“I watched Jane die. I was there, and I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her, but I didn’t.”
How are we supposed to react to an hour of television in which the line above, quite possibly the last thing Walt will ever say to Jesse, doesn’t even crack the top-10 most jaw-dropping moments?
I’ve never seen anything like “Ozymandias.” Not on TV, not in movies, certainly not in life. I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss.
This was an episode of television so transgressive on so many fronts that I feel almost dirty having watched it. My sense from five seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’ is that many of the show’s fans are unabashadly rooting for Walt, cheering the villain protagonist as he commits atrocity after atrocity. And I’m not here to scold them. Hell, how do you NOT root for Walt when he’s pulling off train heists, or protecting Jesse, or blowing up chicken-dealing drug kingpins?
But here, in what will likely go down as the pinnacle of the series (though with two episodes to go, I suppose that’s a dangerous statement to make), Walt finally unleashes the full force of Heisenberg on his whole family. And instead of a badass moment of triumph, it’s brutal, terrifying, and appalling. Vince Gilligan finally gave us everything we wanted, and all I feel is sick.
Pour one out for Hank, if you will. ASAC Schrader was never going to make it through that gunfight with the Nazis, but he sure as hell stuck the landing. Hank has become the show’s true badass antihero this season, and the fact that he’s dead with two episodes to go speaks volumes of just how much story there’s left to tell.
After all, Hank vs. Walt was supposed to be the main course this season, but it looks like we’re headed for Walt vs. the Nazis, which sounds like a straight-to-Netflix movie title. In principle, that set-up could have given Gilligan & Co. enough ethical wiggle room to actually turn Walt into something of a good guy. After all, compared to the Nazis who executed Hank and stole seventy-some million dollars, Walt could certainly be painted as a victim in a potential final confrontation.
But ‘Breaking Bad’ is both too smart and too morally grounded for that. This has never been Walt’s hero story, and the show is certainly not going to become that for its finale.
So once Walt whimpers his way to his feet, sells out Jesse once and for all, and rolls his barrel of money to the old Indian man and his truck, a completely predictable chain of events occurs that leaves Walt exposed as the monster he is.
Thinking the whole ordeal is over thanks to Hank’s now-tragic call, Marie meets with Skyler out of (mostly) kindness, trying to take steps to bury the hatchet. Marie demands Skyler tell Flynn the whole truth, which goes about as well as you’d expect. Poor Walt Jr. finally found happiness behind the counter of a car wash, only to have it ripped away from him in short order by the revelation that his father is a drug kingpin. Why you gotta do him like that, Skyler and Marie!? LET FLYNN LIVE!
But after a tense car ride, Skyler, Flynn, and baby Holly return home to find the supposedly-incarcerated Walt frantically packing and demanding that they pack too. Walt tries to yadda-yadda his way through their questions, but while that’s worked for Walt with Jesse and his business associates, it doesn’t fly with Skyler. She demands to know where Hank is, and eventually realizes that Walt killed him, which is true in the abstract if not directly so. Unfazed, Walt continues urging everyone to pack, but Skyler’s not having it. She draws a kitchen knife and demands for Walt to get out. Walt, indignant as ever, approaches her and promptly gets his hand sliced. Then the husband and wife engage in a full on knife fight in front of their yelling, terrified teenage son and baby daughter. Walt wrestles the knife away from Skyler only to be tackled by Flynn, who, to Walt’s shock and horror, calls the police and reports his father.
Walt hustles out of the house, but not before grabbing baby Holly and taking her with him to the pickup. Skyler gives chase, but her frantic yelling and banging on the window prove futile as the rusty pickup truck disappears around the corner. The next image we see is Walt changing Holly in a public restroom, coo’ing to her as she sadly cries for her mama.
Meanwhile, Marie, Skyler, and Flynn are back at the house with police, who have issued an amber alert for the kidnapping. Walt calls, and with the police tapping the phone he proceeds to deliver a furiously unhinged rant against Skyler, a whirlwind diatribe of assigning blame, taunting, degrading, and yelling. “Maybe now you’ll listen, maybe now you’ll use your damn head!” Walt seethes, before hissing “You stupid bitch.” Walt not only confirms that Hank is dead – threatening Skyler by claiming she’ll “wind up just like Hank” if she doesn’t “tow the line” – Walt now takes credit for Hank’s death, bragging in the same way he did over Gus Fring’s demise. “He crossed me,” Walt trumpets, “You think about that.”
Darkness is common on television today, but this is a kind of darkness that I’ve never seen. We’ve watched these characters for five seasons now, from, as “Ozymandias” reminded us with the episode-opening flashback, the point where Walt and Jesse were learning how to cook meth in an RV out in the middle of nowhere. We’ve watched the White family deal with devastating cancer news, and bring a child into the world. We’ve watched them struggle to raise Flynn, to pay for Hank’s medical bills after he was nearly killed, to have poolside birthday parties.
What hit me so hard about “Ozymandias”, I think, is that pervasive sense of family, both within the world of the show and in the audience’s relationship to the characters. ‘Breaking Bad’ has never had a large central cast, and it’s only ever told one story. So to see overwhelming, unstoppable, irreversible darkness – Hank dying, the knife fight, Walt kidnapping Holly, that call to Skyler as the police listen – overpower and literally destroy that family in front of our eyes in the span of an hour is something that I still can’t wrap my head around. I knew this was going to happen, and I can’t believe it happened. I can’t believe what I just watched.
After an hour of devastation, the episode ends in quiet fashion. Walt comes to his senses in some small way and drops Holly off anonymously at a fire station. He then arranges with Saul (off-screen) for the getaway service, and unlike Jesse, Walt steps into the van.
Because of the flash-forwards to Mr. Lambert, we already know that Walt is returning. Whether it’s to save his family from the Nazis, to exact revenge upon the Nazis, or for some other reason, I do not know.
Whatever Walt’s reasons for returning, though, “Ozymandias” confirmed his homecoming will not be as a hero. There’s nothing heroic about Walter White.