This is going to be full of spoilers about the series finale of Breaking Bad. Don't read this if you don't want it or anything about the show ruined. Seriously, stop now. Let's be clear. Heisenberg did not die in the final seconds of Breaking Bad's series finale. He died a week earlier, sitting at a bar in New Hampshire listening to his former partner and girlfriend proclaim, perhaps ironically, that Walter White was no more.
It was Walter White who died in the finale. Walter White who said goodbye to his wife, kids, Jesse, and even Badger and Skinny Pete. And that is why the finale was so good and had such power. The fact that series creator Vince Gilligan let us off the hook and allowed us to have sympathy for the dying Walter White was a masterstroke. And it was the most satisfying series finale I can recall.
The key moment of the episode occurred while Walter was talking to Skyler and admitted that not everything he had done had been for the family. Heisenberg enjoyed the power and the game. Walter White had set out to protect his family from economic ruin. Heisenberg liked to see just how far he could go.
But as Walter returned from the Granite State to New Mexico, everything he did was to protect his loved ones. He had to get rid of those that would do them harm. He had to do his best to clear Skyler. And, ultimately, he had to die.
The final episode was titled Felina. It could have been read as simply an anagram of Finale. But of course that wasn't all that it was. Felina was the heroine in Marty Robbins' song El Paso, from his album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. We heard bits of during the show. In El Paso, a cowboy falls for a woman named Faleena (yes, it's spelled differently than the show title...so it was, in part, meant to be an anagram). Her eyes were dark as the night, and wicked and evil while casting their spell. In El Paso, the narrator kills a rival for Faleena's affection, then flees the town of El Paso to save his skin. He eventually returns to El Paso, where a bullet strikes him in the side, killing him.
The title of the episode told us all we needed to know about Walt's fate. He would return to New Mexico. He would be gunned down. And, he was.
But in reaching his end, he redeemed himself. He made sure his family was going to be taken care of and safe. He uprooted everyone who could do them harm. And he rescued Jesse. Physically and, arguably, emotionally. Towards the end of the episode, Walt gives Jesse a gun, and gives him the chance to kill him or to walk away. Jesse chooses not to do it. He has broken away from the devastating vengeance cycle he had gotten caught up in.
But what is most important and most telling is that this offer by Walt, which was essentially his final act, was completely for Jesse's benefit. Walt, like the cowboy from El Paso, had been shot in the side and was minutes from death. Walt wanted to give Jesse what he needed. Be it revenge or salvation. And with that final act, along with the goodbyes, the efforts to save and protect his family, and everything else that happened in the finale, Walt was as redeemed as he possibly could be.
The man who lay dying on the ground at the end credits was Walter White. Maybe not the same as he was when Breaking Bad began its remarkable journey. But a lot more so than he had been in years. And in this era of shows that offer false paths and loose ends, Breaking Bad is a gem. Every single loose end was tied up. Every character's fate accounted for (except maybe Huell, who is presumably sitting on a couch somewhere). The final half season was a perfect bow on this unprecedented show.
At the end of the series, it was Walter White, not Heisenberg, who was the one who knocked. And it was Walter White who took care of everything. And somehow, despite all the cruelty, all the violence, and all the manipulation, we, for a brief moment, felt sorry for him.
And that is one of the most amazing things that has ever been pulled off in any work of art ever.