Let’s not overstate the importance of finale episodes to television series that last several years. There is so much to consider when measuring the value of a show, such a wide scope of storylines and characters and themes, that placing too much stock in a single episode loses sight of the grander scheme at play. There are many things endings can do for stories: they can wrap things up, they can deliver a big surprise and shock us, they can tie everything together, they can leave us hanging, and much more. Applying any set of rules to finales makes it virtually impossible to appreciate both the beautiful cut to black ending of The Sopranos while also the sublime conclusiveness of Six Feet Under.
Breaking Bad will, over time, be judged on its entire run, despite the inevitable attempts of many to retroactively assess the whole series based on what they thought of its concluding episode, whether they loved it or loathed it. And if the previous season finales and episodes are any indication, it seems safe to predict that this episode will be celebrated even more as time goes on. One of the reasons the episode is so strong, and indeed the main reason the series is arguably the greatest of all time, is that it contains unbelievably well-crafted scenes and sequences, and capitalizes on big plot moments as well as nailing the smaller, understated but perhaps even more crucial moments between characters.
Here are the 6 greatest moments from Breaking Bad’s concluding episode that confirmed its status as one of the best series ever produced.Next
1) The keys fall
I will give Vince Gilligan and company all the credit they deserve, but it may be a bit too far to suggest any attempt on their part to be topical by opening the episode with a little grand theft auto. Still, it’s a terrific opening, beginning from the very first shot of snow on the car window. It almost appears as though Walt is about to be caught, and he makes a desperate plea to some sort of deity, a prayer to the deus ex machina, to get him back to New Mexico. Never before has a man so desperately wanted to get to Albuquerque.
The show has always been a complicated combination of the stars aligning in characters’ favor, or sometimes out of their favor, as well as the characters being beholden to the consequences of their actions. Walter’s fate has been the result of factors outside of his control, most crucially his cancer diagnosis, and of the host of choices he made in light of this news. This scene is a subtle recognition by the character of the horrors of his own choices, and a commitment to some kind of attempt at redemption. He asks the universe for one last favor, and he gets it from an unexpected yet absolutely appropriate, bordering on cliché place: up above. Either that or he is new to stealing cars in remote areas of New Hampshire.Previous Next
2) Elliot and Gretchen get targeted
In “Ozymandias” Walt told Skyler, and us, “I’ve still got things left to do.” This episode shows us some of the things he may have had in mind, but it wasn’t until last episode that Elliot and Gretchen were re-introduced into the story, and we knew they would factor into the finale somehow. Walt’s impotent rage towards them is both absurd and evil, and also a little bit understandable. They’re annoying as hell, right? Their entire conversation when they get home in this episode, on top of their pretentious tones on Charlie Rose, is pretty insufferable, and seeing them get threatened is not unwelcome. I think I’ve been playing too much Grand Theft Auto lately.
The moment the lasers hit their bodies is the first big shock of the episode. For a few minutes we think Heisenberg is back with a vengeance, organized more than ever and with a team of assassins at his back. The punchline that it’s Badger and Skinny Pete, then, exposes the makeshift operation Walter really has going for him. But it’s also fascinating that in his quest for some kind of redemption, he’s still a little bit in love with his Heisenberg persona and happy to use it to his advantage if it means exerting power over his former friends, as if that translates into some kind of victory for him.Previous Next
3) Jesse’s flashback
The most beautiful cinematic moment of the entire episode may come at the end of the sepia-colored flashback to what we can assume is one of the happiest moments of Jesse’s life. We see him crafting a wooden box with such care and precision that his love for the work jumps off the screen. We’re reminded of the meeting where he talks about how much he loved woodworking, how he had once made a box he thought was perfect, and traded it for drugs. We’ve seen his affinity for artistic expression, whether through drawing or making music. There have been plenty of reminders along this journey of where Walter has come, but it was nice to see how far Jesse has fallen, even from before his days as a small time drug dealer kicked off.
