Breaking Bad 5.14 – “Ozymandias”

Vince Gilligan might be a man who avoids spoilers at all costs, but by naming this week’s episode “Ozymandias,” he tipped his hand at least a little bit…if, that is, you’re familiar with a certain poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I won’t waste your time or mine by quoting it – you’re free to read it here at your discretion – but suffice it to say that there was little question that we’d be seeing Walt’s downfall continuing in earnest.

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Rather than leaping right back into the fray where things left off last week, we’re instead treated to a flashback to Walt and Jesse’s first cook. If this were another show, you might call it a sentimental gesture, given that it ties in to the fact that the big battle is taking place in the very same location, but it’s actually a scene that’s designed to spotlight the precise moment when Walt first began lying to Skyler.

Oh, sure, it’s also nice to see Walt and Jesse during happier times, to get the back story on how “Holly” came into contention as a name for the White’s daughter, and to hear the name “Bogdan” uttered again. (It also reminded me just how long it’s been since I watched the first season of the show: I’d completely forgotten that, at the very beginning, Skyler was also selling stuff to bring in extra income.) But it’s the lie that really matters. If it hadn’t been for that lie, which set up a scenario that necessitated more lies, then Walt might still have a family.

Instead, he has nothing.

Well, you know, except for about 11 million dollars. But that’s hardly a substitute for a wife and kids, now, is it?

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Breaking Bad 5.13 – “To’hajiilee”

When Walt made assurances at the midway point of Season 5 that he was getting out of the meth manufacturing business, few were foolish enough to believe that he was truly finished, but when Lydia reappeared a few episodes ago to inform him that things weren’t going as well with the operation as he’d led her to believe they would, it still felt like an annoyance.

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To Walt, of course, it was an annoyance, the first of what would prove to be many ripples in his otherwise smooth return to a life of normalcy, but it was an annoyance to some viewers as well….or, at least, it was to me. For all his ghastly and increasingly morally bereft actions, I kind of wanted to see Walt get away with it, y’know? Of course, the moment Hank found “Leaves of Grass,” I knew that was never going to happen, but the decision to follow the goings-on of the meth operation during its post-Walt era…well, that just felt like salt in the wound.

Still, I knew it was a means to an end, so I just took a deep breath, accepted the updates on Lydia and Todd as a necessary evil, and waited for Vince Gilligan and company to make those moments worth my while, which is exactly what they did. I never would’ve guessed they’d lead us to where this week’s episode ended, but any annoyances I may have had in the past rapidly disappeared in a hail of bullets.

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Breaking Bad 5.11 – “Confessions”

As happy as I am that Vince Gilligan has been given the opportunity to take “Breaking Bad” to its conclusion on his own terms, allowing him to end it now rather than a season or two down the road, each new episode of this final batch continues to further cement just what a tremendous, gaping hole is going to be left in my television viewing habits when the series is gone for good.

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I’m not trying to paraphrase the immortal Stiff Records slogan here—there are plenty of series beyond “Breaking Bad” that most certainly are worth a fuck—but no other show on television has ever…and I mean ever…grabbed me the collar the way this one does, making me so profoundly love and so deeply loathe its characters, often shifting between the two extremes within the same scene.

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Breaking Bad 5.10 – “Buried”

(CAVEAT: Portions of this review originally appeared in the AntennaFree.TV piece, ‘Breaking Bad’ Critics’ Thread: Secrets are Unearthed in ‘Buried’, which also features reflections from Joel Keller, Mike Moody, and Mekeisha Madden Toby, all of whom are pretty damned fine writers in their own right.)

When this week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ kicked off, the only thing that was running through my mind was a comment I read somewhere last week: “Join us next time on ‘Breaking Bad’ when Walt breaks the uncomfortable silence and asks, ‘So, Hank, you, uh, gonna open the garage door?’” Before we reached that point, though, we had a quick pre-credits look at what happened in the wake of Jesse’s free-money spree. Last week, I wrote, “It’s only a matter of time before someone identifies the car and says, ‘Let’s see if he’s got any more,’” but that’s not exactly what happened, although someone did end up following the trail back to where it began.

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I was completely convinced we were going to follow the old man on his path of picking up packets of bills until he met up with someone else who was following the money trail from the other end, at which point things would go terribly wrong…but, no, the trail instead led straight to Jesse, literally going in circles on the playground merry-go-round. It’s a great overheard shot, and knowing this show, the whole going-in-circles thing is probably meant as a metaphor, since he’s clearly wracked with guilt and has no idea what the hell he’s supposed to do. We don’t actually see what happens after the old man stumbles upon him, but he clearly ends up in police custody at some point. (I’m just hoping the old guy ends up keeping a decent amount of cash for himself.)

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Breaking Bad 5.9 – “Blood Money”

“Breaking Bad” has always had a way with an opening shot, and the first image of the series’ final eight episodes is no exception, offering a slow, gradual pull-out from a bunch of skate rats to reveal that their choice of locate is the decidedly empty and apparently long-dormant White house. Moments later, when a heavily haired Walter White pulls up, it’s clarified that we’re back in the timeline established in the early moments of the first half of Season Five, when Walt purchased some serious firepower from his now-regular weapons guy (played by Jim Beaver). And, oh, what a dark timeline it must be, based not only on Walt’s haggard look, but on the graffiti he finds when he’s forced to break into his own house. If things are destined to reach a point where the world at large has not only identified him as Heisenberg but, indeed, has had his identify spray-painted across his living room wall…well, let’s just say these are going to be the longest eight episodes viewers have seen in a very long time.

Wandering through the wreckage that once was his house, Walt manages to confirm that, despite all the carnage surrounding him, one of his hiding places has remained secure: underneath the electrical outlet. I couldn’t quite see what he retrieved – was it the vial of ricin? – but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough…much as we’ll find out exactly what the hell happened to make his poor neighbor Carol react in such a horrified fashion to the mere sight of Walt. Clearly, it’s no fun living next door to Heisenberg.

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Post-credits, it’s back into Walt’s bedroom, except we’ve flashed back to where we were when we last left “Breaking Bad.” It’s impossible to get completely inside Hank’s head, but we come pretty damned close with the help of director…Bryan Cranston? True. The man’s come a long way behind the camera, clearly learning as much as possible from the folks who’ve helmed past episodes of the series, because he nails the panic, anxiety, and horror in Hank’s gradual realization of what his brother-in-law has been doing for the past five seasons.

As Hank and Marie drive away from the White house, Walt, Skyler, Junior, and Holly look like the perfect little family, don’t they? But then, the whole “appearances can be deceiving” has been Walt’s stock and trade since the beginning of his meth-making operation, and one could argue that the same premise applies to Hank as well. He started out as a loudmouth blowhard who seemed more like a former high school quarterback who kept his ego intact when he entered the work force, but we’ve seen several different sides of the guy now, and it’s never been more evident than it is in this episode that he’s a great goddamned detective. It’s hard to say that he’s applying Occam’s razor here, since the idea of Walt being the mastermind behind a major meth operation is the simplest explanation, but it’s a thing of both beauty and sadness to watch him work out everything that Walt’s been responsible for. It’s clear that he still doesn’t fully accept it ‘til the very end of the episode, but when that chilling exchange in the garage takes place…

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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