The Meth Lab Redemption

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*Breaking Bad Spoilers ahead*

And so it ends. We all had our theories and ideas on how it would go down, and now we know. Let’s recap…

Unlike other episodes in the series, the finale never leaves Walt. His path is what we follow. Even when a scene begins with other characters, Walt is there in the proverbial shadows -- hidden either by his new look and attire, or by a support beam in a cheap apartment -- waiting to be revealed. Another scene begins with Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz returning from a trip and a moment later Walt is revealed to be sitting casually in the dark – literal shadows – outside their house. In this scene he confronts the Schwartzes in their home, forcing them into an agreement concerning the money and Walt Jr., brilliantly adding that their agreement will be regulated by “the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi.” When it’s revealed that these “hitmen” are Badger and Skinny Pete armed with laser pointers we find ourselves smiling at the grand return of Vince Gilligan's Rozencrantz and Gildenstern, and in that moment we are rooting for Walter White.

Make no mistake: this is Walter White. We see no trace of Heisenberg here. We hear no gravelly voice; we see no intense stare and deliberate head tilting. Here is a man alone, in his most real form, out to redeem himself. We start to believe that his redemption is possible because we see Walt's ingenuity and deception used for good. Or maybe we just think he’s cool again.

But the money is only one loose end. What about the ricin? Jesse? Skylar? The Nazis?

My first instinct said the ricin was for Lydia. Why? I wasn’t sure, and I didn't know how Walt would administer it. I later thought Walt would use the ricin on himself, but that was heavily influenced by my incessant reading of Breaking Bad theories. My first instinct was correct. Now I know why: everything Walt does in the final episode of Breaking Bad serves to completely dissolve the meth trade. More than money, perhaps the greater gift he left for his children is a slightly safer world.

I wanted Jesse to escape. I wanted him to live. But, I didn't want him to kill Todd. I thought if Jesse had grown to a point where he saw killing, under whatever circumstance, as soulless, that it would be a satisfying end for his character to avoid killing again. But, I have to admit that watching him choke Todd with the very chains Todd kept him in was powerful. Very powerful. Even though I didn’t want it to happen it felt as if I was helping Jesse do it, my fists unconsciously clenched tight, an eager smile on my face. When Walt gave Jesse the gun, and Jesse tossed it aside, refusing to put a bullet in Walt’s head, it was the moment I was hoping for. Deserve the task or not, Jesse is not a killer. More importantly, Walt had manipulated Jesse too many times and now Jesse saw through it.

In the scene with Skylar, Walt is simply saying goodbye and tying up a morbid loose end. When she stops him mid sentence from saying, “Everything I did, I did for this family,” he cuts her off. He did it for himself, he admits. He liked it. He was good at it. He felt alive. In this moment, more than any other moment in the show that precedes or follows, we respect Walt. Finally he is being honest with himself. He cannot take back the deaths and ruined lives, but he can do his best from here on out. Is it redemption? No. But, it’s the best he could do, and sometimes that’s all the redemption a person can get.

Regarding the scene where the Nazis are killed*... Did we get two Return of the Jedi references in one scene? I think we did. Jesse choking his captor is reminiscent of Princess Leia choking Jabba the Hutt, and Jesse throwing aside the gun and refusing to kill Walt/his mentor, is reminiscent of Luke throwing aside the light saber and refusing to kill Darth Vader/his father. Maybe this imagery is an homage to a story that is considered a classic (as Breaking Bad is sure to be), that had an ending that many consider to be the weakest part of an otherwise classic saga (as this ending might be perceived). How do you end a story of such acclaim and scope?

Considering that disappointment is built in to TV endings, there is an inherent understanding that storytellers must feel when creating for television. Maybe they know that nothing will ever live up to expectations after hundreds of hours of story being absorbed by millions of viewers. Maybe they know that all they can do, much like Walter White, is tie up loose ends and do their best without making ridiculous leaps (Dexter), without being overly artsy (The Sopranos), and without being lame (Seinfeld). In a sense, the ending is about being honest to one's self. Vince Gilligan and his team did just that by delivering an ending that works without cheating. It leaves a bittersweet feeling in our hearts. We are left to wonder what will come of Jesse, Marie, Skylar and her children. But, we are also glad that, in some way, the good in Walter White – if only by admission of his selfishness – was revealed before the end. That he died in a meth lab, where he claimed to feel alive and happy, is as fit an ending as any.

*A few things here... the key fob activating the turret in Walt’s trunk seemed a bit mis-timed. It would have been nice to have some sort of audible connection to the lack of instantaneous response from the device, and then a single close-up of the button being pressed, a beep, and then gunfire. Then after a few seconds of the Nazis getting fucked by the bullets, reveal the turret. It’s a convention that was rarely used in the show, but one that would have fit the moment. Also, the bullets looked like red tracers. It was kind of distracting because it seemed so surreal. But, I let myself buy it, because why not? It worked, so let's not be cynical.


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