Breaking Bad gives us a powerful punch to the gut as we head into the penultimate episode of the series next week. Tying up a plethora of loose ends, does this week’s episode reinforce our faith that finale will be not only epic but incredibly satisfying as well?
Let’s bitch it out.
Phew! Is everyone okay? Have you caught your breath after that amazing hour of television? I think we all need a group hug after that one. Let’s start by tipping our hats off to Hank (Dean Norris) who exits stage-shot-in-the-head as I, and probably everyone, predicted would happen last week.
And poor Gomie (Steven Michael Quezada) – all we see of him this week is his bullet-filled body. As much as Gomez’s goodbye is uneventful and predictable, it satisfies the need for some one to die amidst the waterfall of bullets that we saw at the tail end of last week’s episode. Because Gomez dies as we all would expect, we’re willing to buy that Hank manages to survive the onslaught with just a shot in the leg. And that allows his eventual death to become such a significant and poignant scene when it does come to pass.
“King of Kings”, Walt (Bryan Cranston) further pleads with the Neo-Nazis as they approach an ammo-deficient Hank as he makes a vein attempt to grab dead-Gomie’s shotgun. The casual way Uncle Tom (Michael Bowen) saunters up to Hank for a chat is just eerie. It couldn’t be clearer that Hank is going to die, but Walt’s pleas give us that moment of doubt that it could potential go another way. But even Hank knows it which makes his final words and his acceptance that much more tragic.
I knew Hank’s death would be incredibly transformative for Walt, but having it reduced to a single and swift bullet to the head directly in front of Walt vs. caught in a shower of bullets, makes it that much more gut-wrenching. And director, Rian Johnson (Yes! THAT Rian Johnson!) exploits the moment by giving us that brilliant shot of Walt dropping to the ground in slow-motion, paralyzed by the shock and heartache. Arguably, Walt could likely rationalize all the other murders he’s committed in service of protecting his family- but not this one. Like I said last week, because Hank is family and also because Walt had an unfortunate front row seat, he will have Hank’s execution forever burned his eyes. The ramifications of this death go beyond the dozens that came before.
Which brings me to Walt’s cruel role in Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) fate. Looking for a scapegoat to take some of the blame away from Hank’s death, it comes as no surprise that after the Neo-Nazis take 80% of his hard-earned millions, Walt swiftly turns over Jesse for execution. Initially I thought Jesse would actually get a bullet in the head as he looks up at those two birds in the sky, but another shock came instead. Not only does Walt allow the Aryans to take him away for inexplicable torture, but he very callously reveals to Jesse that he watched Jane (Krysten Ritter) die, admitting that he could have helped her, but made the conscious decision not to. As Walt stoically walks away from a helpless and broken Jesse, it serves as a shocking moment that’s equally as jaw dropping as a Jesse execution would have been.
As much as I dislike Jesse, seeing him be tossed around like a ragdoll, discovering even more horrible things about Walt and being chained up to be a meth-cook slave for the rest of his days, I don’t believe he is deserving of such extreme punishment. Personally I would choose death rather than cook for the Nazis even if Andrea (Emily Rios) and Brock (Ian Posada) were in danger. They’re going to kill everyone anyway, so let’s hope Jesse manages to muster up some strength to fight back rather than continuing to bend over in the final two episodes.
As if that weren’t enough to cover off in a single episode, the revelations keep coming. Finally Junior/Flynn (RJ Mitte) gets told (most of) the truth about his father, and we get an extremely tense (and effectively disturbing) knife battle between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn) to help him cast away any doubts. The sequence is another brilliant one as Hank’s implied death is enough to push Skyler over the edge. There’s an absolutely perfect POV shot after Junior has broken up his parents and he and Skyler look fearfully through tear-stained eyes at Walt. The viewer can’t help but identify with Walt. He’s done everything for his family, and with this shot – it’s instantly conveyed to us that all of that is gone. True to Walter-White-impetuous-emotion, he grabs baby Holly before hightailing it out of the driveway with his measly $10M barrel as Skyler recreates her frantic Mama Skyler role by running after the truck screaming and pleading for her baby.
But perhaps the most complex scene of the night comes during the aftermath of that confrontation as Walt calls Skyler while her house is filled with police helping to get back baby Holly. Initially, we don’t see Walt, we just hear him as he very harshly berates Skyler for defying him. But as much as we hate Walt at this phase, we know he’s not this stupid. He knows that the cops are listening, and likely Junior as well, even though Skyler denies the presence of the police. This call is merely apart of some master plan that we’re not yet privy to.
