‘Breaking Bad’ Series Finale Review & Analysis: Look Upon My Work

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Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad Felina Breaking Bad Series Finale Review & Analysis: Look Upon My Work

It is impossible to think of another program in the history of television (golden age or otherwise) whose final moments were more certain, determined and captivatingly earned than the last few minutes of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad. An extraordinary examination of moral transformation, guilt, conscience, complicity and control, the series has become a cultural phenomenon and its execution and delivery a television milestone unlikely to be repeated or surpassed in anyone’s lifetime.

As the final episode opens in the wake of last week’s penultimate ‘Granite State,’ Walter has embarked on what will be his final transformation – he’d undergone another state of change that left him gaunt, wan, and alone with his thoughts when he wasn’t paying $10,000 dollars for an extra hour of Robert Forster’s time. Make no mistake, after all he had done in the name of family, Walter White’s illusion of being some savior or hero for those that he supposedly held above all else had been completely shattered. Walt had been reduced to a man with a barrel full of money and no one to give it to; the legacy he dreamed of – someone to be remembered for snatching from the icy grip of death a future for his family that was both stable and comfortable – was forever out of reach.

Worse yet, he came to find via Charlie Rose that his dual life as Heisenberg resulted in him being scrubbed from the history of Gray Matter, the company he helped create with Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz. And now, with $70 million of his ill-gotten fortune in the hands of Todd and his family of Nazis, the cruel joke had become that Walter’s true legacy was to lose his life’s work not once but twice – and, as far as the latter is concerned, in the most damning way possible. As is inevitable when a series reaches its conclusion, it can be entertaining (and sometimes necessary) to take a look back and see how things went from A to B to C (or in this case from Walt to Heisenberg to Mr. Lambert) and one thing is incredibly clear: for a man so convinced that everything would work out fine – had everyone just listened to him and done as he said – it becomes painfully obvious that every deed undertaken by Walt (in any of his forms) simply made things worse.

It was bad enough that a high school science teacher with a terminal illness would suddenly begin manufacturing a potent and deadly stimulant with a former ne’er-do-well student, but as with most things from which a person receives a buzz and sensations of dominance or strength – which are often misinterpreted as something good – the need and desire for more becomes all consuming. And in the end, you’re left with the rise of a kingpin and the utter destruction of the man he once was; a fact that cleverly granted the audience the opportunity to turn away from and be repulsed by Walter White, while still being utterly captivated by the approaching end to his story.

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad Granite State Breaking Bad Series Finale Review & Analysis: Look Upon My Work

And in ‘Felina,’ all roads lead back to Albuquerque. After the beating his ego took from the Schwartzes and the phone call he’d placed to Flynn, Walter had chosen his next and final move: It is better to die chasing what he loved, than to wither away and quietly disappear in a cold New Hampshire cabin. Once we’re all clear on that decision, the episode works to seamlessly integrate everything we’ve known about Walter White’s final run since last year’s ‘Live Free or Die.’ Here, the flash-forwards are part of the narrative: the bacon on his fifty-second birthday, the machine gun in the trunk and the collection of the ricin from his bedroom socket all happen in the span of mere seconds, and pay off over a year’s worth of wondering.

After the last few episodes managed to chew up and discard all other possible scenarios that might’ve seen Walt drive off to an undisclosed location or die cold, alone and surrounded by newspaper clippings on the other side of the country, ‘Felina’ works with the kind of laser precision Badger and Skinny Pete can really appreciate (especially if there was a bundle of cash in it for them). So, like a scientist in his lab, Gilligan goes down the checklist of encounters that need to happen before the inevitable conclusion. But he manages to ratchet up the tension in each and every scenario, so that, for the briefest moment, you think it could all go another direction.

Walter intimidates Gretchen and Elliot into using his money to set up an irrevocable trust fund for Flynn, so that he can salvage something from the wreckage of his life. It’s not the goodbye he was hoping for, or the legacy he intended to leave behind, but he knows it is his money, and as he admits to Skyler after some clever cinematography reveals him to be in her presence, Walter White only does what makes Walter White feel good and alive – family was just a smokescreen.

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad Felina Breaking Bad Series Finale Review & Analysis: Look Upon My Work

Gilligan manages to tie that sentiment self-interest to Walt’s final encounter with Todd, Jack and the rest of the Nazis. Walt didn’t pop in on Todd’s meeting with Lydia so he could later go out as a hero. He’s not there to save Jesse, either (we can only imagine that was an afterthought of seeing him in chains); it was retaliation for someone once again making a profit off of his life’s work. And that retaliation (with the possible exception of Lydia’s agonizing end) was swift and precise – the way someone obsessed with precision would do it. A scientist to his dying breath, Walt spends his final moments left alone with his one true love, and we’re left to wonder: would Heisenberg have ever really let Walter quit?

