Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Thoughts on Felina

<i>Breaking Bad</i> Review: Series Finale "Felina" (Episode 5.16)

Since watching the final episode of Breaking Bad I’ve been left feeling a little odd.

I enjoyed it, really enjoyed it, but I’ve had to check several times whether I actually did enjoy it, whether or not I simply willed myself into liking it. After the final credits rolled I was left with a strange sense of numb completion, with the episode somehow managing to be both satisfying, seemingly neat, yet at the same time cold and uncertain. Sure, there were moments of definite catharsis; Jesse’s revenge on Todd, Jesse’s escape in the car, basically all the Jesse parts, but overall the episode was of a very different tone to most of the series.  

The first thing to say is that throughout the episode Walter White acts like a ghost.  He drifts through Albuquerque, he lurks in the dark of the Schwartz’s home, he appears in his estranged wife’s kitchen and watches his son through two sets of windows. Returning from New Hampshire, Walt seems to move and act like a shadow, removed from the action yet able to ventriloquise previous voices. He speaks as Heisenberg for the Schwartz household, as the naive dilettante in his fake-business pitch to Lydia. His own voice when we hear it is calm, affirming that what he did, he did for himself. It’s a clear psychological end-point on his journey, yet it’s spoken as if outside the story, already in the past tense as he concludes: “I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”    

Alongside this ghost-like characterisation is an emphasis on machinery. Walt’s final violent showdown doesn't funnel rage but rather a looping mechanism which continues to click back and forth even after all the main players have died or left. When Walt himself finally dies he does so touching the empty apparatus of his previous career as if it were a lover. These moments are in turn brutal and tender, yet at the same time mechanical and inhuman.

And this is why I think the ending excelled.

The seemingly neat conclusions visited over the hour hide a cavern of uncertainty and moral ambiguity. We’re given precise, almost perfunctory moments of resolution; meeting Skyler, watching Walt Junior for a final time, saving Jesse, and yet these moments refuse to reboil the tensions which have bubbled over again and again during the five seasons. There are the outlines of resolution, shapes of closure, but it seems to be an act of shadows; well-made rooms for narrative full-stops, but empty, stripped of all furniture.      

‘Ozymandias’ was the climax. The death of Hank, the family knife-fight, they were the moments of definite human climax. Felina’s genius was in showing an inhuman climax; an episode where all the structures of resolution were present and correct, but what those moments contain is only the ghosts of former passions already dead.  

In the end Walt dies with a smile on his face, surrounded by scientific equipment, and the idea of that is both deeply comforting and icily distant.