Happy Tax Day! Here’s a video I helped put together for TurboTax.
Aww, Rob!! We are all artists with insecurities. If you’re Rob Reiner, don’t make Jurassic Park. Make The Princess Bride. Make When Harry Met Sally. Fuck it, make The Bucket List, who cares. Recognize what your faults are, even mope about it on camera if you want, then focus on your strengths and you just might create something couples watch on Valentine’s Day.
The consensus among the upper echelon of TV critics—I’m talkin’ Nussbaum and Holmes, I’m talkin’ Van Der Werff, yo—seems to be that the Breaking Bad finale fell short. More specifically, the argument has been that it offered too much closure, that Walt found redemption way too easily, that a “happy ending” goes against the spirit of the show. This is weird to me.
Another major critic who’s sort of in this anti-closure camp, Alan Sepinwall, suggested that the true climax of the series came in “Ozymandias,” and that—following the somber denouement of “Granite State”—”Felina” is more of an extended coda. I like this notion, and I think, in some ways, the other critics heaped too many expectations onto the finale. A single theme keeps arising in the tepid reactions, namely that assigning Walter White any sort of redemption betrays the moral thesis of the past six years of Breaking Bad. This wasn’t a show with any room for tidy closure—it’s supposed to be ambiguous, bleak, despairing. Anything but hopeful.
First off, I don’t really buy this expectation. I think critics, Holmes especially, have been a lot harder on Walt than Gilligan wants us to be. People love to say, “Walt’s a monster!” and accuse anyone on “Team Walt” of not paying attention to the show in front of them. I say it’s the opposite. Breaking Bad is a story about a man who lost his identity and found it in being a monster. That’s the show’s central idea—not that Walt gradually lost his soul and must suffer for his sins, though that’s certainly one of the biggest ideas it explores.
Anyway, all this is to say that all this anti-closure nonsense drives me fucking nuts, and I think it’s based on a misreading of the finale.
My friend Jamison posits a neat theory that “Felina” isn’t so much about Walt finding redemption as Heisenberg seeking immortality. The entire trip to New Mexico is to cement Walt’s legacy as the biggest meth kingpin ABQ ever saw or will ever see. It is his final self-serving act, an ultimate stroke of ego and pride that culminates in martyrdom, not sacrifice.
I think that’s closer to a correct reading.
I would add that the whole point of the episode is that the blue meth is not only Walt’s life’s work, but the love of his life. The bulk of “Felina” is a reenactment of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”—the title and the teaser practically scream this at us.
Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
Everything’s gone in life; nothing is left.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death.
Hey, pick any verse in the whole song. It’s all “Felina.” Heisenberg has returned to Albuquerque to reclaim his love—the blue meth—that the cowboys—the Nazis—have stolen from him. It’s not quite a 1:1 allegory—it’s more chiral than anything—but that’s what’s happening.
There’s a pair of parallel moments in the episode that speaks to this quite nicely. Here’s how Walt looks when he strokes Baby Holly’s hair:
What’s his expression here? Maybe some regret, I think, but also a bit of adoration, like he’s marveling at something new and beautiful. It’s a fatherly look, for sure, so I won’t say he doesn’t love Holly. But compare this to the final moments of the series, when he reunites with a shiny lab tank:
Here’s where Walt truly feels like he created something worthwhile. Whereas he looked on Holly with fatherly fondness and appreciation, he pats the tank like an old friend swelling with pride. It’s also worth noting that Gilligan splits the Holly moment into two shots: we see Walt in one frame and his hand in the other. He’s still detached, disconnected—what’s important is Walt. Here, we see them both in the frame, including the hand. What’s important is that they’re together. They’re in love. “One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.”