‘Breaking Bad’ Review: ‘Ozymandias’
The king of kings is brought to his knees in this week’s “Breaking Bad.”
It’s hard not to curl up in a corner in the fetal position after watching an episode as emotionally gut-wrenching as “Ozymandias.” This week’s episode was completely overloaded with extraordinarily heavy stuff. There’s so much to discuss here, so I think it’s just best to get right to it.
Before this week’s episode dropkicks us in the heart with the aftermath of last week’s jaw-dropping final moments, we begin with a real blast-from-the-past of a cold open. We flashback to Walt and Jesse cooking in the old RV (ah, simpler times). It was nice to see the teacher-student dynamic that these two shared in the first season again, and then seeing the contrast between then and now. This entire sequence is all about the “They’ve come a long, long way since then, haven’t they?” effect (especially in regards to Aaron Paul, who looks a lot different than he did six years ago).
In the RV, Walt treats Jesse like the idiot chemistry student that he remembers from his teaching days, before stepping out to make a phone call to Skyler. It’s almost adorable seeing him try to get his story straight in his head before ringing her up. This must have been the first big lie he told Skyler. Of course, not knowing any better, she immediately buys it. She then asks him what he thinks of the name Holly for the baby. Upon my first viewing of the episode, it just seemed like a nice little non-foreshadowing moment, but knowing what comes later, it is a nice little amber-colored warning flag the writers are waving right in front of our faces.
This whole opening was a welcome distraction from the horror show that we all knew was about to ensue. I especially liked Jesse goofing around in the background as Walt was on the phone. My favorite part of this scene, however, is the final wide shot, as Walt, then Jesse, and then the RV fades away into nothingness, and we leave behind this quaint little glimpse into yesteryear, and trade it for the darkness that is Walter White’s present.
The episode proper begins with a cacophony of gunfire over a very similar shot to the one the cold open ended on, as an empty desert landscape is slowly filled with the fading in images of the White Power Rangers (as I like to call them as of right now) and Hank’s SUV. After the bullets stop flying, we first see that all of Jack’s men are still standing. Then, we jump behind the SUV to see Hank, an empty gun in one hand while his other hand busily applies pressure to his leg, where he took yet another bullet (this guy just can’t get out of the way of those things). He glances to his left, and we see that he is much better off than his partner, Gomez, who lies motionless in the dirt. I was actually taken aback by how upsetting it was to see him lying there dead, even though in the week leading up this I told everybody who would listen that Gomez was surely done for (I’ll miss you, Gomie!).
Hank makes an attempt to crawl for Gomez’s shotgun, but Jack gets to it first. The child-murderer Todd announces that Jesse is nowhere in sight, so Jack sends a couple of his men to search for him. Kenny checks Gomez’s pockets and comes to the conclusion that Hank was telling them the truth about them being DEA. Jack wastes no time in cocking his gun and aiming it right for Hank’s dome, but Walt pops up in the back seat of the SUV just in time to stop him. Todd lets out Walt, who runs to Jack pleading for him not to kill Hank.
Walt tries to talk Jack down, revealing to him that Hank is family, even going as far as giving up the $80-million that he has buried nearby if they let Hank go. The stoic-as-always Hank, however, shows no fear as he looks Jack in the eyes and tells him to go do some inappropriate things to himself (making great use of the show’s one permitted f-bomb for the season). With tears streaming down his face, Walt tries to get Hank to agree that he will forget all of this ever happened, but Hank comes back at him with the heartbreaking final line, “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago.” With that he turns back to Jack and before Hank can get out one final taunt, Jack shoots him in the head.
If you would have told me back in the pilot episode that I would care as much as I do know about the character of Hank—who, in all fairness, came across like a douchey jock back then—I never would have believed it. Yet, over the years, Hank has evolved into a very well-rounded character, thanks in no small part to the wonderful acting of Dean Norris. As sad as I was to see him go, just like I was sad to see great characters like Gus and Mike go, I was relieved to see that he went out in style. Hank stayed true to himself right up to the bitter end. We salute you, Hank Schrader, and we’ll miss you, Dean Norris (Luckily, I still have an entire season of “Under the Dome” on the DVR, so I’m probably gonna have to get on that now to keep from completely losing it)!
