|Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte) in Breaking Bad 5.14: "Ozymandias."|
Ever since I calmed down Sunday night, I have been trying to remember if I have ever seen an hour of fictional television as gut-wrenching, emotionally exhausting, insanely powerful, and perfect as "Ozymandias," and I can honestly say that I don't think I have - ever. And my TV watching history goes way, way back. I can't really say that the previous five episodes have been slow, and Breaking Bad is rightly known for breakneck pacing towards the end of a season, but there has never been anything quite like "Ozymandias."
The opening shot of the cold open is an extreme close up of a flask of water just coming to a boil, a pretty direct metaphor for what's coming. Yet Gilligan & Co. don't immediately take us back to the howling gunfight that ended "To'hajiilee." Instead, we are transported back to the Pilot episode, only about a year and a half ago in show-time (remember, Walt turned 50 in the pilot, and at the time of the shootout last episode he was still just 51)! And see how much Walt has changed, see how much he has lost. I can't even remember the last time Walt and Skyler exchanged "I love yous." In that simple phone conversation, we see love, trust, and even Joy at the prospect of a future with Holly in it. Walt has a loving wife, a son who adores him, and you know what, times are tight, but the White family is getting by. It's a really, really good life, but Walt has already started down the road to its destruction. After all, he had to get his lie straight before he called.
Fade out on the RV and the boy who was Jesse, and fade in on the fading sounds of automatic weapons.
"My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself."
For the past five episodes, Walt has been vainly struggling to find the right combination of words, the right way to say them, that will make everyone see things his way, that will explain everything - everything - to every one's satisfaction, and they'll all say, "well, when you look at it that way, yeah, it makes sense. Thanks, Walt." But there is no such magical conjugation.
"You're the smartest guy I ever met, and you're too stupid to see... he made up his mind ten minutes ago."
Hank is dead. And in an act of supremely petty revenge, Walt condemns Jesse to slavery, though, to be fair, he thinks he's just having him killed - after telling him about watching Jane die. Throughout the series, many fans have continued to root for Walt in one way or another, and to justify his actions. But as Walt himself reminds us, he became irredeemable in season 2's "Phoenix," when he sat by and let a beautiful, troubled young girl choke to death on her own vomit, while knowing exactly how to save her, just so things would go the way he wanted them too. Jesse is right, he has become the Devil, and never in the history of television has any character so well earned his eternal damnation.
Yet, there was a before, and we see that in a terrifying final showdown between Walt and Skyler. Because Junior, despite his cerebral palsy, despite being almost certainly weaker and less capable in a fight than his father, leaps onto Walt's back, pulls him off Skyler, and interposes his own body between his knife-welding, enraged father and his mother in the most heart-breakingly noble and radiantly good act in the entire series. Flynn (he's better than the name Walt) is the quintessential good son, a fact that Walt has unhesitatingly and repeatedly used again and again to his own advantage, but in "Ozymandias," he reveals that he is the bravest of them all, and what is more, a good man. In that moment, I loved Flynn more than I have ever loved a TV character, and if you want a bright spot in this mess, that's it. And RJ Mitte pulls it off beautifully, bringing some incredible acting chops to the table. This young man has just had his entire world blown to pieces, his surrogate father has been killed, his biological father has become a deadly danger to his mother and to himself, and the guy steps the fuck up. I'll say one thing for Walter White: he raised a good son. Too bad he's not even a tenth of one percent the man that Flynn is.
But wait, what about how Walt saved Skyler by knowingly confessing and taking all the blame for his actions by spewing hate while knowing the cops were likely recording? And he gave Holly back! Yeah, Walter White's a real prince. Too little too late, and there was as much truth in Walt's ravings as there was self-immolation. Sure he'll confess, so long as he thinks he can get away with it all. There is a part of me that wants the last scene of the series to be Walt dropping his empty M60, having killed everyone, last man standing, only to turn around and have Marie blow his head off. That, or be slowly disemboweled by ravens while remaining conscious the whole time. In any event, Walt has to die. He doesn't get to live.
So Jesse's now slave labor (something Nazis have historically been known for, after all), one of the disappeared (who's gonna come looking for him? Well, maybe Andrea - yikes!!), Walt's in the wind, and I predict that the last two episodes are mostly the tale of Walt52. I even have a sneaking suspicion that the ricin he retrieved in "Blood Money" is for him. After all, it'll take 48 hours to kick in, and I really believe that Walt52 is on a death ride.
I know, I know, this is a much more emotional, fan-boy perspective than I usually offer here, but I just can't get the distance I need from "Ozymandias" to be as detached as I'd like. Remember, Readers Mine, Wanna Cook will provide a critical perspective on the show, but it's also been written by two very hardcore fans, and we are not immune to the spell cast by the finest TV show in history. Two episodes left, and between you and me, I may need a sedative before it's all over!
That's it for this week. I'll see you next Monday, and don't forget to head over to Dale's blog for Walter White Wednesday tomorrow (she's better at keeping a schedule than I am!). And do yourself a favor and go ahead and pre-order your copy of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Guide to Breaking Bad at Amazon or Powell's Books. You're not gonna want to miss it!