Tuesday, 4 October 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.12 - "End Times"

Tuesday, 4 October 2011
written by Tom Schnauz & Moira Walley-Beckett / directed by Vince Gilligan

Has this been the greatest run of episodes in television history? It has to be amongst the best, surely. "End Times" was marginally inferior to the past few hours, but only because it involved developments that didn't feel as plausible as I'd have liked, meaning the story wasn't wholly convincing in places, but these are ultimately minor complaints. This was largely another magnificent hour of jaw-dropping drama, including one particularly brilliant tense between Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) that's just one of many Emmy-worthy moments this year.

After last week's incredible "Crawl Space", this episode was all about the fight back against Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). Skyler (Anna Gunn), Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and baby Holly were taken into protective custody at the behest of Marie (Betsy Brandt), following the anonymous tipoff that the Mexican cartel are planning another hit on Hank (Dean Norris), but Walt's made an excuse so he can draw Gus's attention away from his family and hide in his condo with the curtains drawn and his snub-nosed pistol to hand. Facing up to the consequences of his sins. Meanwhile, Jesse had to deal with the inexplicable sickness that's put his girlfriend's son Brock into hospital, before he came to realize the poor boy must have been poisoned using the ricin he's been keeping in his cigarette packet to kill Gus with. A poisoning that, in Jesse's mind, could only have been carried out by the only other man who knew of its existence: Walter White. And Hank insisted that Gomez investigate the industrial laundry he's convinced is hiding a meth Superlab, convinced that his death threat is just a warning because he's getting close to exposing fast-food magnate Gus Fring as a druglord.

This episode's simplicity was very effective. There were three big situations being covered, and they were all clear, concise and absorbing to watch. Gomez's impromptu search of the Superlab was very tense, especially once a sniffer dog was introduced into the equation, as Jesse and Tyrus (Ray Campbell) waited underground for the coast to clear. Luckily, the expensive Superlab's well hidden and any trace of drugs are undetectable thanks to its filtration systems and the hazmat suits that are strictly worn. It'll be interesting to see if Gomez's search satisfies Hank that the laundry's clean, but as he rifled through photos taken at the scene he didn't look totally convinced.

But the best moment was unquestionably Jesse's meltdown over evidence that Walt poisoned Brock as a way to get back at him, as he arrived at Walt's condo and pulled a gun on him. It's of course unthinkable the show would kill Walt (especially with another 16 episodes confirmed for the future), but the writing and performances sold the possibility in the moment. Cranston and Paul get so many moments to stretch themselves as actors on this show, and this was one of the best interactions the characters have ever shared: Jesse, out for revenge, convinced his former-partner stooped so low as to kill a child; and Walt doing his damnedest to make Jesse see sense and remind him what kind of person he is. Gus is the man with a history of killing children, while Walt's the man with two children he values above all else. The ricin plot was simply uncovered by Gus (probably thanks to his security cameras) and Tyrus had the opportunity to steal and use the poison on Brock, as a means to push Jesse into murdering the only person preventing him becoming Gus's obedient meth-cook.

If I'm honest, I don't really believe it was possible for Gus to have known Jesse was in possession of ricin, but it's one of those convenience of plotting that's easy to accept because of the amazing results it achieves. At least this season's return of Andrea (Emily Rios) and Brock now seems worthwhile, and it was certainly a devilishly clever idea to have Jesse eliminate Gus's troublesome loose-end. I've heard it theorized that Saul (Bob Odenkirk) may have been the one who stole the ricin (when his henchman Huell searched Jesse), and killed Brock to instigate a war between Walt and Gus—which he hopes his client Walt will win. I'm not sure I buy that as a better explanation, mainly because Saul doesn't strike me as a child-killer, but it's a fun theory to chew on.

It was also great to see Walt and Jesse reunited after their shocking fight scene awhile ago, once Jesse had come to his senses and realized Mr White's not callous enough to kill an innocent boy. And then Walt became more proactive in his dealing with Gus by creating a pipe-bomb he can remote-detonate once Gus gets inside his car after visiting Jesse at the hospital. One thing I always enjoyed about season 1 was how Walt used his intellect and chemical wizardry to aide his criminality, and this was a nice return to the show's MacGyver-esque past. Seeing Walt perched on a building's rooftop with binoculars, watching for Gus to step into his car so he can trigger an explosion, was a wonderful scene. We had to swallow the idea that Gus suddenly felt apprehension about getting into his car, with no clear reason for his unease, but in some ways this gave the moment an even creepier edge. Gus is almost superhuman after so many years of caution and forward-planning, with a preternatural ability to sense situations that present an easy opportunity for someone to assassinate him. The adage "better safe than sorry" is hardwired into him. Of course, a car-bombing would have been a disappointingly impersonal way for Gus to die, especially before the actual finale, but it also suggests that Walt will be successful next time... and season 5 may indeed focus on Walt in charge of the Superlab the DEA have been unable to find.

It's another sublime episode, then. I'm aware there are people who still have issues with how season 4's panned out, but I just don't agree, although I can understand people being slightly frustrated a large chunk of the year hasn't really focused on Walt. But this recent batch of episodes has been so strong, so shocking, and so spellbinding that I can't really pick fault at anything with much conviction. It's been wonderful and the quality's so high that everything else on television looks comparatively frivolous. A shame most other US shows don't have Breaking Bad's bravery when it comes to telling stories in a way that isn't afraid to scorch some earth and throw things into chaos, to keep things fresh and unpredictable. Roll on next week's finale!


  • It's made clear in a speech by Walt that these four seasons represent only a year of actual time. I knew it hadn't been very long since we first met Walt driving an RV in his underpants, but wow. This is a bad year! I wonder if the show's last every episode will bookmark the pilot by having Walt blow out the candles on his 51st birthday cake, now a very different person?
  • Is Ted Beneke dead?
2 October 2011 / AMC