“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” goes the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and not only does it serve as the title of this week’s episode, it also was the foundation of one of the more tantalizing teasers that was released before the start of the final season of “Breaking Bad.” The entire brief poem evokes the imagery of a man surveying his crumbled empire, and by end of “Ozymandias,” everything that Walter White has built up and battled for is obliterated, until even he says farewell to his own name and life.
Before we return to the shootout in the desert that gave last week’s “To’hajiilee” its bracing finale, things quickly flashback to an earlier, simpler time. Skyler (Anna Gunn) is pregnant, and Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) are still cooking in a camper out in the desert. And the brief scene might seem odd or superfluous, but it’s smart move on behalf of the writers to quickly remind the audience that Walter made his choices a long time ago, and the consequences as ugly as they will be, are the result of what started as a little white lie. The brief scene sees Walter telling Skyler he’ll be late for dinner because he’s still at the car wash with Bogdan (remember, Walt’s old boss?), which leads to a small discussion about the name of the baby that’s on the way. And we see the start of how his family has justified to Walt his own deceptions to his wife and son about what he does, but it’s something he won’t be getting away with much longer…
…and after that little flashback, we’re thrown right into the shootout, and immediately see the dead body of Gomez (R.I.P.), with Hank (Dean Norris) nursing a wounded leg, but his face as defiant as ever. The shooting has stopped and the uncles have come around to see just who they’ve been firing at, while a couple go to try and track down Jesse who has gone missing. A frantic Walt, watching this all unfold, handcuffed, from the back seat of Hank’s SUV finally gets out and pleads with Jack (Michael Bowen) to spare Walt. “He’s family!” he growls, which barely moves Jack, who is more concerned that Hank works for the DEA. Increasingly desperate, Walt even offers up the $80 million he has buried in the desert for Hank’s life, but his brother-in-law is already resigned to his fate. “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, but you’re too stupid to see, he made up his mind ten minutes ago,” he says, his final words before Jack kills him, leaving Walt weeping on the ground.
There’s still $80 million to be to be had, and Jack’s men don’t waste a minute, digging it all up, packing it away and leaving one barrel—$10 million—for Walt. “Jesus, what’s with all the greed here? It’s unattractive,” Jack quips in the episode’s one moment of bleak humor. But for Walt, his deal with Jack isn’t over — there’s still Jesse, and he’s seen him, hiding under the Cadillac. In Walt’s mind, it’s Jesse fault that Hank was even put in a position to be killed, and his anger seethes, as he admits to his former partner that he watched his girlfriend Jane die of an overdose, when he could’ve stepped in to save her life. It looks like the end of the road of Jesse, until Todd (Jesse Plemons) steps in. As a quiet witness to the carnage, and an emerging, crafty and cautious voice of reason, he persuades Jack to let Jesse live, until they at least find out they find out what he told the DEA, after which time they’ll kill him to complete the contract. Walt agrees, but Todd has his own agenda…
While all this is playing out in the desert, Marie (Betsy Brandt), upon hearing from Hank that Walt is truly arrested, goes to confront Skyler about what will happen next. A combination of residual anger with genuine caring, she tells Skyler she will do what she can to protect her, and will be there for her, but she wants all the copies of the video framing Hank as Heisenberg (from “Confessions“) to be destroyed. And one more thing: she has to finally tell Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) the truth about his father. A couple weeks back I asked, “Is anyone already feeling that the biggest emotional fallout of the final season may just land on Walt Jr.?” And the answer is: yes. It’s an absolutely gutting scene, with every note of a teenager and son, learning his parents have boldly lied to his face, played perfectly. He’s astonished, hurt and agonized, and your heart bleeds for Walt Jr., a decent smart kid, who deeply loves and admires his father, seeing everything he’s believed about the man he looked up to, turning to ash. But hopefully you haven’t run out of Kleenex by this point.
A brief detour takes us back to Jesse, and he’s least alive for the moment. He’s been battered and bloodied, and when Todd comes to grab him out of a concrete bunker/cellar, Jesse recoils insisting he’s told them everything. But Todd doesn’t want to hit or hurt him. He leads a shackled Jesse into his massive meth lab, and tethers him to a guideline that will allow him to work, but prevent him from running away. A taped picture of Brock and Andrea is found on one of the pillars, and it becomes clear what Todd really needs from Jesse: help. “Let’s cook,” Todd says, as it must surely be dawning on Jesse that his illegal skills will keep him alive, with his ex-girlfriend and his kid as motivation to cooperate. For now. It’s slightly contrived to keep Jesse in the picture when by all accounts he should be dead, and there will inevitably be one last showdown with Walt, but we’re willing to see where this goes and how it will pay off.
