“Skyler. All the things that I did. You need to understand – ”
“If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family – ”
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And…I was…really…I was alive.”
“Felina” may be the most anticipated episode in Breaking Bad history, but it is not necessarily the first ‘series finale’ the show has produced. Both the Season 2 and Season 4 conclusions, “ABQ” and “Face Off,” could easily have served as spectacular send-offs, as each expertly culminated upon everything that had happened up to that point, and brought closure – either literal, thematic, or both – to the story and characters.
“ABQ” saw Jesse’s life utterly destroyed by Walt’s actions after the death of Jane, featured Skyler finally calling Walt on all his bullshit, and ended with Walt’s many sins becoming personified by two planes colliding in midair, right above his house. Had the show ended there, we would have been robbed of three all-time great seasons of television, but there would be no regrets as to the power of the conclusion.
“Face Off,” it goes without saying, was the grand final showdown between Walter White and Gus Fring, and in addition to being the single tensest and most nail-biting hour the show ever produced – climaxing, of course, in the eponymous bit of iconic, shocking violence – it also brought closure to nearly every ongoing story arc, left Jesse at a place of relative peace and stability, and completed Walt’s transition from mild-mannered chemistry teacher into all-powerful drug lord.
Both episodes are, I think, better hours of television than “Felina.” They are more emotionally affecting, more ambitious in scope, and filled with more all-time great moments that will forever stand tall in the TV drama pantheon.
Yet neither, I contend, is anywhere near as good an ending to the show that was Breaking Bad as “Felina.” And while there are many equally valid reasons for this – the general atmosphere of darkness and desolation, the self-reflexive quality of Walt’s final journey, the note-perfect send-offs given to Skyler and especially to Jesse, etc. – the one that matters most to me concerns the core emotion I felt while watching the show’s final minutes unfold. It was not the emotion I expected to feel before the episode began, nor after the majority of it had unrolled. It wasn’t sadness, or distress, or disgust, or fear, or tension, or even visceral exhilaration. I felt all these things and more watching “Felina,” and each, certainly, is a core emotion I will forever associate with the Breaking Bad experience. But the one that hit me hardest, and the one that has lingered with me most in the time since the final credits rolled, was something entirely different, though no less connected to the core of Breaking Bad.
It was laughter. Wild, raucous, all-consuming, uncontrollable laughter.
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