This Is What Everyone Is Writing About Breaking Bad Today

Todd (Jesse Plemons) and Lydia (Laura Fraser) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

That’s it, everyone! Show’s over. Breaking Bad’s series finale aired last night and the nation’s TV critics and writers stayed up all night to write their reviews and recaps. Everyone’s a little delirious this morning, but in a good “we all just experienced something together” way. Our Matt Zoller Seitz was no different. In his recap, he compared the episode to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, writing, “‘Felina’ is not set at Christmas, but it has a feeling of Dickensian reckoning, with closure galore but minus any real sense of hope.” Elsewhere, there was a split between those who thought the episode concluded the series as well as was possible and those who saw it as too easy. (Note: we’ll be adding to this list on a rolling basis.)

* “Perhaps it’s a byproduct of Gilligan’s own Southern manners, but Breaking Bad, though shocking, never completely surprised: rather, it announced itself at nearly every turn. “Chemistry is the study of change,” Mr. White told his students at the start, and everything that followed did so accordingly. There was nothing in the final exam that hadn’t been covered in class. This was television as a science experiment: Every action had a purpose and, more important, it had an equal and opposite reaction.” — Andy Greenwald, Grantland

* “What kept the Breaking Bad finale from being entirely satisfying for me was that because Walt’s grotesque behavior came largely from his desire for power and control, a balanced ending would be one that denied him some measure of control. I wanted the balance to emerge from Walt not ending things on his own terms. I didn’t crave a happy ending for him, and he got about as happy an ending as he possibly could have. If I could have believed in any redemption for Walt, it would have been through surrender, through being stripped of power (or giving it up voluntarily) and choosing grace then.” — Linda Holmes, NPR’s Monkey See

* “The theme of “Felina” seems to be this: People and machines are usually predictable. Lydia meets her business partners like she always did, tears open the only stevia packet on the table like she always does. Gretchen and Elliot betrayed on television how much they fear losing their reputation and their elegant lives, and that means that they can be manipulated. Walt has always used this predictability—this scientific certainty about action and reaction—to get what he wants. But it’s taken him until now to realize the corollary: If you can change your pattern, those predictable people and machines will miss you. Walt changes; he’s the only one who does. After their purpose is fulfilled, the machines stay in motion. The massage chair keeps rolling even though its occupant is dead. The M60 keeps sweeping even though it’s out of ammunition. But Walt’s purpose is fulfilled, and he just stops.” — Donna Bowman, The A.V. Club

* “Part of the problem with how “Granite State” and “Felina” fit in to the endgame may arise from the structure of Season 5 as a whole. The last bunch of “Breaking Bad” episodes have had to compress a lot of time and storytelling, and thus, for me, not everything in the finale landed with the impact I’d hoped for. If it did for you, I’m truly happy about that. But for me, “Breaking Bad” at its best has been a show that values sound construction and moral rigor equally. Walt was hypervigilant about keeping the lab spotless and productive, and “Breaking Bad” has been just as conscientious about both entertaining us and making us think. Something was missing from “Felina,” and it wasn’t soy milk or tableside guacamole.” — Maureen Ryan, The Huffington Post

* “And yet, I did not like the episode. Maybe it was just me—I’ll read all the recaps, and I’ll soon find out—but halfway through, at around the time that Walt was gazing at Walt, Jr., I became fixated on the idea that what we were watching must be a dying fantasy on the part of Walter White, not something that was actually happening—at least not in the “real world” of the previous seasons.

And, if that were indeed the case, I’d be writing a rave.” — Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

* “Instead of redemption, Walt ended with something like peace. He knew what he was, and he was done lying, to himself and to others. The key moment probably came in his talk with Skyler: “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family–” she begins. “I did it for me,” he says. “I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.”

We can argue about this, but I will say that this is not a good thing: that the self-actualization of a middle-aged man is not a good enough excuse to go selling death on the streets. But it is who Walt is, and he is not going to say otherwise anymore. It is not a temporary thing that he can retire from; he knows that now.” — James Poniewozik, Time

* “But it also felt so neat, and so orderly, in such an un-“Breaking Bad” sort of way, that I don’t think I can give the show bonus points for its last episode in the same way that “The Shield” or “Six Feet Under” get extra credit for their finales. Most of this last half-season was astonishing, but I don’t think Gilligan was just being self-effacing when he said “Ozymandias” was the best episode they ever made. That was, essentially, where the story of Walter White ended. These last two weeks have been an extended epilogue, the first half (“Granite State”) gut-wrenching, the second half satisfying and tidy.” — Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

* “The question is whether you bought for an instant that Walter “deserved” that ending. “Deserved” is a funny word, because it reads the viewer’s expectations into the work of art, when it’s much more important to try and suss out just what Vince Gilligan and his writers were up to, then determine how well they stuck to their guns. (From my point of view, very well.)” — Todd VanDerWerff, The Los Angeles Times

