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[Spoiler alert] Gunfighter ballads and Breaking Bad’s amazing finale

September 30, 2013
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When that Marty Robbins cassette dropped from the glove compartment in the series finale of Breaking Bad, my heart jumped. Robbins is the king of gunfighter ballads, but with his decorated suits and coiffed hair, the last word you’d use to describe the mustachioed crooner is probably macho. The parallel to Walter White in character is great on its own, but when you look at Robbins’ trilogy of songs featuring Feleena, you start to understand just how perfect this pick was for the Breaking Bad episode titled “Felina,” so kudos to music supervisor Thomas Golubic. In case you aren’t familiar with Robbins’ famous gunfighter song series, here’s a plot summary:

Feleena is a young girl, born in New Mexico, who runs away from her sad life to turn tricks in Santa Fe, before ultimately landing in El Paso. It’s here that a cowboy from El Paso falls in love with her, and she experiences that joy of joys of not being completely disgusted by a man for the first time in her life. After six weeks of hanging out, the love between them grows. But, she’s still a stripper and when another cowboy hits on her, the El Paso cowboy responds by killing his competition. Only now he must worry about the feds, so he flees, to the “badlands of New Mexico.” But he doesn’t stay there for long (he must not like it as much as the Whites do). He returns the next day, and of course, the law is waiting. She’s too excited, though, and runs out into the line of fire. He tries to stop her, and that’s when the officers shoot him down. Feleena can’t bare this, so she shoots herself with El Paso’s gun. Now their ghosts haunt El Paso, which is probably why another cowboy, when flying over the city, recalls the whole story out of nowhere and can only assume this means he was the El Paso cowboy in a past life.

This is perhaps a leap, but pardon a fangirl if you can imagine Walter White as Robbins’ Feleena, living in a “shack” with his family and indifferent to his chosen lifestyle, teaching. He runs away to the desert with one of his pupils Jesse, who, yes, I am suggesting is the El Paso cowboy, where he discovers he vibrantly enjoys showing Jesse how to cook meth correctly, for the first time reaching a student and in turn, becoming affected by that student. Not to get all Brokeback Breaking Bad but that makes Jesse Pinkman the first to make Walt feel, as he puts it to Skyler in the finale, “alive.” The entire series comprises the 6-week affair between Feleena and El Paso, and then when Walt returns in this last episode, he is aware of the line of fire (that admittedly, he set up, not the feds, but still), and he takes a bullet to ensure that Jesse (his dear Felina) isn’t caught in it. Of course, we know that Jesse doesn’t turn Walt’s gun on himself the way that Feleena does with her cowboy’s, but that’s probably because Marty Robbins didn’t have a frothing audience demanding that he spare the life of his supporting lead. Whether or not these lines I’m drawing are valid, I appreciate the poetry that last night’s episode inspired by connecting those dots for me personally.

And I, for one, will certainly be haunted by the ghost of great TV that Breaking Bad has left behind.

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