A Decade After ‘Felina,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ Still Triumphs

Created by Vince Gilligan, “Breaking Bad” detailed the descent of chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) into the villainous drug kingpin known as Heisenberg.

Sept. 29, 2013 was the air date of “Felina,” the final episode of the feloniously brilliant crime drama “Breaking Bad.”

Created by Vince Gilligan, “Breaking Bad” detailed the descent of chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) into the villainous drug kingpin known as Heisenberg.

First airing in 2008, the series began with its lead at his lowest. Working two jobs, grappling with aging and a lung cancer diagnosis, Walter kicks off the show by making a dramatic life change to afford chemotherapy and earn his self-respect.

Using his expert knowledge in chemistry and recruiting former student Jesse Pinkman, the duo make waves in the New Mexican drug scene, producing and distributing meth.

The show accumulated multiple accolades across its five seasons, including 58 Emmy nominations and 16 wins. Praise from critics and audiences alike regularly touted the show’s ardent characters and Gilligan’s (“The X-Files,” “Battle Creek”) morally gray storytelling.

Taking place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the sparse deserts with sprawling skies gave the series a visual style fit for its mystifying tone. The hostile emptiness of each plain parallels the world of underground drug-running — seeming simplistic at first but masking a more layered and dangerous ecosystem.

Walter’s homelife and family contrasts the landscape’s vibrancy. His mundane livelihood is depicted in mossy greens and clay browns. The coloring serves a dual purpose in distinguishing from bright deserts and illustrating the suburban blandness of his household. 

His beige world only blooms by making the sky blue meth that pigments the setting and his own life.

Cranston masterfully conveys Walter’s progression from a depressed family man to a criminal mastermind. With each season of “Breaking Bad,” Walter falls deeper into the trade of narcotics and further from his life in suburbia. 

Cranston (“Malcolm in the Middle,” “Asteroid City”) portrays this regression by gradually amplifying his character’s volatile confidence and shuttering away his humanity across the 62-episode run.

By the show’s end, Walter’s mission to breadwin for his wife and kids is all but forgotten. As he admits in “Felina,” the real reason he went as far as he did was to fuel his own ego.

Where Cranston portrayed a man changing for the worst, his co-star Aaron Paul did the opposite with Jesse. 

Jesse begins the show with a drug addiction and no direction. When Walter witnesses Jesse get flushed out by a sting, it puts the former student on his radar for a potential street-smart partner.

Once the duo starts profiting, Jesse uses his earnings to feed his vices and destroy his life in the process. Where Walter revels in his own self-destruction, Jesse’s trials make him come out a more selfless person.

Paul (“Black Mirror,” “BoJack Horseman”) devastatingly embodies a man who longs for the innocence he never had. Jesse aides a kid with a sad homelife, undergoes torture to protect another and becomes utterly despondent over the death of a third. The character’s story is both one of repentance and one of protection for those who can’t help themselves.

In the later half of “Breaking Bad,” Jesse cleans himself up and matures, fostering adult relationships while dreaming of a real career. His ambitions polarize a regressing Walter.

“Felina” leaves both characters judged by their fate. Jesse’s self-sacrificing nature grants him an escape from the drug world. It’s an ambiguous ending, given further context by the 2019 epilogue “El Camino.” Released on Netflix and taking place immediately after “Felina,” the film follows Jesse evading capture and finally finding peace in his relationships and himself.

Walter, on the other hand, succumbs to the gravity of his actions. With no family, friends or authority, he settles his last scores and dies among the last vestiges of his meth empire. 

Ironically, Walter’s death fulfills the promise of the pilot’s terminal diagnosis — only his death came on his own terms. Without premature cancellations or mandated extensions, “Breaking Bad” received the grace few shows get with writing its own end. Not a loose end remained, and each character received an ending both enthralling and earned. 

A decade later, the influence of “Breaking Bad”’ is still very much prominent. Cast members such as Giancarlo Esposito — who portrayed Walter’s rival Gus Fring — still receive modern popularity with roles in shows such as “The Boys” and “The Mandalorian.”

Even the series’ minor characters have carried their own franchises. Sleazy lawyer Jimmy McGill, known as Saul Goodman, starred in his own recently concluded show, “Better Call Saul.” Portrayed slyly by Bob Odenkirk (“Nobody,” “Little Women”), the spinoff outdid its predecessor in direction and writing while also lasting a season longer.

Where series like “Game of Thrones” and “How I Met Your Mother” have fallen from grace due to underwhelming ends, there’s a reason “Breaking Bad” is still lauded a decade later. Through heartbreaking characters, symbolic presentation and themes of relapse and honor, the series didn’t just stick the landing — it broke it.

“Breaking Bad” is available to stream on Netflix.

Featured image courtesy of AMC

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr