By August Brown
12:59 PM PDT, September 30, 2013
The postmortems are in for the most anticipated episode of television in 2013.
Reviews seem generally satisfied -- The Times' own Mary McNamara said, "Not only did Vince Gilligan's five-season, hyper-violent prose poem to midlife male frustration tie up virtually every loose end in sight, it contained the Holy Grail of all storytelling: an Actual Moment of Truth."
Not everyone agrees, but one aspect finding near-universal acclaim is the song selection for the series' finale. Spoilers to follow, so if you've already made it this far in your day avoiding them, congratulations and read no further.
As some suspected, the centerpiece of the episode was Marty Robbins' "El Paso," which yielded the final episode's title. The country-western murder ballad is an allegorical tale of a man who takes up with a Mexican woman named Felina, knowing full well that he could die for getting wrapped up in the violent world that surrounds her. But he goes in knowingly -- "Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for / One little kiss and Felina, good-bye."
In the episode, the songs cuts off before the narrator's death, but "Breaking Bad" prognosticators (and Robbins fans) knew from the first chords how that story would end. The song's themes of riding head-on to one's doom because of an insatiable guiding impulse proved apropos.
A more harrowing, darkly ironic song selection came just before the moment Walt told Lydia that he'd poisoned her. Todd's ringtone for her calls was the Marx Brothers' "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," which tells the tale of a man brought to fortune and prestige by taking up with a woman named Lydia. Needless to say, that's not the kind of luck enjoyed by the end by the phone's owner or "Breaking Bad's" Stevia-pounding Lydia.
But the sendoff song is a defining tradition in this streak of serialized drama. While the show's closing tune might not rival "The Sopranos" and its use of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " for gumption, the choice of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" helped seal the tiny shred of optimism (or at least justice) that ended the series. Naturally, the song's title calls back to Walt's signature brand of ultra-potent meth.
But the song's first lyrics ("Guess I got what I deserved") punctuated the real big question at the show's finale -- will Walt get his comeuppance? The Badfinger tune is about being unable to fight an overriding feeling, no matter the consequences, and coming to accept it.
For a show that plumbed the murkiest depths of the human soul, self-awareness is about as satisfying an ending as you can hope for.
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