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'Breaking Bad' Finale Divides Critics: Just Right or Too Neat? (REVIEW ROUNDUP)

Television
by Beth Hanna
September 30, 2013 12:26 PM
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Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"
Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"

As with anything hotly -- nay, insanely -- anticipated, the "Breaking Bad" finale was bound to divide critical opinion. Some found it the perfect cap to the series, while others took issue with its too-neat wrap-up of plot. A roundup of reviews below.

Needless to say, the below excerpts contain SPOILERS

Meanwhile, EW's twitter account angered more than a few fans last night by live-tweeting the finale -- on East Coast time. In terms of social media, more than 5.5 million Facebook interactions took place last night regarding the show; SocialGuide counts 1.47 million tweets.

Vulture:

About that last fifteen minutes. I'm not crazy about it. It boasted major firepower and nearly mathematical score-settling, which is what a good many fans wanted and needed. Jesse strangles Todd with his handcuff chains. Walt shoots Uncle Jack dead, not even giving him a chance to bargain for his life. Walt tells Jesse to go ahead and shoot him because he knows he wants to. And Jesse, who told Walt on the phone in "Rabid Dog" that he would never again do anything Walt wanted, made him say, "I want this," then told him, "Do it yourself" — and Walt did, quite accidentally, via a ricocheted bullet.

As Walt dies, he gets the classic God's-eye-view, spirit-leaving-the-body shot. 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.

HitFix:

I admire Gilligan's desire to dot every i and cross every t, and I adored many individual moments of the finale: the Badger/Skinny Pete punchline to the Gretchen/Elliott scene, Walt finally being honest about his motivations (and stroking a sleeping Holly's face while Skyler watched and cried), and the sheer visceral thrill of Jesse giving Todd the choking he deserved, to name just a few. This was cathartic, this was definitive, this was as gorgeously-acted as "Breaking Bad" has always been.

But was it ultimately too neat?

As Gilligan said, he had to make the ending that's right for his show. A hard cut to black in the middle of a confounding final scene that will be analyzed like the Zapruder film is not the way "Breaking Bad" should have wrapped up. This has always been a much more plot-driven and precise series. Each of the full seasons (not counting the strike-abbreviated first) concluded in a way that built on everything that came before, whether it was something planned from the start (the plane crash in season 2) or improvised later by the writers (Gus replacing the Cousins as season 3's big bad).

That being said, for all that "Breaking Bad" itself has been very orderly and precise, Walter White has not been. 

Rolling Stone:

Jesse Pinkman built the perfect box. He sawed it off, sanded it down, hammered it together, smoothed it out, and carried it away with all the pride of a first-time father. This is the fantasy-memory he retreated to when reality became too broken for him to face at last – the one time in his life when he felt he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, the one time he made everything fit.

For better or for worse, that box is Breaking Bad.

Written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan, "Felina," the show's 62nd and final episode, closed the lid on the story of Walter White and virtually every other character still on the show. How could it not, when Walt's final master plan went off without a hitch? The man and the show both tied off every loose end.

Indiewire:

"Felina," the sixteenth episode of the series, showcased every facet of talent that made "Breaking Bad" so persistently thrilling no matter how absurd and tangled its plot twists grew over the course of many close calls and brutal deaths. Gilligan's script contained numerous subtle visual and auditory hints at eventualities that unfolded with a mixture of black comedy and dread. In less than an hour, the episode fused them together into a form of dramatic satisfaction particularly notable for being so specific to episodic television, as it artfully united several thematic ingredients kept in play throughout each season and gradually deepened from one episode to the next.

The Wrap:

The “Breaking Bad” finale was the best I’ve ever seen.

I’m biased. It’s my favorite show. But the ending felt perfect. The tone felt different from every other “Breaking Bad” episode, yet it paid off an astonishing number of setups: Lydia and that Stevia crap. The box Jesse talked about in group therapy. The Schwartzes. Badger and Skinny Pete. Hank inviting Walt on a ride-along, two very long years ago.

The Playlist:

But instead, we get Jesse driving a muscle car and woo-hooing his way into freedom, which is sort of indicative of "Felina" as a whole. It seems like an episode written for the fans instead of for the show, and it falters because of it.  For five seasons "Breaking Bad" cooked up some the best drama on television hands down, but unfortunately, for its final hurrah, we got an unsatisfying batch. [C+]

Variety:


The 75-minute finale written and directed by Gilligan perfectly capped a final arc that was all forward momentum, with barely an ounce of fat on it, and almost nary a false note. Beautifully played by Bryan Cranston, the episode saw Walt devise a brilliant way to launder his money, and — much like the Gus Fring chapters that remain the show’s highlight — used his wits to overcome a seemingly impregnable foe.

Wired:


Much like Walt, the episode simply decides to pay us off, glossing over the atrocities of Heisenberg and the shattered lives of Skyler, Flynn, Marie and Jesse with a kick-ass action scene and a few hundred rounds from an M60. “How does it feel now?” Walter asks, handing them each a satisfying bundle of cash. Better?

It does, partly. It’s highly enjoyable to see the neo-Nazis go down (especially Todd), and for Jesse to escape screaming and laughing into the night. But I can’t quite shake the empty feeling, as though something meaningful has been traded for something pleasurable. Walter White didn’t just get off easy; he got what he wanted, the way he always has, and convinced us all to let him get away with it.

In short, he won.

New Yorker:


I’m quite certain that many, many people adored Vince Gilligan’s kickass ending to “Breaking Bad”: it’s easy to sense that from even a brief surf in the celebratory waters online. Nothing I write can erase someone else’s pleasure: and why should it? Pleasure is an argument for itself. But if you don’t want to read a critical take, stop here. In my own way, I also enjoyed aspects of the finale, particularly the scene with Skyler. And yet, I did not like the episode. Maybe it was just me—I’ll read all the recaps, and I’ll soon find out—but halfway through, at around the time that Walt was gazing at Walt, Jr., I became fixated on the idea that what we were watching must be a dying fantasy on the part of Walter White, not something that was actually happening—at least not in the “real world” of the previous seasons.

And, if that were indeed the case, I’d be writing a rave.

LA Times:


In what may be the first recorded (and distinctly over-tweeted) perfect finale in television history, AMC's "Breaking Bad" came to a close Sunday night.

Not only did Vince Gilligan's five-season, hyper-violent prose poem to midlife male frustration tie up virtually every loose end in sight, it contained the Holy Grail of all storytelling: an Actual Moment of Truth. And not just this particular story's truth, but one that extended to the beloved and bloated genre Gilligan both elevated and mocked.

NY Times:

Perhaps the best thing about the finale of “Breaking Bad” is that it actually ended. So many shows, notably “The Sopranos” and “Lost,” have gone dark without anything approaching finality. Here, the writers were so determined to not leave unfinished business that the last episode was called “Felina,” an anagram of finale. And almost every loose end was tied. In some cases, a little too tightly, and in others, not quite as much.

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