“Breaking Bad” faces the impossible challenge of ending one of the most critically and commercially acclaimed television shows of all time tonight in the 75 minute finale “Felina” (a review of which will be posted tonight/early morning). The latest half season has had much ground to cover, and many gaps to fill, but showrunner Vince Gilligan and his crew have so far created one of the most satisfying last stretches of any drama.
After leaving us last summer with the scintillating image of Hank Schrader, DEA officer and Walter White’s brother-in-law, having an epiphany on the crapper, “Breaking Bad” has moved methodically through its endgame, setting up all the major points in the first two episodes and then letting everything fall to pieces over the next five.
“What’s wrong with you? We’re a family?”
The biggest thing I was worried about as this half season began was how the show was going to be paced. “Breaking Bad” has always taken its time with things, favoring an intense slow burn instead of a searing pace, preferring to amp up it’s characters, much like Walter at the beginning of season four, and then letting them simmer and boil away. I questioned whether Vince Gilligan would be able to wrap everything up in time, especially since the flashforwards at the beginning of each half season established several important points that seemed very far off.
Thankfully this half season starts off with a bang, and a punch to the face, with Hank figuring Walt out in the premiere. Everyone, myself included, had figured that Hank’s investigation into Walt would take up most of the season, with the end of the season being his take down of Walt. I much favor what the writers did instead, sparing no time in making Walt and Hank enemies to each other to make way for other necessary developments, like this fleshing out of the Neo-Nazi’s and Skyler’s conflict as she is torn between Walt and Hank. After the first two episodes things certainly do slow down a fair bit, but quickly become crazy again with the fifth episode “To’hajiilee.” Then shit gets crazy.
In nearly every way this half season has been the best season of “Breaking Bad.” The direction is still flawless, filled with interesting shots (placing less emphasis on POV shots than previous seasons) and unique opening segments that always defy your expectations. “To’hajiilee” ends with the first few shots between the DEA and Uncle Jack, but the stellar next episode “Ozymandias” doesn’t open right away with the conclusion of that shootout. Instead the opening is a flashback to Walt’s first cook with Jesse, which was at that same spot. Before the credits all of the vehicles in the flashback fade out, and once the show returns from commercial break all of the new vehicles, and the noise from the shootout, fade in. It’s masterful work by director Rian Johnson, and emphasizes how committed “Breaking Bad” is to throwing the viewer for a loop, even in the final hours.
However, I will say that this half of season five is not perfect. Just as he was in season four, Jesse Pinkman has been moping around, this time throwing his money out of his car, and not bothering to shave. Ever since Walt convinced Jesse to shoot Gale way back at the end of season three (doesn’t it seem so long ago), Jesse has become a shell of a human being, wracked with despair. He has always been Walt’s tool, but he at least had agency before. Now he has nothing, literally since everything he has ever loved has been taken from him, leaving Jesse as a zombie. His arc from boastful and low time meth cook to high profile pit of despair has been an interesting one, but some variety would have been nice.
“Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!”
As “Breaking Bad” comes to a close, it has become clear that Vince Gilligan, and any one who has ever written for the show, and anyone who has ever acted in it, or directed an episode, should be trusted with everything and anything. “Breaking Bad” has been particulary masterful this season, somehow managing to bring everything to a head in its own, distinctive way. And though I am not sad to see “Breaking Bad” finish, since it is ending on it’s own terms and after a perfect length of time, I will miss it greatly.
My Rating: 9.0/10