Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Felina, the final episode of Breaking Bad, and you care at all about protecting yourself from spoilers, read no further!!!
So, it’s all over, and we TV fans need to find a new show to obsess over. But, as the dust settles on Heisenberg’s last stand, one question looks likely to be debated at length: did Walter White get what he deserved?
Firstly, let me state for the record, that the following is not intended in anyway as a criticism of the quality of Breaking Bad, in general, or the final episode in particular, but rather as a philosophical discussion of Walt’s fate. I enjoyed Breaking Bad’s final episode. As a viewer it left me satisfied, and I thought that the resolution of each character’s story was well handled and emotionally logical. However, I didn’t think Walt got his just desserts. He managed to save his family – even if it was at the cost of losing it – and he went out on his own terms.
This season was the turning point in terms of our relationship with Walt. However bad he may previously have become, I don’t feel Walt completely lost the audiences sympathy until he decided to go back into the meth business after defeating Fring. In his battle with Fring he was fighting for his life – even if that fight was entirely of Walt’s making. In the first half of season 5 Walt is a hollow, ghoulish, terrifying presence. It says everything that the enemy in season 5 is the Aryan Brotherhood – the only people whom you would now root for Walt over are Nazis! For five years we have watched all Walt’s positive goals and attributes become sucked away, subsumed by his negative attributes; his ego, his greed, his yearning for power and influence, and most importantly his failure to realise that his life as a father and a teacher was significant and meaningful before his cancer diagnosis.
In the past couple of episodes it feels as though Walt’s original character had some what reasserted itself, as he was humbled by his defeat by the Aryan Brotherhood and the DEA, and forced to flee. It seemed to me – even as I watched it – that Walt’s story should have ended ten minutes before the end of episode 15: Walt, on the phone to his son, crying that “it can’t all have been for nothing”, as his son rejected his money and told him to “just die”. For Walt to see the error of his ways – too late – and to be left, alone, waiting to die and contemplating his sins, seemed a fitting way for his story to end.
A special mention here should be made to Jesse Pinkman, who seems, over the course of the story, to have suffered far more than Walt for far lesser crimes. Certainly, his ordeal at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood seemed to outstrip anything that happened to Walt. It has often been commented that the ultimate story of the show is the story of the fight for Jesse’s soul. Jesse’s ultimate victory was not just his escape, but his rejection of Walt’s order for Jesse to shoot him. In that act, Jesse finally freed himself from Walt’s malign grip.
Ultimately the reason why I felt Walt got off too lightly is a compliment to the show as a whole. Walter White has often felt like a classic Shakespearean tragic character; a potentially great man doomed by his own character flaws. When Walt went to hide in the mountains, still clinging greedily to millions of dollars he had no use for, he had been brought low by his own hubris, ego, and propensity for violence whether necessary or not. That is a fitting fate for a tragic character. Walt’s return to Albuquerque in the final episode allowed him to snatch victory from defeat through his positive attributes – his resourcefulness and intelligence. This was in no way implausible (or, at least, no more implausible than any of his other ‘Macguyver’ moments over the course of the series), but because Walt’s character strengths triumphed over his weaknesses, it felt unjust.