(CNN) — With Walter White dead, fans everywhere are mourning, celebrating, tallying up bets and discussing what just happened. Was the series finale of “Breaking Bad” satisfying? Did it tie up all loose ends? Did the character you wanted to live survive and did the ones you wanted to die get their just desserts? Is it sending you back to the beginning to binge watch it all over again?
Just when it seemed Walt was heading out of his New Hampshire hideaway to exact revenge on Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz (for dismissing his involvement with Gray Matter Technologies in the episode previous), he pulled the first of several surprises of the evening. Instead of threatening to kill them outright, he asks them to set up a trust fund so that his children would benefit from the money he’d illegally amassed (presumably the goal of his entire meth enterprise to begin with).
Gretchen and Elliott of course are terrified by his sudden appearance in their ritzy new home, but had they been paying attention, they would have seen Walt waltz on in. His entrance is a bit ironic, considering their wealth and legitimacy is in some way a result of his earlier contributions. He’s always been there, in the shadows, whether they acknowledged him or not.
Walt wants them to “make it right,” but of course, he knows he can’t trust them to take care of his kids on a handshake alone, so he brought backup — two “hitmen” who shine sniper-style red lights on the Schwartzes to lend credibility to Walt’s threat that if for any reason his children don’t receive the money, “a kind of countdown begins,” in which they would be killed. It’s a bluff, but they don’t know that, so it’s a win-win. Walt’s children will get the money in a semi-legal fashion, and no one will actually die in the process.
That’s not to say Walt’s above taking a life or two (or more) on his way out. As he progresses down the list of necessary showdowns, Walt crashes a regularly scheduled meeting with Todd and Lydia (“10 a.m., every Tuesday”) and slips a little something extra in Lydia’s morning coffee via what she thinks is her favorite sugar substitute Stevia — actually the long-awaited use of his ricin, made back in season four. With the lingering close-up on her cup, we know long before she starts getting flu-like symptoms that she’s doomed. There’s no antidote. And it’s been inevitable for a long time that Walt would finally successfully use the ricin on somebody, it was just a question of how and when. By the time Lydia realizes that her humidifier is not enough, she’s only got about one day left to live.
Thinking that Jesse has partnered with the neo-Nazis, Walt preps for his ultimate showdown, but he has one last detour to make — to see his wife Skylar and their kids.
“I needed a proper goodbye,” he tells her, after it’s revealed he evaded her police protection and slipped in her new home as well. She refuses his money, and he gives her the lotto ticket with the coordinates of where Hank is buried, of where his money used to be.
“If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family,” she starts, before he finally tells the truth: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was alive.”
He gets a glimpse of Holly and Flynn, but he has one last threat to take care of, so that men in masks don’t come and threaten his family anymore in the night. Walt must have known that he wouldn’t leave this last altercation alive, but once he realized that Jesse was not a partner but a prisoner of the neo-Nazis, he does his last good deed, and protects Jesse from the barrage of machine gun fire set to emanate from his trunk, throwing him down on the ground just below the firing line.
And finally, it comes down to the two of them. Walt puts down his gun, and Jesse picks it up.
“Do it,” Walt tells him. “You want this.”
“Say you want this,” Jesse demands. “Nothing happens until I hear you say it.”
“I want this,” Walt concedes.
And then Jesse drops the gun and tells him, “Then do it yourself.”
After all the grief and pain of their partnership, Walt and Jesse don’t kill each other. They don’t hug it out. They leave each other with a nod and a semi-smile, and poor scarred and tortured Jesse presumably gets to go and actually have a life. (Maybe with Brock? The kid needs a parental figure, stat).
Chemistry is the study of transformation, as “Breaking Bad” has repeatedly reminded us. Mr. Chips turned into Scarface-level meth kingpin and died of a gunshot wound from his own device, as police arrived to arrest him for his many crimes. Was Walt always Heisenberg? Was Heisenberg only a creation out of necessity? Would Walt have allowed Jane to die if his criminal enterprise were not threatened? Would Walt have poisoned a child if he didn’t need to take down a major rival? And is his death “justice?”
We’ve all seen Walter White’s death coming. It was merely a question of whether his cancer or his criminal activity would get him first. With Walt coughing all the way, we’ve had ample warning. This antihero was not long for this world. It took five seasons, but in Walt’s world, it was two years, two long years in which a baby was born, a psychopath was made, a DEA agent finally saw the light (albeit too late) and a mild-mannered chemistry teacher learned what it took to make him feel alive.
Of course, not every loose end is tied off, but for now, it’s enough. That is, until the inevitable “Better Call Saul” spinoff.
By Jennifer Vineyard, Special to CNN