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‘Breaking Bad’ review of ‘Ozymandias’ (includes spoilers from Sunday night’s episode)
” ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ ”
Despair is what Walt (a k a Heisenberg, a k a Ozymandias) is left to wallow in after Sunday’s gut-wrenching episode that ended with a brilliant, emotionally painful twist.
Titled “Ozymandias,” the episode is named for a poem about the inevitable decline of leaders and the fleeting nature of power. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s early 19th century sonnet might as well be written about Walter White. It tells the story of a fictional king, a once powerful, fearsome man whose toppled statue now lies in the desert, alone. His empire, gone, surrounded by “lone and level sands” that stretch far away.
Walt has spent five seasons painstakingly building his empire — a task that fed his pride but also provided for his family. It all came crashing down in “Ozymandias.” Hank’s expected but nonetheless horrifying-to-watch assassination was like pulling a thread that unspooled the emperor’s clothes.
Hank took a single bullet to the head courtesy of Jack, despite Walt’s pleading to spare his brother-in-law. Walt even offered Jack all of his buried treasure — barrels full of $80 million — if Jack would spare Hank.
When Jack asks Hank if he should take Walt’s offer, Hank responds:
“My name is ASAC [assistant special agent in charge] Schrader and you can go f@#% yourself.” Turning his attention to Walt, Hank says, “You’re the smartest guy I ever met and you’re too stupid to see the man made up his mind 10 minutes ago.”
At least the guy who had some of the most intentionally toe-curling lines when the series started went out with some of zingers.
As brutal as it was for Walt to see Hank die, it wasn’t as painful as what Walt would encounter back home. His family, the people he ostensibly became a meth-making drug kingpin for, turned on him. Hard.
Walt pleaded with them to pack their bags and follow him.
“We can have a fresh start,” he said. “Whole new lives. All we have to do is go.”
Walt begged them to trust him, which, of course, is impossible. He’s spoon-fed them too many lies. (Nice touch starting the episode with a flashback to what might have been the first lie of all, when Walt called Skyler after a meth cook in the RV to tell her he had to work late at the car wash.)
Once Skyler realizes Hank is dead, she’s no longer on Team Walt. She grabs a knife in the kitchen, stands protectively in front of a freaked out Walt Jr. (who finally knows the truth about his dad), and orders Walt to get out.
Walt, who’s always claimed to hold family sacrosanct, is crushed to see they don’t feel the same way. Walt tries to get the knife away from Skyler and a brawl ensues.
Walt Jr., who’s never had to man up, does just that. He pulls his father off of his mother. He then whips out his phone and calls the cops on his dad. The life drains from Walt’s face as he realizes it’s come to this. He’s lost everything.
Everything except little Holly. He snatches his 18-month-old daughter and makes a run for it.
Walt’s in full-blown Heisenberg mode at this point, on the lam with his kidnapped daughter. But when Holly can only utter the word “Mama,” it shakes Walt back to reality. He knows he doesn’t really have Holly, either.
This leads to one of the best-constructed, most emotional scenes in the whole series.
Walt calls Skyler at home. He asks if the police are there. She says no. He becomes The One Who Knocks:
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he growls into the phone. “Why can’t you do one thing I say? This is your fault. This is what comes from your disrespect. I warned you for a solid year: you cross me, there will be consequences.”
Skyler listens to her husband berate her. Swear at her. Attempt to scare her.
“You were always whining and complaining about how I make my money, just dragging me down while I do everything after I told you and told you to keep your damn mouth shut. You stupid bitch.”
Skyler can hardly believe the person on the other end of the line is her husband. And then she realizes, it’s not.
Walt is giving her an out. It’s like he’s reading the lines off a domestic violence script. He knows damn well the cops are there, listening. He wants them — and his son — to believe that Skyler was coerced into being Walt’s accomplice. He’s the lone bad guy. She had no choice.
“I’m sorry,” Skyler says softly, like a wife used to obeying her threatening husband. (Watch Anna Gunn’s eye movements during this ridiculously tense scene. You can see the realization dawn on her that Walt is throwing himself under the bus for her and their kids.)
“I built this,” Walt says. “Me. Me alone. Nobody else.” In other words, cops: Leave Skyler out of it.
“You mark my words Skyler,” he adds. “Toe the line or you will wind up just like Hank.”
Another brilliantly nuanced performance by Bryan Cranston makes it clear that it’s killing Walt to have to do this, especially the part about acting as though he killed Hank. In taking on the role of abusive husband, Walt’s leaving his son with a horrific memory of his father — similar to the last image Walt had of his own dying dad.
But it was time for Walt to put his money where his mouth is, so to speak, and make a real sacrifice for the sake of his family’s future. And that’s what he did.
After dropping Holly off at the local fire station, this once mighty king is alone. His empire and everything he’d built, worthless.
** I was surprised that Walt was so eager to have Jesse killed. He even relished telling Jesse that he’d watched his girlfriend, Jane, choke to death on her own vomit. I guess it makes sense because Walt blames Hank’s death on Jesse. If Jesse hadn’t cooperated with Hank, Hank wouldn’t have come to what ended up being his grave in the middle of the desert.
** Jesse’s in a boatload of trouble, obviously. He’s chained to the ceiling of the meth lab and Todd wants him to teach him how to cook. I have a prediction as to how this is going to end up. Jesse is going to use science — yeah, science! — to blow the place up. And I think the trigger is going to be a cigarette lit by Todd. The question is, will Jesse go up in flames, too? It’s just a hunch, but it was telling that the opening scene had Jesse about to light up in the RV before Walt reamed him out. And a recent episode opened with Todd lighting a cigarette outside a diner. Could be a coincidence, but those are few and far between in this show.
** The all-seeing “eye” imagery cropped up again at the end of the episode. After Walt was picked up by Saul’s vacuum cleaner/disappearing act guy, they drove past a neighborhood watch sign emblazoned with an eye. It’s reminiscent of the pink teddy bear eye that was featured in several episodes, as well as the big eye on a T-shirt of someone in Saul’s waiting room earlier this season.
** Given the title of the episode, I kept waiting to spot something that resembled “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in the desert, just like the poem says. I didn’t see them but other eagle-eyed folks did. Turns out they were there, in the form of Walt’s lost pair of khakis. Walt rolled his barrel right past them.
Bryan Cranston reads the poem “Ozymandias” for a season five promo: