The reviews were in last Monday for the finale of Breaking Bad and some cried: “It’s too tidy. It’s too neat. The rest of the show wasn’t like this.”
It was the polar opposite of the terrible “But-They-Were-All-Dead-All-Along” finale of Lost. It had no irritating fade to black with Tony’s knowing smile as he sees his daughter or a hit-man in The Sopranos.
Sure, Walter White didn’t wake up beside Suzanne Pleshette like the end of The Newhart Show, but the ending of Breaking Bad was completely satisfying because it was so neat–as precise as Walt’s nearly pure blue meth.
Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso” is the song that Walt sings to himself as he assembles the ol’ “machine-gun-in-the-oversized trunk” trick. We don’t know what’s going on. We’ve seen the gun for many episodes. But our complete trust in Walt’s intelligence (for bad or good) is what made the show so compelling, for the same reason people paid to see Houdini escape death.
The journey, even down a desolate stretch of desert road by a mid-life crisis teacher in his tightie-whities is what the show was all about.
And as Walt prepares his final batch of plot-development, it makes sense that he’s humming “El Paso after popping in a cassette in his 1970’s car.
Like the title of nearby episode, “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s poem, is dedicated to an emperor who proclaims his greatness to the emptiness of the desert that has decayed his “eternal” monument, “El Paso” deals with an outlaw on the run, who followed his misguided heart and knows that he’s about to die.
For pure audience satisfaction, perhaps the top prize goes to, after the gun-down of the neo-Nazis and the poisoning of former employer, the irritating, jittery Lydia Rodart-Quayle (played in pure Don Knotts-quailing style by Laura Fraser), Walt’s final confession to his wife Skyler:
“I did it for me,” he said. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.”
Just before this line, I was exasperated as Skyler, figuring we were going to hear another rationalization of “taking one for the family/because I love you.” Instead, we finally got the truth that we all suspected–and of course vicariously enjoyed almost as much as Walt.
His elimination of the brilliant Gus with the ringing of a detonator bell on a wheelchair was genius, and Walt, along with the rest of the audience, didn’t really have time or inclination to think too much that the explosion was in a medical facility.
Just for a moment I stood there in silence,
Shocked by the foul evil deed I had done.
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there;
I had but one chance and that was to run.
–El Paso, by Marty Robbins
Walt stood by more than once and let bad things happen. The moment, for me, that he turned completely to the dark side was when he watched Jane, Jesse’s girlfriend, drown in her overdose–one that he caused by shifting her body leading to the vomiting that she had warned Jesse was possible.
From that point, Walt is running, then shooting, then running again.
Back in El Paso my life would be worthless.
Everything’s gone in life; nothing is left.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death.
I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing’s worse than this
Pain in my heart.
I loved the placement of this classic song in the final episode and have to give Vince Gilligan all the credit in the world for a masterful conclusion. Walt did saddle up to the mountains of New England and was ready to finally turn himself in after his son rejects him when he realizes, through a handy Charlie Rose interview with his former partners, that he needs to return to his Cantina.
As Walt gives Jesse the final option to execute his teacher/parent/mentor/tormentor, he is left in Jesse’s dust and notices his own wound.
Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side.
The song always bothered me, however. This poor slob was misled from the beginning.
Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Yet three lines later, he admits she’s bad news:
Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina,
Wicked and evil while casting a spell.
Like any cigarette smoker or diabetic at McDonalds, these guys know they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. But they enjoy it too much. As he dies, Robbins’ cowboy is cradled by his “love.”
From out of nowhere Felina has found me,
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for,
One little kiss and Felina, good-bye.
And while Walt doesn’t have Skyler, Jesse or his kids handy, he is able to caress the shiny meth-lab equipment–leaving his bloody fingerprints as a final gift to his one constant relationship these past five seasons.
The ending was as neatly packaged as one of his A+ student’s lab-books, particularly if you’re a scientist like Walt–who happens to like a bit of country/western oldies.