Almost none of the darkest predictions about the Breaking Bad finale came true. The bad people-- Lydia, Todd and the Nazis-- were punished. The good people-- almost everyone else-- came out unscathed. And not only did Walter White die on his own terms, surrounded by his beloved chemistry equipment, but after a moment of outright heroism, shielding Jesse's body with his own amid the hail of bullets he'd brought upon them.
"Felina," overall a deeply satisfying and surprisingly emotional finale, starts with a mighty and clever twist. Gretchen & Elliott's Charlie Rose interview didn't spark Walt's pride, but gave him an idea for how to get his remaining wealth to his family without drawing the DEA's attention. But it was only the beginning of what must be Walt's longest unbroken string of good decisions in the history of the entire show. He comes clean to Skyler and finally admits he did everything for himself. He reveals the location of Hank's body. He gives the ricin to its most worthy recipient, Lydia. He shoots the Nazis. He stops caring about the rest of his goddamn money. And, most crucially, he frees Jesse, tying up the largest loose thread of his whole, disastrous empire-building business.
In his final moments, Walt is in complete control. For once the ricin gets used, his plan goes flawlessly, that dead-eyed Opie piece of shit Todd gets what's coming to him, and he even gets one final goodbye with baby Holly. He dies inside a meth lab built based on his own designs, and in a way that guarantees no one but the feared Heisenberg will ever get the credit for making such pure meth. It's an ending so perfect for him that Walt could have scripted it himself… but I'm still not so sure it's exactly what he deserved. I love the way Vince Gilligan and company had us fooled going into this episode, and how his arrival at Gretchen and Elliott's wasn't a guns-blazing act of vengeance, but a level-headed financial transaction (with, sure, Badger and Skinny Pete's laser pointers for added impact). But for Walt to do the right thing so many times after that wasn't so much closure as the sense that he'd had a complete personality transplant in that cabin in New Hampshire. Walt left Albuquerque full of rage and making hitlists; he returns with insights worthy of many therapy sessions and a willingness to save the life of the man he'd sentenced to death just months earlier.
We all figured that Breaking Bad would end neatly, tying up all its loose ends and touching back with as many characters as possible-- even Marie in her white sweater gets one final farewell. But I wasn't prepared for it to end so neatly for Walt, for him to set aside his selfishness so many times and also die on his own terms, felled by his own final, genius invention. Walt's moment of reckoning with himself, whatever self-reflection led to that confession to Skyler, was not shown to us. Walt's decision to forgive Jesse and rescue him was not shown to us either. Walt got to end the show as the best version of himself, doing the right thing for all the people who mattered and getting vengeance on his true enemies. He always had the potential to do that, but the flaws that made him so fascinating and maddening always altered his plans. So what gave him the final step to finally get it right?
Maybe it requires a rewatch of "Granite State," seeing his time in the New Hampshire wilderness not as a chance to shore up his ambitions and resentments but as the honest reflection that allows him to do the right thing in "Felina." But I still don't see how that allows him to stop caring about his money, or to forgive Jesse, or to let go of the idea that he can find a way to fix things and let himself off the hook. I wanted Walt to kill the Nazis and free Jesse and leave Skyler and Flynn in as much peace as they could get-- but in the compromised, flustered, selfish way that Walt has always done everything. Walter White has been facing certain death since the first episode of Breaking Bad, and it never encouraged him to do the right thing. Until, in his final moments, it did.
Was this the right ending for Walt?