Walter Hartwell White is dead. His empire has blown away with the desert wind. Viewers across the globe are left only with the memory of his works, “Nothing beside remains.” “Felina,” the finale episode of fifth and final season of “Breaking Bad,” was incredibly satisfying in almost all ways. Most shots and moments resonated as Vince Gilligan and his team put their masterfully crafted tone and process to work.
White never has a weapon in most high-tension scenes, and the camera tells more of the story than the dialogue, as has been tradition for the show. He appears in a diner pulling a chair up to the table of his adversaries, for instance, and the scene invokes so much more emotion and suspense than explosions or gunshots.
The mechanics and implications of the final shots were disappointing. The introduction included a quote from the poem “Ozymandias,” signaling it as a thematic guide for an entire episode - the overall arc of the season and perhaps the series.
We are left watching the corpse of White as the shot drifts above the Nazi compound and ends without showing the desert or a similarly appropriate and significant final shot.
Much like a good poem, the final lines and moments of a television series are often most discussed and remembered. They represent the spirit of the work. “Breaking Bad” has had tons of spectacular visual moments as a standard for the show, and this final shot does not pack much of a cathartic or meaningful punch for the viewers.
“The Sopranos” first popularized America's obsession with the premium television antiheros with its intriguing concept of an Italian-American mob boss going to therapy. Most of our popular shows now are variations of this antihero archetype. “Mad Men” is about an ad executive's dark worldviews and actions, “Boardwalk Empire” is about a town official profiting off of prohibition and corruption and “Breaking Bad” is about a Mr. Rogers-like chemistry teacher turned into drug kingpin Heisenberg.
Why do we love White and Heisenberg? Perhaps it's because they do what we all wish we could or that their stories are a modern retelling of the American dream or we gain insight from their struggles of qualifying themselves as “men” in this world. Regardless, millions have tuned in for years to see them labor all for themselves, embodying a distinctly American spirit.
At no point are the viewers forced to realize the horror of loving a murdering, lying, meth-producing White. He dies in pleasurable nostalgia as he recalls his empire and cooking. Yes, the season did address these issues earlier, but the final moments of the episode do not. If the producers were willing to alter chronology to convey a better meaning, why did we not see White spiritually die at Hank Schrader's death, and then die physically in a closer timeframe?
Vince Gilligan said after the show aired that he wanted a straightforward ending, but “Breaking Bad” has never been totally straightforward, and a good amount of meaning was lost to this choice.
With other television shows ending with intensity and commentary much stronger than the “Breaking Bad” finale, I question how much staying power the show has in the sphere of American life in culture in 10 or more years. The “Golden Age of Television” might have just noticeably began to decline, but I loved the hell of a ride White has taken us all on, and I would not trade it for nearly any other.