WARNING — Breaking Bad spoilers below . . .
There are lively discussions going on all over the place by people who’ve been following the series about the last episode of Breaking Bad.
Many have been troubled by the fact that Walter White was allowed to “complete his mission”, leave money for his family after he was gone — that is if you think his cockeyed scheme to intimidate the Schwartzs is going to hold up after his death.
Others have been troubled that Walt was allowed to take out a slew of his enemies in a blaze of gunfire — like a desperate but existentially exultant Western anti-hero.
These aspects of the finale miss the point, I think. Walt got to pull off a couple of his trade-mark fiendish stunts, but the real finale to the show took place in two scenes of confrontation, with his wife and with his former partner Jesse.
In the confrontations, Walt tried to give these people what he thought they needed — the truth, at long last, about himself, in his wife Skyler’s case . . . and a chance for revenge in Jesse’s case.
Neither of them was able to make any response, beyond relief perhaps. They could not repay his gesture, could not give him anything in return for what he saw as gifts. Skyler let him have one last look at his daughter, but neither she nor Jesse could thank him for his “gifts” or tell him they loved him, as both probably still did on some level. They could only stare at him as though he had become a ghost.
Gilligan, who directed the episode, made a few visual allusions to Walt’s ghost-like persona. Walt walks around the Schwartzs’ house like a wraith before they finally see him. He’s discovered in a camera move reveal to be standing behind a pillar in Skyler’s kitchen while she talks on the phone about him, apparently alone. He’s a posthumous figure already.
I think of Bob Dylan’s great song about lost opportunities, failed love — “Shooting Star”, which contains the lines:
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say.
Saw a shooting star tonight
And that’s what we watched in the last episode of Breaking Bad — a shooting star slip away, an empty man taking his leave of an empty life, the truth about himself revealed but meaningless.