Spoiler Alert: Please don't read if you do not wish to learn details of the final episode of 'Breaking Bad.'
Checking Twitter after Sunday's finale of “Breaking Bad” was like logging on to one long, online slow-clap. “Perfect” was the word viewers appeared to use most often to describe the final episode of the Emmy-winning AMC drama, which ended its successful five-season run with an episode titled “Felina.”
Fans appeared thrilled that “Breaking Bad” did not have the murky, ambiguous ending that many viewers feel marred the finales of “The Sopranos” and “Lost.” Like the blue meth featured on the show, the fates of the show's characters were crystal-clear.
“Sometimes, unanswered questions are good,” “Breaking Bad” creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan said last night on “Talking Bad,” the talk show that AMC aired live after last night’s finale. But he noted that a linear story like “Breaking Bad” -- which follows cancer-stricken family man Walter White’s (played by three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) metamorphosis from high school chemistry teacher to ruthless meth kingpin -- requires closure. For "Bad"'s swan-song, Gilligan says he and his writers “knew we needed to dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s.’”
Those “i's” were dotted, all right -- with lots and lots of bullets. Walter White dies of a gunshot wound on the floor of a meth lab, but not before orchestrating a bloody, final-act orgy of revenge: He wipes out the white supremacist gang who'd murdered his heroic DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank; Walter’s ex-student/meth-making assistant Jesse Pinkman, who'd been tortured and held prisoner by that same gang, lustily kills his chief tormentor, Todd; and Walter poisons the treacherous corporate executive Lydia, who died both because she had it coming and because she couldn't taste the difference between the poison ricin and the sweetener Stevia (but then again, who can?).
Still, even with all its carnage and bloodshed, “Felina” was not quite the apocalypse some might have been expecting from the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” a show with a well-earned reputation for graphic violence. Walt and Jesse’s revenge spree, as epic as it may have been, was far from the most significant or shocking thing we saw in this episode. What really floored us was seeing Walter, after five full seasons of trying to justify his illegal, though lucrative, drug-running by repeating “I’m doing this for my family!" (TV’s most irritating justification since Ross’ “We were on a break!” from “Friends”), finally own up to his own selfish reasons for breaking bad.
“I did it for me,” Walter admits in what turns out to be his final confession to his wife, Skyler. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive." It’s almost as if the entire story arc of “Breaking Bad” was Walter White’s journey through the Five Stages of Grief following his first-episode cancer diagnosis; with his confession to Skyler and, later, his admiring the meth lab in which he’s about to die, "Felina's" ending finds Walt squarely at the “Acceptance” stage. And it’s good to see him there.
Not that Walter isn’t punished for his many misdeeds, lies, and the double-digit body count he’d racked up during his two-year walk on the “Bad” side (while the TV show “Breaking Bad” ran for nearly six years, its story spans little more than two). Despite enacting a brilliant plan to funnel his ill-gotten proceeds to his children, Walt dies knowing that he and his criminal doings have left his family, the only thing he’d ever professed to care about, in ruins. His infant daughter will never know him. His teen son, Walter Jr., hates him (while we don't know what lies in that lad’s future, we can be sure he'll be legally changing his name to “Flynn White”). Walt’s brother-in-law is dead, leaving behind a shattered widow. And Skyler had long since numbed herself into a catatonic state of indifference towards her monster of a husband.
Even Jesse, who was once Walter’s most loyal confidant (and the show's moral center), wants nothing more to do with him. In their final conversation, when a mortally wounded Walter implores Jesse to shoot him and end his suffering, Jesse defiantly responds, “Do it yourself” -- which, ironically, is exactly what Jesse should have said back in the first episode when Walt first proposed that meth-making partnership.
Yes, Walt’s final, permanent comeuppance is a great ending for fans who’d stopped rooting for Walter White, the down-on-his luck everyman, and started rooting against his murderous, drug-dealing alter-ego, Heisenberg. But what makes “Felina” the perfect ending for this fine series is that it also offers a big payoff for the other, equally numerous contingent of “Breaking Bad” fans: those who, despite Walter’s long list of evil deeds, longed to see him come out on top. Greater than the joy we got from seeing the big-hearted Jesse’s ecstatic drive to freedom was the satisfaction of seeing Walter White die not in prison, or in hiding from the cops, but in a state-of-the-art meth lab modeled after the one he created.
Having accepted what he’s become -- the infamous and nationally known head of a drug empire -- Walter spends his last moments peacefully basking in the knowledge that he'd finally created something extraordinary, unprecedented, and, most importantly to Walt, memorable. That same feeling is one that Vince Gilligan and company -- having steered “Breaking Bad” to its rightful place as one of TV's best dramas ever -- have earned for themselves.