With his brother-in-law dead, Walt completely breaks down, collapsing onto the ground in a hauntingly silent mess, before letting out a single sob. It comes as no surprise that Bryan Cranston delivers another brilliant performance here (man, they should just go ahead and hold the Emmy’s at his house this year). I would also like to take a moment to point out something here that I noticed upon my second viewing: Todd watches Walt whimpering on the ground for a moment, and then he turns away, whiping his nose (and it appears the corner of his eye) on his sleeve, in what almost looked like an attempt to keep from crying himself. Now, he doesn’t know Hank, but could it be that seeing Walt—someone he obviously looks up to—in so much pain almost caused the heartless, child-murdering robot to show a tiny glimpse of human emotion? Eh, probably not.
Jack, all business as usual, brings up the coordinates that Walt gave him over the phone. Now knowing that the money is nearby, he has his men set about digging it up. They unearth the first barrel in a matter of seconds, and the White Power Rangers briefly celebrate their findings (and why shouldn’t they? They could buy a whole lot of white linens with that cash), before they continue digging for the rest. After they load the barrels into Jack’s truck, drag Hank and Gomez’s bodies into the hole and fill it back up again, Jack tells them to pull one barrel off of the truck and put it in Walt’s car. Kenny, asking if Jack is serious, points out that a barrel has about 10 or 11 million dollars in it (thanks Kenny for keeping the viewers in mind). Jack insists, then tells Walt that he is leaving him a barrel, and has Todd un-cuff him. He tells Walt to get in his car and get out of there, no hard feelings (of course, why would there be?), but Walt’s gaze has not budged from his car.
As Jack is about to take off, Walt says the word, “Pinkman.” He says that Jack still owes him for the hit on Jesse. Jack says if Walt can find him, they will still take care of him. Then Walt utters, “Found him,” and the camera swoops in under Walt’s car to where Jesse has been hiding all along. Jack’s men drag Jesse kicking and screaming out from under the car, and set him on his knees in front of Walt. As Jack aims his gun at the back of Jesse’s head, it cuts to a shot of two birds flying through the air, and I knew for sure the next sound I’d hear would be the shot that finally ends Jesse Pinkman.
That is when something strange happens. Jack and Walt seem all for killing Jesse right then and there, but Todd, of all people, steps up and explains that Jesse can tell them every incriminating thing that he told Hank and Gomez about them. He suggests taking Jesse back to their place and making him talk, and then killing him. This sounds like a reasonable idea to everyone, so they start to take Jesse away, when Walt stops them. Walt looks Jesse in the eye, and tells him those four words that we’ve been waiting to hear him say for 4 seasons now (no, not “I love you, man”), “I watched Jane die.” He explains how he watched her overdose, and that he could have saved her, but he didn’t. Jack’s men then put Jesse in the car, and they drive away.
This was a pivotal moment for these two men. Aaron Paul was excellent in this moment, because instead of breaking down as expected, he simply looks at Walt in complete shock and horror. For Jesse, this moment solidifies his claim from two episodes ago that “Mr. White is the devil.” He just didn’t even know the half of it.
It is at this point, as I am skipping through those intrusive commercials, where I realize, “Holy crap! That was just the first act?!” After everything that went down out in that desert, we had a long way to go before this episode was over. With everyone else gone, Walt gets in his car, taking a brief moment to turn his rear-view mirror away so that he couldn’t see himself (I almost thought that he aimed it at the spot where Hank lies buried, but I guess that was too far away. It could have been where he died though), before driving away. Shortly down the road, he runs out of gas, due to a bullet hole in his gas tank. He then has no choice but to roll the barrel across the desert until he stumbles upon the home of a Native American man, whose truck he purchases with a large stack of hundreds.
