Last week’s episode, the sublimely conflicted “Rabid Dogs,” ended with a pair of calls: Jesse (Aaron Paul), consumed with paranoia, dialed Walt (Bryan Cranston) with a promise: he’d be coming for him where it really mattered. Moments later, Walt, made a call of his own, to Todd (Jesse Plemons), informing him that the services of his skuzzy Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen), co-architect of last season’s massive prison murder, would be needed once more. This week’s “To’hajiilee,” written by longtime “Breaking Bad” principle George Mastras (who penned last season’s crackerjack “Dead Freight” episode), picked up on the other side of one of those calls.
But before we got to that phone call, answered by Todd, there was a lengthy sequence involving Uncle Jack and twitchy Neo Nazi Kenny (Kevin Rankin), as they prepared a batch of meth. Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser) was there to inspect her product, her face-mask pulled tightly over her equally tight face. While there is a slight improvement on the quality of the meth, it’s missing a key ingredient: the blue color. “It’s got a bluish hue,” one of the knuckleheads suggests. But Lydia is adamant: it’s what her customers in Europe want. It’s the key to the product’s success. And while Todd offers a halfhearted apology, guessing that he might have overheated the blue color out of the meth, Lydia is skeptical. Before their awkward, pseudo-sexual moment together, stretched beautifully by director Michelle MacLaren, can go any further, Lydia departs and Todd answers the fateful phone call from Walt.
When the episode returns to Jesse and his beleaguered FDA cohorts Hank (Dean Norris) and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada), Jesse outlines his plan, in his words to obtain “evidence that greedy asshole would never destroy.” That’s right: the seven giant barrels of money that Walt buried out in the desert. In order to figure out where the money is, though, Hank has to put the squeeze on Huell (Lavell Crawford) with the help of a faked photo of Jesse, gooey clumps of his brains sprayed all over Hank’s linoleum kitchen tiles. Hank suggests that Saul (Bob Odenkirk) has sold him out and that Walt is going after him next. In one of the few moments of levity in an episode largely defined by moments of white-knuckle suspense, Huell breaks down, crying, and tells Hank about loading the money into plastic barrels and loading them into a rental truck.
This sequence is effective but telling; reiterating two key points: One, that Hank is a hell of a cop. It would be easy to classify Hank as the bumbling detective, a man whose brother-in-law ran a vast drug ring right under his nose. But fundamentally, he’s an excellent DEA agent and capable of putting together clues in a way that no one else ever has. He might have missed Walt for these past few years, but he’s the one who got the closest. The second thing that is reinforced by this sequence is that the moral corrosiveness of Walt has infected everyone around him.
Walt’s cancer has been an engine from the show from the first episode: it’s the reason he gets into “cooking,” it’s the Sword of Damocles that’s hung over his head ever since, and it’s the cancer’s return that has spurred on his seeming “retirement.” But Walt himself is a cancer, too. He creeps into the bloodstream of people, like Hank, who are outwardly good. And his duplicity, ruthlessness and manipulation eats them from the inside out, burrows down into their bones. Hank, while interrogating Huell, did it for lawful reasons, but the way that he worked Saul’s bodyguard, he didn’t sound like Hank. He sounded like Heisenberg.
When we watch Walt dealing with Uncle Jack and Kenny, what’s so striking is how much Walt still wants to protect him, as much as he can. “What is this? Rat patrol?” Uncle Jack asks. Walt is taken aback. “Rat patrol? No, he’s not a rat… He just doesn’t like to listen to reason.” Heisenberg might have been the one to call Todd and request Jesse’s elimination, but it’s Walt who is specifying the details: quick, painless, sooner rather than later. But Uncle Jack and his crew have a proposition: help them cook up a new batch of meth, so they can get the quality levels up to Lydia’s exacting standards and give it back its blue. “One cook after the job is done,” Walt growls. But when Uncle Jack asks where Jesse is and Walt doesn’t have an answer, he still knows what to do: “I know how to flush him out.”
Cue Walt’s return to Andrea Cantillo (Emily Rios), the woman whose young son Brock Walt almost murdered by poisoning him. It was a scene pregnant with meaning: there are a couple of glances shared between Brock and Walt that suggest that Brock either remembers or somehow knows that Walt was responsible for his scary hospital stay. But nothing is explicitly exchanged. Instead, Walt cons Andrea into calling Jesse’s cell phone and leaving a message, a manipulation that ultimately proves fruitless since Hank intercepts the message. He’s got one more con to pull.
