Five Essay Prompts for the Breaking Bad Finale: ‘Felina’

"Felina." (AMC)

“Felina.” (AMC)


These questions regard last night’s episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. In general, satisfying television finales have several requirements. They wrap up the storylines and the characters’ arcs, and they give many of the (surviving) characters a final scene (shout-out to my favorite Babylon 5 fans, Badger and Skinny Pete!). They also tend to take a look back over the course of the series and call back to various moments that got us to this point. Some of these in last night’s finale were obvious, like the flashback to Hank inviting Walt on the ride-along. Some were mere hints, like the still-oscilatting gun in the trunk, which referenced Tuco’s bouncing car, or the final shot, which was reminiscent of Walter and the fly. There were many others as well. Pick one or two of favorites and explain why Breaking Bad chose to reference these scenes.

Ah, I had a couple of the silly ones, like Lydia’s Stevia coming into play again, or Todd’s highly personalized ringtones. The two visual cues that really struck a chord were the massage chair that the Nazi died in (way more reminiscent of Tuco dying behind Jesse’s pimped-out car, which continued to move after his death) and Jesse ramming his car through the padlocked gates, which is something he did to liberate the mobile meth lab all the way back in season one or two. Of course, that time he didn’t drive it away while cackling maniacally…oh yes, and Todd’s death was a callback to the very first death on the show, when Walter strangled Crazy 8 with his own bike lock, reminding us that none of the blood shed on Breaking Bad was an accident, but deliberate steps taken by people who felt they had no other option. And the very best reference was the box that Jesse was seen smelling before snapping out of his fantasy: It’s the allegorical woodshopping class he talks about with his AA group, a metaphor for the meth that he once took pleasure in making.

2. For all his intellect and planning, Walt has never been able to account for every possible contingency; he has relied on luck, over and over again, to achieve his objectives. His final plan is no exception: If Jack’s crew had checked his trunk, if they hadn’t let him drive up to the clubhouse, if they had held on to his keys, etc., he wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. At this late date, when he seems to be seeing himself most clearly, is his ego still so overwhelming that he doesn’t realize his plan is weak? On the other hand, considering that saving Jesse was the weakest part of that weak plan, is it possible that he really believed that Jesse was Jack’s partner, and that his actual plan was to kill everyone, Jesse included, or die trying? And if that is the case, how many lucky breaks can one guy get, such that not only did he get to execute his plan perfectly, but also managed to save Jesse and allowed him to take personal revenge on Todd?

I think Walt knew enough about Uncle Jack and Jesse to know that Pinkman wasn’t cooking the meth out of his own free will; as soon as he heard from Charlie Rose (LOL!) that the blue stuff was back on the market he put two and two together and realized that Jesse was being held prisoner. If you want to see Walt in the best light, that went into his decision to storm the Nazi home-base when it would have been easier (and safer!) to leave the money with the Schwartzs and then dissapear into the night. Of course, knowing Walt, he had to destroy every vestige of his product’s source (and shooting Jack in the head, thus giving up his golden grail–the money!–in favor of revenge, which is…nice?) before dying in this somewhat redemptive manner, because his ego, even when not at Heisenberg-ian levels, still makes him want to prove himself to be the hero.

Now, he knows Jesse doesn’t want to make meth anymore; the kid stopped cooking after Drew Sharpe’s death, basically, so there’s no fear that Jesse will continue the blue meth legacy if he’s not around. Saving Jesse might have been a cherry on the cake or it might have played a big part in his decision to go after Jack (doubtful it was bigger than revenging the death of Hank, but who knows), but it was definitely the reason he stalled and goaded Jack into bringing Jesse out from his hole: Mr. White wanted to make sure his favorite pupil wasn’t in the line of fire.

3. From both a narrative standpoint and a practical standpoint, why did Lydia Rodarte-Quayle have to die? Does she pose a real threat to any of Walter’s posthumous interests? And do we, as viewers, hate her enough that this is a satisfying element of the final episode? Why or why not?

Does she have to die? I thought that was an interesting clue, that Walt tipped her off about the Ricin, because that means she could go to the hospital and possibly get help. (Jesse told the police about Brock ingesting Ricin that one time, which might have saved the boy’s life?) During that final moment, I was like “Awww, come on Walt!”

On the other hand, it made a satisfying gloating victory over one of the most annoying characters on the show, the perfunctious Lydia, who, along with Todd, proved herself to be uniquely adept to outsmarting Walt because she let herself be used as a tool by him. But she’s also the one who wanted Todd to knock off Skylar and the baby, and if she had been left to live after Walt died, he had no assurances that she wouldn’t try to go after them again. That’s why she had to die. That, and for a woman who is so OCD, she really didn’t pay a lot of attention to what she put in her mouth.

4. Breaking Bad’s camera has spent a great deal of time focusing on small objects, often in close-up. In this episode, two such items stand out. Walt’s watch, which he leaves on top of the payphone he uses to find out the Schwartzs’s address, and the wooden box that Jesse is making in his meth-slavery-born reverie. What is the significance of these scenes, and these objects? Why does Jesse imagine himself creating a wooden box? Do we know what is in it?
See #1 for the answer about the box: It’s a metaphor for the meth. (In his AA story, his teacher is named “Mr. Pike” and he keep asking Jesse, “Is that the best you can do?”) Walt’s watch I was confused about…is it simply a sign that he’s run out of time? For a guy that’s about to rig a car up to spray bullets everywhere, who has to outsmart the DEA and the police by letting himself be seen in his old neighborhood, you’d think he’d want some way to keep track of the time. Obviously, he no longer has a cell phone. But Walt always said he’d be the one to say when this whole game was over, and in this episode he finally did. Maybe by removing his watch he was finally surrendering to his fate, though a better visual cue then would have been his hat.

5. If the final episode had simply been Walt revenging Hank’s death by killing Nazis, it would have been fun but empty. But Breaking Bad doesn’t do half-measures. It gave us the emotional climax we have been waiting for in his admission to Skyler that he did it all for himself: “I liked it. I was good at it. I felt alive.” But was this redemption or just conclusion? Does Skyler forgive him? Do we?

The biggest problem with Walt has always been his hubris; he was literally so blinded by his greed and ambition that he couldn’t admit to himself that he wasn’t becoming a meth kingpin for his family, but for himself. The moments on the show where some of this self-knowledge has broken through–in Fly, for instance, when Walt realizes he’s “lived too long”–we as the audience have felt more sympathetic to him.

Walt’s Heisenberg hat doesn’t even make an appearance this episode, which, along with his admittance to Skylar, tells the audience he is seeing clearly for the first time. He gives no excuses for what he’s done, but lets her know that he knows he’s been lying to himself for the past two years…yeah, I’d say that along with saving Jesse, that goes a long way to redeeming Walter’s insane, megalomaniac behavior. Still, we don’t forgive him for Jane, or Gale (which he manipulated Jesse into doing, but same thing) and we certainly will never forgive him for Mike. But he’s dead now, so all that’s left to do is fight over the scraps of his kingdom. My hope is that Badger and Skinny Pete find the Nazis’s/Walter’s meth money and restart their own lives near Saul Goodman, opening up Cinnabon after Cinnabon chain in whatever podunk town they land in, wearing khakis.