Mind Theater

Breaking Bad: A Tale of Two Finales

July 11, 2022 Ayo Akingbade Episode 70
Mind Theater
Breaking Bad: A Tale of Two Finales
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Show Notes Transcript

Exploring Breaking Bad's choose your own adventure ending in the series final two episodes, Granite State and Felina.

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Music by Blue Dot Sessions

  • Bangolet
  • Spot Peter
  • Small World Reveals
  • Le Marais
  1. Breaking Bad is a great show, it seems silly to even clarify this. And one of the most consistently heralded aspects of the series that deserves praise above all else is its ending. The three episode arc of Ozymandias, Granite State, and Felina are expertly and intimately crafted and sequenced in a way that not only delivered on years of thrilling drama, character arcs, and moments of thematic consequence, but they serve as a concise and beautiful coda, depicting Walt’s fall from power, his isolative suffering in the process of becoming estranged from his loved ones, and his last final claw at redemption and dying on his own terms. The Climax, the falling action, and the resolution. But I think there’s another way to view these episodes, outside the bounds of rigid story arcs.
  2. Ozymandias was the breaking point, the true climax of the series, yes, but I think in a lot of ways Granite State and Felina can almost be viewed as two alternate endings. A choice not too dissimilar to one you might find in a choose your own adventure narrative. Duality has been a theme central to the Breaking Bad storytelling engine and I think the final two episodes represent two identities of the show that encompass the entire series core thematic ideas and story arcs. Granite State is the Walter White episode, showcasing a man emasculated in his life, powerless and unable to control his circumstances. Felina is the Heisenberg episode, depicting the immense power and ruthlessness of the drug kingpin who’s brutality and ability to execute his plans in chaotic fashion seems almost effortless. 
  3. First let’s take a look at Granite State [] As I mentioned before it’s an isolating and lonely kind of episode. You can’t really get much more secluded than a single cabin, in the snow covered forests of New Hampshire. In Granite State we see the last semblance of Walt’s control over his circumstances, his family and life slip away. The cabin feels like purgatory, a worthy punishment for the man who brought nothing but destruction to his loved ones. The wintery foreboding atmosphere of New Hampshire for others might become a place of self reflection, at the mercy not only of nature but the circumstances and choices that led you there in the first place. But for a man who fell so high from power like Walt, for a man still not prepared to accept the prospect of losing everything he loves, of suffering the consequences of living a life that was ultimately selfish, prideful, and self-destructive, it’s an inconvenience. A distraction. We see Walt’s desperation in full force, first in Ed's vacuum repair shop coercing Saul to aid in his quest for revenge [] then in a New Hampshire bar, pleading for his son to take his money [] Walt’s downfall had always been his pride and it’s his pride still here, at the edge of the world and the edge of his life, that motivates him, thinking in some absent-minded, jaded way that money will somehow still solve this. Repair his broken relationships.
  4.  [phone call with junior]
  5. It’s in this setting and with the focus on Walt’s loneliness that we gain insight into all the ironies of his character. The irony of a man who claimed to do what he did for the family, the irony of having all the money in the world, but not being able to give it to them. The irony of all those scenes claiming we’re a family, telling them to shut up and listen to him, telling them to take his money and not ask questions, were what inevitably drove his family so far away. The irony that he is now alone and isolated where his actions and words have no reach, no tangible power to the point we realize seeing Walt at his darkest that he really isn’t as big as we thought he was. It’s a fitting end for a man fallen from grace. It’s the Walter White ending. A man powerless in controlling his fate, ruminating as he awaits the end of his days and his eventual capture or death to cancer.
  6. And there’s Felina. []
  7. Walt’s level of execution in this episode is almost Godfather life. He goes from blackmailing the schwartz to give his family the money, to poisoning Lydia, to apologizing to Skylar, to giving her hank’s grave location to get her a plea deal, to saying goodbye to his daughter. To killing the nazis that murdered hank, to saving Jesse, to dying smiling on his own terms, without ever being captured by police or seeing the inside of a jail cell. Quite the bucket list to check off in less than 48 hours. It’s almost scary how easily he accomplishes this. Even after a fall as damning in Ozymandias we almost see Walt in Felina at the height of his powers. It’s not quite 9 guys in 2 minutes but it’s a sequence of events that contains all of Walt’s genius, his cunning, his love of all things cerebral and mind-bending. In an instant all that power and control that had seemed to seep out of Walt is called upon once more. And he leaves no stone unturned in the wake of his destruction that above all else is purposeful and calculated. It’s the Heisenberg ending?
  8. But, did Walt deserve this? Did he deserve this ending? [maybe]
  9. Well, I think first and foremost that deserve is a funny word. I thinks its become a bit overused in the world of tv and movie character analysis especially in regards to endings and character fates. I think the issue with the word is how easily and readily it intersects our morals concerning the anti-heroes we so often root for. One way to look at deserve is through the lens of plot choices that serve our own morals. Tragic characters who we see as morally innocent or a level removed from the actionable violence of villains and anti-heroes don’t deserve the fates we so often see them receive in high-octane dramas. The Adriana La Cervas, The Ned Starks, the Gale Boettichers. The other way to look at deserve in the context of drama is plot choices that serve the story and the thematic impact of that story. And Breaking Bad, maybe more than any other series, understood how to expertly depict just how much powerful men not only destroy the lives of the innocent people around them, but destroy themselves in the pro cess. 
  10. A bigger sin that Felina commits more than any notion of deserve, is how it doubles down on two core truths of the Breaking Bad universe. Two long held beliefs that completely define our viewing experience and relationship to these characters. Two facts we hoped could be broken. That being 1. Walt’s family needs him to provide. And 2. Jesse needs Walt to save him. In Felina Walt executes both of these. He finds a way to deliver Skylar the money against her knowledge and will, despite that final chilling revelation with her [i did it for me] and he saves Jesse from the nazis, as he’s made too powerless and weak to do it himself. Both of these tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing but I think in part it erases what could’ve been an introspective moment of character development for both Skyler and Jesse, as vessels negatively affected by Walt who found some independence strength in his absence. Instead Skyler eventually gets his money, Jesse rides off in a blaze of glory, and Walt revels in the empires he’s destroyed and the one he built and we get the Heisenberg ending. In all its glory [do it yourself]
  11. I don’t hate Felina, far from it. I still think it’s one of the greatest finales we’ve ever seen on television. But I also think that somewhere in the snow covered forests of the Granite State, in the isolating cabin of a shriveled up, disheveled Walter White surrounded by all the money he could ever hope for but not a single loved one who cares, there’s an ending thats just as thrilling…and deserving.
  12. Mind theater is a solo effort produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as my other content follow mindtheaterpod on twitter, instagram, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support the ko-fi link is in the shownotes. Thanks for listening, I’ll catch ya next time.
  13. [Outro]