During a great, multipronged sequence at the car wash, featuring Skyler (Anna Gunn) teaching Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte) how to work the register and a bulletproof vest-wearing Saul coming in to have his car cleaned (apparently Jesse left a whole lot of cocaine behind when he stole it), Walt receives a photo on his phone: it appears to be one of the barrels of money, with the top opened up. Immediately after he gets a phone call from Jesse, a call where he uses the word “bitch” even more than normal and says that he has all of the money. Jesse explains that his rental car had a GPS (explained earlier as being untrue but, as Hank says, “Walt doesn’t know that”) and that they’re all there now. Hank races away from the car wash towards the desert (the episode’s title come from the chunk of Indian reservation where the money is stashed) and in one of the episode’s most beautiful moments, we watch as Walt’s car veers down crowded city streets, from behind, in one fluid unbroken shot.
But it’s not that getaway sequence or the things that Jesse was saying over the phone (When Walter, ever the misguided egomaniac, says that the money is for his family, Jesse shoots back: “Oh you’re going to talk about kids?”) that people are going to be talking about; it’s what happens in the desert.
Walt, realizing he’s been conned and beyond desperate, makes a frantic phone call to Uncle Jack: get out there as soon as he cans. He retrieves the lotto ticket that he used to hide the money’s location and told them to rush, thinking that Jesse would be alone. Of course, Jesse and Hank and Gomez show up while Walt is on the phone with Uncle Jack. Walt tells them to stand down, even though they’ve all got their automatic weapons and cool, military-style bulletproof vests on. Walt, resigned, slowly gives himself up.
From this moment until the end of the episode, it’s a tour de force of televised suspense, with the little fragments adding tremendously to the whole. There’s Walt welling up, still unwilling, even after all the evil he’s perpetrated, to do more damage to the family by killing his brother-in-law. There’s the time that Hank takes in processing Walt, at one point asking Gomez if he’d like to do the honors of reading him his rights (Gomez defers to Hank). Most tellingly, though, as a harbinger of doom, is the phone call Hank places to Marie (Betsy Brandt). The conversation starts out as darkly humorous, with Marie asking Hank why there is brain in their kitchen trash can, but soon turns poignant. Hank tells her that he’s got Walt, and then Marie says how much better she feels because of it. The groundwork is also laid in this scene for what’s to follow; if you listen carefully during their phone conversation, you can hear the low rumble of an approaching car.
Almost as soon as Hank finishes his conversation with Marie, the fuck-you crew of Neo Nazis has shown up and everything goes all Sam Peckinpah. For a while, it seemed like the episode would halt there, without a single bullet fired, just luxuriating in the tension between Gomez and Hank, guns drawn, with the skinheads and their off-brand automatic weapons. But instead, Mastras and MacLaren give in… Just a little bit. A hail of gunfire pierces through cars and sends Jesse scrambling (Walt, handcuffed in the back of Hank’s truck, ducks), before the episode cuts to black. Quite frankly, by the end of the episode we were sweating like Brando.
Our bet is that both Hank and Gomez will have bought the farm by the first few minutes of next week’s episode (directed by “Looper” filmmaker Rian Johnson) and that Jesse will be left alive. So much of “Breaking Bad” has been about fate and destiny and coincidence, how these things can align for unscrupulous purposes that let bad men ascend triumphantly. The massacre in the desert will give Walt his ultimate nemesis, the lone survivor of all the evil he’s perpetrated. It will set-up a showdown that will unfold over the last few episodes and hopefully into the future, where the bearded, bedraggled Walt, his home vandalized and his trunk full of powerful weapons, waits in a Denny’s.
What was ultimately so striking about the final shootout, equal parts Cormac McCarthy and old school western (a motif reinforced by its dusty setting on an Indian reservation), is the fact that Walt calls out to Hank, trying to warn him of the carnage to follow. It’s Walt who spots the approaching cars first in the truck’s rear-view mirror, while Hank is still on the phone with Marie. And while we don’t really know Hank’s fate (or, quite frankly, the fate of Gomez or Jesse and where has little baby Holly been all this time?), the poignancy of Hank’s chat with Marie suggests it’s their last. What is crystal clear however, is that the man in the handcuffs wasn’t Heisenberg, it was Walter White, high school science teacher who wanted to save his family from financial ruin by cooking drugs. This episode will be remembered for its pulse-pounding suspense, but it’s the little moments that make the episode great, like Walt calling out to Hank, or the look that Brock gives Walt, or that awkwardly sexual predatory moment between Todd and Lydia or, maybe the single greatest moment of the entire episode: when Walt, Jr. stares star-struck at Saul, still black and blue from Jesse’s beat down. A familiar thought to any longtime “Breaking Bad” fanatic crossed our minds once more: If you only knew… [A]