Recap: Breaking Bad 514, Ozymandias

 Posted by on September 16, 2013 at 6:52 am  Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Season 5, Season 5
Sep 162013

You should read the rest of that poem, you boob.

– Stan Rizzo to Michael Ginsberg, Mad Men, Dark Shadows

Like his fellow schlubby wannabe-alpha-male-at-heart, Michael Ginsberg, Walter White conducts himself like the only words of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” he remembers are, “I am Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” (Above is an AMC promotional video of Bryan Cranston reading the poem; the poem itself is here.) But Ginz couldn’t even begin to have night terrors about the things Walt has done, and seen done, out of his screaming need to wear the silver stripe on his back just once before he dies. Through all of it, he has somehow maintained the fantasy that he’s doing it all for his family, in spite of the fact that he’s had innumerable opportunities to quit while he was ahead and spurned them all because he just had to have more more more, now now now. But in Ozymandias, the shattering third to last episode of Breaking Bad, it becomes clear that even he can delude himself no longer that he’s any kind of a hero, or any kind of family man.

The cold open flashes back to around the time of the pilot, when he and Jesse were so new at cooking that Walt had to remind a bored and irritated Jesse he couldn’t smoke in an RV full of explosive chemicals, and when Walt was first beginning to dream of what might be for his wife, son, and daughter-to-be. He believed he could go cook meth in the desert, call Skyler to tell him he’d be, so sorry, a little late because his carwash boss blah blah blah, pile up the bloody dough, and come home like a typical suburban dad, with no one — including his DEA-agent brother-in-law — suspecting a thing. They’d take sweet little family excursions, eat pizza, have pool parties with Hank and Marie, and then…what? When was he going to tell them about the money and where he’d gotten it? He obviously hadn’t thought that far ahead; at that point, he hadn’t even told them he had a terminal illness, and he thought he could get away with hiding that, too. “Bad news, honey, I have ten minutes to live, but good news — you guys are set for life! Don’t ask, just enjoy!”

Now Flynn (I guess that’s his name now, huh?) is the last person to have the scales yanked forcibly from his eyes, and once he knows that not only is his Uncle Hank dead but that Walt was responsible for having him killed, it’s all over. When Marie (who doesn’t yet know Hank and Steve are dead) enters that car wash to tell Skyler about Walt’s arrest, they leave a smiling Flynn manning the front desk, and you know those are going to be the last innocent, regular-kid, un-damaged moments of his life. You wonder, can anyone ever recover from something like this, from not just his dad cooking meth, and his mom covering it up, but a beloved family member getting his brains blown out because of it? Holly, who Walt abducts and then returns in a truly harrowing sequence, is at least lucky enough to be too young ever to recall this turn of events, although she may grow up to have some PTSD about it she can’t explain. But the young adult son, named after the man whose name his mother and his aunt will refuse to let pass their lips ever again, will have this burned on his memory for the rest of his life. And the way things are going, you wonder how much longer even Flynn is going to live. Once upon a time, Walt wouldn’t have let Hank or Jesse be taken out by neo-Nazi contract killers, either, even by accident.

Jesse, the man whose life those killers came to snuff out, does get out of the shooting ordeal alive, but only because Uncle Jack is in a chipper mood about Walt turning over his buried treasure to them (in a last-ditch attempt to get them not to kill Hank) and because Todd has an epiphany that they should try to get as much information out of Jesse as possible before they “do the job” on him. But Todd, on the ride home from the desert, apparently has a better idea than killing him after he confesses all: make Jesse cook for them, since Jesse’s meth-making abilities are nearly equal to Walt’s. They beat him to a pulp, lock him in a cell, and bring him into a lab where a picture of Andrea and Brock leaving their homes is posted right where Jesse will see it (signaling that if he tries anything, those two will get it). Then they chain him up, leaving only his extremities free to cook. And all this after Walt has taunted Jesse by telling him that he watched Jane die and could have saved her, but didn’t. So Jesse is, more or less, a dead man too, even though he’s still upright and breathing. At this point, he might actually prefer having his occiput blasted to smithereens without warning.

Walt is magnanimously left with one barrel of cash, with about $11 million inside, thanks to Todd’s residual “respect” for Walt, or at least for Walt’s talent. (“I’m sorry for your loss,” Todd says blandly to Walt after Hank takes his final breath, as if Todd himself had nothing to do with it. Ricky Hitler, indeed.) He is devastated by having to watch Hank get shot, after Hank tells Walt not to bother pleading with Uncle Jack to spare him. “You’re the smartest guy I’ve ever met, and yet you’re too stupid to know he made his mind up ten minutes ago,” Hank snarls, before telling Jack to go ahead and finish the job — which he does before Hank can finish his last word. Hank was never going to leave this world begging on his knees, and that’s all Walt has left, trying in vain to get a freaked-out Flynn and an infuriated Skyler to flee with him and his $11-million barrel without asking the wrong questions. But he’s out of “magic,” as Skyler called Walt’s manipulation and blackmailing skill set back in Fifty-One. Where she once threw her hands in the air and told Walt that she would do whatever he wanted because she had no choice, now she brandishes a knife in order to get Walt to keep his distance from them for good, and when Walt gets his hands on the knife, Flynn throws himself in front of Skyler to protect her. (Fantastic work by R.J. Mitte here, as he handles the most dramatically challenging lines he has ever had to speak with heartbreaking believability. And Anna Gunn’s Emmy reel is here too, as she demands with ever-increasing fury to know what happened to Hank.) “What is wrong with you? We’re a family!” Walt yells, but that line has become a sick joke, like everything else about him. They’re a family, all right — Skyler, Flynn and Marie, united in contempt and disgust against the craven man who would be patriarch. Not exactly what Walt had in mind during that first cook in the desert, was it?