What’s remarkable about the series finale is its unique understanding and implementation of what it means to follow through. Both written and directed by Gilligan, the episode remains so wholly true to the essential principles set forth by the series’ narrative from the very beginning that the overall quality of this superb denouement begins to mirror the story at hand. Essentially, the series began life as a small, niche program that was a remarkably well-made product, and soon the quality of Gilligan’s creation saw its reputation grow and its impact became something far greater and more influential than anyone likely could have imagined. Similarly, around the midway point it became clear that the future of Walter White and the future of Breaking Bad were pretty much set in stone. One would end badly, and one would be heaped with praise for that fact.

In terms of storytelling, Vince Gilligan and his fantastic room of writers seemed at times to have been channeling Walter White themselves: They were obsessed with creating as pure a product as possible. And like White, it didn’t matter which of their characters wound up being the next victim, as long as the result was a distinct creation as near to flawless as it could possibly be.


Photos: Ursula Coyote/AMC

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  1. It was a fitting end for Walt. I thought the episode itself was very good, but it wasn’t OMFG amazing.
    However if you think of the last 6 episodes as the “finale”, there hasn’t been many shows ever that can touch the drama.
    It’s been a great ride.

    • Beware you are BAT s*** CRAZY! That episode was brilliant top 5 easily!!!

      • I wouldn’t say that. It was a great episode, but it didn’t leave that same emotional impact as some of the other ones did.

  2. Is the complete series barrel only on Blue Ray? Is it also on regular DVD?

    Plus. Amazing finale for an Amazing series.

    • I check Amazon for that very thing this morning – seems it’s only being offered on Blu-Ray.

      • I just checked and would LOVE to buy it but can’t afford $200…
        So with all the episodes on Netflix I’ll have to be satisfied with that but I really want to see the 2hr documentary.

  3. I loved the whole series and Vince gave us great closure at the end. I will miss this great show.

  4. I think the main reason that some people did not consider the finale to be the most amazing episode of all time is because we all knew what was coming. We all knew that Walt was going to meet his end and that those who were against him would meet theirs too. This is one of very very very few shows that deliver a conclusion where every end is tied up. Everything came together, albeit in a predictable way, but this was the only way that the show could have ended. So sad to see it go. I guess we will all have to wait for another show of this caliber to come along at some point.

    And as a side note, thank you Vince Gilligan for not giving us a Sopranos ending. Thanks for letting us see the end.

    • Sopranos ended perfectly. People who understand the show know that the ending was just as perfect as the Breaking Bad ending.

      • Agreed its my favorite tv ending of all time.

        • +1,000

  5. The satisfaction of Walt taking down the empire he built, the empire that he lost, the empire that was stolen from him, was incredible. That alone makes this the best finale they could have made.

  6. I personally feel like every episode in every season wasas close to perfect as a tv show can get.

  7. I just can’t thankyou enough for a awesome show start to finish! And thankyou for not doing a sopranos ending…this ending was good…the sopranos end was a poor thankyou to it’s faithful viewers. I thank everyone involved for this great great show,really going to miss it! I have to say Bryan Cranston should have got a Emmy he was perfect!

  8. What an excellent run, all of it, from the writing to the acting to the characterization to the atmosphere. Very sorry to see Breaking Bad pass into history. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a show this much…ever.

    • You are absolutely right! I love my sci-fi shows, from Lost to the X-Files, with all their conspiracy theories and intrigue, but never have I enjoyed a series so completely. You always got an answer, every season. Whatever the opening scene was in a season, it always came full circle at the end. Thank you so much Vince Gilligan! And kudos to the actors and crew!

  9. From start to finish IMO Breaking Bad was the best drama series I’ve ever seen.
    Was this last episode perfect? No. Breaking Bad’s perfect episode (Ozymandias) aired 2 weeks ago but this was really the only way to end the story of Walter White.
    When I say that I mean that Walt Had to die. I always thought that Jesse killing Walt would be perfect but as always with this show I was wrong. Jesse finally saying “no” to Walt was as satisfying as it could get and Walt dying alone in a meth lab was both a victory and sad.
    After all he had done Walt deserved to die alone, it’s a fear almost everyone lives with but after everything he had done, all the lives he ruined and ended Walter White had to exit this world alone without fanfare only with himself.

    The highlight of the episode for me…

    Walt’s plan to use Gretchen and Elliot to get the money to his family. As always with Breaking Bad you can’t imagine a way where it could work but then a few minutes after seeing it you think it was perfect.
    Skinny Pete and Badger for the win!!! ;)

  10. I F**cked Tedd.

  11. Great episode, great finale, great series. It ended the way we all thought, Walt was a dead man walking with cancer so he was gonna go out atleast knowing he took out Jack and Todd and Lydia.

