As we lurch toward the series finale of Breaking Bad, episode 16 of season 5 entitled “Felina,” the anticipation is worse than waiting for the ketchup to drop from that bottle of Heinz (many of you probably don’t even remember that commercial with the Carly Simon soundtrack). The point being that we are all waiting impatiently and being inundated with predictions about what will happen, but judging the entire arc of the story that creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan has given us, there are no safe bets anymore; however, there is the knowledge that due to Gilligan’s respect for the fans, the ending will no doubt be a way to tie up loose ends as well as satisfy them.
Luck seems to always be an elusive thing, but as I was driving today and changing the radio channels, I heard “El Paso,” an old song by Marty Robbins. I remembered the song very well, and was struck that the story of a doomed cowboy involved a woman named Felina. Once I got home I went online and looked up the lyrics to go over the song again, and it struck me as a fine qualifier for what has been going on in the series, and perhaps what will play out in the finale.
“Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina/Wicked and evil while casting a spell.” While the song is about a woman who drives a man to kill, in the series Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has been driven to kill by something that has cast a spell over him as well – one could call it greed or the desire to be finally acknowledged. Walt’s own belief is that everything he has done has been for love, much like the cowboy in the song, but for both of them a dangerous thing called pride gets in the way.
Gilligan has always noted that Breaking Bad is like a modern western, and isn’t it odd that the cowboy in the song escapes from town and hides out in “the badlands of New Mexico?” Of course, I could be grasping at straws here, but in search for something definitive about the finale, and wondering just what Walt will do with that M60 machine gun, the song just captured my imagination and I could picture Gilligan (who wrote and directed the finale) listening to this song as he decided to make “Felina” the title.
By now so many theories have been put out there, and they all can seem valid enough. There are those on Team Walt who, even after all that has happened, would like to see him walk away, get a miracle remission for the cancer, and end up sitting on a beach sipping cocktails as Hans Gruber imagined in Die Hard, only he hoped to be earning interest as well on his ill-gotten money. The others, whether they are Team Hank or Team Jesse or whatever, want to see Walt pay with a pound of flesh and then some. Maybe none of them have it right, or maybe they all do. Who knows at this point?
We have had some pretty despicable protagonists in TV series in recent memory, including Dexter Morgan (Dexter), Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), and Vic Mackey (The Shield). None of them receive true justice at the end of the respective series; however, their endings could be seen as ambiguous enough that there is no lasting happiness. Attribute it to DVD and merchandise sales, or the fact that producers fear pulling the plug in case there is a down the road film planned, but nonetheless this seems to be a pattern. I do believe that Gilligan thinks very highly of the show’s fans, but he must realize that there will be no pleasing all of them no matter how it all plays out.
In terms of climax for the series, a bloodletting could be as satisfying as the last scenes of Hamlet where virtually everyone goes down. People who have felt Walt was a victim of cancer, of Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, of poor medical coverage, of a brother-in-law who thought he was a geek, and even an overbearing wife, would no doubt like to see Walt erupt in one final Rambo with the big gun sequence, blowing away the control centers that have ruined his life. We also cannot forget that Uncle Jack and Todd and their Nazi friends robbed him of most of his money, so there is also that indignity to set right (and Jack killed Hank and Todd killed Andrea).
When Walt returns, like the gunslinger coming back into town in “El Paso,” everyone will be gunning for him. In the song the cowboy is no match for the posse that guns him down, but here I think Gilligan will twist the story around. There will definitely be confrontations for Walt, and I for one would like to see Walt confront Elliot and Gretchen and Lydia (who wanted Todd to kill Skyler and the kids). Surely there must be enough ricin for the three of them. Then there is Uncle Jack, who forced Walt into a handshake to show things were okay between them. Walt did not look at Jack as they shook hands, but instead stared into the camera in his best Heisenberg scowl to let us know nothing was okay in the least.
The final showdown could be Walt against the Nazis with the machine gun, but then I remembered season one in the very first episode, when Walt took care of the drug dealers by using his intelligence instead of any brawn. Maybe while Jack and all of his buddies are sitting around watching The Jesse Pinkman Show on the big TV, Walt will use the ricin on them. We cannot be sure how it will play out, and that is the exciting and frustrating thing for us as we all wait.
There is, of course, the question as to if Walt will survive. I think the song “El Paso” ends in the same way that the series will. Shot in the chest and dying, the cowboy manages to crawl into Felina’s arms.
From out of nowhere Felina has found me,
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for,
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.
Walt has told Skyler (Emmy winner Anna Gunn) that she is the love of his life, and everything he has done, whether or not it is actually true to us, we know that Walt believes (and I think will do so until his last breath) he did for her and the family. The ending of the series demands to finish almost the way it started, but in a tragic manner. How fitting if a wounded and dying Walt makes it into Skyler’s arms for that last kiss.
True fans will recall the scene of Walt and Skyler in bed in episode 1 of season 1. After a horrific day where he cooked meth and killed drug dealers, Walt comes home exhausted but somehow invigorated by it all. He makes love to Skyler with obviously unprecedented exuberance, and Skyler asks, “Walt, is that you?” Sadly, as the grizzled Walt with beard and curly hair comes to her one last time, she may pose the same question to the dying man who thinks he did it all for love.
In the end what will we take away from Breaking Bad? Is it that a good man broke bad for all the right reasons (providing for his family), without envisioning that the actions he was taking would bring hellfire down upon them all? Or is it that Walt always had Heisenberg simmering within him, and that all he needed to do was have something, like in his chemistry class, start a chemical reaction to bring forth his inner Mr. Hyde?
I will have much more to say after the series finale of Breaking Bad, but until then I will leave you with the sign-off I used for every article I wrote about the amazing series 24.
Klaatu barada nikto.
Photo credits: robbins-wikipedia; Cranston –AMC