“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.”
A fitting title for this episode as by the time it has reached its conclusion Walt’s “Empire business” is reduced to a single barrel, albeit one stuffed with millions of dollars, but it is a far cry from the end game he had envisaged. The episode opens with a flashback to one of Walt and Jesse’s first cooks in the RV. Walt calls Skyler and during this conversation he lies to her for the first time about his “other job”, by the end of the episode it looks like he may have called her with his last. It’s a remarkable reminder of how far this series has come, Skyler blissfully unaware as she sells dolls on e-bay for $9. The quaint little scene is ended with Jesse echoing the sentiments of Breaking Bad fans across the globe anxious to see the result of last week’s shootout “Yo! So what’s next?”
What’s next turns out to be one of the greatest hours of television I have ever witnessed, a rollercoaster ride of emotions that left me breathless by the end. I cannot remember consistently reacting so physically to a show’s events. Yes Ned Stark’s shocking demise and the Red Wedding make Game of Thrones the closest contender for shock value TV but that is one moment a season, this episode seemed to throw them up every few minutes by the time Walt was sitting roadside waiting to be driven off into the sunset I was physically and emotionally drained.
Picking up with the shootout from the end to last week’s episode we find that Gomez has been killed and a wounded Hank trying to get to his gun, before he can reach it though Uncle Jack intercepts him. In a tense and harrowing scene Walt runs through the gamut of emotions to try and save his brother in law, but Hank who has always been the mirror version of Walt, refuses to waiver his resolve and will not beg for his life as we imagine Walt would if it was he placed in the same situation. Hank though refused, even in the face of certain death, to compromise his beliefs and again showed that when it comes to the actions of criminals it is he who is the expert, not Walt. Resigning himself to his fate, with a line that was pure Hank, “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, and you’re to stupid to see – he made up his mind 10 minutes ago.” As Walt pleads for his brother in laws life Hank steels himself for one final act of defiant bravery by giving his killers very clear instructions “My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go f**k yourself”. It was a heartbreaking but fitting end to one of the shows many fabulous characters. Dean Norris has evolved Hank from a one dimensional frat boy cop into one of the most layered and complex characters in the history of television, Hank’s transformation from his bed ridden self pitying mess to the moment he finally captures his white whale only to have it cruelly snatched from his grasp has been nothing short of spectacular. Walt falls to the ground as everything goes silent, screaming in torment as all he had built up counting for nothing as he watches the first piece of his family come crashing down with him bound and helpless to prevent it.
Uncle Jack and his crew then begin to dig up Walt’s $80 million, but leave him with one barrel against the advice of the rest of his cohorts leaving Jack to comment “What’s with all the greed here? It’s unattractive.” Walt agrees to Jack’s truce and shakes but one gets the feeling that the Rambo like gun we see Walt with in this seasons flash forward may find itself pointed at Jacks swastika emblazed neck soon enough. Walt reminds Jack that he still owes him Jesse, Jack says he has no problem with this and when they find him they will deal with him. Just as it finally looks like the dust has settled on the nerve shredding tension, Walt sparks the horror back to life with just two chilling words “Found him” as Jesse is revealed to be hiding under a car. Before Jack can pull the trigger squishy faced Matt Damon points out that Jesse talked to the DEA and it might be worth finding out what he knows, Todd even kindly volunteers to do the torturing. Walt agrees but not before he inflicts another crushing blow to his former protégée by revealing that he watched Jane die and didn’t save her. You get the feeling these words will hurt Jesse more than anything the psychotic Todd can come up with as Jesse looked completely broken as he was led away by Jacks goons.
Meanwhile Marie stops by the car wash to tell Skyler that Hank has captured Walt and that she must tell Walter Jr everything before the police do. She also offers to stand by her because she is family, but only if she destroys the tape she and Walt had made implicating Hank. Walter Jr enters but he is not convinced that his mother and aunt are telling the truth and he storms out. Back at the house Walt is in full panic mode as he begins packing bags for the family when Skyler, Walter Jr and Holly return home. He desperately tries to get them to just do as he says and leave but Skyler refuses. Instead, she continuously asks where Hank is – this brought to mind the legendary scene from The Wire in which Stringer Bell is finally caught out as he is asked “Where’s Wallace” over and over. With the realization setting in that Hank isn’t coming back and convinced her husband killed him, Skyler chooses the knife over the phone and tells Walt to leave. When he refuses, a heart racing fight between the pair ensues during which I was convinced that Skyler or Walter Jr were about to meet their end. Thankfully Walter Jr heroically comes between his mother and father shielding her from Walt as he calls the police. RJ Mitte is fantastic in this scene; you can almost see him unraveling all his father’s lies through his eyes alone. Walt looking at his family cowering from him in terror seems to finally see the truth that the family he has used to justify his terrible actions are now gone. But in one final act, trying to keep some semblance of family in his life, he grabs his infant daughter and takes off.
We then see Walt changing his daughters diaper in a truck stop bathroom. When he sees his daughter call for her mother it looks to snap Walt out of what he is doing and he calls Skyler. Skyler, who along with Walter Jr, Marie and the police, answers the phone and tells Walt the police are not there and begs him to return their daughter. Walt uses the call to both berate his wife for not falling in line and seeming to put the entirety of the situation on himself. Cranston is at his brilliant best in this scene jumping from what appears to be his final attempt to protect his family and absolve them of blame “I built this – me. Me alone, nobody else” and throwing in some real venom towards his wife “You stupid bitch,” all the while tears streaming down his face. Cranston is able to convey anger, sadness and even love in this single scene and it is the pinnacle of what has been a master class of a performance – hard to imagine the original choice for Walter White was Matthew Broderick. Walt then leaves his daughter in a firehouse – were brilliantly the fire-fighters are playing chess and if you look at the board you will notice the white king has been cornered but is not in check – yes I am nerd and I play Chess…form an orderly queue ladies. It is this level of detail that demands repeat viewings of the show. Walt’s reflection with the bullet hole in the car lining up perfectly with his head was another clever touch. The episode ends with Walt sitting “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command” as Saul’s fixer arrives to take him broken and alone to contemplate his next move.
With only two episodes left it is apparent that the creators are not leaving anything on the table. Vince Gilligan has crafted a masterpiece of scope and suspense. Big movie roles no doubt await Cranston when Breaking Bad reaches its conclusion but he, along with every member of the cast, seems to know they will never have roles like this again and each and every one of them are swinging for the fences. This season has been littered with standout moments from the intense confrontation in the garage between Walt and Hank to the heartbreakingly tender moment when Walter Jr hugs his dad poolside at the hotel, unable to know the manipulative monster his hero has become. Whatever happens in the final two episodes, Breaking Bad will go down as one of the greatest shows in history. However, if it keeps up the level shown throughout this season it may very well be the greatest. Based on what has come before, I wouldn’t bet against them.
5 out of 5 nerds