“Felina” – Breaking Bad

5x16_-_Felina_PROMO_5“Felina” is the last episode of Breaking Bad, quite possibly the best television program of the last few years. As such, there’s always going to be a tendency on the part of the audience to view it as the crux of the series; to look upon it as the series’ glorious magnum opus. This is, sadly, not true. I ran the numbers and, when you take away the hype, “Felina” was excellent, but perhaps not the best episode in the show’s history. If you’d like to see the rough work, I’m sorry, but my dog ate it. Just trust me.

I’d like to take a second to ask the burning question: “How is life going to go on without Breaking Bad?” Well, hopefully, we’ll be able to enjoy the proposed Saul Goodman spinoff, Better Call Saul, but I’m surely not the only one with a secret fear that it will contract spinoff-itis and be cancelled after the first season (like mercy killing a deformed clone in its infancy), just like Friends spinoff Joey. I’m not saying it’s likely, but I’m still concerned. Having the new series feature Lavel Crawford and Bill Burr as Huell and Kuby, respectively, will go a long way to quieting my fears.

Back to “Felina” – something I really loved about this episode was the return of Walt’s MacGuyver-esque persona, a combination of Bill Nye, Rube Goldberg and the Warden from Superjail! (a show that I’d highly recommend). This part of Walt, the most dangerous side to his character, is representative of two things: (1) that Walt seems to have had this need all along to show people that he’s the smartest guy in any room, and (2) that brains are infinitely better than brawn. Walt uses this shark-like cunning, a twisted affinity for deception, and some ingenious strategy to settle all his old debts. I’m not going to say Bryan Cranston is playing the role of a servant of justice, but it seemed to me as though the point of all the wrapping up of loose ends had less to do with giving the audience closure and more to do with giving people what they were owed. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about debt – not in any serious kind of financial way, but more the concept. I like the idea of accounts being settled. I like the idea of everyone getting their fair shake. I think I can very comfortably read that into the theme of “Felina”.

Over the course of the episode, Walt plans out and orchestrates no fewer than five grisly murders, evades a federal manhunt, and manipulates former business colleagues into laundering his money. Walter White is simply not the sort of chap you play mousetrap with.

So Walt is smart, but what do we learn about Jesse? Is Jesse lucky? No. At least not if you consider the series as a whole. Jesse lost more over the course of the series than Walt ever did. Jesse suffered, but I’ve always seen him as being somehow innocent. Stuff happens to Jesse. He’s the only character in the series that doesn’t have a sense of agency about him. Still a great character, and I loved the scenes of Jesse in this episode. First we saw what I like to think was a representation of Jesse’s ‘happy place’ – that odd, strangely heavenly portrayal of a box being crafted. Aaron Paul seems angelic and Christ-like (and maybe a bit chubbier than before), and tenderly makes a masterpiece of carpentry. Then, with a single jumpcut, reality floods back in and we see a broken man in chains making meth. This, aside from being cool to look at, also raises a question on the nature of craftsmanship. Does it really matter what you do if you’re really good at it? The obvious answer is no, but I invite you to dwell on that fact at length, then do something mundane as if it were the most important thing in the world to you. That’s how I’m planning to do my dishes later.

Moving, too, were the final scenes of this swansong. Once Walt has killed the Nazis, saved Jesse, and confirmed that Lydia (of Todd’s ringtone fame) has indeed been dosed with ricin and is going to die a nice slow death from respiratory failure, he takes a stroll through a meth lab and we’re led to the sweet rock-montage fade out. I liked that. I thought it was a good final few shots in a great series. And, thankfully, we’re given the closure of knowing that the whole series was, in fact, not a prequel to Malcolm in the Middle.  It is, in fact, simply done. All story arcs are wrapped up nicely, with the eventual whereabouts of the disappearing Saul and Jesse the only exceptions. I’d like to think Jesse would go to Alaska. The boy deserves a nice vacation.

Otherwise, things are wrapped in a neat little package. Money, check. Nazis, check. Skyler and the Kids (great name for a lady-led tribute band), check. We even see Skinny Pete and Badger one last time, featuring as “the two best hit-men West of the Mississippi.” I’ve said before that I’ve missed the humor of the show in recent episodes, and I’m happy to see that “Felina” was not quite so grim. The show was pretty consistently funny throughout.

If this were a eulogy for a dearly departed friend (and, in many ways, it is), then I’d be able to use that fantastic funerary cliché, “he died as he lived”. Having dealt out that tautology, I’d pour out a 40 on the curb and hit on the deceased’s widow, because that’s always been my strategy at funerals. “Felina” was a good episode that served as a decent ending to a great series. And I believe it’s a series that’s going to be deeply missed. – J

Quoteworthy: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” – Walt, when confronted about the reasons for his descent into crime

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