If you don’t know who I am…
It’s both incredible and somewhat sad to be discussing the final episodes of Breaking Bad. What a twisty turn it’s been!
There’s so much in this episode, so I’ll focus on a few comments and questions.
I think the psychological dimensions of the show — always present in Breaking Bad — reached a (literal) crescendo with this episode. The depiction of Hank’s realization of ‘who’ Walt is was incredible, as was the final showdown between them (Hank’s closing the garage door, Walt’s last words, etc.). What all of it got me to thinking is something like the following: with this episode, ‘storytelling’ is being raised thematically. I want to say that we as the viewer are involved in questioning as much as Walt: who is the protagonist? How (do?) we sympathize with Walt? What do we make of Walt’s argument to Hank? Would we too be willing to give up utility over justice, whether in our estimation of Walt or beyond? In this way, I think we are forced to think about our involvement with the show: why have we been so gripped by Walt’s descent and these characters? I take the Star Trek analogy to hammer this point home: we love stories. The more fantastic, and the more bloody, the better…and with a good story, we are all Skinny Pete! It’s a striking and sophisticated way to begin these final episodes.
What’s going on with Walt’s house in the future? At first, I thought we were being shown the effects of Walt’s drug revolution…but then it seems as if it is literally just Walt’s house.
Finally, I just have to say, that as amazing as the scene between Walt and Hank was, the one between Jesse and Walt was just as good, and extremely clever and poignant writing. Walt says: “You have to believe me.” Immediately after, he says, “It’s not true.” Although he is referring to the fact that it is allegedly ‘not true that he killed Mike,’ we can read the statement perfectly and plainly as well. I think the pieces of this season are all falling into place and they’re expertly arranged: the psychological dimensions are omnipresent and ratcheted to new heights. The family is going to face pressure from both inside and outside, and the scope and fact of Walt’s legacy hangs by a thin thread…and everyone’s got a piece of it.
I can’t wait.
I am right there with you, Martin – this was as good as I could have hoped for in a beginning to the end. There was so much tension hanging on how Hank would respond to his new knowledge and they easily could have stretched that on for an episode or two. But no: we covered so much in less than one hour! In the expected cold opening we are back where we were at the start of the first half of this season last summer: an unspecified amount of time has passed (less than a year for sure, but less than the six months Walt claimed he had to live? Anyone do the math?) and Walt is on the lam. Last we saw him coughing over his bacon at an out-of-state Denny’s, buying automatic weapons in the men’s room. Now he is possession of those weapons, breaking into his abandoned home to find the ricin he left hidden behind an electrical outlet. It would make a perfect kind of sense if this is Walt’s personal guarantee that he won’t see the inside of a prison, and there is something bold and fitting about him poisoning himself alone and on the run. But surely, since they showed us the poison so early on, there is something else up Gilligan and Co.’s sleeve, right?
Like you, Martin, my favorite parts of the episode were the encounters between Hank and Walt and Walt and Jesse. I loved both because they showcase Walt’s most spectacular gift: the ability to lie and manipulate. That man will say anything to get what he wants, or what he thinks he needs. With Jesse he goes straight for the paternal comfort that has worked before. In less tested territory with Hank, he tries every register from sympathy to practicality to fear. And both Hank and Jesse seemed cowed by Walt and you can almost feel Walt’s chest puff with pride at still being able to call the shots. But as Walt should have learned by now, people are not chemistry equations, and buried in the fear and loathing both Hank and Jesse feel for Walt is the possibility to upset Walt’s calculations. The cut away look on Jesse’s face was meant to remind us that while he might play lip services to Walt’s fantasy of control, he is not drinking the Kool Aid. If Walt is finally brought low (and really, whatever might be the end, he is going to be brought low), underestimating the ability of people like Hank and Jesse will be his downfall.
Final note: did anyone else love the White family color scheme? Soft beige and off-whites: a perfect symbol of the easy, graceful affluence and normalcy they are trying to fake and a throw back to their awkward gaff at Elliot’s and Gretchen’s party in season one. No more shimmering blue prom dresses or 1980s Navy yard blazers for these two!
Of course, I agree with you both: how could this episode be anything but gripping? I love how it was bookended by Hank becoming slightly unhinged; for some reason, Hank has become the signifier of what Walt’s devolution has cost those around him. Part of that is the show playing with the theme of the cop-criminal as mirror images of each other; I mean, look at that image above – one of several in this episode showing Walt with another character with a carefully framed distance between them, as when a bong and beer bottle separated Walt and Jesse at the latter’s house. But I think part of it, too, is in keeping with how Breaking Bad has always turned away from the most obvious cliches of the crime genre. This is not going to end in a big shootout, or as the result of a carefully plotted police procedural. This show is all about family, not in The Godfather sense, but in the much more mundane style of the quiet desperation of a man whose injured pride destroyed all around him.
Anyway, what most fascinated me about this episode was the flashforward at the beginning – the complete dilapidation of the Whites’ house. As you point out, Kathryn, it plays out the tease from Dennys back at the beginning of the season, but unlike the most obvious stylistic callback (the teddy bear in the pool in season 2’s framing device), the opening sequence leaves us no ambiguity whatsoever about where these last eight episodes are going. We had to know it, the moment Walt said he was out: the inevitability of tragedy (in the Shakespearean, not the Homeric sense) and the ruinous cost to all around him. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Very excited about hearing everybody’s thoughts about this season and sharing some of my own. You all have covered a lot of good things, so I’m just going to talk about a specific thing that I really like about this episode.
One thing that I have always loved about this show is the dedication to showing the details of the aftermath of a big event. We have seen this in haunting scenes like Walt, Todd, and Mike dismantling the dirt bike of the murdered child. And in this episode, we saw it in watching Hank have to deal with leaving the cookout at Walt and Skylar’s house after finding the incriminating note in “Leaves of Grass.” The scene started with the great slow dolly move towards the bathroom door, building fantastic tension. While most shows would skip past this moment and just jump to the thrill of Hank chasing Walt, Breaking Bad takes the time to examine what the moment immediately after would look like. I love that about the show. But in the same episode, as you pointed out Kathryn, there is a complete ramping up of pace to where we see Walt and Hank having their showdown in the garage. Most other shows would stretch the tension preceding a showdown with Hank and Walt for at least another episode (if not several!). This control of pacing is wonderful, and has me really excited about the final 7 episodes. It just seems to point to Vince Gilligan and his team to having control over the whole show, which hopefully means the ending of the show will be under control.
One other thing: here is the Time Warner Cable description of next week’s episode: “Skylar’s past catches up with her. Walt works to cover his tracks. Jesse fights feelings of guilt.” Watch out TWC, you don’t want spoil anything with a detail-packed line like “Jesse fights feelings of guilt.”
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been this excited for a TV event as I am for the end of this show. Looking forward to sharing the excitement with you,