Tuesday, 17 September 2013

BREAKING BAD, 5.14 – 'Ozymandias'

Tuesday, 17 September 2013
"My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go fuck yourself" – Hank Schrader
written by Moira Walley-Beckett | directed by Rian Johnson

The title refers to the Shelley poem of the the same name, about a proud king's crumbling legacy, so it was fitting that "Ozymandias" marked the moment Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) self-made empire came crashing down all around him; leaving death, disillusionment, and despair in its wake. After last week's thrilling climax, it was inevitable this hour would contain a devastating aftermath, but writer Moira Walley-Beckett really blew the whole show wide open, leaving a gaping wound bleeding everywhere. If you're still sympathetic towards Walt, you need your head examining.

Many people predicted that Hank (Dean Norris) would meet his maker in this hour, as it was difficult to imagine how he'd escape from Uncle Jack's (Michael Bowen) team given he was outnumbered and outgunned. I guess there was still the possibility of Walt stepping in to plead for his brother-in-law's life, which is exactly what happened, but in retrospect there was little reason for Jack to keep Hank alive. Admittedly it didn't help that Walt's specificity with the coordinates led to him having to reveal there was $80m in cash buried nearby, which Jack's cronies duly stole—although Todd's (Jesse Plemons) respect for Mr White allowed him the consolation prize of a single barrel containing $11m. It was small comfort, having watched his stubborn brother-in-law get shot, but while it was easy to sympathise with Walt's loss because his regard for family's been paramount... that quickly evaporated.
"I watched Jane die. I was there. And I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her. But I didn't." -- Walt
More than any other episode, "Ozymandias" is where Walter White stopped being an anti-hero for people to quietly enjoy watching. He crossed several lines in this episode, and it all got extremely ugly. The first sign that his selfish, ruthless Heisenberg persona was in full-control was when he called out Jesse's (Aaron Paul) hiding place and actually gave the nod for Jack to put a bullet in his head right in front of him. Seeing as the episode opened on a flashback to Walt and Jesse in their more "carefree" days, cooking meth together out in the desert, it brought home exactly how far their friendship has strayed. There's nothing between them now but memories. The sickening moment when Walt actually made a point of mentioning that he'd let Jesse's ex-girlfriend Jane die of an overdose was truly callous (while also managing to tie-up a particularly resilient loose end from three seasons ago). I know some people were imagining a scenario where Walt and Jesse reteam, but it's hard to see how that could possibly happen now. Walt is now deserving of the description Jesse gave him: the Devil.

Oh, poor Jesse. While spared a quick death, he might one day come to regret surviving the gunfight at To'hajiilee. Acting on Todd's advice, Jack's taken him back to their meth-lab to teach Todd how to cook to a higher standard to satisfy Lydia. His face swollen and cut, chained to a ceiling rail, and with Andrea and Brock's lives at risk if he refuses, things couldn't get much worse. I suspect that once Todd's able to cook to Jesse's standard, his usefulness will have run out and Jack's bullet will finally get its intended target.
"I need the police. My dad -- he pulled a knife on my mom. He attacked her. He's dangerous. I think he might have killed somebody." -- Walt Jr
This was also the episode where big secrets were exposed to the wider world. Marie (Betsy Brandt) offered her sister Skyler (Anna Gunn) an olive branch, believing Hank's arrested Walt, forcing them to tell Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) about what's been going on all these months. The ensuing scene was probably as good as you're going to get, considering Mitte isn't the greatest actor in the world, but I really did love the sequence where he defended his enraged mother from his father during their knife fight at the house. When you stop to imagine things purely from Walt Jr's perspective, this was the bad day to end all bad days: discovering your loving father's a drug lord, your mother's been lying to you for months, and your uncle's been murdered as a direct result of all this insanity. It's a real brain scrambler, so kudos to Walt Jr for coming across so strong when it mattered.

Things ended with a series of big upsets, just to push audiences over the edge. Skyler finally having enough of Walt's lies and refusing to go on the run with him; Walt realising his family have lost all respect and loyalty, before kidnapping baby Holly out of spite; and Skyler calling the cops to clear up this whole sorry mess. The phone conversation between Walt and Skyler was absolutely phenomenal, too: Skyler trying to keep her emotions in check because the call was being traced by the police; Walt trying to disguise his tears as he spat nothing but hate down the phone, almost trying to pin the blame on her for how things have played out. Incredible, Emmy-winning performances. Of course, as we've long assumed from the flash-forwards this half-season, Walt has managed to flee with his cash (after coming to his senses about Holly and leaving her with some fire-fighters) and has taken a new identity thanks to Saul's contact.

But do we believe Walt was being serious on the phone, or was he still protecting his family by exonerating Skyler using carefully-chosen words that only incriminate him, knowing the cops were recording and tracing the call?
"I told you Skyler. I warned you for a solid year: you cross me, and there will be consequences." -- Walt
Where do we go from here in the final two episodes? Skyler, Marie, Walt Jr and Holly will have to come to terms with Walt's disappearance and Hank's death, but how does the White residence come to be a ruin? Will they simply move out and, once news of Walt's crimes become public knowledge, the place gets vandalized over the coming year? I'm guessing so. But why will Walt choose to return to Albuquerque a year later, and who is the ricin for now we can cross Hank off the list? It does seem more likely the machine gun's been purchased to take out Uncle Jack's pals and perhaps retrieve the rest of his money. But what about Jesse? Is Walt back in town to rescue him as part of whatever mission he's on, having realised a few things about Jesse Pinkman in the meantime? Is the final episode going to be one of redemption for Walter White, leaving us with a marginally happy ending? Or is Jesse going to end his days imprisoned in that warehouse meth-lab, teaching Todd and signing his own death warrant in the process?

"Ozymandias" was such a cruel, mean, harrowing episode that I'm hoping for a few rays of sunshine come the finale. Maybe that just isn't the Breaking Bad way, but there's a part of me that sees this episode as rock bottom for Walter White's morals and prospects... so the final two hours could represent something of a restoration of his blackened soul. It's too little too late and he'll never be forgiven in the eyes of his family, but maybe the writers can't refuse ending the show with a tinge of salvation for their lead character? Maybe?

  • Great final shot of a lone wolf crossing the road, which is exactly what Walt has become now he's left town with a new identity.
  • This was the third episode to be directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper) and was easily the most elaborate hour he's worked on.
  • "I've still got things left to do" Walt tells Skyler by phone. What could he mean? Is it possible he plans to undo Madrigal's drug operation as penance?
  • A friend of mine mentioned that Walt's face, lying sideways on the ground after Hank was shot dead, was a clever echo of a similar expression and camera angle when Gus Fring watched his friend (lover?) Max get killed in the "Hermanos" flashback. Does this also suggest that Walt, like his predecessor, will get revenge on those responsible? The flash-forward suggests so...
  • The opening flashback to the earlier incarnations of Ned Flanders-y Walt and laidback Jesse were great, although it was unexpectedly obvious the actors have aged over five years. Cranston's a little crinklier, while Paul's put on a little facial weight around the jawline. I also loved how those characters "vanished" like ghosts.
  • Give the child actor playing Holly an Oscar! She was great in this episode; or whoever managed to make her say "mama" so many times on cue deserves a pay rise. So cute.
  • RIP Gomez and Hank, the DEA's finest.
AMC | 15 September 2013
"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"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.'