I’m going out on a limb here: the finale of Breaking Bad was not good. With its general disregard for the viewer’s intelligence, I found it just another entry in a well-acted, but overrated, soap opera.
Let’s address that point first. Like the American soap and its many equivalents, Breaking Bad relies too often on coincidence to advance its plot. Take, for example, Walter’s chance meeting with Jane’s father in the bar in season 2, just prior to his witnessing Jane overdose in Jesse’s apartment. While heightening a sense of dramatic irony, the demand on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief is onerous. Is there, like, one bar in all of Albuquerque? Or the revelation that Andrea’s younger brother, Tomas, was the boy who killed Combo season earlier in the series. Too much.
“Felina”, the finale of season 5, makes use of coincidence in its pivotal scene: Walt, arriving at the headquarters of uncle Jack and the white supremacists, manages to gather all the supremacists in the same room, conveniently in position of his Jerry-rigged truck, recover his stolen keys without being noticed, and gun them all down. Even when he suffers a chest wound, he is allowed enough time to wrap up his turbulent relationship with Jesse. Here the show resembles a Saturday morning cartoon, allowing its heroes and villains closure before their death. You might remember how Hank miraculously survived a volley of bullets in “To’hajiilee” just long enough to look badass? Obvious fan service…
Speaking of badass-ery, let’s talk about Walt’s Heisenberg/village idiot dichotomy, or what I like to call uneven writing. Now, when I talk about Walt’s idiotic tendencies, I’m not referring to his bouts with hubris or his commitment to family, because I think these qualities do lend the character some nuance. I’m talking about the impulse that causes Walt to lead Hank and Jesse straight to his stash of millions, without suspicion, in “To’hajilee”. This is clearly meant to advance the plot, but undercuts the idea of Walt as some kind of criminal mastermind. Which is why the climax of “Felina” has less to do with a Machiavellian scheming and more to do with plot necessity: we need all the criminals to be dead, and therefore we need Walt to suddenly be precognitive and brazen and not dead (until it’s convenient, anyway).
On the writing of “Felina”, the writers seemed too eager to please the lowest common denominator of Breaking Bad viewers. Not content to leave us with an earnest but flawed protagonist, Walt redeems himself in the last act. He bequeaths his meth fortune to his daughter, Holly, via Gretchen and Elliot Swartz. He offers his life to Jesse in exchange for everything they experienced together as a result of the drug trade, and (this is debatable, I guess) exonerates himself for Brock’s poisoning and Jane’s death. He even gets to die in his temple, with one last, figurative caress. I understand the decision to let Walter, Jesse, or any of the show’s characters ride into the sunset; after investing so much time in these characters, it’s the compassionate decision to make. But it’s not daring, and it betrays what has always been the principal strength of the show: depicting what relatable characters might do under extraordinary circumstances. The choices aren’t always ethical, socially acceptable, or clean, but they are honest.