Felina: Thoughts on Breaking Bad’s Finale

Did anyone else see Low Winter Sun last night? What an episode! amirite? OK, no one watches Low Winter Sun. I feel bad for anyone trying to follow the Breaking Bad finale. It was like “Party’s over! Everyone outta the pool!” and Low Winter Sun is wading around in the shallow end, whimpering, “Marco? Marco? Marco?”

I’ll start off by saying there are huge spoilers here. (If you’re reading reviews of an episode before you watched it, you’re a moron.) Also, I’ll just give it up right at the start: I didn’t like “Felina.” So, if you’re looking for another celebratory blog post about how this is the greatest finale ever, you ought to just stop reading.

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Well, it’s not that I didn’t like “Felina” so much as I was underwhelmed. When it comes to Breaking Bad, I’m used to a much purer cook, and “Felina,” like much of the second-half of season five, just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Writing for The New Yorker, I think Emily Nussbaum (as always) summed it up quite well:

It’s not that Walt needed to suffer, necessarily, for the show’s finale to be challenging, or original, or meaningful: but Walt succeeded with so little true friction—maintaining his legend, reconciling with family, avenging Hank, freeing Jesse, all genuine evil off-loaded onto other, badder bad guys—that it felt quite unlike the destabilizing series that I’d been watching for years. (source)

Nussbaum makes an interesting point that once Walt finds those keys in the snowed car, it all starts to feel like a big revenge fantasy. I’m inclined to agree. This is strange and disappointing for a series that has found so much success in building up its characters’ solipsistic fantasies only to have them deflated by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

And what happened to the Mr. Chips-becomes-Scarface arc we’d heard so much about? In the end, Walt goes soft. Now blaze of glory. Just lovingly caressing some lab equipment then dropping dead. Lame.

I loved the scene between he and Skylar where he finally admits that it was all about his ego, but sticking it to Gray Matter, avenging Hank, saving Jesse, and letting go of the money all felt too saccharine to me. Again, it seemed like feel-good moment after feel-good moment when heretofore Breaking Bad was all about taking the darker, more challenging routes.

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Furthermore, I could’ve used some more off-the-wall moments. The great thing about Breaking Bad was that it was able to pull off some really fanciful sequences while staying rooted in reality. Think of all the the unlikely schemes Walt has managed to pull off throughout the series: the train job, the bomb strapped to Hector’s wheelchair, bodies in acid. How does the Gatling gun in the trunk stack up?

I think season five, particularly the second half, didn’t sustain the momentum built up with seasons three and four, which were Breaking Bad‘s peak – season four especially. Once Gus and then Mike were out of the picture, the series suffered.

My biggest pet peeve was how Breaking Bad started doing these Tantric cliff hangers. Vince Gilligan would tease the audience with revelations or pay-offs only to defer them to the next episode. First, I think that kind of shit is gimmicky and is better off left to lesser shows like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones; Gilligan and Breaking Bad are better than that. Secondly, if you are going to defer satisfaction, then you’d better hit it hard with the follow-through, which season five failed to do.

“To’hajiilee” and “Ozymandias” come to mind. The former ends with a terrible cliff hanger as Hank is besieged by a Nazi firing squad. He’s out-gunned and obviously doomed, yet the episode ends, leaving Hank’s assured death to the beginning of the latter episode. As a result, Hank’s death felt anticlimactic. This boggled my mind. Why resort to corny gimmicks, Gilligan?

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I don’t want this post to give the sense that I didn’t like “Felina” or season five; even a lesser Breaking Bad is still a purer cook than most of what TV is peddling (how’s Low Winter Sun working out for you?). My issue is that after waiting so long for the other shoe to drop on Walt and co., Gilligan failed to deliver.

That being said, Jesse driving out the Nazi compound was a great prologue to Need for Speed.

Cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on September 30, 2013.

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