"If I tell you the truth, will you stay? Stay, and I will tell you everything." -WaltI was half-tempted to eschew a finale review altogether and just post my lengthy season post-mortem interview with Vince Gilligan. As it is, I strongly suggest you start reading that first, because Vince and I talk for a while about the meaning of that final scene, how they tried to tease it out over the course of the season (starting with the titles of all the episodes featuring the teddy bear flash-forward, which combined spell out "Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ"), whether Vince feels they've played fair with the audience, etc. So go read that -- at least through the part where Vince says we shouldn't expect Walt to get crushed to death by a falling jet engine -- and I'll wait.
"Whatever it is, I'm afraid to know." -Skyler
You're back? Good.
Now, given all the speculation about the cartel coming to get revenge on Heisenberg and/or or Gus Frings taking out an unreliable element, about which combination of characters would be in the body bags on the driveway, who the teddy bear belongs to, etc., I imagine some of you will feel disappointed, if not outright mad, to find that none of your guesses were right -- and that all of this seems the result of an act of God.
But as Vince talks about, and as the finale makes clear, if it's an act of God, it's the act of a vengeful God who wants to make "a cosmic indictment of Walt's life choices of late." Walt has brought this on himself, not just in terms of karma, but in terms of setting in motion the chain of events that led to this crash. Walt recruited Jesse as his partner, which led to Jesse losing his grandmother's house, which led to him moving in next door to Jane. Walt is the one who pressured Jesse to expand their operation, which led to Combo's death, which led to Jesse luring Jane off the wagon, and in turn to Jane introducing Jesse to heroin. Walt is the one who, in trying to shake Jesse awake, caused Jane to roll over onto her back before she began to vomit, and he's the one who declined to save her life when given the opportunity, which in turn led to Jane's father being too consumed by grief to properly do his job as an air-traffic controller...
... which led to those two planes colliding more or less directly above Walt's pool.
This is on Walt's head, every last bit of it, and so it feels right for fiery judgment to be rained down on that head.
Walt will likely never truly understand how he caused this particular catastrophe, but after the events of this finale -- after Jesse beats himself up for a death that Walt knows is really his fault, after Skyler confronts him about all she's learned (and all she doesn't want to learn) about his double life and orders him out of their house and out of his family's life -- you have to think that even Walter White, the king of denial, would be able to recognize some of the pain he's unleashed on the world.
You can see some of that recognition earlier in "ABQ," in that wonderfully squirmy scene where the TV news crew comes to film the feature on Flynn and SaveWalterWhite.com(*). Walt already hates all of this: the attention, as well as the realization that these reports will lead to actual donations from strangers, as opposed to the money-laundering operation Saul Goodman set up. But as Flynn begins to extol his father's virtues in the kind of hero-worship language every dad hopes to hear from his kids -- "He's just decent, and he always does the right thing, and that's how he teaches me to be." -- you can see how much it pains Walt, who at least has the clarity to recognize that he's not decent, that he's doing a whole lot of wrong things, and that over the course of this season (notably during the tequila incident in "Over"), he's been teaching Flynn all sorts of bad ways to be. Just a brilliant acting moment, in an episode -- and a season -- full of them for Bryan Cranston.
(*) As many people pointed out last week, the site went live after the episode aired, and actually funnels its donations to the National Cancer Coalition. Nicely-done, "Breaking Bad" people.
Just as amazing with their own showcase moments were Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul, who both got to do a lot with volume. Paul got to be big and loud and anguished at the shooting gallery, and then quiet and empty and haunting at the chi-chi rehab facility, and the quieter Gunn got in the scene where Skyler confronted Walt, the scarier and more focused her anger became.
Again, Walt's not in danger of being killed by an airplane -- I can't see the show transforming halfway through its run into a buddy cop show about a DEA agent who bottles his own beer and the sidekick who reluctantly puts up with his ethnic barbs -- but Walt finds himself in a bad place going into next season. And based on the genius that was apparent throughout this year, I can't wait for more.
Some other thoughts on "ABQ":
• Speaking of ol' Hank, he continues to be much smarter than any of us wanted to give him credit for at the start of the series. He knows Jimmy isn't Heisenberg, and sooner or later he's going to find the blue meth in another town, and maybe find a way to trace it all the way back to Gus Frings -- that is, assuming Gus the genius isn't constantly paying visits to the Albuquerque field office to go over the details of that fun run. I was alarmed when Gus got a look at Walt's picture on the cancer fund kitty, but as Vince astutely points out in our interview, a guy as clever and careful as Gus would have known Walt's brother-in-law was in the DEA a long time ago. At most, he now knows about Walt's cancer -- which, for now, seems to be a non-factor.
• And speaking of that photo, I thought it was a lovely touch by director Adam Bernstein to first show Hank holding it right in front of the Wanted posters at the field office -- which is exactly where Walt's picture should belong.
• Great casting, as usual, on both the big parts, like Jonathan Banks from "Wiseguy" as Saul's jaded investigator/fixer, and on the extras, like the bald guy Walt bumps into -- basically a shrunken, skin-and-bones funhouse mirror image of Walt himself -- while entering the shooting gallery to look for Jesse.
• Straw poll: do you want Walt's goatee to stay, or would you rather he go back to the dead caterpillar mustache? Either way, I thought the Van Dyke was a clever way to illustrate how much time had passed since the surgery -- the first notable time jump since the series began.
• The song playing over the surgery montage was "Life," by Chocolate Genius.
Well, that's it for another season of "Breaking Bad." I imagine we won't see the show back again until early 2010. I look forward to watching, and talking about it with you all.
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