Breaking Bad – Felina
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
“If we’re gonna go that way, you’re gonna need a bigger knife.”
There’s something strangely comforting about being in a car that’s yet to be cleared of all the snow covering it. There’s a sense of safety in that no one can look in and see that you’re in there if the car’s not running. It’s a fact not lost on Walter White when attempting to steal a car in front of a patrol car moving by. There’s also a sense of satisfaction in starting the windshield wipers to wipe off the excess snow, something that doubles as an opening to freedom for Walt. The fact that he readied the screwdriver as a weapon in case an officer personally approached him shows his resolve to see something through to the end.
Gray Matter is his first target and watching Walt stroll through the home of Gretchen and Elliot was a great juxtaposition. The happy couple has just returned from what is presumably a lavish vacation, where they continue their discussion about spas and wines and what not. As Walt moves through the glorious house slightly disheveled, he realizes that no matter what he did or does, it still never returned him to his former glory. Walt made his choice to become Heisenberg in large part because he envied what Gray Matter became, so seeing that despite his ability he could never flaunt his wealth like the Schwartzes.
That’s what made his encounter with them so terrifying. Walt is smart enough to know that any money coming from them towards his children won’t be viewed with the same suspicion as coming from any other source. At first, Walt going to them seemed to be a rather desperate ploy for help, but Walt always likes to have another plan, even if it involves Badger and Skinny Pete. To Gretchen and Elliot, the threat of hitmen is very real. What they don’t know is Walt’s network and true reach, even in such trying times for him. Masquerading Badger and Skinny Pete as hitmen ensures that Walt’s plan will be seen through to the end and his kids will get the money. Skylar may think is something is up when the trust is made available, but ten months is a decent amount of time to pass before then.
Badger and Skinny Pete did offer another nugget of information: blue meth was still out there and Heisenberg wasn’t cooking it. That led Walt to the realization that Jesse was cooking, although it’s a little hard to tell if he thought Jesse partnered with Todd and the others or was being forced into doing the work. Jesse’s daydream about being a fine craftsman making a nice box through carpentry was very powerful. It showed a man who really did care for his craft (despite the legality of it), forced to do it for those with little to no respect for the craftsman. The fact that the blue was still being manufactured did give Walt an opportunity to make things right with (and for) Skyler.
Skyler is beyond broken down, smoking cigarette after cigarette and really a shell of her former self. That presentation makes Walt’s appearance that much better. She offered him five minutes to speak his peace, which he used quite efficiently. He offered up the GPS coordinates for Hank and Steve’s bodies, gave her a way out with a deal with the prosecution and finally (FINALLY) admitted he did the entire thing for himself. He no longer attempted to hide behind the guise of doing it for his family; instead he finally succumbed to his own hubris. One of the most powerful camera shots of the entire series was the perspective when Walt was talking to Skyler and a wooden post divided them; a physical manifestation of the emotional wall between the two of them.
Lydia decided to meet with Todd at the same table, instead of the previous back-to-back sitdowns. 10 AM every Tuesday morning—the same time she met with Walt. Walt relied on that consistency as evidence of her broader tendencies. It was pretty obvious based on the fact that she actually found her sweetener of choice so easily who Walt intended to use the Ricin on. It’s also somewhat fitting that her fate is a lot cleaner than a bullet, considering the importance she places on keeping up appearances. Lydia failed to show any humility in front of the man who made her even wealthier; instead, she chose Todd, her new “darling” of sorts. She’s the second trip in Walt’s tour of those who vastly underestimate them based on their own hubris.
As a series, Breaking Bad thrived on hubris. Everyone felt they were right for whatever reason, refusing to listen to any other suggestions. Hank felt so strongly about going after Walt. Lydia felt so strongly about being a power player, Even Marie was blinded by her own hubris in thinking that Walt would only go after her, Skyler or Walt Jr. (Flynn). Everyone hid behind their own versions of the truth, all of which usually presented the viewer as the one with all the answers. It’s a great reflection of people in general as everyone thinks they’re right much of the time. It’s easy to get tunnel vision so to speak when you get caught up in the moment, whatever that moment may be.
Jack brought in his own hubris in thinking that he got the upper hand on Walt. Clearly, he doesn’t know a science teacher when he sees one. Walt’s handling of Jack (the third stop on his revenge tour) and the Nazis was so utterly visceral that it’s really the only way Walt could’ve tied up that loose end (Jesse got his revenge as well in choking out Todd was also great for the character). The series couldn’t be complete without one final confrontation between Walt and Jesse, which was sufficiently mesmerizing.
Jesse pled with Walt to admit that he wanted Jesse to shoot him, not that Jesse wanted to do it. It was a catharsis for Jesse’s character, as it proved he fully grasped Walt’s truly manipulative actions. In the end, Walt relented and did admit to Jesse what he wanted to hear, but the cynic has to wonder if it was one last manipulative play on Walt’s part. Did he say it because he knew it would push Jesse towards a certain end? Or did he really mean it? Somewhat ironic that Jesse ended up speeding off in the movie, perhaps towards a movie featuring speed in the title? The main reason that Breaking Bad has excelled is Bryan Cranston and his work was on full display in the series finale. Watching him rather effortlessly move from desperate escapee to smooth-talking representative of the New York Times was beautiful. As eerily chilling though was watching him interact with everyone he felt wronged him in one way or another. His original goal was to provide money for his family and he still managed to do it despite his predicament. His revised goal was proving that he was still Heisenberg in some form and ended the show in the meth lab, perhaps the one true place where Walt felt at peace.
Walt’s transformation as a character was perhaps not so much a transformation as it was a revealing. Walt always had this evil in him, pushing him to find some twisted enjoyment in being a villain. He still had something in him though that proved his devotion to his family, whether it be blood or water. He dove on Jesse to save him from the high-caliber bullets, the one son who seemed to accept him for all his flaws and faults. He visited Skyler at great peril to his freedom (and grand plan) to offer her a way out. He indirectly offered Marie closure on her husband’s missing body. He even made it a point to see Holly one more time. All actions taken to care for those people cared for by Walt.
He’s the ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, finding solace in the one constant of science. He destroyed worlds and burned bridges all around him, but in the end he still won. His family will get his money. Jesse found a slight salvation in their relationship. Jack and his running crew were killed. Lydia was killed. Gus, Tuco, Gail, Hank…everyone who stood in Heisenberg’s way was killed. Everyone who stood in Walt’s way (Skyler, Walt Jr., Saul) was offered a reprieve from death. That duality of Walter White/Heisenberg is what drove the show and was on full display in the final episode. A powerful ending to a powerful series, there were no loose ends left dangling and the biggest question of all answered: what will catch Walt first, the cancer, the police or something else? If there’s any consolation for the future of the characters beyond the show, it’s that Holly is truly innocent of it all. She’ll never know who her father was or what he became. That is a clean slate of sorts for the White family, something that Walt couldn’t provide no matter how hard he tried.