‘Breaking Bad’ Finale Reviews: Just Perfect? Or Too Perfect?

'Breaking Bad' Finale Reviews: Just Perfect? Or Too Perfect?

Did things work out too well for Walter White?

(Spoiler warning: Don't read this if you haven't seen the “Breaking Bad” finale.)

Can a finale be too perfect?

It's a fair question, when things work out relatively well for a meth-cooking multiple murderer. The “Breaking Bad” finale, “Felina,” found Walter White carrying out a brilliant scheme to save his family and his legacy, while killing everyone who threatened them. Your humble correspondent, in a review posted half an hour after the finale, deemed it “just perfect” and the best finale I've ever seen. I thought it worked as a crackerjack revenge tale, without letting Walt off too easily.

Also read: “Breaking Bad” Finale: Just Perfect

But Hitfix's Alan Sepinawall wondered if it was believable that Walter White's final scheme worked out as well as it did.

“This was cathartic, this was definitive, this was as gorgeously-acted as ‘Breaking Bad’ has always been. But was it ultimately too neat?” he asked. “[F]or the finale to feature Walt largely operating solo (with the occasional small bit of help from Skinny Pete or Jim Beaver) and having everything work out as planned — with the sort of precision one might have expected from the watch Walt left behind at the gas station pay phone — didn't feel exactly like the kind of ending I might have expected from this show.”

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Finale: 5 (Sort of) Loose Ends

Show creator Vince Gilligan has said before he doesn't believe TV shows should rely on coincidence – unless they work out against our protagonist. In the finale, a lot broke good for Walt, starting with the discovery of the keys in the Volvo. Now is when we might normally start getting all loopy and imagine that the whole episode was Walt's dying dream as he succumbed to cancer in New Hampshire. But no. I just think Walt had months to work out every detail of his plan in his cabin, and for once, got everything exactly right. And got a little lucky, after plenty of bad luck before, starting with Hank's bathroom discovery.

The Onion AV Club's Donna Bowman, who has recapped the show from the first episode, had a wonderful observation about the mechanization surrounding Walt:

“The theme of ‘Felina’ seems to be this: People and machines are usually predictable,” she wrote. “Lydia meets her business partners like she always did, tears open the only stevia packet on the table like she always does. Gretchen and Elliot betrayed on television how much they fear losing their reputation and their elegant lives, and that means that they can be manipulated. Walt has always used this predictability–this scientific certainty about action and reaction–to get what he wants. But it's taken him until now to realize the corollary: If you can change your pattern, those predictable people and machines will miss you. Walt changes; he's the only one who does. After their purpose is fulfilled, the machines stay in motion. The massage chair keeps rolling even though its occupant is dead. The M60 keeps sweeping even though it's out of ammunition. But Walt's purpose is fulfilled, and he just stops.”

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Star Aaron Paul Stumps for Obamacare on ‘SNL’ (Video)

She also had this eloquent observation: “Many beautifully staged scenes here, courtesy of Vince Gilligan in the director's chair. I especially liked the frequency with which we see Walt out of focus in the background, leaving a room without fanfare, fading away like a ghost who is done haunting the place.”

Time's James Poniewozik made the same “Say hello to my little friend” reference that I did, which is probably a testament to how overtly the show set up its “Scarface” homage. He didn't have a problem with all the perfection. He called the episode “a kind of machine gun of narrative, knocking down all of those questions with auto-fire efficiency. (Well, almost all. Sorry, Huell!) It was not flashy. It wasn't structurally ambitious, in the way other ‘Breaking Bad’ episodes have been. It was not, in most respects, surprising,” he wrote. “And that's OK. Because what ‘Felina’ was-as effective, satisfying series finales are — was true.”

TVGuide.com's Adam Bryant thought the machine gun was perfectly in keeping with “Breaking Bad,” a show that offers cool capers and MacGyver-like machination to go with all its moral hand-wringing. ” It wouldn't be ‘Breaking Bad’ without one final bit of showmanship,” he wrote. (This is a show that staged a train robbery, after all.)

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad': One Last Guess How It Ends

But Bryant was especially impressed with the moment when Walt dismantled his most meticulous construction.

“At the end of ‘Breaking Bad, TV's greatest liar finally stopped lying to himself,” he wrote.

Walt's admission was the key to his slight redemption. But Slate's Willa Pasin found it ethically troubling that things went so well for Walt after he's done so much wrong.

“If ‘The Sopranos’ continually punished us for identifying too closely, too sympathetically with Tony Soprano, ‘Breaking Bad‘ in the end protected its audience from the nastier ramifications of this same impulse. For those people who have always thought Walt was not so bad, here was Walt, not being so bad. And for those of us who did find Walt absolutely reprehensible, it was still impossible to watch this episode and feel victorious,” she wrote.

