10 Things We Learned From 'Breaking Bad' S5E14 "Ozymandias"

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5. "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far awa-OH HEY WALT'S PANTS FROM THE PILOT! And then we get Walt journey through a hellscape. In Dante's vision of hell, the Fourth Circle is reserved for the Hoarders and the Spendthrifts. The two sides are locked in an eternal struggle pushing a "boulder-like weight" that represents their wealth back and forth.  It's like Sisyphus, only worse. But there are a few lighter elements to Walt's Baggage Of the Damned. If you remember in the episode "Seven Thirty-Seven," Hank and Gomez watch surveillance footage of Walt and Jesse's hapless attempt to boost Methylamine.  Hanks calls out, "Hey, try rolling it morons! It's a barrel! It ROLLS!" Also, look, we found Walt's lost pants from the pilot (teased beautifully in the opening flashback). I needed that chuckle.

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6.  Sky vs. Sky: And this is where I bow down and kiss the feet of our illustrious director, Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper). Johnson has directed two of my favorite episodes ("Fly" and "Fifty-One") and brings to "Ozymandias" all of the beautiful touches we've come to expect from him. A Johnson episode tends to be a little bit heavier on the symbolism so we get that lovely shot above of the two sister, one light, one dark divided by that splash of purple (Marie's signature color).  Instead of gloating or twisting the knife, Marie tries her best to reach out and protect her sister.  Shouldn't she be the one in white, then? Well she's already in mourning. Has been for the past few episodes. We also get gorgeous visual callbacks like the three times we visit the cordless phone and the knife block in the White household.

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And, as he's wont to do in his films, the director snuck in one of the Johnson Regulars, Noah Segan (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looperto cameo as the firefighter who finds Holly.

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Johnson is one of those rare directors who never lets his flair for the visual overwhelm his ability to tell a compelling and emotional story.  I think you'll agree that none of the camera trickery got in the way of the visceral nature of this episode.

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7.  Just A Rat In A Cage  First things first, who has a sunken concrete torture cage ready and waiting? Meth-cookin' Nazis, that's who. When we were back out in To'hajiilee, Todd saved Jesse's life by telling Uncle Jack he could get the information out of Pinkman. That they had "history." So I suppose we can blame Todd's jackboots for Pinkman's pulped face. (Left side, like a pink bear or a dying Fring.) But we can also thank Todd's crush on Lydia for Pinkman's temporary reprieve. The Nazis certainly don't need the Czech money, but Todd, ever the over-acheiver, wants Lydia to be happy. And for Lydia to be happy, the purity percentage has to go up. Enter Pinkman.  But if we're tossing around blame, then it's Walt, once again, who's to blame for putting Brock in peril. He's the one who let the Nazis know about Pinkman's Achilles heel. So Pinkman is stuck, now, in a hell dimension of sorts. Bound and forced to cook until Walt shows up to rescue him with an M60?

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8.  The Mighty Flynn Just two episodes ago I was begging for a badass moment from Walt Jr.  Truth be told, I wasn't a fan of RJ Mitte's performance when he discovered the news, or in the car with Skyler or even when he heard about Hank's death. (In fact, I think he was easily out-acted by Baby Holly.) "It's not true, it can't be true." But in the heat of the moment? When he threw down his crutches and jumped his dad? When he called the police on his father? His hero? I was Team Flynn.  The shot above, a domestic violence pose we've seen in countless films and TV shows, hammers home just how far The Whites have fallen. Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.

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9.  Where's Hank? Where's the boy? Oh, Anna Gunn.  Who absolutely slaughtered her scenes in this episode? Anna Gunn. Sure, she was given two bits of dialogue that made my TV-junkie senses tingle. Her "Where's Hank?" recalled The Wire's "Where's Wallace" and her screams of "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalt" during the loss of a child was 100% Lost.  But Anna Gunn made this whole thing entirely her own. (With a tip of the hat to Betsy Brandt's own tragedy mask at finding she'd lost Hank.) I don't understand you Skyler White haters, I never have. But I especially don't understand anyone who wasn't on Skyler's side as she brandished that knife.

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10. The Three Redemptive Acts Of Walter White I've been struggling all season about how I'm supposed to feel about Walter White. I came out of last year hating him and calling him a monster. But Vince Gilligan and company are telling a more nuanced story than that. And so all season long they've been chipping away at that notion of mine. Walt's still reprehensible.  He's still Heisenberg. But last week we had Walt choosing his brother over his own freedom. And this week we got three redemptive acts as Walt gave up his most important possessions. 1) He gave up his money to try to save Hank. 2) He gave up Holly, the one member of his family who hadn't turned on him. 3) By confessing on the phone and using language that exonerated Skyler, he gave up his ability to go home again. Legacy, family, home. All gone.

Let's talk about that phone call for a second. First of all, Skyler Haters, this one was for you. Not in a "cheer along with Walt" sort of way, no. But I think violent language in this call was meant to hold up a mirror to your viler commentary about Skyler's character. "What the hell is wrong with you. Why can't you do one thing you say? This is your fault, this is what comes from your disrespect...you stupid b*tch." If you found yourself agreeing with Walt? I can't help you.  There's no saving you.

Secondly, how amazing was Bryan Cranston?  We've seen him use that Heisenberg snarl before. (Earlier in this episode in fact.) But we've never seen him do it with tears dripping down his face. Recalling his confession from the pilot, Walt puts on this performance to save his family. But in doing so, he scorches the earth and we see, on Cranston's face, all the facets of Walt.  He was talking out of both sides of his mask, and it was incredible.

Crackpot Theories Of The Week:  As we know, Breaking Bad loves foreshadowing deaths. The handwriting was on the wall for Hank all season. ("Marie, you've killed me"; Marie black wardrobe.)

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We've also seen some indications that Pinkman will die. (And I was certain Skyler was going to fall on that knife.) So what does the image below mean for Walt's future? Does he take a bullet to the brain? At this point, would you want him to?

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Musical Moment Of The Week The following lyrics accompanied Walt as he rolled his $10/$11 million through the desert: "Had a job a year ago, had a little home. Now I've got no place to go, guess I'll have to roam."

In Memoriam Agent Steve Gomez, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Hank Schrader, The Case Against Skyler White, Walt Jr's Hero Worship, Marie Schrader's Tenuous Grip On Her Sanity, The Left Side Of Jesse Pinkman's Face and Walt's Pants. Despair, indeed.

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