Breaking Bad makes the leap
NOTE: This post contains massive spoilers for the episode of Breaking Bad that aired Sunday, September 2, 2012. If you do not want to know what happened, do not read any further. Consider yourself warned.
Sunday night, I posted this hyperbole to Twitter in a fit of post-Breaking Bad euphoria and giddiness:
I never thought I’d dethrone The Wire from the”best ever” crown, but with 24 hours to think it over, I’m more convinced than ever that we are witnessing the greatest television drama ever made. (And now presumably we’ve got to wait a whole %^&$!ing year for it to come back for eight episodes!) Last night’s episode, the finale of this year’s eight episode arc, was a showcase for everything that makes this show great and without peer. There were six moments or scenes in particular that I thought stood out.
1.) The look of hurt and betrayal on Aaron Paul’s face during the cold open after Walt dismissively closes the garage door on Jesse. It was nothing more than a fleeting glance, but it was an incredibly powerful moment.
2.) The Godfather call back where Walt strikes down all nine of “Mike’s guys” (plus the lawyer) with coordinated attacks across 3 prisons. It was stunning in its brutality, made all the more so by the scene’s relative bloodlessness and the Nat King Cole soundtrack, and precision, and was (for a matter of moments at least) the finest of the montages that Breaking Bad has so artfully deployed for the past five seasons. That was more than television, it was just an awesome piece of film making. This was my immediate reaction Sunday:
3.) The brutally tense and awkward scene between Hank and Walt after Hank comes home after finding out that his entire case against Mike (who he still doesn’t know is dead of course) and the remnants of the Fring organization has just been wiped out in two minutes of savagery. There’s a prolonged sequence of utter silence that underscores the tension between the time that Hank pours drinks and then finally begins to tell Walt about his summer job in college (tagging trees, a job he hated at the time but on he realizes now has to be better than “chasing monsters.”) I went back and timed it actually, and there is one minute and seven seconds of absolute silence, and just the look on Hank’s face told so much more than any dialogue could have. That’s a “less is more” lesson that a lot of other shows would do well to heed (Paging Aaron Sorkin.)
4.) The montage encapsulating Walt’s supposed moment of triumph, where he is now undisputed king, his empire of meth administered locally by Declan’s crew and internationally by Lydia (has there ever been anyone who is more worthy of “the barrel treatment” than her?), all set to the so-appropriate-it-hurt “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” As soon as the first notes of that song started playing I wondered why it took the show so long to use it.
In retrospect though, the song was so dead on perfect for the scene that I think they’ve been saving it for the right moment all this time, and they definitely nailed it here. The scene swiftly advances us three months in time through Walt’s long sought after dream of absolute power, with more money coming in than Skylar can eventually count, much less launder. We also get a glimpse of Walt back in the MRI, a moment which I think looms large both in his decision to walk away from his empire, as well his ultimate demise at the end of the show.
5.) The awkward conversation between Jesse and Walt (seriously, does anybody do “awkward” better than Aaron Paul? And how awesome was it to learn that he nicknamed the old RV the “Crystal Ship?”). When Walt leaves and ominously tells Jesse that he “left him something,” my first thought was that he had brought Jesse’s buyout money, but when the bags out front were revealed from the odd camera angle, making the size and shape of the “something” unclear, I immediately thought he’d dumped Mike’s body on the porch as a warning to Jesse (remember we never saw Mike’s body disposed of, as Jesse’s appearance in the beginning interrupted that process.) The look of relief was another great bit of facial expression by Paul. Give the man his Emmy already.It was a great little piece of misdirection and and played on the audience’s expectation that something horrible will always happen. Speaking of…
6.) Another great moment of misdirection at the end, where the newly reunited family was displayed idyllically next to pool. I think everyone watching was holding their breathe at that point, waiting for some tragedy to spoil the scene, sure that Walt’s seemingly clean exit would turn out to be a mirage. In the end it was, but it wasn’t a forgotten enemy or an overlooked element of Fring’s organization, but rather a simple inscription in a book. My initial reaction was the discovery that triggered Hank’s memory was a little too convenient, and maybe it was, but in the end I think it works for two reasons: 1.) Walt was too careful ever to be caught red handed doing anything, so Hank finding out in this trivial and out of the blue way fits. 2). All of the possibilities that are now open for the show, so in the end I’ll overlook that little bit of expediency.
So where does this leave the show now? We know a couple of things from the “fast forward” cold open from the first episode of this season. About 7-8 months from where last night’s episode ended, Walt is on his own, living under an assumed identity, making his own bacon birthday message at Denny’s and purchasing some serious firepower. Is that needed to fight off Hank and the DEA? Maybe, but you have to also think that Walt would have made some serious enemies by walking away from his meth empire, since all of the money coming is was premised around the legendary Heisenberg product so dependent upon him. Is the gun meant for Declan’s crew? Lydia’s Czech connections? What about Todd and his scary skinhead relatives? Or even the Mexican cartels coming back for another shot?
The second thing we know is that he is popping coughing and popping pills again, so presumably his cancer is back and he is back on the clock. Ultimately I think it was the news of that diagnosis (that we didn’t hear on screen) that made Walt finally give up on being Heisenberg and finally accepting the truth that Skylar illustrated with the storage locker full of cash (imagine coming across that locker in the next episode of Storage Wars?) – there was nothing else to be gained by continuing. And in the end, like Skylar predicted, it won’t be Hank, the DEA, Jesse, or one of the other lives that Walt has ruined that kills him. The cancer will. And thanks to his own ego and megalomania he will die alone and isolated from his family, the reason he “broke bad” in the first place. And ultimately that’s the bleakest and most appropriate ending this show can have, even if they take a few unexpected routes to get there. The real though, is that I could be absolutely wrong about this and still not care. We’ll just have to wait until next year to find out.
How do you think the show will end?