Confession time: I am a recent Breaking Bad bandwagoner. I mean, it’s barely been a year since I started watching. I popped in season one mid-June of 2012 and barreled through the whole thing just in time for the season five (first half) premiere. When the first couple of seasons aired, I had some interest, but not enough to seek out a download link. I think I even vaguely remember being annoyed that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul beat out a few Lost actors at the 2010 Emmys, which seems a little bizarre to me now. I want to go back in time and tell myself, “WATCH IT. You will learn, child.”
So it’s only been a year, but it feels like many more. After the pilot, I knew there was no going back. This show has absolutely consumed me since then. I’ve been nervous for the finale ever since, not due to a lack of faith in Gilligan & Co., but because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet. While “Felina” was utterly nerve-wracking, a fingernail-destroyer of an episode, it did leave us with some solace. When was the last time we thought that about anything on Breaking Bad? It was the perfect end to a perfect show that never dipped or even approached a downhill slope.
The episode title guaranteed us three things: blood (iron, Fe), meth (lithium, Li), and tears (sodium, Na). A simple, straightforward formula that really could be the overarching theme of the show as a whole, but nothing else was needed. Walt’s death was inevitable, so Gilligan got in, got out, and got it done, but not before tying up every remaining loose end. He even gets continuations of almost every flashforward: leaving Denny’s, retrieving the ricin coupled with a particularly painful flashback to Hank prodding Walt to inject a little more excitement into his life from the pilot. Nothing was extravagant, save for a few masterful cinematography moments – the reveal of Walt behind the pillar in Skyler’s kitchen comes to mind.
It turns out Saul’s vacuum cleaner repair guy is, in fact, a vacuum cleaner repair guy. He picked up Walt at the end of last week’s watershed episode. The person who got out of the van at the beginning of “Granite State,” though, was Saul, who decided he needed to get out of Albuquerque, too. The plan is to send Saul to Nebraska, but he and Walt are going to share a bedroom in the vacuum store until things die down. Saul asks how Walt’s been, and the repair guy directs him to a live feed of Walt’s room. He’s pacing back and forth.
After the opening credits, we get a quick Marie update. She’s in an SUV with men who assure her that they’re going to find Hank and Gomez. She doesn’t seem too confident. They pull up to her home, but something’s wrong. Papers are strewn all over the driveway and the door is bashed in. The inside of the house is completely torn up. This was Jack’s work – he wanted Jesse’s confession video. They skip to the part where Jesse fingers Todd as Drew Sharp’s murderer and Jack is not happy. He’s ready to get rid of Jesse. They just inherited a massive fortune. Why do they need to stay in the meth business? If they’re no longer cooking, Jesse’s life is inconsequential. Todd wants to stick with it, though, so he can stay close to Lydia. They still have a massive supply of methylamine, so they might as well finish it off and make a few more millions. “No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more?”
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Admit it. After this promo for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad aired, you scrambled to your old English lit textbooks and scrutinized the hell out of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” just waiting for the episode of the same name to air. The poem’s major themes coupled with the image of the weathered, beaten-down porkpie hat in the trailer did not bode well for Walt. Vince Gilligan saying this in an interview with TV Fanatic added an extra sense of ominousness to the episode (emphasis mine):
I think these last three episodes, not to overstate it, and you could say this about the last eight, but with these last three in particular you need to install a seat belt on your sofa, you need to wear a crash helmet and a diaper. [laughs] I tell ya, this next episode (entitled “Ozymandias”), I think for my money, is the best episode we ever had had or ever will have. It was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson.
I think people are going to have trouble breathing after this thing airs. It’s tremendous and it’s a great, great hour of television and I’m as proud as I can be of the two episodes that air after that one and both of them are a hell of a wild ride, too. I couldn’t be more proud of these final eight episodes or these last three episodes. I think they’re going to leave us with some sleepless nights.”
Needless to say, there was a lot of hype going into this episode, maybe a little too much. To say “Ozymandias” lived up to it, though, would be a severe understatement. If by “trouble breathing” Gilligan meant “holding your breath for an hour and biting off all of your fingernails and turning your Twitter feed into a constant flow of ‘OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT’ tweets and STARING OPEN-MOUTHED AT THE TELEVISION FOR 30 MINUTES AFTER THE EPISODE ENDED,” then yes, he was right.
