Hats Off: Recapping Breaking Bad, "Felina" (Season 5, Episode 16)

Hats Off: Recapping Breaking Bad, "Felina" (Season 5, Episode 16)

That's all, folks.

Walter White is no more. Breaking Bad has finished. "Felina," written and directed by creator Vince Gilligan, brought the series to a close after five seasons and 62 episodes. ("Felina" is, among other things, an anagram of "finale.") Walter died happy. How are you feeling about it?

"Just get me home, I'll do the rest," Walter says in the conspicuously linear episode's first scene. Red and blue police lights beat against the snow covered windows of the car he's trying to steal to get out of New Hampshire. He repeats to himself, "Just get me home." Who is he talking to? Walter's never been a religious man. Perhaps he's addressing the writers' room, asking that, as has been the case so many times before, the brilliant authors of this story find one more miraculous, unexpected way to rescue Walter from his tight spot. The cop drives away. Walter finds the key in the most obvious place (hidden by the sun visor). A country ballad plays.

That was easy! For a show that is so frequently like watching a brilliant escape artist, with episodes locking the characters into seemingly impossible binds only to find creative and surprising ways to free them, the finale felt less than wondrous.

But it got off to a great start. Black hats off to Gilligan for all of the shots of lurking Walt. The episode played with space in ways that should shut up naysayers who still think of TV as filmed radio plays.

After leaving New Hampshire, Walt's first stop is the palatial, Kurbick-esque home of Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz. Like something out a horror movie, The Strangers especially, Walt lurks in the background of shot after shot, slowly entering the house unbeknownst to his former partners at Gray Matter. Instead of scaring, the scenes delight. They're hilarious games of "Where's Walt?" The classical music braces the viewer for some kind of Clockwork Orange-style home invasion, but it's all theater, all comedy. Walt makes Gretchen and Elliott swear that on Junior's 18th birthday, they will deliver the remainder of Walt's fortune to his son. Because he can't help himself—and because it's fun to watch rich people squirm—he makes them believe that their lives are in danger if they don't do so, spinning a story about hiring the best hitman this side of the Mississippi and summoning two red laser aimed at their chests. Gretchen and Elliott believe the con, mistake the laser pointers for the hired guns, when it's just Badger and Skinny Pete, riding again.

When they dash out of the woods to meet with Walt, even before you see their faces, you have the feeling that it must be them. "Felina," at its worst, feels like a fan-serving checklist. Not this moment, though. Badger and Skinny Pete are always welcome, and their dialogue about how intimidating Gretchen and Elliott feels "shady, morality-wise" is one of the biggest laughs of the episode.

No, the first 30 minutes of the episode are strong. The viewer gets to play "Where's Walter?" two more times, with Lydia and Todd, and then with Skyler. (Each shot of Walter lurking is a visual realization of his double life; he watches the kinds of domestic scenes he once tried to participate in. He's a ghost now.) Pulling up a chair unannounced to Lydia and Todd's meeting, he makes an offer to show them a new cooking style, as their methylamine supply has to be running low. Lydia hears Walt out because she wants to kill Walt, something Todd is slow to catch. He may have the heart of an adorable sociopath, but Todd was not blessed with brains. Walt has enough brains for all the characters. Just ask Lydia, who unwittingly takes ricin with her chamomile. Please check these items off of your checklist.

Like a bad penny, Walt keeps showing up where you least expect him. After Skyler and Marie have a conversation about the legendary chemistry teacher, the camera reveals him to be standing in Skyler's kitchen. (Poor Marie—this episode gives her no peace. She's still the dummy underestimating Walt.) Chain smoking and gaunt, Skyler grants Walt five minutes to say his peace. In the episode's high point, he tells the truth. "I did it for me," he tells her, "I liked it."

Finally, he comes clean. Both Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn are fantastic here, somehow looking even worse than those Francis Bacon-style family portraits Skyler's lugged from the old house to this small apartment. After he gives her the lottery receipt with the GPS coordinates of Hank's and Steve's bodies, Skyler lets her see Holly. Again, Walt gets what he wants.

The composition of the brief reunion is gorgeous: Holly's sleeping face, her hair splayed across her forehead and cheek like the craggy fingers of Walt's hand as he caresses her for the last time. It's sad. You feel something. Like many of the greatest scenes on Breaking Bad, it's terribly quiet—no music. If Breaking Bad teaches the world of television one lesson, please let it be that, when used correctly, silence is more powerful than any score.

After Walter watches Flynn, so fashionable in Tims and Zubaz, walk into Skyler's apartment, he goes to finish business with Jesse. Perhaps these are just grossly high expectations talking, but there was something disappointing about the shootout with Jack, Todd, and the pseudo-Nazis. Because you perviously saw Walt assemble the automated device for his machine gun, you know exactly what's coming when he rides into Jack's compound. The only tension in the scene comes from the fact that...he has to get his car keys back? OK, sure. He does get his keys back, and he lights up the compound. Most everyone is killed, except for Todd and Jack, so that Walt and Jesse will have people to kill in non-automated fashion. (Jesse strangles Todd; Walt shoots Jack in the head.) I thought back to the end of season two, when the explosion that's been hinted at all season (like the gun in the trunk) is revealed to be a plane crash, how incredible that move felt. It was ridiculous and bold. There's nothing like that here.

Jesse and Walt have their final confrontation. Walt, though he's already shot himself with his trunk apparatus, gives Jesse the chance to kill him. "You want this," he tells Jesse. It's like with Gale, Walt urging Jesse to take a life. Jesse refuses. Like a proud father, Walt gets to watch his second son be his own man and leave the nest. But what's going to happen to Jesse, really? He rides out of the compound in a screeching El Camino, shouting about his freedom, but now what? Does he go rescue Brock from the orphanage and raise him? Does the orphanage give up kids to scarred- and deranged-looking former-prisoners of neo-Nazis? How can Jesse possibly come back from any of this?

And yet the episode lets him leave on a high note, as if killing Todd and breaking out from the yolk of Mr. White have completely unburdened him.

In death, Walter appears unburdened as well. He's smiling as the camera tracks up from his body, laid out in the meth lab. He got what he wanted. He will be credited as the cook. These are his ruins, this is his kingdom.

It's the anti-Sopranos, with all the closure you could possibly want. Only we'll never know how he managed to poison Brock. Some secrets get taken to the grave.

Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
GIFs via Uproxx 

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