[SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not watched the series finale of Breaking Bad, titled “Felina.” Major plot spoilers ahead.]
They were teacher and student. Master and apprentice. Father figure and problem child. Manipulator and manipulated. Heisenberg and Hoodie. Hazmat-suited partners in crime making fat stacks. However you viewed Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) – and chances are that view changed radically over the last five seasons – the two men will forever be linked as the blackened heart and corroded soul of AMC’s meth-making drama Breaking Bad. The pair’s relationship flamed out spectacularly in the final season, as Jesse, realizing that Walt was responsible for the near-death of Brock, the son of Jesse’s ex-girlfriend, helped ASAC Schrader (Dean Norris) to (almost) bring Walt to justice. Walt sought revenge, first by handing over Jesse to the neo-Nazis (who gave him two scoops of torture and ice cream), and then by returning from cold and lonely New Hampshire to wipe out Jesse along with Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and his crew. But when Walt saw the hideous, ragged condition of his estranged and now-enslaved labmate, who turned out not to be a 50/50 partner in meth manufacturing with these vicious white supremacists, he had an instinctive change of heart and saved Jesse from the hellfire that they were all going down in. What did Cranston and Paul think of the ending of their audacious adventure, which only left one of their characters alive? Read on to find out.
Calling it “100 percent satisfying,” Paul tells EW: “There were thoughts I had that maybe Walt will be the only one standing. I love that toward the end, Walt’s there to go on a suicide mission and blow everyone up, including Jesse, but he sees what they have put him through. His hair’s super long, he’s vacant. There’s not a soul in him anymore, and [Walt] decides that he deserves a second chance, so he dives on him. He throws himself in front of a bullet for him – and it’s kind of beautiful.” He adds with a chuckle: “It’s good that Walt got his, because he’s an evil, evil man, and he needed to go.”
In shooting the scene in which Jesse refuses to shoot Walt, Paul wound up (semi-)fulfilling a desire he’d possessed for years. “I always had the vision of Jesse pointing a gun to Walt’s head, I really did,” he explains. “I’m like, ‘It’s got to end like this,’ and deep down, I wanted Jesse to kill Walt. But the closer we got to the end, I realized I didn’t want that. Jesse can’t kill anybody else – even though he ended up killing Todd. But that was really self-defense and he just had to get out of there. But it’s good that Jesse was put through that torture for the past four or five months, put in a hole, because Jesse’s not an innocent person. He did some very bad things. It’s good that Jesse was put through that so he did some time, but I believe that he deserved to get away from all of it and just leave. You don’t really know where he goes … ” Paul has a few ideas, though, about what happened to Jesse. “In my mind, he gets the hell out of Dodge,” he says. “He’s like, ‘Oh my god.’ I think he probably goes and says bye to Brock, if he can, or at least just sees him from a distance and then he leaves. Maybe Alaska, maybe New Zealand. Becomes a bush pilot. It’s all part of the story.”
Cranston, meanwhile, feels that Gilligan and his writers crafted both a “very satisfying” and ”unapologetic” finish to this unforgiving story. “It’s fitting. It’s complete,” he tells EW, explaining that the ending gave both characters an appropriate reunion and send-off. “When I see Jesse, this involuntary sense comes over me,” he says of Walt. “He’s been treated like a dog – like a beaten dog – and it just shocks me, and impulsively I protect him. He’s going off into the sunset. It’s fitting that the man who was so put upon and mistreated has a chance. And I like how it ends, because it’s not like, ‘Oh, he’s got the money.’ No. He’s just got his life, so he has a chance – just a chance.” He believes the finale cemented the notion that Breaking Bad is ”a tragedy of almost Shakespearean level. … Tragedy is not a bunch of bad guys doing bad things: ‘Oh, they killed the good guys!’ Tragedy is when the bad guys are sympathized, when you realize that it could have gone another way,” he notes. “There was hope for them at one time. Macbeth! Oh! In its truest sense, our story is a tragedy – an American tragedy. It’s not ‘good conquers evil,’ it’s not ‘good guys against the bad guys,’ it’s much muddier than that. Shades of gray.”
Walt’s unplanned self-sacrifice in shielding Jesse from the bullet not only exposed what humanity was left in Walter White, but underlined the significance of their relationship, no matter how fractured. “[When] he hears that the blue meth is still out there, that Jesse is still cooking, it’s like, ‘That bastard! He convinced them to be a partner with him, he’s still cooking! I’ll kill everybody!’” says Cranston. “And then when I see him, the shred of humanity left in Walter White is exposed at that moment and he acts. So if there’s any redeeming quality to him from the standpoint of the audience, it’s that moment. He even allows Jesse to kill him. Jesse has the gun and he points at me, and he says, ‘You want this?’ And I go, ‘Yeah. I think it’s fitting. Go ahead. You need to do it, go ahead. It’s okay.’ And then he says, ‘If you want this, then do it yourself. I’m not going to do it for you.’ At least there was some conclusion to their association. Their friendship did matter. And it was because of that history and friendship, that was the basis of his impulsivity. Because otherwise it would just be, ‘Jesus, look at that guy, that poor bastard,’ but I’m not going to risk my life for some stranger. There is more than familiarity. It’s deep-rooted. And it’s so true. Because sometimes you don’t know the depth of what you feel until you’re tested. That’s why I think it’s a satisfying ending. It’s still true to Walter White. Because he always possessed that. But it’s not saccharine sweet. It’s not done out of ‘Ohhh, Jesse.’ It’s just … ‘Jesus.’ If anything, it makes me hate Jack even more for his brutality.”
Did Cranston feel that the meth lord-in-chief ultimately had to die to give many Breaking Bad fans the closure they were seeking? “Because of his love for his family, there was a thought of mine that, ‘Would it be a more perfect hell for him to have to see his family die – his wife, his son, baby daughter – and he lives?’” he says. “And there’s some merit to that too. But ultimately, I think this is the best ending. A real satisfying ending. And I’m so grateful for that.”