“If you want to know how God feels about money, look who She gives it to,” I was told numerous times (in different wordings) during my time in Debtors Anonymous two decades ago. Well, here She has given 11 big ones to a man who can’t possibly spend it all in the limited time he has left (other than on a fee to Saul’s vacuum repair man to disappear him), and whose family now loathes him and will never see another dime of it, plus another 69 to the Aryan Brotherhood as a kill spiff for two DEA agents. So I guess the DA folks were right. Walt, deep down, understands that he can’t flee with his baby daughter — and not just because she keeps asking for “mama,” but because he is running from bullets both outside of his body and inside of it. As despicable as he is, he can’t put her through that; she’s the only member of this family who still has a shot at escaping this relatively unscathed. He also knows perfectly well that cops are listening in on his last conversation with Skyler, and while calling her a “stupid bitch” and saying he built it all himself and all she did was slow him down initially seems like fan service for all the Skyler-haters, in the end it’s turning that fan service on its ear, because he’s letting her off the hook as a potential co-conspirator. That barrel of money is all that remains, and he will have to use it to buy a new name, a new town, a new past, and new intimates who have no earthly clue of all he’s wrought. What he can’t buy, though, is a clean memory for himself and his family, and it’s the only thing he will ever want.


  16 Responses to “Recap: Breaking Bad 514, Ozymandias”

  1. Amid all the amazing scenes and moments last night, two astonishing images of Hell stay with me:

    1.Jesse chained in the basement, doomed to cook meth forever with Ricky Hitler (great name for him!)

    2. Walt in the desert, rolling his barrel of money ahead of him like a human-sized dung beetle. It might be a scene out of Samuel Beckett, Walt finally reduced to what he really is, just him and his damned money.

    “We’re a family!” Most funny/horrific line Ever.

    It seemed to me that the final phone call to Skyler was doubly intended. Yes, I’m sure he knew that the cops were there listening and he was getting Skyler off the hook, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t mean everything he said. And, yes, nice trolling by Vince Gilligan, putting all the most awful Skyler-hating attacks directly into Walt’s mouth (though i wonder if the Skyler-haters are self-aware enough to realize they’re being trolled.)

  2. Cheery, Skyler hater over here. Couldn’t help but roll my eyes at Walt’s tantrum/Skyler hater act. Gilligan getting one last good one in on all of us, at the defense of Skysenberg.
    Didn’t work.
    Walt still being Walt, is what is to remember about that scene. Still living the illusion of doing ‘something’ (absolving the wife) for the family, instead of going out hard-core. Not pretending anyone but baby Holly matters, and disappearing with his all important loot. No Heisenberg to be located, only Walt the Wuss.

    Hank died LIKE A MAN.

    I have a last shred of hope that WW can exit like Hank did. Blow Todd and his lovable clan away, while swallowing the ricin for all the sins he perpetrated, that are a stain on the Walt half of his soul. The half that should save the comparably innocent, Jesse.

  3. What a dark and disturbing episode!

    On an intellectual level, I expected and was prepared for the deaths of Hank and Steve Gomez, but when it actually happened, it was still shocking, awful and sad.

    On Talking Bad last night, it was noted that Vince is taunting the Walt-lovers out there. Do you like him now? And how about now? And now? I’ve never particularly been a Skyler hater or a Walt lover – or vice versa. I’ve usually been able to at least understand what motivates them, their actions and their reactions and to at least allow for the fact that it is what it is.

    In one of the many episode recaps online, someone noted that Walt’s revelation to Jesse of his role in Jane’s death was motivated by his hatred for Jesse’s joining up with Hank, which resulted in his death. This may be accurate, but it marked a new and terrible low for Walt. Then, as the episode played out, everything got even darker and sadder.

    • Yes, I like him now. Those who are with Walt, root for him because we still see him as an underdog. Guy lives a decent life, gets pushed around figuratively by everyone, and gets terminal lung cancer without ever smoking a cigarette.
      How much does that suck?

      Now, against the Aryans he is an underdog again.
      Gilligan judges Walt harshly. Wonder if he actually gets pissed at all the Walt love there actually is?

      Why shouldn’t Walt get what he wants? However ridiculous that may sound. If he has to lie, and do other madness to achieve his goals, well then so be it. This is America/capitalism. Morality went out the front door a LONG time ago.

      • Ayne Rand would be proud.

