By: Chris Thompson and Michael Shields
In hindsight, there might have been much more at play in the Breaking Bad Finale then we realized….
In Breaking Bad’s series finale “Felina” it seemed as if everything was tied up in a neat little package. On the surface, Walt appeared to ease through the finale effortlessly, eventually finding his peace. He hatches a way to pass his fortunes on to his family while sticking it to Elliot and Gretchen. He finally obtains his redemption with Skyler by admitting the motivations for his transgressions, thus enabling one last encounter with his daughter and a fleeting glance at his son. He kills all the bad guys, free’s Jesse (physically and mentally), and dies surrounded by the objects of his desires, his true love. But, what if there is much more to the story than meets the eye? What if we all missed the point entirely?
In Across the Margin’s recap of Breaking Bad’s final episode, a poignant idea was presented…..
“It was almost too good to be true. It was almost like a dream. In fact, the episode had a unique feel to it in that Walt, a man who’s clock we all knew was ticking down, moved through the episode like a ghost. Like he was already gone, gliding over all and tying up loose ends as tight as he could. He effortlessly drifts about, inconspicuous to all who surround him. Whether confined in a snow-capped car with police red and blues haloing around him, or snaking silently into the home of his wife and former friends, or seeping into the cafe with Lydia and Todd, he is able to move openly and freely about the world that is so intently seeking him out. It was eerie, yet gorgeous. “Just get me home…..I’ll take care of the rest.”
….and ever since this idea was brought to my attention1, I cannot get it out of my head. It makes too much sense. I believe there is ample room for interpretation within this idea, so much so in fact that it begs to be explored further. With the episode’s cold opening (literally), there may have passed a moment where something significant occurred, where a potentially monumental incident slipped over all our heads. A moment where Walter White may have actually died2….
Cold openings are important, if not emotional, in Breaking Bad. If you take this one on the surface – there really isn’t anything to it. In fact it’s kind of sluggish in comparison to some of the more amazing ones throughout the series. But taking “Felina’s” opening scene as something else- well, it’s the dopest cold opening of all time!
Walt enters the snowed-in Volvo desperate, broken and feeble, yet motivated for closure by Elliot and Gretchen’s Charlie Rose interview. He is sick, coughing, and struggling to do something a genius such as him should be able to do with ease – hotwire a car. Then the interior of the Volvo fills with the flashing hues of a patrol cars lights. And it is at that precise moment in the car, after the red and blue lights had faded, that things started to go uniquely right for Walt. All of a sudden the keys are in the visor like in Terminator 2, just begging to be used. Then Walt strikes the window like it’s a jukebox and the snow cleanly falls off, bathing the car in light. And like that, Walt is off running.
But what if – just what if – at that very moment, instead of speeding away to meet his destiny, Walt passed away, merging with the great beyond (Or, was potentially arrested…)? What if everything moving forward from that instance in the car was just a fantasy, a fantasy about what he would have done to tie up all those loose ends? To fix what he had broken. “Just get me home – I will do the rest”…..a dying man’s prayer, a regret-filled individuals fictional attempt to make things right. This is an incredible thought, but not so crazy considering the tone of the episode, and how smoothly its events unfolded3.
It is important to take a look at how re-invigorated Walt becomes once those keys hit his hands. He is no longer a weak and feeble dying man. As the words to Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” fill the vehicle Walt is reborn4. He is renewed, an entirely different being. There is a change there, one that isn’t so subtle upon looking back, and one that casts the remainder of the episode in an entirely different light.
Critic’s are lampooning the idea that Vince Gilligan and company tied up the ending to Breaking Bad too neatly, that they essentially forced the ending. “Those people can take a flying fuck at the mooooon!”5, as the finale was perfect. BUT…maybe the show’s conclusion is open to more interpretation than it is being given credit for? Maybe Vince, genius that he is, left us with two endings? One that satisfies the closure that so many crave, done so in classic Breaking Bad dramatic fashion, and another that resonates on a deeper level, offering those who thrive on interpretation, an additional way to experience the show’s conclusion.
Suggesting that the finale of Breaking Bad was merely a window into the mind of Walter White offers a way for fans to appreciate the ending on an entirely different level. Everything seemed to click for Walt and he appeared a man at peace, a huge departure from the near-persistent damage-control filled existence he experienced previously. His ability to hide in plain sight was in stark contrast to his forced isolation in “Granite State”.
If Vince Gilligan taught us anything, it was that Breaking Bad was a show with layers. And Walter White was our tragic, anti-hero steeped in incredible depth. So why, as the series drew to a close, wouldn’t that be the case once again? Walt’s efforts in the end were a heartbreaking effort to fix a life that was too far broken. But would it not be a greater story still if it was all just a theater of the mind? And as Walt’s consciousness drifted away, we the viewer are treated to a glimpse of how he would have liked to have truly met his end?
- Thank you Chris Thompson, ATM’s Co-Editor and co-author of this piece. [↩]
- It is important to note that we are merely presenting this possibility, we are in no way declaring that this is, in fact, what definitely happened. [↩]
- At times it had the feeling of A Christmas Carol, as Walt drifted about like the ghost of Heisenberg’s future. [↩]
- The use of the song “El Paso,” driven home by the shot of the cassette tape supports this theory in many ways. “El Paso” shifts from past to present tense, and at times the protagonist telling the story is deceased. And, at the end of the song, the cowboy recounts (or hallucinates) that he is found by Feleena (the woman he desires and obsesses over), and he dies in her arms. Sound familiar? [↩]
- – The late, great Kurt Vonnegut. [↩]