    The only question now is what happens to Jesse? Where does he go? What does he do?

  12. Nobody has even stated the obvious on any of the reviews I’ve read. Is Walt really Dead?? I mean sure we see him laying there cops moving in. Lydia is dying but with knowledge she’s been poisoned she might now be able to save herself. Skyler, Flynn, Marie, Saul, Jesse all still alive. I’m betting a revisit in so many years… just watch.

    • Walt is dead.
      Even if you thought that we didn’t see it, we did and not to mention every person involved with this show from Vince Gilligan to Brian Cranston has said he’s dead and that this was not an open ended ending.
      The story of Walter White is over.

  13. I think Walter went to jacks not only for revenge but too also save Jesse. He knew from the mtg with Todd that Jesse was with them. Walt always had a soft spot for Jesse. Wonderful ending. Right up their with The Shields perfect ending

    • Vince Gilligan admitted on Talking Bad that Walt had come to originally kill Jesse, but changed his mind when he saw him. It was based on some old Western of a similar plot.

      • The Searchers with John Wayne coming after Natalie Wood

  14. One word awesome!! love how Walt redeemed himself just before going out. Glad that Jesse made it. Gonna miss this so much. Breaking bad is too frikin epic

  15. the ending was exquisite,hated to see the show come to a conclusion

  16. Breaking Bad will go down in history as one of the best dramas on Television…Hands Down…maybe even top 5

  17. That was amazing… I cant wait for next weeks episode.

  18. Am I the only one that got chill up my spine when Heisenberg gave the signal for the “hitman” to point their guns? I mean the intense music that played I had to replay that moment again because I was thinking, “s*** just got MORE badass.”

    • was laughing my ass off to that moment. even at the end he was putting people through the grinder.

  19. Couldn’t have asked for a better ending myself. I hope, but it’s a sad realization that I may never see another TV show as perfect as Breaking Bad has been. Only one question left… What happened to Huell?

  20. Best show since the wire. Prob my top 2 drama/crime shows

  21. “its execution and delivery a television milestone unlikely to be repeated or surpassed in anyone’s lifetime”

    Really? That’s a bit much. Breaking Bad was very good, but it’s not this godlike, untouchable pinnacle of perfection that people seem to be making it out to be. When LOST ended, I thought no other show would be able to captivate me so much. Then I discovered Breaking Bad, which came awful close. My point is, there will always be another master craftsman out there waiting to make the next television phenomenon.

  22. Many people keep saying that the series could’ve ended with “Ozymandias” and it still would’ve been satisfying. “Granite State” and “Felina” proved otherwise. Breaking Bad has always been about Walt’s journey, more specifically, the path to Walt’s enlightenment. Yes, I used the word ‘enlightenment’. The show keeps telling us about how taking certain decisions can have certain impacts on your life and it proved right in Walt’s case. At the start, he was a vessel that contained a highly-pressurized gas just waiting to explode, in essence, as Mike would say: he was a time bomb. He had all kinds of delusions about how other people have ruined his life and stolen his family’s birthright and so on and so forth. He was filled with so much pride and ego that he stopped thinking straight and began acting solely on impulse. Yes, he became a ruthless methamphetamine drug kingpin that was feared and respected in the business but was shortlived. It all came crashing down exactly because of his ego. In the bar atop the snowy mountains of New Hampshire, Walt decides to let go, but he sees Gretchen and Elliot commenting on how the true Walt they had known long ago has long since faded and all that is left is Heisenberg. Walt starts to realize that his ego-driven journey has come to its end and at that point, Walt’s immense ego dissolves into nothing. He is neither Heisenberg nor Walter White. He is neither drug kingpin nor sweet family man. He is purely driven by the need to tie loose ends up. He accepts that he did everything that he wanted to do in life, that he took the world by storm with his actions, that he left behind a legacy no matter what kind it might be, he realizes that he has accomplished it all. So the reborn Walter White accepts his fate, no regrets and goes onto finishing business. He says goodbye to most of his family (sorry Flynn), frees Jesse, slaughters Jack, Todd, Kenny and the rest of the gang, provides his family with Hank and Gomez’s burial site, gets his hard-earned money to his family. He has lived a fitting life and done his best. He has applied himself and that’s all he could’ve done. He relishes in Jack’s meth lab and breathes his last breath alongside his precious chemistry. Walter White says goodbye, reborn, as he passes away peacefully.

  23. Am I really the only person that noticed and was slightly disturbed by the “breathing” arm chair in the nazi compound?????

    • No, that creeped me out too.

    • It was a Massage Chair … nice touch