At the car wash, Marie shows up unannounced (as always). She comes across pretty high and mighty, strolling in there armed with the knowledge that Hank has arrested Walt. Walt Jr. is left manning the register as Skyler follows Marie into the office. Marie tells her that Hank has Walt “dead to rights,” and that it is all over. Marie explains to her how some of her past behavior—such as getting the kids out of the house—makes her think that there may still be hope for Skyler. She explains that she will be there for her sister and the kids, and support them through the tough times ahead, on the condition that Skyler gets rid of every copy of the DVD they made incriminating Hank, and that they tell Walt Jr. everything (finally!).
Next, we join a badly beaten Jesse in a hole in the ground as Todd comes to retrieve him (told you he was a hole in the ground kinda guy. Hey, can I call ‘em or can I call ‘em?). Todd silently escorts him into the warehouse where he has been trying to perfect Heisenberg’s cooking methods, and chains him to a sliding device so that Jesse can move about freely in the lab. Todd steps away for a moment, leaving Jesse to notice a creepy photograph of Andrea and Brock pinned to the wall next to the lab equipment. Jesse gets the message loud and clear. Todd is going to force Jesse into helping him with his cooking skills. I knew that sicko saved Jesse’s skin for a reason.
Now, we jump back to the office at the car wash, where Walt Jr. has been brought up to speed on the previous five seasons worth of his father’s shenanigans. Of course, the sixteen-year-old kid is in denial. His world has just been destroyed. He says that he wants to speak to his dad or his uncle, but they explain that they are both unavailable at the moment, so he storms out. I thought the 21-year-old RJ Mitte did an excellent job in this scene (as well as the rest of the episode), portraying the anger and pain he feels about the things they are telling him. As I mentioned before, I’ve been looking forward to this scene for a while, and I always thought that Mitte was definitely capable of delivering in that capacity. He didn’t let me down.
In the car on the way home, Junior tells Skyler that if she really knew what was going on then she is as bad as Walt. She doesn’t take too much time to dwell on this, because when they arrive at the White house, they find a strange truck in the driveway and Walt throwing their packed suitcases in the back. Walt quickly ushers them inside and orders them to pack up everything of importance, but as usual, they aren’t budging until they know what is going on.
Skyler asks him what happened and where Hank is, and when Walt doesn’t give her a clear answer, she rightfully jumps to the conclusion that Hank is dead, but she wrongfully assumes that Walt did it. He briefly tries to convince them that he tried to save Hank, and then he goes back to trying to get them packed and out the door. As Junior follows his father down the hall, Skyler spots something in the kitchen. She slowly approaches the kitchen, in a brilliantly suspenseful shot focusing on the telephone lying on the counter next to the set of kitchen knives (Ooh, which will she grab?!)
Surprisingly, she grabbed a knife, and putting herself in front of Junior, she steps toward Walt, telling him to get out. He tries to talk her down, but when he comes too close she swings the knife, cutting into his hand. A scuffle ensues as he tries to wrestle the knife out of her hands, and they go collapsing to the floor. This part had me on edge the entire time. One slip up and someone could easily be killed. At one point, they are on the ground with the knife sticking straight up into the air as Junior was approaching them, and I envisioned him falling onto the knife. Man, this was a tough scene to get through.
Finally, Walt manages to gain the upper hand, getting the knife and pinning her to the floor by her throat, before his son tackles him off of her. Junior now puts himself between his parents, as Walt gets up crying, “What the hell is wrong with you?! We’re a family!” Walt Jr. then pulls out his phone and calls the police. He tells them that his father grabbed a knife and tried to attack his mother. Walt looks on helplessly as, this time, his real son is the one to turn to the police. With no other option, he turns to flee, but I was completely taken by surprise when he bent down to scoop up baby Holly and her things before taking off out the door.
When Skyler realizes that he took the baby, she runs screaming after him, but he backs out the driveway, pushing her car out of the way, and speeds off, leaving his wife in shock in the middle of the road. I quickly came to the realization that perhaps in his mind, Walt has given up on his wife and son, but it’s not too late to save his relationship with his daughter, who is not old enough to know that she should hate him.
