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Goodbye, "Breaking Bad"

By Rich Heldenfels Published: September 29, 2013

Walter White was never one for loose ends or half measures.

Whether it involved cooking the finest meth in the world or dealing with threats and enemies, Walt was always thorough. Less than perfect was not his way. As he said in the "Breaking Bad" series finale, he like what he did. He was proud to be good at his craft. And so, the series ended with Walt doing what Walt had done all along.

(Spoilers follow.)

I had mixed feelings at first about the tidiness of the finale, about the way every plot thread and major character was dealt with -- and particularly the way it all added up to some redemption for Walt.

Granted that it was not the open-ended, unresolved close to "The Sopranos." I nonetheless preferred the soul-crushing end of "The Shield," which was the direction "Breaking Bad" seemed to have taken in recent weeks, because Walt like Vic deserved to have his soul crushed. Or so we thought.

Instead, what looked like a revealing nod to Walt's ego a week ago -- his fury at his old partners' interview with Charlie Rose -- proved instead to be Walt spotting the final piece on the massive jigsaw puzzle of redemption he was trying to assemble. Well played, Vince Gilligan.

Of course, Walt was also furious at being diminished by the Gray Matter folks. Indeed, the series finale brought Walt's admission that the "Breaking Bad" saga had been almost entirely about his ego -- as he finally confessed to Skyler. And, in the end, it is ego that destroys the Nazis.

Very tidy it all was, Walt using elements of his old misdeeds for good ones: the partners to get money to his family, the lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates as a get-out-of-trouble card for Skyler, the ricin to take out Lydia, and finally the pitch to Lydia and Todd as a way to get inside the Nazis' compound.

Now, we don't know for sure if all this would work -- if the payoff to his family would be possible, or  if he gave Skyler enough (although the need to find the bodies in the desert would certainly be enticing to people longing to close this case). And there were two bits of the climactic scenes which suggested Walt had not figured out all the angles: the taking of his keys and the condition of Jesse.

Walt's last scheme can, after all, be read two ways. One is that Walt planned to kill Jesse with the Nazis and himself and then, realizing that Jesse was in fact their captive, chose to save him. There's no question Walt was shocked at seeing Jesse in chains.

But the other way is that Walt concluded that Jesse was in captivity, and Walt's taunting Uncle Jack about having Jesse as a partner was a way to find Jesse and rescue him. That also makes sense in terms of ego: Walt knows Jack is too prideful to accept the idea that anyone, including Jesse, is his partner -- even Todd is basically a minion -- so Walt is playing on that pride to bring Jack and his crew to their end, much the way Walt's own ego has so damaged him,

And, in his final series of acts, Walt is still an egotist, taking steps to prove he is not a monster (at least to the few people who know what he has done). Even if all his plans do not work out, there are the plans he believes can work. In saving Jesse, he also aims to save himself,  at least momentarily, choosing to die apart from the criminal horde around him. And that, too, underscores the tragedy of Walt because, while he dies apart from the Nazis, he is also separated from his family; he dies alone save for the meth lab around him. Ozymandias and his works indeed.

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