* “There is even an argument that Walt was able to squeeze in a spontaneous moment of redemption under the wire. We know that, upon infiltrating the neo-Nazi compound, he saved Jesse Pinkman’s life. But did he go there with the intention of killing him and have a change of heart once he’d seen his former protege’s very dire straits? We may never know for sure, but I’m going to assume that Walt went in with the absolute worst intentions and, just as that spectacularly efficient automotive accessory in the rear of his car was about to pincushion the whole contingent, he thought of a way to feel even better about himself. For a fifty-two-year-old on his deathbed, that guy was so clutch.” — Neil Drumming, Salon

* “No one gets to write his own obituary, but in taking control and revising his life—an existence eaten by cancer, already down and out after a near miss at entrepreneurial glory—Walter White came as close as a man can get to doing so. The tagline on posters advertising this final batch of Season 5 episodes was: “Remember my name.” That kind of egocentrism is fuel for success and ruin. The two existed simultaneously for Walter White.” — Rich Juzwiak, Gawker

* “And this is where the finale is not quite so satisfying: After everything, after five seasons in which the writers were clocking Walt’s every misdeed, at the very end, they turned out to be Team Walt. Despite everything he did, Walt was rewarded—not with life, too much had gone down for that—but with a death on his own terms. He died having provided for his family, without going to jail or giving up on his legend. (Imagine the news story: “Druglord Heinsenberg found in Neo-Nazi compound: Dozens dead, booby-trapped car found on premises.” Walt would have loved that.)” — Willa Paskin, Slate

* “Creator Vince Gilligan put his show to rest with the same cool confidence it’s had since the beginning, without any fuss or overreaching. It was solid, and satisfying, if not terribly exciting.” — Richard Lawson, The Atlantic

* “Perhaps the best thing about the finale of “Breaking Bad” is that it actually ended. So many shows, notably “The Sopranos” and “Lost,” have gone dark without anything approaching finality. Here, the writers were so determined to not leave unfinished business that the last episode was called “Felina,” an anagram of finale. And almost every loose end was tied. In some cases, a little too tightly, and in others, not quite as much.” — Alessandra Stanley, The New York Times

* “In the end, “Breaking Bad” was a bit of a cheat. The strongest moments of the final season came as Walt realized that great truism so often underscored in stories like his: Once you introduce evil into your life, you cannot control it. In the end, though, Walter White was triumphant. His money would go to his children, his enemies were dead, his foster son freed.

But the only things he was allowed to touch in farewell were his infant daughter and the equipment in his lab. And as he finally surrendered to his choices and himself, it was easy to tell which he loved more.

And that he died knowing it.” — Mary McNamara, The Los Angeles Times

* “After so many crimes, “Felina” was surprisingly easy on Walt, and I suspect the show’s ultimate moral message will be a source of debate and controversy as critics and fan continue to hash out Breaking Bad’s legacy in the years to come. (“The whole thing felt kind of shady, like, morality-wise,” said Skinny Pete, in a quote that could easily serve as an epigram for “Felina.”) It was undeniably rousing to see Walt achieve that last victory, but it lacked the bravery of an episode like “Granite State,” which might have offered a more fitting end for our antihero: Dying alone, next to a pile of useless money, thousands of miles away from anyone and anything he ever loved.” — Scott Meslow, The Week

* “The composition of the brief reunion is gorgeous: Holly’s sleeping face, her hair splayed across her forehead and cheek like the craggy fingers of Walt’s hand as he caresses her for the last time. It’s sad. You feel something. Like most of the greatest scenes on Breaking Bad, it’s terribly quiet—no music. If Breaking Bad teaches the world of television with one lesson, please let it be that, when used correctly, silence is more powerful than any score.” — Ross Scarano, Complex

* “It might be hard to remember now, but way back when Breaking Bad first premiered, it wasn’t the sweeping gangster epic we just watched. It was a small-town drama about an even smaller man, a common chemistry teacher with bad facial hair, whose greatest pleasures in life were eating low-cholesterol bacon, staring at the awards he earned at a company he no longer ran, and getting half-hearted ”happy endings” from his wife once a year on his birthday*. Walt wasn’t a hero, but he was a man of his time.” — Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly

* I think Vince Gilligan made a mistake by focusing so completely on Walt. Obviously, he’s been the show’s center since the beginning, but I would have liked to see Jesse or Skyler or Flynn or Saul or even Marie make a play. His fate had been made so clear that we weren’t doing anything but waiting for him to die. And his emotional arc was complete at the end of the last episode.” — Alex Berenson, Esquire

* “Still, there was clearly a softness in Walt, a reticence to permanently hurt the people he loved most, that suggested his promised Scarface fate was only partially met. To be clear: that doesn’t excuse any of the horrible things Walt did, nor does it suggest that we should cheer for Walt because he went out like a likable badass. What it implies is something much sadder: that a good man turned into someone really awful but still, just before he died, could recall his goodness well enough to realize how irredeemable he had become.” — Jen Chaney, Salon

* “So is Walt really a family man? Is that what we’re meant to feel as he touches Holly’s curls one last time and hangs around for a last look at his son? I don’t think so. The morality of Breaking Bad doesn’t give Walt that much. His moment of clarity at the end doesn’t make up for all the hubris of Heisenberg. But it did mean I could wholeheartedly root for his scheme of revenge.” — Emily Bazelon, Slate