Later, in a bathroom somewhere, Walt is changing Holly. He holds her up and looks at her, the only family he has left. Then she says what I assume is her first word: “Mama.” You can see the heartbreak visible on his face at this, as he holds her in his arms. If he really was meaning to take her with him all along, then this was the moment when he decided against it.
Back at the White’s residence, an amber alert has been reported for the abduction of Holly White. The house is filled with cops as Skyler, Marie and Walt Jr. sit in stunned silence. Then, the phone rings, and when the answering machine picks up, it’s Walt’s voice they hear. They get ready to trace the call and Skyler answers it. He asks if there are any police and she says no. Walt then begins to berate her for her stupidity in not doing everything he says, and for telling his son what he does.
The speech he gives her seemed a little off for me, but it was when he calls her a “stupid bitch,“ that my spidey-sense began tingling (although I’m sure Skyler haters loved that). This guy is smart enough to realize that the police are definitely listening in. He was just playing the villain for their benefit so that they won’t think that Skyler was involved in his crimes. He even flat out says that she knows nothing about what he’s built. For added effect, he then warns her to “toe the line” or she will end up just like Hank. She asks where Hank is, and he tells her they are never going to see Hank again. Walt is visibly affected by the things he is says, but it’s when he confirms their suspicions of Hank’s death that the waterworks really begin. Tears are streaming and his glasses are fogging up as he tells her that he’s “still got things to do.”
Still crying, he opens the truck door and reaches inside. In a wide shot, we see that he is parked in front of a fire station. Inside the fire station, the firefighters notice that the lights are flashing on one of the fire trucks. One of them goes to check things out, and when he reaches inside to turn the lights off, he sees baby Holly sitting in her car seat inside. So, Walt didn’t take her with him, wherever he’s going.
Speaking of, next we see Walt, sitting with his luggage in an all-too-familiar location: the pickup spot of the vacuum repair man that can also make a person disappear. The same red van—the one that Jesse didn’t get into—pulls up, and Walt gets inside. That excellent final shot, of Walt’s reflection in the side view mirror as the van pulls away, was just the cherry on top of a truly tremendous episode. It might be too early to say, but this episode may very well be my favorite episode of the entire series. Other episodes have had amazing moments, but this episode was amazing from end to end. Then again, there are still two more left.
“Ozymandias” is the third episode directed by Rian Johnson, the filmmaker who brought us “Looper” and “Brick.” As much as I love his films, it was not clear to me before now just what an amazing visual storyteller he is. There were so many moments that where he took us by the hand and guided us through the action. With his composition of shots, he lead us, like when Skyler grabs for the knife, and he mislead us, like how they cut away to the birds in the sky when Jack was about to execute Jesse.
There is not a single weak performance in the entire episode. Bryan Cranston had more incredibly emotional and intense scenes in this episode than he has had all season long, and he just destroyed every one. Special shout-outs go to Dean Norris, who delivered a terrific farewell performance, Anna Gunn, who rained tears almost the entirety of the episode and I believed every one of them, and RJ Mitte, who finally got to show off some real acting chops. As usual, the story was top notch, and the writing was perfection, thanks to Moira Walley-Beckett, who has written some amazing episodes such as the last mid-season finale “Gliding Over All,” and “End Times,” in which Brock is poisoned.
Everyone brought their A-Game this week, and as hard as I tried to find something to be negative about in this episode, even after multiple viewings, I just couldn’t. I had to give “Ozymandias” a perfect score. This is the closest thing to an hour of perfect television that I can ever recall seeing. I don’t know if the BB team can top this one, but I can’t wait to see them try.
My predictions for next week:
- After the announcement that the “Better Call Saul” spin-off will be a prequel, I’m betting that Saul is the next to die.
- After Walt’s confession about Jane’s death, I think if Jesse ever gets away from Todd, he may just go after someone that Walt loves. If this happens, I have a bad feeling that Walt Jr. may be his target. Then this could be one of the reasons that Walt returns with such a large gun, for the people responsible for killing his family: Jesse and Jack’s crew.