With Saul Goodman once again gracing our televisions as of last week, it’s a good time to reflect on Breaking Bad. Specifically, on its final episode, the polarizing finale entitled “Felina.”
Of course, many people loved the finale. But, on the other hand, there were those who found no satisfaction in it. Or, more accurately, they found no satisfaction because they found it to be too satisfying, too easy for both Walter White and his audience.
Unrealistic, people said. Too happy and too smooth, they said. The consensus of many seemed to be that the last episode had abandoned the realism of the show in favor of a (relatively) happy ending.
In The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum called it “closure-happy” in and said it felt like we were watching “a dying fantasy on the part of Walter White.”The Wrap called it “too perfect.” Maureen Ryan of the Huffington Post said it felt like “mopping-up exercises.” A common argument floated around that the fourteenth episode of the final season, “Ozymandias,” should have been the end. Or that the penultimate episode, “Granite State,” with its ambiguous cliffhanger ending, should’ve been it. One redditor suggested that “Ozymandias” was the actual ending, and various bloggers argued that yes, the entire final episode was a dying fantasy, a cancer dream in the mind of Walter White.
I do agree with one aspect of this criticism: we should not view the ending as being the true ending. But I think that there is a third way to view the finale. No, it wasn’t a dying fantasy of everyone’s favorite cancer-ridden drug dealer anti-hero. But no, it wasn’t “closure-happy” or “too easy” either.
As Better Call Saul shows, the aftermath of Breaking Bad was anything but closure-happy for Saul Goodman, who now lives paranoid and alone with an assumed identity in a faraway land. No friends, no family, anonymous and afraid.
And he is not the only character for whom there was no happy ending. If you really consider the finale, no one had a happy ending.
Sure, Jesse got away, no longer a meth-cooking prisoner of neo-Nazis. But did Jesse Pinkman have a happy life in front of him? The last we saw of him, he was driving away as the sole survivor of a mass murder, finally free. But how long could that freedom last?
Would Walt Jr. and Skyler and the baby have anything to look forward to? The money he left them? Could that blood money bequeathed to them by a monstrous patriarch ever bring them anything good?
But does it really make sense to think they received that money? He had ostensibly bequeathed it to them by giving it to the Schwartzes and telling them that hitmen would kill them if they didn’t pay it to Walt’s children in installments. Are we to believe that would have worked?
And what about Marie? Hank’s bones, unearthed from the sand, are supposed to make things better?
No. There was no happy ending. The true ending is not an earlier episode. And we are not to believe that Felina was a dying wish-fulfilling fantasy.
The implied ultimate episode is the non-existent seventeenth episode of the fifth and final season, in which nothing is ever be okay for any of these characters, ever again. Walter White had broken all of them. What would happen to them? We can assume: Jesse would be either dead or in prison, Walt’s family broke and alone, the Schwartzes giving the money to the authorities, and Saul Goodman alone in Omaha.
Or maybe not. Maybe Saul has hope. Which I wouldn’t be opposed to. It might not be realistic, but it would be nice to see something work out for one of these characters.
Breaking Bad should never be mistaken for anything other than a tragedy. And it looks like Better Call Saul, unless it offers a different, newer fate for its titular character, follows the same tragic path. No one gets a happily ever after in this narrative.