‘Ozymandias’, the most recent episode of ‘Breaking Bad’, is one of the most technically brilliant and action-packed hours of television in recent memory. It may be the show’s best episode ever, despite the ensuing torment. It’s painful and difficult to watch and packed a profound emotional wallop. The writers squeezed an insane amount of story into a single episode. Loose ends are tied up and the consequences of Walt’s actions are felt by everyone.
We start with a flashback to an early meth cook with Walt and Jesse in the old, battered SUV. They’re bickering, as usual, but it feels like much happier, very different times. Walt phones Skyler with an early lie about why he’ll be late. Skyler is considering names for their new baby and excitedly telling Walt about the few dollars she made on eBay. One by one, the elements disappear from the frame… first Walt, then Jesse, then the SUV…
…The aftermath of last week’s shootout is revealed. Gomez lies dead and Hank is crippled after being shot in the leg. Walt is still yelling for them not to kill Hank and reveals that he’s his brother-in-law. Uncle Jack wants to know why they’re there – at this particular location in the desert. In an effort to change that uncomfortable subject, Walt insists that Hank can still get out alive, but Jack isn’t having it. In a last ditch effort to save Hank, Walt selflessly tells Jack the reason they’re there. There’s $80 million in the ground nearby, and if he lets Hank live, Jack can have the money. Jack keeps calling Hank “Fed,” to which Hank finally retorts, “My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go f*** yourself!” (He says the word, but the volume goes mute for a second. There are still limits to words you can say on basic cable.) Even though Walt still thinks there’s a way out, Hank knows that Jack has already made up his mind and tells him to just go ahead and do what he has to do.
Jack shoots Hank dead.
Destroyed – his world spinning into complete chaos – Walt falls to his knees, then to the ground, weeping. Jack has his Aryan Brotherhood crew start digging, looking for the money which they find in short order. From his prone position on the ground, Walt sees Jesse hiding under the car nearby. In a moment of largesse, Jack has decided to leave one of the cash barrels for Walt (about $11 million). Creepy Todd tells Walt, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Jack tells Walt to get in his car and drive away, and he extends his swastika-tattooed hand, which Walt shakes. In a shocking turn of events and a betrayal of loyalty, Walt tells Jack that he still owes him Jesse’s life and tells him he’s under the car. They drag Jesse out screaming. Walt and Jesse exchange an icy stare, and Walt gives the go ahead to execute him. Todd convinces Jack that they’d be better off giving Jesse to him so that he can interrogate (torture) him to find out what he’s given to the feds. For sheer psychological brutality, Walt tells Jesse that he watched Jane die. Walt is then left behind in a cloud of dust as the group departs.
Walt drives away, but his car runs out of gas. With the sun beating down on him, Walt rolls his barrel across the desert. He approaches an old Indian’s house and purchases a beat-up old pickup truck for a bundle of cash.
Marie comes to the carwash to talk with Skyler. Marie tells her that Hank has arrested Walt and that Jesse is the one who gave him the evidence he needed. She offers to help Skyler and her family, but she demands all the copies of the fake DVD confession they made and that she tell Walt, Jr. the truth.
A battered and bloody, freshly-tortured Jesse is locked up beneath the warehouse where Todd cooks meth. Jesse has told him about the recorded confession Hank made of him. Todd brings him out in chains and shows a recent photograph taken of Andrea and Brock. He’s decided to use Jesse to teach him how to make Heisenberg-level meth. “Let’s cook,” he says.
Walt is at home frantically packing. Skyler pulls into the driveway. She has told Walt, Jr. the truth. He is understandably confused, heartbroken and angry. They see the old truck Walt bought with a barrel in the back. Walt urges them to come inside and start packing. A fight between the three ensues and all three scream at one another. Skyler asks where Hank is, because she knows he wouldn’t just let Walt go. Walt tells them he has $11 million in the barrel and urges Skyler to join him so that they can have a fresh start. Skyler then knows the truth and accuses Walt of killing Hank. Walt denies it and tries to convince her that he tried to save Hank. Skyler has had enough and grabs a knife from the kitchen. She wields it at Walt and orders him to get out. When Walt approaches her, she slices his hand with the blade and the fight turns physical. Junior tries to get them to stop and baby Holly cries. Walt screams, “What the hell is wrong with you?! We’re a family!” Walt, Jr. dials 911 and reports Walt to the police. Panicked, Walt grabs the baby and flees. Skyler is frantic and chases the truck down the street.
Walt changes Holly’s diaper, with duct tape patching up the knife wound on his hand. When he picks her up, she repeatedly asks for her mama. There is now an Amber Alert out for her.
The police and Marie are at the White residence. Walt calls to talk to Skyler. Walt is seemingly furious with Skyler, but he’s really putting on a performance in an effort to extricate her from responsibility for the mess he’s made of things. He knows the phone is tapped. He proceeds to say unbelievably cruel, hurtful, mocking things to her. “What the hell is wrong with you… You never believed in me… You stupid bitch.” He tells her they’ll never see Hank again. Playing along, Skyler tells him to, “Just come home.” Walt says that he still has things to do. He ends the call and destroys his phone.
Slowly coming to his senses, Walt leaves Holly abandoned at a fire station. The next day, he waits at the side of the road with his barrel and luggage. Saul’s contact pulls up in a minivan, loads Hank and his gear up, and leaves.
It’s been kind of fun speculating where things might be headed for Walt and the ‘Breaking Bad’ story. The writers have done an incredible job keeping everyone guessing and confounding our expectations. I sure didn’t see Hank’s death coming – at least not like this. And holy crap, was it hard to watch. To his credit, though, Hank went out like a warrior.
Just in case we needed reminding what a bad person Walt has become, this episode beat it into our heads over and over again. There were a couple of moments where the good part of Walt tried to emerge, such as his effort to give up all his money to save Hank, his staged call to Skyler to help exonerate her, and essentially giving Holly back. But Walt’s loyalties are hopelessly intertwined with his money. The loss of his money made him in large part morally bankrupt as well. His betrayal of Jesse, his explosion at Skyler, his abduction of Holly… good and evil are fighting for dominance within him, and evil appears to be winning.
Walt has left, but we’ve seen the flash-forwards, and we know it’s not over. He’s not going to just move on and give up his money or his family. An epic showdown between him and Jesse is yet to come, not to mention one with the Aryans who took his money. At this point, I don’t even want to guess how things will shake out in the final two episodes, but I can’t wait to find out!