This covers last night’s finale, “Felina.” Spoilers!
“I started from scratch. I made another, then another. And by the end of the semester, by box number five, I had built this thing. You should’ve seen it, it was insane. I mean, I built it out of Peruvian walnut with inlaid zebrawood. It was fitted with pegs, no screws. I sanded it for days until it was smooth as glass. And then I rubbed all the wood with tung oil, so it was rich and dark. It even smelled good. You know, you put your nose in it and breathed in… it was perfect.” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Well, woodworking indeed. The only hint that Vince Gilligan spelled out before the airing of Felina was a hopeful one, as an anonymous commenter surmised in the previous episode’s post (Are you reading, Cranston?). And it was perfect. Despite the fact that the show’s writers had come up with five different endings, and all of them most definitely ended in superb mayhem, this ending was perhaps the least fitted for the show’s “frightening moral logic.” It takes what is glorious about Scarface and relents with the slightest hand of mercy.
From the very first scene in the snowed-in Volvo, we find Walter again at capture’s verge, but a gift falls from the sun visor—keys, yet another chance to escape. This time, for the dying man whose time is up, will he continue the charade? Is his long drive into ABQ another grab at kingship, or is it a ride into his own Jerusalem?
Elliott and Gretchen’s house serves, as it should, as the hinge point for the finale. What appears first is surely a horror-genre move: Walt slouched in the shadows of their enormous home, then ponderously looking at photos in plain sight, feeling the width of their prodigious walls. We see Walt musing over the life that could’ve been his. And we are meant to feel here that Walt has come back for a bloodbath—to seek, as I thought last week, the credit he felt cheated from him. And if this is true, that Walt has come for vengeance, then it is also true that everyone dies, everyone goes down. But, instead, a favor is asked: ironically, Walt entrusts all his money—all his empire’s earnings—to the very people who arguably “stole” it to begin with. The old pride is still there—Walt still makes clear that none of their money should be used in any fashion—but Walt’s fate as “provider” for his family is, again, circumvented by the people he has sought to be successful without. Besides saying that this is part of the show’s logic—that you can’t be a “have” purely by being a willful “have not”—it also shows a great coming to terms for Walter White. If providing for his family is what he’s really wanted all along, he must surrender his name’s connection to it. From this decision we can see where the rest of the show is going: not to Walt’s redemption, but to his surrender; an honest attempt to “make right.”
This continues with the final goodbye to Skyler. He exonerates her (and relieves Marie of her grief) with the location of the “burial site.” What’s more, he is done with the justifications. He simply tells Skyler, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” This is as much a gift as the coordinates; Skyler is given the dignity of an honest appraisal. It was pride which brought on this hell. It was a dying man’s attempt to shirk death with a life of his choosing. He does not force a sentimental goodbye—he has accepted the love he’s lost. It is almost enough to wonder if he really means it when he says it: when Skyler tells him he looks terrible, he responds, humorously, “But I feel good.”
It is hard not to think that Walt here has taken Saul’s final word of advice, to face the music. He has, in a way, died before this episode even began. Watch him walk Skyler’s kitchen like the old man from Up, watch his near-zen calm in answering Gretchen’s questions. With nothing really to lose, it is easy to think that Walt here has made the only good move left—to expend all his time left to make it all okay. This is certainly the temptation, though, and not the full story: still Walt believes his legacy in his hands, that he can exert his final breath to make it all go away. He nearly prays in that car in New Hampshire: “Just get me home. I’ll take care of the rest.” While calling on help, what he really wants is one final chance to be the good father he should have always been. While Flynn walks in the door of their family’s new apartment, Walter must disappear, and we see that no work of restitution will be thorough enough to make broken things whole.
Walter has surrendered, though. We see this no more violently than in the final blazing shootout with Uncle Jack’s outfit. As soon as the trunk door flies open, Walt covers Jesse, our series’ stuck prodigal, and takes his bullets for him. Gurgling blood (and smoking his last drag?), Jack offers Walt the rest of his money—but Walt is dead to it. He pulls the trigger—who cares anymore?
The final exchange with Jesse says it all: Walt pushes the gun his way, and gives him the chance to exact revenge—for Brock, for Andrea, for Jane, for being a tool for two years, first for Walt, then for the DEA, then for Jack and Todd. Jesse has the right, but wants to hear Walt’s surrender: “I want this.” In the end, Jesse wants freedom more than he wants vengeance—and the relief, the exuberance we see as the El Camino breaks the bonds in sunder!
I’m curious why Walt doesn’t take the gun and “do it himself.” Perhaps he is too much a believer in living than to take his own life. Perhaps he sees he is bleeding out anyways. Either way, he exonerates Jesse (and himself!) by going back to the lab. He, finally, gets to be found as the only Emperor Heisenberg who ever lived, in his lab, making the purest (96%) crystal meth. No one knows it was Jesse, and he’d prefer it that way. Walt dies, leaving the myth of Heisenberg. It is no accident, though, that he looks an awful lot like he did in the pilot episode: khaki pants, khaki jacket, yellow-green shirt, long hair—this is the same man. This was the story of Walter White, a death-dealing chemistry teacher, a self-acclaimed emperor.
-“Felina,” besides the Marty Robbins connection from the beginning, is a combination of three chemicals: Iron, Lithium, and Sodium. Blood, Meth and Tears, people.
-If you’re going to go all colorcoding, it seems that many of the exonerated were painted white this week.
-Huell? What happened to Huell?
-Can’t you imagine a Pinkman Aftermath preview?
-Great line comes from Skinny Pete: “I don’t know man. It all felt kind of shady to me. Like morality-wise?”
-Walter White points east to the Sangre de Cristo.
-How about Todd’s “Lydia” ringtone? And how about Lydia’s very central end, right in between the shootout and Jesse’s departure?
-Closing music: “Guess I got what I deserved” from Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.”