Marty Robbins’ El Paso and the Breaking Bad Finale

by Ian Rosenwach on 10.1.2013

(ALERT: Breaking Bad finale spoilers below!!)

First, hit play for the full experience.

On September 23rd I tweeted my predication that the song El Paso would play a big role in the Breaking Bad finale. The title of the episode was “Felina”, and I recognized the name from the song El Paso. My familiarity with the song is more from the Grateful Dead version than the Marty Robbins original.

 

The prediction came true. In this post I want to try to uncover the meaning of this song in the finale.

How the song was used

A Marty Robbin’s cassette tape falls out of the glovebox while Walt is looking for the keys to the car he is trying to steal. Walt proceeds to pray to someone to get him home, then he opens the mirrored visor and the keys fall to his lap. When he turns the car on, the song starts playing, but interestingly its playing midsong. The first lyrics we hear from towards the end of the song when the narrator, who has long left El Paso, has decided to go back for Felina.

I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing’s worse than this
Pain in my heart.

One powerful moment in the finale when Walt is about to start his trip in the car. The camera slowly zooms in on Walt’s face as the chorus ends and the next to last verse of the song bouncily begins. There’s a sense of impending madness as Walt imagines returning home as the song crescendo’s.

Am on the hill overlooking El Paso;
I can see Rosa’s cantina below.
My love is strong and it pushes me onward.
Down off the hill to Felina I go.

Later in the episode Walt is humming El Paso as he is constructing his machine gun contraption. This is the scene after Walt poisons Lydia with the ricin. There are a few great desert landscape shots before we see Walt building his automatic-machine-gun-mount. The song clearly it struck a chord in his psyche during his drive.

Out through the back door of Rosa’s I ran,
Out where the horses were tied.
I caught a good one.
It looked like it could run.
Up on its back
And away I did ride,

Interesting that the writers selected this verse for Walt to sing. He hums the beginning, mumbles a few lines about the back door, then “I caught a good one it looked like a good one”. I think this phrase refers to Jesse. He is the “horse” that Walt rode (maybe a long shot).

These are the only two appearances of the song. I came to appreciate the the original version of El Paso more leading up to the finale. It has a hypnotic, cinematic quality to it. The song sounds a lot like the story it tells – a slightly insane man who, in mistaking himself for a cowboy, decides to go on a killing mission.

Who is Felina?

Going back to the beginning – the title of the final episode was Felina. Felina is the muse in El Paso; the narrator is drawn to her back in El Paso, and she is ultimately the cause of his death.

Felina represents Heisenberg, and Heisenberg represents what we refer to as evil. Call it the devil, call it the Id; it’s something dark and gets Walt into trouble.

In the final episode, Walt returns to Albuquerque and settles some scores. But what drove the whole episode was his final embrace of Heisenberg. Heisenberg has been his mistress, his muse, and now he realizes that he did it not for the family but for himself. Now he can go back for his Felina and embrace Heisenberg.

The show centered on his affair with Heisenberg. It took his wife, kids…everything Walt had. What makes Heisenberg different is that it’s not a person, it’s a part of Walt himself.

The last episode has Walt letting himself fall for Heisenberg once again, except this time he’s not resisting at all. Every action Walt took was done intentionally – he was on a mission. Serene and at peace with his acceptance of Heisenberg.

References to religion and supernatural powers

There were a few scenes that had pretty clear reference to religion and some kind of higher power.

  1. Walt’s prayer – he asks someone to please take him home, he’ll do the rest.  The keys dramatically fall down from sun visor in the car. This could be interpreted as coming from heaven, or some other celestial place.
  2. Jesse analogies to Jesus – the carpenter dream, and he has suffered immensely.  Except not for the world’s sins, just for Walt’s.

Finding satisfying work

The climax to the episode, and series, may have been when Walt admits that he was doing it not for the family, but for himself. This realization is what helped create the inner peace that drove Walt to accept his own fate. He realized that he found what he was good at. He excelled. He was recognized by his peers.

It just so happens that what we was good at was illegal and a murderous business.

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