As for Walter, he’s left to push his remaining barrel of money around the desert after the bullet riddled car breaks down, buys a beat up pick-up from a random house he comes across, and then hightails it back home. Furiously packing, he’s getting ready to grab his family and leave town, but when Skyler and Walt Jr. walk in the door, they’re just stunned to see him at all. Isn’t he locked up? How did he get out? Why do they have to leave? Where in the past Walt has been able to command his family to follow his orders, this time, he can’t talk fast or authoritatively enough to convince them to leave with him. And it’s Skyler who finally decides where she stands. All season she’s been leaning toward breaking bad herself to protect her family, but now she realizes that what she really needs to shield is herself and her kids from Walt. Skyler grabs a knife, and ignoring her pleas to stay back and get out, she slashes Walt’s hand, and a brawl ensures. It’s broken up when Walt Jr. tackles his Dad, and then does the unthinkable—calls 911. To Walt, it’s a betrayal and he storms out…grabbing Holly out of her playpen, taking her with him, as Skyler follows in pursuit, screaming her for child. It’s a harrowing sequence, and imagery is palpable—not just Skyler running down the street for her daughter, which will tear out the heart of any parent, but the last innocent member of the White family, with the man whose hands are covered in blood.
And it all builds to key scene, one which firmly establishes Walt as a master manipulator. With Holly still with him, even though she is already asking for “Mama” (in a brief interlude, that adds another resonant note of heartbreak to the episode), Walt brazenly calls home to speak with Skyler. He then proceeds to read her the riot act, shockingly calling her a “bitch,” excoriating her for second guessing him, worrying about his drug trade and never understanding everything he did was for family. He confirms that they’ll never see Hank again (though he doesn’t say he killed him), while Skyler’s repeated requests to have Holly returned to her are unanswered. And there are a lot of questions raised by this scene. Even though he tells Skyler to confirm no one is listening to their call, surely he realized that everything he said was being listened to, with the police obviously getting involved (hence destroying his cellphone right after the conversation). Moreover, there is something seemingly very calculated about everything he said (remember the opening scene of the episode: he practicing his lie first, before calling his wife), an almost over-the-top fury (including his threat to kill Skyler if she crosses him) that has a yet unknown reason behind it all. As Hank said, Walter is the smartest guy he ever met, and dropping Holly anonymously with a local fire department is one way to get his daughter back to Skyler without getting directly involved. With an Amber Alert initiated, we’d reckon Walt’s face is now all over the news.
But then, there is the final scene: with Walt, his barrel of money, and luggage—including clothes he pulled out for the rest of his family—stepping into the red minivan that nearly whisked Jesse away to his future. It’s Saul’s one-time-only fixer (whom we cleverly still never see) this time taking Walt to his new life. Or is he?
Where does this go next? With two episodes left, there is a tremendous amount of ground cover, and if I may be somewhat bold, a slight prediction: we’ll be getting a time jump somewhere in the next episode. Let’s remember, the timeline of the show takes place roughly over the course of one year, from Walt’s 50th to 51st birthday (the latter celebrated in season five’s “Fifty One“). What we do know is that at some point we are jumping forward to Walt’s 52nd birthday, wherein he’ll be buying a massive gun. And of course, he’ll be returning to his yet-to-be-torched house and scaring the neighbor shitless. And oh yeah, Charlie Rose is appearing in next week’s episode, presumably as himself. So, are we going to leaping forward a year in time? I think we’re certainly in for something special, and if not a total connection to the flashforward, than certainly a very strong link.
As for “Ozymandias,” it’s a breathtaker, wonderfully directed by Rian Johnson who serves the script by keeping the stylization at a minimum and letting the emotional scenes carry through with the power that was clearly on the page. This is easily one that will go down as one of the great episodes of the show, not just because of the twists and bodies that stack up, but because it fully delivers on the arcs developed for the White family. While we haven’t seen much of Walt Jr. in these last eight episodes, his horror and pain is affecting, as is Skyler finally coming to grips with how much of a monster Walt has become. But what of the king himself? His empire for now is gone, but there are still plenty who have crossed him, and as we’ve learned, that is not something he’ll let go lightly. Jack and his crew better watch their back—they lifted $70 million from Walter and he won’t soon forget it, nor will the sting of his son turning traitor be so easily relieved. Whether the king will get the throne one more time, we’ll find out in the next couple of weeks. [A]