        • I’m shouldering the burden for alot, here. It’s only fair. šŸ™‚

        • It’s interesting that you invoke her name, because in my opinion, Walt’s first step into the abyss was not watching/letting Jane die, it was when he refused his rich friends’ help.

          Walt’s family is just the excuse he he uses for himself to justify doing whatever he wants to do. If he TRULY would do anything, he would have sucked up his pride and let his friends pay his medical bills; remember, that was the first excuse for breaking bad…and it’s all gone downhill from there. This last episode was the consequences of EVERY choice Walt has made, and they WERE choices, he could have always gone a different way at every step.

          But according to some comments online (granted not on this site) better for Walt to have done everything he has in the name of self-gratification (and that’s without getting into the subject that what he chosen to do is cook DEATH) than for him to adhere to a non-Randian idea of community and helping others out (oh the liberal horror of it all!). Sorry, but this left-wing, Democrat, liberal doesn’t see it.

          I see a modern morality tale of what happens when it’s every man for himself, and it’s not a pretty sight.

          • The Merchants of Death the Dupont’s of WWI, dealt death for millions. It was legal, and they slept warmly in their beds.
            Skysenberg could’ve chosen to leave/divorce/rat out Walt at the beginning of her being wise to the game. She chose the Lady MacBeth route. That’s on her, not WW. She shoulda stayed in I.F.T. land.
            Jesse could’ve done everything but divorce his partner. But, alas……….
            Not on Walter, that one, either.
            Hank……..that is on Walt.
            Walt’s a punching bag. He’s more hazy to put his finger on than most everyone thinks.

  4. On re-watching the episode, I confirm a little detail reported by others on other sites: while Walt is rolling his barrel through the desert, he passes by unnoticed, in our foreground, a pair of trousers with a belt: his lost pants from the pilot episode that took place some 18 months prior!

  5. Crying hard at the end of this episode.
    Not a Skyler fan but Betty I always had sympathy. Never got the Skyler, Betty Hate (or Margret on Boardwalk empire). Flawed characters who come up smelling like roses compared to their male counterparts.

  6. Did anyone else notice as Walt was rolling the barrel through the desert that he passed what looked like a pair of pants laying on the ground – which I’m guessing were his from the pilot episode.

    Absolutely mind-blowing episode. For all of the previous episodes that I thought would give me a stroke and kept me up half the night after watching (One Minute, Half Measures & Salud), this one still has me numb.

    I can’t wait until next week!

  7. oops I commented before seeing berkowit28’s comment – I hope we weren’t both seeing things!

    just for the record, I’ve hated Walt since he lied to Jessie about Gus/Tyrus taking the ricin cigarette!

  8. Ozymandias indeed, as the empire embodied in Walter White crashes to the desert ground, his shattered expression a combination of a tragic Greek mask and the sad clown that Skyler sold on eBay. Someone in one of the reviews said this scene mirrored the scene of young Gus witnessing the death of his partner, Max, and showed pictures of the faces of Gus and Walter at that moment.

    There’s a series of podcasts I’ve listened to, Breaking Bad Insider Podcast, where each week Vince Gilligan and the writer and director of the current episode discuss the technical making of that episode with one of the editors. It was interesting to hear them talk about this week’s episode, using the cracked ground of the desert under Walter’s face so effectively, and how Baby Holly said ‘mama’ unscripted which led Bryan Cranston to approach the whole scene differently, how difficult it was for Dean Norris to do his final scene, how emotionally draining for Anna Gunn, who had to do the drop-to-her-knees scene before the earlier scenes of her with the knife were filmed, over and over.

    They kept referring to Walter as a ‘bad guy’ made more complex by Cranston’s performance which he develops on the fly as filming is going on – his expression as he told Jesse about Jane was one such instance which confused me, and which they said was wholly made up by Cranston.

    And, yes, the pants on the desert were also mentioned as one of the many references to earlier episodes that are scattered through Breaking Bad, which the audience barely notices. I don’t, that’s for sure.

    Did anyone’s hair rise when the seat belt warning bell was ringing in Skyler’s car? Shades of Gus and the on the elevator of the floors on the elevator after the DEA brought him in for questioning. And, of course, Uncle Hector ringing the death bell to the wheelchair bomb.

    I still love Mad Men better, but Breaking Bad is so enthralling – it’s the kind of show I never thought I’d watch, preferring the everyday violence of Mad Men.

    And, here’s the link to the a CBS Sunday Morning interview on August 11th with Bryan Cranston that contained the spoiler for Episode 14, if anyone cares to find it.

    • “The everyday day violence of Mad Men”. Nicely done, tanta.

      • Why, thank you, Tilden.

        That’s why I’ve always loved Mad Men – I mean Don on the edge of being fired looking over at Joanie for support and what does she do? Casts her eyes down, effectively joining the other partners in throwing him under the bus. Knowing and supporting Don isn’t a good career move, at the moment. Maybe it’s just that I live in NYC, but that’s violence to me.

        PS I love Joan, but the way she deflected his gaze was chilling.

        • Maybe because he really deserved to be given “six months leave.” They had a business to run and he wasn’t pulling his weight.

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