Then we’re quickly jerked back to his grim reality in a fast, sharp cut. His little daydream ends when he feels his chains, a reminder that the freedom he once enjoyed is gone. The Jesse character may be the most complex in the series, and the fact that he’s a supporting player means he gets less attention, but the choices that have led him to his current state come to the surface in this scene. That decision to toss aside his artistic aspirations and get into the drug trade is as crucial as Walter’s decision to get in that RV and cook. It’s a tragic juxtaposition of images marked with a punchy cut, one of Gilligan’s most inspired moments of the episode.Previous Next
4) Walter’s honest moment
Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn are near-locks to win Emmys again next year, and if they didn’t also have an entire half season of knockout moments to their credit already, they could have potentially won statues based solely on the merits of their final scene together in this episode. The scene seemed to fly by the first time I watched it; only on AMC’s lovely second airing of the episode a couple hours later did I realize how much silence fills the scene, and how much of our attention is transfixed on the faces of these two superb actors.
The most talked about moment from this scene, rightly so most likely, is Walt’s admission to Skyler, which she almost disregards as a lie. She expects him to spin his story the way he has this entire time, and has lost all trust in him. Walt’s last ditch effort at redemption with Skyler, though, is one final honest moment, where he admits that his meth cooking was not to benefit his family, but for his own ego. The last couple of seasons have featured Walt lying with success to just about everyone, but he’s painfully obvious when he lies to Skyler. His earnest admission in this moment takes a second, but once she realizes he’s simply being honest with her for the first time in a long while, it’s devastating. This is punctuated by a goodbye between Walter and baby Holly, and a distance, silent goodbye to Walter Jr. Sad, but beautiful.Previous Next
5) The hit
We know Walter has something planned; we just don’t know what. We know he’s wearing a similar color and style of shirt that he wore when he defeated Gus Fring. We’ve seen him building some contraption while singing along to a song about a man hiding in New Mexico out of fear of retribution for a murder he’s committed. We know he’s picked up some serious weaponry, both mechanical and chemical. When it happens, just as it did with Tuco and Gus, we’re faced with a mixture of “OMG” and “but of course.”
It’s almost anticlimactic. In fact, you could make the case (and several people have done so) that “Ozymandias” is the season’s climactic episode, and that in a Shakespearean five-act structure season 3 was the series’ climax, and this is all denouement. Just really bloody riveting denouement. The groundwork has been laid so meticulously that an ending like this is expected, yet when it happens, it’s still a huge “oh sh*t” moment. The moment Walt pushes that button, the feeling of being given what you want, seeing someone killin’ Nazis, is hard to not enjoy to bits. That he saves Jesse in the process, who gets to exact the ultimate revenge on Todd, is really, really sweet icing.Previous Next
6) Jesse lives free and Walt dies
How great was it to see Jesse burst through that gate that he didn’t quite get over before? We also get to taste his happy, which tastes a lot like sad, but is probably the most deeply satisfying part of the episode, maybe the whole series. For a character who gets put through wringer the way Jesse was, seeing his ecstatic escape was wonderful. Walt, on the other hand, meets an equally satisfying end. It might be more satisfying than a lot of people would hope for our anti-hero, but I would maintain that it’s not as clear and conclusive as some are saying. There’s no certainty in Walt’s post-death plans pertaining to Skyler’s freedom or Flynn receiving his money. What there is certainty of is that Walt did as well as he could in trying to make up for the horrible choices he made. And like Mike before him, he gets to die in peace, on his own terms, in his beloved lab. As Mr. Magorium says, quoting King Lear, “He dies.”
The show has sort of always been a series built upon moments. It doesn’t always feel like more than the sum of its parts at first, and this is because its parts are so damn good. Fully appreciating the finished product, the amalgamation of all these terrific parts, requires a bit of time to allow things to settle into place. I remember feeling like the conclusion of season 4 with Gus was crazy, but slightly unsatisfying. Now, I see it as one of the most incredible moments in dramatic television history. So I think it’s best to let these reactions breathe for a bit before offering anything too conclusive about where the episode and series stand on a historical, evaluative level. The series ended in the most appropriate way possible: an episode packed with memorable moments that felt true to the vision Vince Gilligan had for Breaking Bad every step of the way.
Be sure to check out our full review of the finale for even more insight and analysis.Previous