Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013 by Joanna Robinson
As we promised in “The Ones Who Knock” Kickstarter, I will be doing weekly recaps here for each episode of Breaking Bad. For those of you unfamiliar with my recapping style, it’s less of a straightforward plot summary and more a distillation of the most interesting elements of each week’s episode. The recaps will spoil everything up through the current episode (S5E14 “Ozymandias”), but won’t spoil any future episodes or even scenes from the “Next Time” segment of the show. There will, however, be some light speculation and straight-up crackpot theories. No theory or speculation is based on foreknowledge of the show. So hold on to your pork pie hats, because here we go.
1. “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…” How perfect that this episode which dealt with so many endings started at the beginning? Sure, all our actors looked a little too old to be playing their Season 1 selves, (Aaron Paul‘s high forehead was a particular distraction), but the genius of having Walt bury his treasure at the site of his first cook paid off in spades. The pangs of watching both better days between Walt and Skyler/Walt and Jesse and the first troubling steps that took Walt from a man under pressure to a full-on explosion are almost too much to bear.
And then there is this amazing shot where first Walt, then Jesse (adorably clowning in the background) and then the RV dissolve like McFly siblings and Uncle Jack, Hank, etc. reappear in the same frame. It gave the action of the episode a sense of fate. Of inexorability. It always had to end like this.
2. “…near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies…” As many have noted, Walt’s cracked, broken face after he fails to save his brother not only recalls Fring mourning the loss of his partner Max (“Hermanos”), but also the above line from Shelley’s poem Ozymandias (the name of this episode). There’s a third layer here because, at least for me, Bryan Cranston‘s maw looked exactly like the traditional Greek tragedy mask. Once again making this story larger than just Albuquerque. More enduring than just five seasons.
And once again speaking to the theme of fate, we have Hank bravely facing his. We said last week that it would be a cop out for Schrader, Pinkman and White to make it out alive (we pretty much assumed Gomez was collateral damage). But knowing that didn’t rob Hank’s final moments of any of its tearful dignity and (I’ll say it again) tragedy. Brave and defiant and entirely himself until the last, ASAC Schrader went out the way he should have. Dean Norris absolutely nailed it.
3. “…whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command…” But this episode is all about the duality of Walt. Just when we’re feeling closest to him, just when the Heisenberg in him seems stripped away at last, he comes roaring back to life and sells out Jesse Pinkman. Walt seemed to place some of the blame for Hank’s death on Jesse which means he hasn’t fully accepted his own role in all this yet. And just when we think this episode is going to go for broke, just when Pinkman gazes up at two wheeling birds the way that Mike gazed out at that water (“Say My Name”), we get a last minute reprieve from f*cking Todd. (We’ll get to f*cking Todd a little later.) But before Pinkman is hauled off, Walt takes his final revenge. I thought he might spit in Jesse’s face but no, way worse. He talks about Jane. This is the confession I’ve been waiting for all season. This is the last bit of monstrosity Jesse needed to know about Walt which Cranston chose to growl out in full-Heisenberg mode. They couldn’t have picked a better moment for this reveal. Now Jesse’s eyes are entirely open and Walt’s confession complete. If, as I hope, the end of this series involves Walt seeking redemption by rescuing Jesse from the Nazis and if they are to have any kind of (brief?) reconciliation, Jesse needed to know about Jane. Aaron Paul’s broken, bearded face, everybody. Please give it a standing ovation.
4. “…look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair…” There was a lot of discussion last week as to whether or not Uncle Jack is a fitting Big Bad for Walt’s final season. I think he’s perfect. What better indignity, what more tragic end for Walt’s legacy than to lose it to a pack of undeserving two-bit criminals? That’s a good deal more tragic (again) than falling to a mighty foe. Walt lost everything most dear to him in this episode (his family, his home, his money) because he called this swastika’d storm upon himself. The GPS coordinates meant the Nazi’s didn’t even need Walt’s full cooperation to snatch his $80 million, just his desperate bargaining plea. Allegedly Uncle Jack spared Walt’s life as a favor to Todd. Not sure that was the wisest course but, then again, they’re undeserving two-bit criminals.