Heading into this week’s mid-season finale, we wondered how “Breaking Bad” might try to top last week’s devastating “Say My Name,” which saw fan favorite Mike Ehrmantraut murdered at the hands of the show’s (once) protagonist Walt. Actor Dean Norris slyly teased that this week’s episode would contain an “Oh, shit” moment and fans heads began to spin wondering just how they might top themselves this time. Well, it wasn’t another major death (though there were a record number of deaths) but instead the very beginning of the endgame that the series has been working towards since the pilot: Hank’s realization that his brother-in-law is the same man he’s been hunting down unsuccessfully for over a year. The episode’s title, “Gliding Over All,” is taken from a Walt Whitman poem whose final line reads “Deaths, many deaths I’ll sing.” Oh shit, indeed.
Last week we weren’t sure how Walt would possibly dispatch of Mike and his car before the authorities could find him but it turned out to be no problem at all. With Todd’s help, Walt is able to dispose of body and vehicle without breaking a sweat, it’s practically routine for them now. Much of the episode is punctuated by silence. Walt sits contemplatively and stares into space. Is he feeling any sort of regret for the things he has done or simply continuing to think a few steps ahead whatever still lay in front of him? Creator Vince Gilligan says, “I think Walt is reaping what he has sowed and the wind, so to speak, has gone out of Walt’s sails here. When Walt killed Mike, even he on some level was surprised by his actions. He’s crossed a bridge too far. And he no longer has Jesse and that hits Walt harder than he thinks.” When Jesse shows up, nearly interrupting the dirty work being done to his former friend, Walt ushers him away in a scene that’s played out several times during the series already. Once again, the pair are “broken up” as it were, the tenuous union built on lies had sustained them this half-season is once again severed, perhaps for good.
Walt meets with Lydia to get the names of Mike’s guys in jail. She in turn offers him what appears to be the devil’s deal: Ship to the Czech Republic to start making some real money. During the meeting, Walt seems at a distance with Lydia even though her deal seems like it should appeal to the megalomaniac in Walt. As she leaves we see that he’d brought the ricin capsule and was fully prepared to poison her. His demeanor was simply the result of him re-shifting the plan in his head as her offer rolled across the table. To get the ball rolling quickly, Walt meets with Todd’s connections, some neo-Nazi skinheads and presents them with their impossible mission. “Figure it out. It’s what I’m paying you for,” he bellows.
“Pick Yourself Up” by Nat King Cole begins to play and we enter one of the most bravura sequences in the history of the show as Gus’ 10 former employees are dispatched through truly brutal and shocking violence: stabbings, burnings and head-smashings in a two minute orgy of violence. Director Michelle McClaren says she took inspiration from “The Godfather” for this sequence which would even make Gaspar Noe flinch. Unforgettable. On the other side of this mayhem is Walt with his stopwatch and Hank who’s about to get the worst news of his professional career. Hank is beaten. In a quietly devastating moment, he tells Walt about a summer job concluding sullenly that “Chasing trees is a lot better than chasing monsters.” Our heart breaks for him.
While we did not see “Walt 52” again, the episode does feature the second largest time-jump in the show’s history as three months pass during an expertly edited montage. Brilliant match-cuts show the characters going about their business as things are running smoothly. No trouble from Lydia, the DEA or Declan and his goons and yet Walt looks weary from the work. Gilligan describes him as just “going through the motions.” Without the danger, it’s just like any other job and it looks like drudgery. Skyler picks this moment to tell Walt that she wants her kids back using a pyramid of cash to reason with him. “How much is enough? How big does this pile have to be,” Skyler asks over a pile of money so large neither of them could count it, let alone spend it “in ten lifetimes.”
Walt goes for his checkup and lying on the table he already looks like a corpse. On the way out he catches sight of the paper towel dispenser he mutilated back when he first found out his cancer had gone into remission and he’d have to live with himself, knowing the things he had done. The image is a distorted reflection of his former life. Though we aren’t shown any doctors or results, we are given more than one reason to believe that Walt’s cancer has started to come back. We’re fairly certain it will be back in force by the time we see “Walt 52,” (about 9 months from now).
Out of the blue he makes amends with Jesse, leaving him the $5 million he’s owed (or maybe more). As many times as Walt has manipulated and abused Jesse, we still like seeing these two together. It’s an abusive relationship, sure, but when it works it works so well. The dark cloud on this whole reconciliation is that Jesse thinks Walt has come to kill him. And then he tells Skyler “I’m out.”
Now, how he’s managed to get out of his contracts with Lydia and Declan, we’re not sure. Is it really that easy to just walk away from a meth empire without anybody raising an eyebrow or a weapon? That’s why we’re not even sure that he is actually out. But Skyler believes him and (we may have fallen for this one too many times ourselves but) he does seem sincere. And if so, that definitely leads us to believe that his cancer is indeed back and now he’s preparing for the end by putting his affairs in order in an inverse of his origins of his entry into the meth business.
Over the final scene, the family gathers in the backyard while small talk fills the soundtrack but the tension is unbearable. We know our time is running out with Walt. As Hank heads into the bathroom, he reaches for some reading material and finds Walt’s copy of “Leaves Of Grass” with an inscription from Gael Boetticher. The initials spell out everything in Hank’s own personal Keyser Soze moment. Walt is Heisenberg. The look on Hank’s face says everything. And we can hardly speak but to utter “Oh, SHIT.” [A]