That's true. And troubling. In the end we rooted for Walt in part because the people he killed were so much worse. Our moral standards were so recalibrated by the end that we just wanted to see the least bad guy win. We cheered as Jesse, murderer, sped euphoric into the night.

Maybe the “Breaking Bad” made us make the same kind of compromises Walt did – the kind we thought we would never make. And made them feel easy.


  • Sean Murdock

    I've long thought that the “spine” of Breaking Bad was the ethical challenge that it posed to its audience: “I'm going to take my protagonist, who is purely sympathetic for, oh, about 15 minutes in the pilot, and I'm going to send him down a rabbit hole of deceit, ego, vengeance, murder and madness — are you along for the ride, or not?”

    Based on Vince Gilligan's many comments in the past few years, I think he intended for the audience to turn on Walt, as he himself has admitted HE eventually did. But many didn't, and sometimes it seems like the show was reacting to THAT as much as anything else plot-driven in the show. Oh, you still love Walt? OK, we'll make JESSE — the loser burnout — the moral center of the show. Still think Walt's the only smart guy in the room? OK, we'll make Hank a damn good cop, and we'll offer Mike as a grizzled veteran of the criminal world who possesses a hard-earned wisdom that Walt can't begin to touch.

    But still, people kept rooting for Walt. I'm wondering if a lot of it depends on HOW you watched the show. If you watched it loyally from day one — waiting week to week, and year to year — maybe you hung onto your sympathy for Walt longer than you “should” have, because you had all that down time to “bond” with him. Those of us (like myself) who caught on late, and had to binge-watch several seasons at once, experienced his descent as a rapid decline, and perhaps it was easier to see him as the “bad guy.”

    As a non-viewer, I had managed to avoid most of the show's spoilers, but could no longer avoid the show after Season Four's finale; the internet buzz about “the greatest show ever” became too deafening, and I knew I had to get on board before the show ended. I wanted to experience at least ONE season in a “pure” way — in real time, agonizing over every new development and cliffhanger. But there was one MAJOR difference between my experience as a late-comer and that of an original fan — I already knew that Walter White was going to “break bad” and become a villain, and that probably tainted my view of him as I speed-watched Seasons One and Two.

    As I continue to reflect on this finale, I think Vince Gilligan tried to come up with an ending that wouldn't QUITE be redemptive for Walt, but would still allow him to go out “on his own terms.” If there's anything missing, it's as you referenced above — maybe it was TOO perfect for Breaking Bad. Yes, it was unrepentant — he never apologizes to Skyler or Jesse for destroying their lives, he still thinks the money will fix everything, and he purposely dies in the arms of “his Precious” (the meth lab).

    At the same time, though, one of the hallmarks of Breaking Bad was that every time Walt got himself out of ONE horrific situation, he caused ANOTHER one — and it was invariably something that ate away at his soul. Immediately in the pilot, he avoids being killed by Emilio and Krazy 8 by killing them first — a true “kill or be killed” moment — but then discovers that he actually has to KILL Krazy 8 in a real, premeditated way. It happens again and again throughout the show — but not in the finale. There were no messy unintended consequences to further damn Walter White; for the first time in two years, EVERYTHING went the way he planned it.

    I guess if there's a time for that to happen, it's the series finale, but if I have any lingering regrets about the show, it might be that they let him off a LITTLE too easy in the end.

  • MB

    Any ending that did not have the Walter White character killed off for all of his evil is morally bankrupted.

  • SlickGoldie

    Here's where the surviving characters wind up in 10 years:


  • DarkXid

    Considering Walt's other almost impossible schemes worked out so well it's not a far stretch to consider his last scheme worked just as well. Even though he improvised during his final scheme -he left Jesse to be killed after Hank was shot and most likely still wanted Jesse dead when he arrived at the compound, it's not a stretch to think his final plan worked.

    It's likely that he went to the compound expecting to die in his surprise attack and take all his enemies with him.

    The thing about Walt is he understands how people work and he knew Lydia's patterns. He knew she would see him as a loose end and he knew she'd use Jack to do her dirty work.

    It was safer for the neo-nazi's if Walt went to them so they could kill and dispose of him out of sight of the rest of the world and likely he would be given an audience with Jack and his cronies before they killed him. Because, bad guys like to hear themselves talk so…it worked.

  • Steve Curtis

    Awesome reviews here. Nice observations. Quit take here from my blog: As tragedies go, this one takes the pages of Shakespeare right out of the book and translates directly into cultural North American, and as tragedies go this one also produces what is hopefully the cautionary tale of our time. Somehow, though, I don’t think it will have the effect that one would think. Yes there are consequences, but…
    Read the rest of my input at: xyvector.blogspot.com