* “By the episode’s conclusion, after Jesse had broken free of Walt’s silver-tongued spell and driven away into the night laughing, I was hopeful. Believe me, I don’t see him building tables in Bushwick anytime soon, though it is not outside the realm of possibility. But that does not and should not matter. What matters is my belief that he will endure.” — Marshall Crook, The Wall Street Journal

* “I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed at how tinny and mechanical these final few minutes were. While not terrible, they didn’t soar, and I kept wishing Michelle MacLaren, by far the show’s best and most emotionally resonant director, had been at the helm. Even when Walter asked Jesse to kill him, it was hard to feel moved. It seemed like just another manipulative flourish, like the one (two weeks earlier) when the show let us have a few moments to worry that Walter might hurt his baby daughter. Heck, he was never going to lay a finger on that little girl. And everything we’ve learned about Jesse told us that he wasn’t going to pull that trigger and kill Walt in cold blood.” — John Powers, Vogue

* “Jesse Pinkman built the perfect box. He sawed it off, sanded it down, hammered it together, smoothed it out, and carried it away with all the pride of a first-time father. This is the fantasy-memory he retreated to when reality became too broken for him to face at last – the one time in his life when he felt he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, the one time he made everything fit.

For better or for worse, that box is Breaking Bad.” — Sean T. Collins, Rolling Stone

* “When you look back, what you don’t see are the missteps and tangents that can often plague an ambitious and critically praised drama over time — usually somewhere in the later part of Season 2 or first part of Season 3. There just isn’t a weak season of “Breaking Bad.” There’s just superior work, a sprint toward evil that turned into a marathon.” — Hank Stuever, The Washington Post

* “Todd even had a special ringtone for Lydia, a detail that didn’t need to be included but that was just further evidence that these storytellers wanted to take us through a real, grounded, messy world. And Gilligan even scored a twofer — fan service and plot momentum — by bringing in Badger and Skinny Pete for one last hoorah with Walt.” — Daniel Carlson, Pajiba

* “Walter White didn’t redeem himself, or indulge his ego, or get revenge for revenge’s sake. Instead, he dismantled his legacy—his real, terrible legacy—ensuring that the consequences of his sins wouldn’t spread after his death. Is that a happy ending? I don’t think so. “Felina,” in effect, defined Breaking Bad as a just story of crime and punishment—but with enough moral wiggle room to allow Walt a more dignified end than I think he deserved.” — The Atlantic roundtable

* “Not that Gretchen and Elliott are to blame for Walt’s feelings of inadequacy, but it’s hard to sympathize too much with the beautiful rich people in their well-appointed home. P.S. Where does Walt get those wonderful toys? I’ve never seen a laser pointer work so well.” — Joanna Robinson, Slashfilm

* “What I worry about is that Walt is going to be made into some folk hero, like Scarface, someone who people aspire to be. In the end Walt died along with what he loved best, meth-making equipment – the legend Heisenberg, clutching at his gas mask and remembering the good old times with a gleam in his eye. This final death cast the whole series in a way that absolves Walt, that somehow make his actions OK because he put it all right before he died. That’s not the case. We can never forget that Walt is a horrible, selfish, narcissistic, evil man, as blithely sociopathic as Todd, who could lie so easily and with a smile on his face. Even his final march through Albuquerque was selfish, dragging everyone back into his web so that he could find some sense of fulfillment, regardless of how they might feel about his involvement in their lives.” — Brian Moylan, Salon

* “Not that realism per se has ever been the point of the show. But after the searing Ozymandias, for Vince Gilligan to end the series on this note put the entire show in a certain context. After the similarly amazing-but-absurd train heist episode I remarked that I liked Breaking Bad the meth procedural better than Breaking Bad the family drama. And the fact is that the show is more fun when you’re rooting for Walt than when you’re watching him suffer. And in the vast majority of the episodes Gilligan manages to cook up antagonists who are decidedly less sympathetic than Walt is. Walt goes out very much the hero.” — Matthew Yglesias, Slate

* “That extremely cathartic moment when Jesse Pinkman speeds through the gates, alive, and begins his primal scream that’s a mixture of happiness, sadness, frustration, relief and elation is so incredibly telling of the character’s newfound freedom. Sure, he’s made it out alive. He’s got his life. But what else does Pinkman have left? He has no money. His girlfriend is dead. He’s been beaten both physically and psychologically, and he’s a shell of the human being he was once was.” — Scott Neumyer, Rolling Stone

* “I hate to sound so bourgeoisie in my allegiance to conventionality, but good guys don’t bomb nursing homes. They don’t frame other bad guys for attempts on children’s lives or kill a countless number of innocent people either. They certainly don’t rope troubled former students into stewing up drugs for them. At times, “Felina” forgets that Walt has perpetrated acts every bit as disgusting as those which he goes about avenging in the episode’s final minutes.” — Chuck Bowen, Slant

What Everyone Is Writing About Breaking Bad