Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land…

Breaking Bad’s cold open once again gave us a respite from the cliffhanger from the previous episode. Granted, considering the rest of the episode, this is a short break to take a breath, a reminder that before the Meth Empire, before Jack and the Nazis, before Fring, before everything, Walter White was just a man trying to provide for his family, a man who wore his tighty-whities to a meth cooking session. This was Walter’s first cook. This was the same location the shootout was taking place. The calm before the storm, or perhaps, an ironic reminder of the darkly comedic beginnings of Breaking Bad. There’s nothing funny about this show anymore, save for a few glimpses of the darkest kind of humour you’re going to get.

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone lie in the desert…

After the commercial break, we see a wide shot and hear the shooting stop. Gomez is dead, just like that. No goodbye, no last words, no big hurrah with Hank. He just lies there, dead. That was not something you usually expect from a TV show. A silent death of a relatively major character. We pretty much knew he was dead, but you’d think that his friendship with Hank would be honoured with at least a small intimate moment. A pointless charge forward, a look of understanding, or hell, a racist joke.

There’s no honour in dying, though.

Gomez simply died. Hank didn’t even really look at him. He knew he was next. There was no point in crying, either.

Near them, on the sand, half-sunk, a shattered visage lies…

Jack and his merry bunch of nazis realize that Hank is indeed, DEA. And there’s only one way of disposing of DEA agents in Jack’s book. Walt, of course, pleads for Hank’s life. If there ever was anything that separated Walt from pure evil, it was his love for his family. He loved Hank, and he’d give 80 million dollars up to keep him alive. Hank, however, didn’t care. He accepted his fate. He lost… Once again, a day late and a dollar short, Hank dies, despite Walt’s pleas. We don’t get one last look into his eyes, and much like Mike once cut off Chris half-way through a sentence, Hank can’t finish his bad-ass deathbed boast, as he’s shot by Jack. By now we know, death isn’t portrayed with pomp anymore. Not in this season. No more grotesque Harvey Dent tributes. Just pain, and pointless suffering, while Todd awkwardly tells Walt that he’s sorry for his loss.

Whose frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command tell that the sculptor well those passions read…

Walt’s meth empire is in shambles, he spilled his guts to Jack, who had the tiny bit of decency to let Walt live on with $10 million, while taking the rest of the money. Meanwhile, we find out Jesse was hiding under Walt’s Chrysler all along. We’d hoped for an escape, but an escape didn’t happen. Once again, Jesse can’t get away. And Walt, now knowing everything wants him dead, of course.

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things…

Walt wants Jesse dead. Hank and Gomez are buried in the desert, the money is dug out. It seems like this, is once again the end for Jesse as Jack points a gun at his head. But, Todd, bless his heart, gives the uncle and Walt an excuse to let Jesse live. Walt however, uses Gus Fring’s established technique of making his enemy’s life living hell, as he tells Jesse about his role in Jane’s death. Walt isn’t just mocking Jesse, he’s killing his soul.

The hand that mocked them…

Meanwhile, we cut to the carwash where Marie comes to basically gloat about her husband’s victory. Of course, quite ironically, this is the one time we don’t see her wearing purple — we see her wearing black. She puts Skyler on the spot and forces her to tell Walt Jr. about his father’s wrongdoings. Oddly enough, Skyler agrees. RJ Mitte shines in this scene, as Junior turns to denial as he hears the truth.

And the heart that fed…

With the help of another conveniently placed Native-American-With-a-Truck™, Walt returns to his home, and begins to pack. The first question is… Is he going alone? And as soon as we see him packing Skyler’s dresses, we know that he’s not. At the same time, Skyler and Walt Jr. return home, and a confrontation ensues. The family is broken. Skyler needs a knife to keep Walt away from her, eventually resulting in a scuffle, which Walt Jr. breaks up, following that up with calling the police. The 17 year old kid with cerebral palsy not only saves his mother, but does what she should’ve done as soon as she found out, an amazing feat of bravery if you ask me. This, unfortunately leads to Walt kidnapping Holly and riding off with the baby.

And on the pedestal these words appear…

“Shall we cook?” Todd asks Jesse after placing him in the lab the nazis built in the previous episode. Todd wants to learn to cook meth like Heisenberg. Jesse knows how, and Todd has a picture of Andrea and Brock to motivate him as well. It looks like Lydia’s business might just start rolling thanks to some slave labour.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

Walter eventually calls Skyler. He knows the cops are listening, so he distances himself from her as far as possible. However, even as it’s evident he’s hyperbolizing his evil, it’s not as if he’s acting it all out. The evil is there. Some of his sentiments are probably absolutely true, too, especially as he gloats talking about his great empire. His empire is no more, though. He leaves Holly with some firemen and goes to see the cleaner, entering his van and leaving New Mexico behind.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Now, let me be clear, this was the single best piece of television I have ever seen. From the amount of sheer action, to the unbearable tension and all the way to great performances from everyone (including Holly!), this was the perfect episode. The emptiness left behind the characters we came to love leads to a certain level of transcendence, and helps you understand why you feel the way you do about the series. The emotional load is heavy. Too heavy for some. The moral aspect is hard to consider. Would you have let Brock’s poisoning go, if you were Jesse? Would you have let Walt live out the rest of his days if you were Hank? Would you have turned into a psychopath if you were in a situation like Walt? These questions run through your head at an insane pace, looking for mistakes.

And these characters do make mistakes, mistakes are what brought them to that desert. Mistakes are what killed Gomie and Hank. Breaking Bad puts us on a weekly dose of catharsis. The process is not quite yet complete, but in “Ozymandias” the effect is the most profound. From the raw emotions displayed by the actors, all the way through Rian Johnson’s excellent direction, this episode is damn near perfect. It gives you raw emotions, relationships and deaths, avoiding the cliched tropes in favour of the less predictable. We knew we’d end up in the cleaner’s van sooner or later. We knew Walt’s empire would fall into pieces. We knew all that from the flash-forwards, and hell, from the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

We just didn’t know it would happen quite like this.

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Adam Koscielak

Canadian-Pole. Copywriter by day, leftist activist by night. Feel free to drop me a line @ adam.s.koscielak@gmail.com,