt assures her that the guys who came to see her and Holly won’t be bothering her anymore after tonight, then he gives her the lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates and tells her they can find Hank and Gomez’s bodies there. Before leaving, though, he decides that he has to offer up the greatest truth of all: in the end, the things he did weren’t for his family. He finally admits, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.” And although it’s probably far too late for Skyler to ever fully forgive Walt, there’s a look in her eyes that reveals that, if nothing else, she’s finally gotten a final glimpse of the man she married. It’s never going to fix everything he’s done, but it’s the best goodbye she’s going to get, so she takes it, offering him a final olive branch of letting him say goodbye to his daughter. Before he gets in his car to go, he takes long enough to watch his son get off the bus, walk to his house, step inside, and close the door. There’s no need from him to say goodbye – he knows he’s dead to his son now –but at least he’s able to get one last glimpse of him before he goes.
And so we reach the grand conclusion, which begins with Walt driving up to the gate of Uncle Jack’s compound, where he promptly picks up a co-pilot who tells him where to drive. When he ignored the guy’s instructions on where to park in favor of his own choice of spot, I knew it was a telling choice of location, and seeing the remote control on his keychain confirmed it. Naturally, I felt my stomach lurch when his keys were taken away from him, wondering if this was going to be one of those zig-when-you-think-it’s-gonna-zag moments. Things quickly go tits up for Walt when Jack says he’s got no interest in moving forward with any future collaboration and orders one of his boys to kill him, but Walt immediately plays the “you owe me” card, reminding Jack that he’d promised to kill Jesse but had instead made him his partner. This was a classic example of Walt thinking on his feet to save his ass, but the end result of his comments made me twitch briefly, as it seemed a little too convenient for Jack to suddenly say, “You think we’re partners? In that case, before I kill you, I’ll show you we aren’t…and then I’ll kill you!” Then again, if he hadn’t said that, then Jesse never would’ve been brought inside. I’m just saying that it’s a variable that I can’t imagine Walt ever could’ve factored into his plan, so it’s pretty fucking good luck that things played out the way they did.
My wife and I were watching the episode together tonight, and she wondered if Walt had gone in with a plan to kill Jesse, only to change his mind when he realized how badly Jesse was being treated. That seems likely to me as well. As such, I knew exactly what he was planning when he jumped Jesse. Everyone else in the room saw it as Walt trying to get in his last licks, but, no, it was actually Walt saving his former partner’s life as a final gesture of friendship…or something vaguely resembling friendship at times, anyway. And with that, Walt pressed the button on the remote control, setting off a full-fledged massacre that more or less took out everyone but Walt, Jesse, and – wouldn’t you know it? – Todd. But that’s okay, because it finally set up the showdown everyone had been waiting for, giving Jesse a chance to literally choke the life out of the man who killed Andrea. Plus, Walt got to put a bullet in Jack’s head. Did you think he was going to spare him just to get the rest of his money back? No way. Walt knew his life was over, his family didn’t want any more of his money, and, besides, he’d already been willing to give it all away to spare Hank’s life. He might not have been able to save Hank, but at least he was able to avenge him.
But what of Walt and Jesse? Figuring he’s giving Jesse what he wants and getting a quick death in the process, Walt throws Jesse the gun, but Jesse refuses to shoot Walt unless Walt says that it’s what he wants…and when he realizes that Walt’s already been hit, he just throws caution to the wind, says, “Then do it yourself,” and walks away. As he’s leaving, though, Todd’s phone rings…and the ringtone is “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” (Personally, I thought it was preposterous that Todd would be familiar with the song, but the rationale seems to be that he was obsessed enough with Lydia that he would’ve Googled her name to find a song to use as her ringtone. I am old and had not considered this as a possibility. I guess I’ll buy that.) It may have been a little anticlimactic for us to hear him tell Lydia how he’d poisoned her, but it was still darkly entertaining nonetheless. And with that taken care of, Walt steps outside, he and Jesse exchange final looks and expressions that say more than you could ever summarize in a single paragraph, and Jesse drives away, blowing through the gate, laughing his blessed head off, free at last. Will his first stop be to find Brock and make sure he’s safe? You’d like to think so.
And as Jesse drives away, Walt finally realizes what Jesse had already noticed: he’s been shot. Jesse might not have been willing to finish the job the cancer started five seasons ago, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Offering up a few final coughs, Walt wanders into the meth lab and, with Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” playing in the background, looks at what he’s wrought, touches the vat and leaves a bloody print behind (a none-too-subtle reference to all the blood on his hands, perhaps?), and succumbs to death at last, gone before the cops can take him away. As Vince Gilligan has been promising us, Walt went out on his own terms, and viewers got, if not necessarily a happy ending, the happiest possible conclusion that could’ve been delivered at this point: Walt found a way to give his wife and children money, helped Marie get closure by providing the location of Hank’s body, and, despite everything, still managed to set Jesse free to live his life. Plus, we got the Jesse / Todd showdown, and it ended exactly as we wanted it to.
I’m going to miss this show more than I can say, but, damn, did it go out in style.
Well, folks, I hope it’s been fun for you. I’ve never really known how many people read these reviews, but at the very least, I know that, over the course of the show’s run, I’ve convinced a lot of people to give “Breaking Bad” a chance, and that’s good enough for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed watching it as much as I have. And with that, if “Breaking Bad” thinks it’s cool to go out on a Badfinger song, then I reckon I might as well do the same.
That’s all, bitches!
Tags: Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring, Hank Schrader, Jesse Pinkman, Marie Schrader, R.J. Mitte, Saul Goodman, Skyler White, Walter White, Walter White Jr.