The finale was a very entertaining and sometimes moving disappointment – though a disappointment by the extremely high standards of the show. There were many things to like (spoiler alert, of course). The reptile part of my brain enjoyed watching Jesse choke the life out of Todd. It was even better to see Jesse get his freedom – and not just from his slavery to neo-Nazis. Jesse was finally able to choose moral and intellectual freedom from Walt. But it still felt like Vince Gilligan was trying to soften the devastating (and thematically perfect) blows of “Ozymandias”. It was like Gilligan was trying to balance being true to the story’s moral core (the hell that people choose when they choose evil), and sending the audience home happy. The result was bit of a muddle.
“Ozymandias” left Walt dying and alone with a barrel of money he could never spend. The lives of everyone he had ever loved were in ruins. The last act of decency that was in Walt’s power was to renounce his infant daughter and play the monster he had become on a phone call he knew the police were overhearing, so as to exculpate his wife Skyler from her cooperation in his schemes.
I believe in redemption, but something about the particular form that Walt’s redemption took felt off. I think I get what Gilligan was driving at. In the finale, Walt stopped lying to himself about what he did and why he did it. Walt also stopped trying to avoid responsibility for his actions. Even the early Walt (before he had become Heisenberg) wasn’t willing to do that. When Walt had the drug dealer Domingo chained under Jesse house, Walt drew up a list of reasons for either freeing or killing Domingo. The option Walt left off was to go to the police. That would have involved confessing his involvement in drug production and his role in the death of Domingo’s business partner. Even early in the first season, Walt’s scruples were hedged by his determination to avoid being called to account for his actions.
With Walt finally ready to face the truth about himself and take responsibility for his actions, he can finally take some steps to heal (or at least cauterize) some of the wounds he has inflicted on the world. He can finally have a moment of honesty with his wife. He can bring the blue meth cycle to a close. It is all plausible, but I just don’t buy it all the way. They had to make Walt too hyper competent and too many things had to “break” his way (with perhaps a hint of divine intervention) over a forty-eight hour period. Like Willa Paskin says in Slate, I’m one of the people who thinks the show would have been better off ending with “Ozymandias” or the phone conversation at the end of “Granite State” (though I don’t for a second believe that the show ended up on the side of Team Walt – Walt’s redemption only started when he rejected Team Walt’s rationalizations).
There would have been loose ends if the show had finished with “Ozymandias” or “Granite State”. That would have been fine. Events had spun out of even the illusion of control. Walt no longer had the power to tie up loose ends or even to know what happened to important people in his life. He was stuck living with (and dying with) important gaps in his knowledge.
There was also something off about Walt going back to his old resourceful ways (in many ways he was more impressively than ever). In “Ozymandias”, Walt’s mind games fail him and bring ruin to everybody. But it wasn’t just that Walt’s tricks and strategies failed him in the end. All of Walt’s cons, escapes, and victories had led him to a disaster that was much more comprehensive than if he had been killed or captured earlier in the series. I get that it was a new Walt that operated in “Felina” and that Walt was trying to bring some measure of justice and reconciliation to the world he had destroyed, but I still think it marred the symmetry of the final season.