So am I, Aaron. So am I. There was a little bit of shouting at the television, a couple of incoherent texts to my brother, and way too much nail-biting. This episode lived up to and exceeded Paul’s assessment.
This week’s cold open picked up a few minutes before where last week’s episode left off – just from the other end of Walt’s phone call. Lydia is observing Todd in his lab along with his uncle and one of his men. Though the finished product is purer than it had been with Declan at the helm, it’s still only at 76%, or about 20 percentage points fewer than what Lydia and her European customers grew used to. Lydia, clad in a blue coat, expects the blue stuff, and so do her buyers. Jack suggests that they add food coloring to the mix, something Walt’s competitors used to do way back when. Todd and Lydia chat and after his weird attempt at seduction (?) and she heads out. Todd watches her go while running his finger over the lipstick stain on her mug. Again, weird. His phone rings and, as expected, it’s Walt requesting his uncle’s service.
When has Jesse versus Walt not had a presence in Breaking Bad? Sure, it hasn’t always been at the magnitude it’s at now – it feels like it’s been forever since the worst thing we saw Walt do was call Jesse an idiot – but it’s always been there. It’s been growing in severity as each season has passed, from some verbal disagreements to several physical fights, all hopefully building up to one last confrontation. “Rabid Dog” set the scene for the final showdown; it just took awhile for it to get there. The last few episodes have flown by. I find myself looking at the clock and thinking, “No way an hour has already passed. It just started!” This episode, though, was a little slower, starting with Walt’s faulty gas pump lie.
Before I get to that, the opening scene needs a little love. I’m pretty sure I gnawed off all of my fingernails as Walt moved through his gasoline-soaked house searching for Jesse and discovered he was gone. Walt’s cover-up for the gasoline smell kind of undid all of that. It wasn’t poor writing or a bad transition. It’s that Walt’s elaborate lies have become so tiresome that they’re disrupting the course of the show. The bigger the lie, the more he exaggerates this sense of earnestness, and even Walt Jr. picked up on it. I have to admit, I gasped when he asked his dad to tell the truth for once. I thought for sure this was going to be the moment he started to figure everything out. My hopes were dashed when he started talking about Walt’s cancer, which he gladly played into. Skyler seemed to know almost immediately and confronted him about it once the family settled in at its temporary hotel home.
You know how some teenagers think they’re invincible? They’ll maybe pass by a car wreck on the side of the road and think, “Hey, that could never happen to me” and continue to race down the highway without caution. But then it does happen and it’s scary. It’s scary and it sets them straight.
That is Walter White. He finally had his epiphany in “Buried” on Sunday night. How many times have we heard him acknowledge that he isn’t perfect?
“I screwed up.”
Those words sounded almost foreign coming from his mouth. There was no lying. There was no blaming anybody else. It was an honest statement, a statement that wasn’t totally self-serving, and from Walt, those are rare. He told Skyler that he’d turn himself in and told her to take the money. If anything, he’ll leave his family with a little bit (or a lot, really) of security regardless of the fate he suffers. It was actually sort of heartwarming. It’s one of his final statements of the episode, though, that kind of set all of that aside. His plea for Skyler to not let all of his hard work go to waste was more like the Walt we’re used to, the Walt who just last week begged Jesse to believe him because Walt needed him to.
After what had to be the longest bathroom trip in history, Breaking Bad finally returned on Sunday following an 11-month break. Like many viewers expected, Vince Gilligan and company delivered. The season five second-half premiere was tense from start to finish – it was hard to remember to breathe. But who would have expected anything else?
“Blood Money” began with a handful of twenty-somethings skateboarding in an empty pool. It became clear that they were in the backyard of the White residence once one caught air and went just beyond the lip of the pool. Sure enough, we got a view of the front of the house, now fenced in and dilapidated. Future Walt pulls up in his now-familiar Volvo and enters the abandoned home, now featuring the word “Heisenberg” spray-painted in large letters across a wall. Walt retrieves his hidden stash of ricin and leaves the house, only to be seen by his visibly shaken neighbor Carol, who promptly drops her bag of groceries once she realizes who she’s looking at. She’s terrified. Leave it to Walt to think he’d be able to slip into his condemned home unseen. His invincibility complex never ceases to amaze. The amount of time that’s passed from where “Gliding Over All” ended to where this episode began is unclear, but one thing is certain: shit went down, and it was bad.