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'Breaking Bad' recap: An 'Ozymandias' reaction

Posted by Christopher Hughes  September 15, 2013 10:37 PM

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  • "To Hajiilee" might have ended with the fate of every major player caught in the crossfire of a minor arsenal in the desert blankness of Hajiilee, but Vince Gilligan resumes at the very beginning of his saga, with Jesse and Walt bantering like old times. Walt is pantless and pathetic while Jesse smokes and makes snarky small talk. We're placated into thinking we're seeing more innocent times, but really what we're revisiting is the root of all the deception and greed and crumbling innocence as Walt paints a minuscule white lie to Skyler. It has to begin somewhere and here it starts with Walt dimly fibbing about working overtime and promising cheap two-for-one pizzas as amends.
  • The taupe and burnt orange RV disappears and the resonance of Neo-Nazi gunfire takes its place. Steve Gomez lies dead and a wounded Hank crawls toward the only remaining ammunition. It's far too late, though, as Todd's Uncle Jack straddles him and aims a pistol at his head.

    The name of the episode, "Ozymandias," refers to a Percy Shelley poem which ends:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch stretch far away.'

    The imagery is almost too perfect as Walt shakes himself free from the rubble of his bullet-ridden car to watch the last of his empire ruined and pillaged by outlaws. He temporarily stalls the execution of brother-in-law, but as Hank snarls at his Walt, "You want me to beg? You're the smartest guy I ever met, but you're too stupid to see. He made up his mind ten minutes ago."

  • Walt begins to show the humanity he's lacked since season one by offering the buried $80 million dollars for Hank's life and his insistence on Jack calling him by his name. "His name is Hank!" he screams to a deaf audience. Of course, Jack mistakes the exchange as weakness and quickly puts together the significance of the coordinates. Todd is either visibly shaken at the sight of his shellshocked former boss (the same one he's built fables around) or he's just disgusted. Jesse Plemons has built such a brilliantly callous super villain, without the minor qualms that even Gus Fring and Walter White possessed. When Jack concedes one conciliatory barrel to Walt of his own money, I can't tell if Todd sides with the chorus of guffaws emitted by his redneck partners or if he agrees with his own sentiments whispered to Uncle Jack. "Sorry for your loss," he apathetically tells Walt. Left to his own devices, I wouldn't be surprised if he would have shot him on the spot and left him for the buzzards.

  • Just as quickly as we start to pity Walt, his face a pained and gaping maw after the bullet fired on Hank, he turns back to the ridiculously unnecessary, unfinished business with Jesse Pinkman; one of Walt's most pathetic deflections in a sea of excuses. He sees him hiding underneath a car and has Jack pull him out to finish what he paid for. But Todd is clearly the newly minted, manipulative Heisenberg. He pleads to save Jesse (at least temporarily) to beat information out of him regarding his case with the D.E.A. It's apparent to Todd that Walt's usefulness, even cooking in a lab, have become moot. Walt's desperate last attempt at posturing is swatted away like a hectoring gnat and Todd effortlessly bats Walt back to the impotent chemistry teacher we saw at the beginning of the episode, courtesy of director Rian Johnson.
  • While Walt rolls his lonely barrel of cash across the desert, stopping only to bribe a craggy Native-American for his ancient pickup, Todd is somewhere wailing on Jesse. Pinkman is bruised and bloody, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for the burgeoning meth king. Todd hangs a warning photo in his lab of Brock. The implication is clear; cook Blue with Todd until he's perfected his technique (at which point he'll likely kill Jesse) or suffer the final indignity of watching his loved ones mercilessly executed. I also think there's a bit of escalating Stockholm syndrome here as Todd might be testing Jesse's mettle. A broken man with shattered allegiances could be a useful foot soldier. Gilligan loves allusion and I'd bet that this is the impetus for Walt's squirreled away M60. Then again, maybe that's just hopeful conjecture after Walt's petty confession to Jesse regarding Jane's overdose.
  • This is also far from Marie's finest moment as she gaily strolls into A1A Car Wash, her husband the supposed victor in the strangest case of in-family fighting ever. She smooches on Walt Jr. before dragging her sister into the office and laying out the non-negotiable terms of her reintroduction to lawful society. She's to hand over all copies of the now famous DVD of Walt's phony confession and she's to expose her husband's villainy to her only son.
  • This episode is all about reliving iconic moments from the series and we get to see Walt once again storming through his house, panicking and hastily packing. It's very reminiscent of him looking for the buried, Tell-tale money in season four, which Skyler used to pay off Ted Beneke's massive IRS debt. Then, when Walt discovered his fortune vanished, he fell into a cackling dementia, but here it gets even worse as he wrestles his own wife for control of a kitchen knife, his son pleading for some long vanished sense of familial sanity.
  • "What the hell is wrong with you," Walt screams at his cowering son and spouse. "We're a family!" That word 'family,' which Walt constantly throws around like some redeeming axiom, seems to snap him out of his insane brawling to take measure of the situation. A desperate look crosses his face. He understands that he's finally lost the one reason he ever had for fighting cancer and beating back death. As an exclamation point, Walt Jr. wrestles away his father and picks up the phone and dials the police.
  • This final betrayal sends Walt into cockroach-level survival mode. He steals his infant daughter as leverage, just to leave the police astray. Through gritted teeth he calls Skyler, fully aware of their bugged conversation (how could he not be??) and takes credit for the death of brother-in-law. "Toe the line or you'll end up just like Hank," he warns Skyler. "let that sink in." By playing the role of abusive tyrant in front of the police, one capable of kidnapping his own daughter, he's squarely putting the blame on himself and giving Skyler a second chance. This cleansing purge is emphasized when he leaves Holly swaddled in the front seat of fire truck, lights churning in the twilight.
  • The final image is brilliant: The dusty barrel and a couple of suitcases lined up on the side of the road. It's the same stretch of highway Walt took Jesse to earlier in the season when he was gently shooing him from Albuquerque. Unlike his hellbent protege, though, Walt takes the bait and enters the idling lair of the vacuum cleaner man never to see his family again.
  • What did you think of this episode? Did it live up to your expectations? Anything shock you? Underwhelm you? Share your reaction here in the comments.

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