“Chemistry: I like to think of it as the study of change…Well that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant; it’s the cycle…. It is growth, then decay, then transformation.”
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) expressed these words in the pilot episode of Breaking Bad, long before the show became the emotionally draining crime epic of these last few weeks. Before the cow house. (You know, where they live, the cows?) Before the homicide by ATM machine. Before a guy got half his face blown off. Before Mr. Chips unleashed his inner Scarface on the residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breaking Bad was the story of the everyman — undervalued by society, and determined to construct his legacy.
Now the saga of Walter White’s growth, decay and transformation has come full circle, as the final moments of Sunday’s series finale, written and directed by creator Vince Gilligan, found our protagonist finally embracing his.
Although not one of Bad’s more exhilarating episodes, “Felina” wrapped up five years’ worth of storylines into a neat bow, as viewers followed Walter’s quest to tie up every single loose end.
No gun or barrel of money was left unaccounted for, no character’s fate left unrevealed. For a show that so often thrived on the unanticipated, everything panned out pretty much as expected — with the exception of one killer crackerjack car trunk.
Perhaps, then, this meticulously crafted show’s only weak point was its heavy handed foreshadowing (Lydia’s stevia dependency was practically labeled with a “this-will-be-important-later” wink from the writers.)
However, this might also simply be a credit to the show’s strong writing, that every storyline was so well conceived, there was no choice but for them to reach their logical, practical and thematic conclusions.
If nothing else, Bad utilizes Chekhov’s gun theory so masterfully, don’t be surprised if the phrase soon becomes “Gilligan’s ricin theory.”
One could nitpick all day: sure, the black humor of the early days was nearly nil in the last few episodes. But after the character’s lives had turned so bleak and serious – as does happen when drugs and murder are involved – a lighter tone would have felt out of place.
Yes, Jesse, the show’s co-lead, was given less lines than tertiary characters like Gretchen Schwartz. But Aaron Paul doesn’t need silly things like dialogue to build an RV made of Emmys. Paul so expertly conveys his character’s explosive emotions, his final, wordless scene is enough to make even the most jaded viewer tear up.
The entire cast, as always, remains superb. Anna Gunn embodies the hollowed-out shell of a housewife that Skyler has become, each line doled out with a mixture of despondent cool and “where-did-it-all-go-wrong?” bewilderment. Cranston’s singular achievement remains untouched. Every tic, every vocal cadence tells us more about the man that is Walter White than thousands of pages of exposition could.
On its own, “Felina” is simply a perfectly satisfying episode of an excellent show.
Sure, it lacks the bravura of “Face Off,” the gut-punching shock of “Full Measure,” or the freshness of “4 Days Out.” One could argue that it wasn’t even the show’s climax — that’d be episode 5.14, “Ozymandias” — and that the last two episodes have simply witnessed the falling action.
Viewed in the context of the show’s entire arc, however, this conclusion is the pay-off that fans deserved, one that makes the journey all the more poignant.
Was Breaking Bad the perfect product that some are heralding it as? Certainly not, but even Heisenberg can’t craft something 100 percent pure. Ultimately, it was just the most exciting, breathlessly intense, and tight, tight, tightly written show to grace our television sets in years, bitch.