I guess it's fitting that my mind is a jumbled mess as I try to write this recap of "Ozymandias," the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, because "a jumbled mess" more or less describes where we are in. And the show only has two hours to go. Yes, loose ends were tied up tonight — sadly, if inevitably, mainly in the form of death — but I'm still left with the same question I had at the end of last week's episode: Where the hell do things go from here?
Hank's dead. Gomie's dead. (RIP, guys.) Marie and Skyler know Hank's dead. Walt's starting his new life without his wife and kids. Oh, and Jesse's been taken prisoner by the neo-Nazis. But what do Marie and Skyler do? (That conversation Marie had with her therapist about deadly poisons a couple episodes back may loom large again soon, no?) Does Jesse make it out of his new arrangement alive? And how exactly does Walt end up using the machine gun and poison he retrieves on his 52nd birthday? The gun seems like it might be an extremely effective neo-Nazi deterrent, but that still leaves the question of the poison.
Anyway, that's a lot of questions, none of which is the one we like to ask in all these recaps. So without further ado ...
What was the worst thing Walter White did this week?
Given all that Walt has done over the course of this series, it's really saying something that I have never found him more loathsome than he was on Sunday night, but this really might have been the all-time most fertile episode for awful Walt moments. So much to choose from: ordering Jack to kill Jesse, even after the shootout that ultimately claimed the lives of Hank and Gomie. Telling Jesse that he watched Jane die, just to twist the knife as much as possible before sending him off to his death at the hands of Jack & Co. (There's our answer for how Jesse would find out about that.)
As if to top himself, Walt then desperately tried to convince Skyler and Walt Jr. to come with him and start anew. He laid the crap on so thick that they'll probably need to call the carpet cleaners again: "I negotiated" to explain why he's not in police custody, assuring Skyler and Walt Jr. that "We're fine," and then the big one: "I need both of you to trust me." Uh, good luck with that, buddy.
Walt was so awful for most of the hour that when Skyler ultimately pulled a knife on him, leading to a confrontation in which both she and Walt Jr. finally turned on him forever, I actually found myself grinning. That's right! Make that bastard pay! Of course, even that attempt to find some joy in this pitch-black episode was short-lived when Walt made off with his infant daughter Holly, the one member of his family that he can still get to do what he wants — if only because she's, y'know, an infant. It seems surreal that a television show could pack this much unpleasantness into one hour.
And then ... the fateful phone call. Skyler, with the police in tow, takes a phone call from a livid Walt, who unloads his considerable resentment on her once she lies and says that no cops are around: "This is your fault"; "You were never grateful for anything I did for this family." It was, I thought, the most purely evil Walt had ever been: so much so that I thought it was overdone. This was a cartoon villain we were seeing on the screen, a terrible internet comment thread full of the dumbest possible Skyler-hate come to life. Not to mention incredibly dumb, because there's no way he should have just taken Skyler's word for it that there were no cops there. It was Walt hitting new lows in all kids of ways.
... Or was it?
Because if Walt isn't dumb enough to actually think there were no police at his house, and actually isn't evil enough to completely mean everything he said during that phone call (and the fact that he gave up Holly at the end of the episode strongly suggests he isn't), then this explanation of what happened is true. And if it is, then Walt was simply using the phone call as an opportunity to offer Skyler as much legal protection as he possibly could, so the rest of his family could live in relative peace as he went off to live his presumably few remaining days alone.
Not only do I hope this was true from a dramatic standpoint, but I think it's true because Vince Gilligan did say a while back that the ending is a victory for Walt. And there's not much of a way for anything to be a victory for Walt at this point unless he can do something to help his family, the people he desperately, repeatedly tried to convince himself that he was helping all along. Does that make Walt a good guy? Well ... no, not even close. But hey, it's something — and if there were ever an episode that left viewers with a need for any positive takeaway, this was it.
Thoughts on the episode in general:
- If indeed Walt was trying to get Skyler off the hook during that phone call and wasn't airing all his unearned grievances in the most heavy-handed way possible (and, again, I'm pretty convinced it was the former), this episode was another triumph. I need to (and can't wait to) watch it again for it to fully sink in, but suffice to say, it deserves to be named after this poem.
- One thing I wasn't crazy about: the images of Walt/Jesse/RV disappearing like the McFly family in that picture from from Back to the Future in the flashback cold open. Showing that the shootout took place in the same location was a nice reveal, but it would have been more effective without the commercial break in between. I'll get back to you on how well it works when the final episodes come out on DVD.
- "Ozymandias" featured a couple of parallels, intentional or not, to another of TV's greatest dramas, The Wire. Hank's final words ("Do what you're gonna do") reminded me of Stringer Bell's (NSFW language); while Skyler's "Where is Hank?" demand even more closely echoed this (again, NSFW language).
- Speaking of Hank's last words: "My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go f--- yourself." Hell of a way to go out.
Bonus: the most heartbreaking Jesse Pinkman moment of the week
It has to be when Walt tells him about Jane after letting Jack and his not-so-merry band of Nazis take him away. But the moment he's revealed to be bound up in what's essentially a dungeon, with his face in the worst condition it's been in since Hank beat him up in season 3, is a close second. Jesse didn't get a ton of screen time in this one, but his scenes were played for maximum viewer pain. You know, like the entire episode. Two to go.