"I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really... I was alive."
For even longer than Skyler White, Breaking Bad's audience has waited to hear those words: Walter White's final confession, and the most honest thing he's said in years. It was only ever about him.
In his final confrontation with Walt, Jesse demanded much the same. With five neo-Nazis dead and the police on their way, Jesse raised a gun to Walt’s head, and Walt nodded, almost whispering: "You need this." But as he so often, and so successfully, did, Walt was passing his own interests off as Jesse's, and this time, at last, Jesse caught him at it. "You need this!" Jesse responded. When Walt agreed, Jesse spoke the words that freed him, as if by magic, from Walt's spell: "Then do it yourself."
"Felina" -- named, as some guessed in advance, for a character in Marty Robbins' "El Paso" -- was an episode devoted largely to wrapping up loose ends. When Vince Gilligan informed fans in advance that the show’s antepenultimate episode, "Ozymandias," was, in his opinion, its best, it was a way of preparing us for an end that could only be anti-, or rather post-, climactic. The show, mercifully, could go no lower than the murder of the innocent Andrea in "Granite State," for which Todd paid the appropriate price.
"Felina" began in the Granite State itself, with Walt, having just left the bar where he intended to turn himself him in before viewing Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz's fateful Charlie Rose interview, is trying to hotwire a car. As his frozen hands fumble, the red and blue lights of a police cruiser flicker across the car's snow-crusted windows, and then Walt does something we've never seen him do: He prays. "Just get me home," he says. "I’ll do the rest." The car passes, he looks behind the sun visor, and the car’s keys tumble into his lap as if from heaven.
Religion has never been an explicit part of Breaking Bad's science-driven cosmology, but Vince Gilligan's Catholicism informed the show on the most profound level, not just in terms of its understanding of sin and punishment, but forgiveness and redemption. But redeeming Walt in a moral sense doesn't mean convincing us he's a nice guy. On the contrary, it means him admitting he isn't. It means owning up to his spite and jealousy where his former business partners are concerned, sadistically frightening them with fears of sharpshooters crouched in the bushes outside their sprawling house (who turn out to be Badger and Skinny Pete with laser pointers); it means Walt covetously running his hands along their walls, as if understanding that this is what real wealth, real stability feels like. As Gretchen and Elliott walk in the door, breezily discussing the food at Per Se and planning spa treatments, Walt sees what he missed, but also what he never had -- the ability to have wealth and power and simply enjoy it without always lusting for more.
In the end, all Walt could give his family was his absence. He used Gretchen and Elliott to launder the nearly $10 million he had left, knowing Skyler and his son would never accept it from him, and though he had a final face-to-face talk with his wife, a freestanding pillar in her cheap temporary home cruelly divided the frame between them. As for his son, whose adolescent rebellion against his father's given name will likely be permanent, Flynn appeared to Walt only as a distant figure, glimpsed through a window frame that might as well have been a cell-block door.
The bad guys got theirs: Lydia, her dehumidifier working vainly against the ricin in her blood; Todd choked with the chain he used to imprison Jesse; Uncle Jack’s last sentence cut off just as he blasted away Hank’s dying words. And Walt, too, got what was coming to him, good and ill. He took a last moment’s satisfaction in his work, the chemistry he had all but forsaken. The jury-rigged auto-cannon in the trunk of his Cadillac was the first time he’s made use of his scientific knowledge in Breaking Bad’s final eight-episode run, and it worked a treat, unless you count the stray bullet that eventually killed him. And the meth, his crowning achievement, kept on cooking, the purest and most amoral expression of his particular genius. Breaking Bad's last shot pulled back from Walt's corpse on the meth-lab floor, turning slightly as the police stormed the building, but the last thing he saw was his own reflection in a polished steel tank, warped and smeared with blood, and yet as truly as he’d ever seen himself.
Read Criticwire's complete coverage of 'Breaking Bad's final season here.
Donna Bowman, A.V. Club:
I wanted the special thrill that comes when the forces of luck and the forces of human will coincide to make miracles happen. And on this show, that has happened to Walt again and again in the service of his own ego. The end has been dreadful, but the means have been intoxicating.
Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Tribune:
That Gilligan was able to take an entire TV-watching fanbase on that ride for five seasons, and end the show expertly, entertainingly, suspensefully and satisfyingly, ranks Breaking Bad’s finale as one of the greatest achievements in our new modern Golden Age of Television.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
This was cathartic, this was definitive, this was as gorgeously-acted as "Breaking Bad" has always been. But was it ultimately too neat?
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:
The echoes of Travis Bickle's final rampage in Taxi Driver feel, if not inevitable, then appropriate, because "Felina" isn't just a finale, but a comment on finales, and the finale's creative and marketplace need to satisfy as many viewers as possible, whether they saw a show's main character as a super-cool antihero, a pathetic scumbag, something in between, or none of the above.
Kate Aurthur, BuzzFeed:
I did see the word "perfect" quite a bit on Twitter describing Breaking Bad’s end. It's too soon for me to say for myself. (But maybe soon.) I do feel, though, that as a set, these last eight episodes are the smartest, most thrilling sprint to a finish of any television show ever.
Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress:
The best thing, it turns out, isn’t being the one who knocks. It's in being someone who doesn’t need to be kept from the door.
Emily Bazelon, Slate:
This last hour brimmed with love, though -- its cup ran over. Maybe that will read as sentimentality to some viewers. Maybe I should have the critical distance to see it. But I don’t. I feel entirely satisfied.
Katey Rich, Cinema Blend:
Walt got to end the show as the best version of himself, doing the right thing for all the people who mattered and getting vengeance on his true enemies.
Scott Meslow, The Week:
After so many crimes, "Felina" was surprisingly easy on Walt, and I suspect the show's ultimate moral message will be a source of debate and controversy as critics and fan continue to hash out Breaking Bad's legacy in the years to come.
Kevin MacFarland, Boing Boing:
It’s almost too clean -- except for that bloody handprint Walt leaves contaminating the lab. Gilligan hermetically sealed this show with a perfect capstone to Walter White's story, entombing him in an episode where Walt doesn't redeem himself, but dies after making all the final moves he wanted.
Ryan McGee, Boob Tude Dude:
For a show to spend five seasons slowly revealing the protagonist of the series to be an absolute monster and then essentially give him a series of heroic beats in the finale is curious at best, and somewhat defeating at worst.
Walt's dying thought could very well have echoed another guy who went down with a wound in his side and a bloody hand: "It is accomplished."
Daniel Carlson, Pajiba:
This was a good ending, a true one, and a final chapter that felt totally in line with the way these characters live and behave.
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist:
[O]f all the characters on Breaking Bad who deserve closure, Walt isn't one of them.... But "Felina" lets Walt have his way.
"Felina" allowed Walt everything he wanted without letting him off the hook.... He only won once he lost everything.