Like the true moderate I am, I watch — watched (sob) — “Breaking Bad” from a perspective in the vast acreage between casual and obsessive. I went to college and have dabbled in criticism, so when I learned the final episode would be called “Felina,” I immediately thought of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” but didn’t consider that the title is an anagram for “finale.”
(My appreciation for “El Paso” comes from pushing quarters into the jukebox at the Scioto Trails, a great roadhouse from my youth that long ago fell to the developer’s wrecking ball. MarkH, I’m sure you were there.)
Anyway, if you know the song at all, you know it’s about the tragic fate of a jealous cowboy. And at this point, I guess we have to say SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FINAL EPISODE OF “BREAKING BAD.” If you don’t know what happened, why are you even reading this? Seriously.
The lyrics of “El Paso” are as effective as a beat sheet (TV writer jargon; it’s an outline) for the final episode, which — all seem to agree — was as satisfying as it could be, without being entirely perfect.
Cowboy music has a lot in common with bluegrass — a tragic story told in many, many verses. But let’s take it from the turning point:
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.
As we all know, Walt was on the run for the last two episodes, deep in not “the badlands of New Mexico,” but the very cold landscape of New Hampshire. Brooding. Broken. Ready to give up. Until, galvanized by the Charlie Rose ramblings of his former partner and girlfriend (now man and wife), he finds the strength to return to the scene of his many crimes and set things right.
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.
Walt’s young maiden is his guilt, or maybe it’s what remained of Heisenberg, meth king and rampaging angel. His love for his family is what it most certainly isn’t, and Vince Gilligan gets credit for the pivotal line of the episode, the final shred of self-delusion falling from Walt’s eyes: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.” Remember, he made this decision when he was under a death sentence. And that feeling of being alive is cited often enough by people in criminal enterprises that “adrenaline junkie” doesn’t really cover it. In “Thelma & Louise,” not long before they hurtle toward the cliff OOPS SPOILER, Geena Davis says, “I feel awake.” That’s a powerful feeling.
And at last here I am on the hill overlooking El Paso;
I can see Rosa’s cantina below.
My love is strong and it pushes me onward.
Down off the hill to Felina I go.
Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys;
Off to my left ride a dozen or more.
Shouting and shooting I can’t let them catch me.
I have to make it to Rosa’s back door.
To Rosa’s back door he made it, in the sense that he touched base with the Schwartzes, Skyler, Lydia and Todd before finally facing the music at the Nazis’ meth compound. This was the most implausible sequence, but it’s not like Walt invented the idea of using the trunk of a car as a shooting station.
Something is dreadfully wrong for I feel a deep burning pain in my side.
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle,
I’m getting weary, unable to ride.
And we all know the rest. Because recaps and criticism aren’t my strong suit, I’ll leave the rest to you. I would like to note one thing, however: For all his self-justification of doing this for the money, Walt was never all that driven by it. Granted, a man trying to hide criminal activity would be unwise to flash cash around town, but beyond the episode with the car(s), he didn’t even allow himself the little luxuries that wouldn’t have drawn attention — a kitchen remodel, a cashmere pullover. That’s why I loved the scene in the Schwartzes’ ridiculous mansion, with Walt gazing at the appointments and proportions like an archaeologist. One of my favorite episodes of the whole series was when Walt and Skyler go to a birthday party at their place, Skyler wearing what looks like a repurposed bridesmaid dress and all the other guests so effortlessly and expensively underdressed. One of the gifts is a guitar once owned, and signed, by Eric Clapton. Walt’s wounded seething was something to see.
The whole series was something to see. RIP, and on to the next one.
So, back from New York, where much fun was had and many miles were walked. My feet feel like old bread dough in need of some serious kneading. More on that tomorrow.