Channeling Michael Corleone, Walt tells Skyler to fall in line lest she suffer the same fate as Hank. Slowly, we see Walt delivering this incredibly a*shole-ish speech through tears and fogged-up glasses, which immediately echoes the phone call we saw in the episode’s opening sequence- the season one re-creation. It’s purposeful that we saw Walt lying (convincingly) to Skyler over the phone in flashback, so we have this nugget in our heads when we hear him lashing-out at her Heisenberg style later on.
Even with all the evidence as we’ve seen throughout the series that suggests Walt has ‘broke bad’, I still believe that ultimately, he’s just faking it to make it. Sure he’s the ‘one who knocks’, but he never does so confidently. There’s always trepidation behind his actions, that echoes the moment when he first introduces himself as Heisenberg (pay attention at about the 5:08 mark) – taking crazy risks and hoping they’ll pay off (which they always do!).
This call to Skyler is no different. Even though his family has seemingly disowned him, they’re still his motivation, as further evidenced by putting baby Holly in the fire truck and the fire station. Coming off as such a completely d*ck over the phone makes it easier for Skyler, and Junior as well, to let him go. There are no shades of grey with a father/husband that makes this kind of phone call. It’s a moment of self-sacrifice that again, hammers home that Walt isn’t wholly bad.
But, as we’ve seen with Walt’s other lies to Skyler of late (i.e. the gas station and pop machine malfunctions) she might be able to see through this act and remain ambiguous about how she feels about him. Then again, based on her reaction to Hank’s death and Holly’s abduction, even if she sees through Walt over the phone, this probably means the end of Mr. & Mrs. White. Nevertheless, episode after episode, I’m always shocked at how I continue to oscillate on and off of Team Walt. Even with the abduction of a baby (!), Walt consistently manages to get some sympathy out of me. Such a connection to a character is a testament to the way the Walter White is so brilliantly written and portrayed week after week.
- The episode’s title ‘Ozymandias’ references a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about a king who has creating nothingness and despair in his reign. Normally I would shun such a literal reference, but in this case, it really, really works.
- I loved the economy shown during the scene where Jesse is introduced to the meth lab. No words are spoken, yet we know exactly what kind of tragic expectation is in front of this now, fully broken man.
- As I mentioned, I understand the purpose of the opening flashback, as it establishes the phone banter between Walt and Skyler and shows us happier times between Walt and Jesse, but I still found it a bit too hokey and overly sentimental for my liking. We’re constantly reminded of how much Walt has changed that I don’t think we needed it.
- Todd (Jesse Plemons) sure has some excellent deduction skills and great comic timing: “Sorry for your loss”.
- As if we weren’t gutted enough throughout this episode – the way in which Gomie and Hank’s bodies are thrown into the pit that once housed Walt’s millions is like rubbing salt in the wounds.
- Rolling the barrel to Lonnie Donegan’s “Times are Getting Hard Boys” was another excellent mood setter.
- The episode ends as Walt enters the infamous vacuum-cleaner man’s van. Honestly, after such a tightly plotted hour of television, I think I would have been okay had this been our finale-finale.
- I’m certain Walt’s line to Skyler about constantly nagging at him, whining and complaining was a nod to all of the Skyler critics out there.
- I’m not sure if it’s because we haven’t really spent that much time with Marie (Betsy Brandt) in general, or if there were way too many other things going on in this episode, but I didn’t feel a lick of sympathy for her loss. And what a loss it is. I stand by my prediction that she is the one who will be responsible to destroying the White residence with the ‘Heisenberg’ graffiti.
- I was quite appreciative that we weren’t privy to Jesse’s torture or Junior’s revelation- both scenes would have stalled the forward momentum of the episode.
- Knife or phone? Brilliant.
So viewers, what did you think? Are you absolutely wrecked as I was- needing either a shot of vodka or a therapy session to recover? With only a couple episodes left, here are my predictions: The M4A1 machine gun and ricin vile are meant for the Neo-Nazis for not only taking away Walt’s nest egg, but ultimately taking away Walt’s entire family. Which also means he’s likely to rescue Jesse, who in turn will be the one to end Walt for good. Any one else care to throw in their bets for the finale? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Breaking Bad airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.