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Monday, June 30, 2014

Breaking Bad Review: Ozymandias

Breaking Bad (AMC), Episode 14 of Season 5
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Moira Walley-Beckett


Brief Description: There were two episodes that aired after "Ozymandias"which were "Granite State" and "Felina". "Felina" was regarded at the time (and obviously still is) one of the best series finales of all time. My own personal problems with "Felina" aside, I like to think "Ozymandias" as the true series finale, with the other two episodes acting like an epilogue. "Ozymandias" was by far and away the best episode Breaking Bad aired in 2013 during it's final eight episodes, and I'd like to give it its own post as dedication to the awesomeness that this episode was.

"What the hell is wrong with you! We're a family! *softer" We're a family." -Walter White-
"Ozymandias" starts off with a flashback sequence of Jesse and Walter's first cook together out in the desert. We see one of Walt's first lies as he calls Skylar to tell her he'll be home late for dinner. Walt calls Skylar from a cell phone and we cut into Skylar in the kitchen of their house. She picks up the land line phone, which happens to be placed right next to the knife block, and speaks to Walt. Skylar tells Walt how much she likes the name "Holly" as a name for their unborn baby girl. The name starts to grow on Walt as the conversation goes along, and as we obviously know from this point in the series that that is the name Walt and Skylar decide to go with.

After the conversation is over, Breaking Bad wipes away Jesse, Walt, and their RV from the screen so we just see the plain and open desert. We then cut to present day. First we hear the noise of the shoot out, and then the cars are scrubbed onto the screen. Gomez has unfortunately been shot to death, and Hank has been severely wounded. Jesse is nowhere to be found.

What happens next is about 15 minutes of pure gold, and some of the best television you'll ever witness- well until you watch "Ozymandias" a little bit longer. It's a sequence so good and so compelling, that the credits you normally see appear at the bottom of the screen don't appear until after this scene is done.

Walt tries to bargain with Uncle Jack to save Hank's life as Walt is prone to do. Walt has always been under the belief that he can negotiate his way out of any situation, especially a situation where he has 80 million dollars in cash to offer up. Not only does Walt not have any leverage, but as Hank says right before he gets executed by a bullet to the head, "You're the smartest guy I ever met and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." Even though we don't actually see Uncle Jack's shot, we certainly hear it. The effect is devastating and the episode takes its time to let what just happen sink in. Walter is utterly stunned. He's spent the entire run of Breaking Bad defending his actions for the benefit of his family, that he's so in shock to see Hank go out like this. In fact, Walt is in such shock that he just lies there for the rest of the day while the Nazi's steal his barrels of money.

Dean Norris has always been a great actor on Breaking Bad, and like the rest of the cast, this will be his finest achievement. For the past two years, Breaking Bad has had two nominees in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category (Aaron Paul + someone else), and I can't imagine a scenario where Dean Norris doesn't finally get recognized for his great work on the show. Hank's arc has officially come to a close thanks to the Nazi's and "Ozymandias", and it was an excellent run while it lasted.

The Nazi's are about to leave (and because Uncle Jack is in such a generous mood, he leaves Walt with one barrel to himself. Gesh! The greed of some people!) and Walt does the worst thing he's probably ever done. This is a man who killed ten people in prison in two minutes just to preserve his own self-interest. This is a man who poisoned a little boy just as power play to get Jesse back on his side. And this is worse. Walt sees that Jesse has fled underneath the car he drove to the desert with, and rats outs Jesse's location to the Nazi's so they can murder him.

I understand that Walt is extremely distraught. He just lost almost all of his money, he witnessed his brother-in-law get executed, and he most likely blames Jesse for some, if not all, of this. But to rat out Jesse to have him killed? There's a special circle in hell reserved for Walter White. For the first time in his life, Jesse is glad to have Todd there. Not only does Todd save Jesse's life at the desert because keeping him alive means the Nazi's can extract valuable information out of him, but he does so again back at the Nazi compound, as Jesse is now, albeit it's against his will, helping the Nazi's cook the pure blue stuff Lydia so desperately wants and needs. Oh, Todd, to be young and in love! The things he'll do for love.

The reason I mentioned before about how "Ozymandias" feels like the true Breaking Bad finale, is because Walt finally tells Jesse in the desert what exactly happened to Jane, Jesse's ex-girlfriend. Back in Season 2, Walt broke into Jesse's place to grab the huge amount of meth they had cooked so he can give it to Gus Fringe so he could stay in the meth game and cook. While there, Walt accidentally turns over Jane, and she starts to overdose and choke on her own vomit. Instead of intervening, turning Jane back over or doing anything, Walt lets Jane die. In a long line of absolutely despicable things Walter White has done, letting Jane die is right up there. This moment has been hanging over the Walt/Jesse relationship for this entire run since that moment. At some point Jesse was going to find out what Walt had done, at that would be the moment where their relationship would absolutely crumble and fall apart. There was a moment back in Season 4 in an episode entitled "Fly" (another Rian Johnson directed episode), where Walt was under the influence and almost accidentally blurted out to Jesse what he did to Jane. Walt and Jesse's relationship was great at that time, and news of what Walt did would have devastated Jesse. But when Walt tells Jesse now, the relationship is already dead. Telling Jesse what happened to Jane is now more of an "I told you so" type deal as opposed to an apology which is what it would have been in "Fly".

After we thoroughly spend our time hanging out in the desert, it's time to check in on Marie and Skylar. In "To'hajiilee", the episode prior to "Ozymandias", Hank calls Marie to tell her that he's arrested Walt and he's got him dead to rights. Of course, since we live in the world of television, that phone call was Hank's death wish. However, three hours after making that phone call to Marie (in real time), Marie goes to visit Skylar and Flynn at the car wash. Marie confronts Skylar about Walt's arrest and forces her to tell Flynn EVERYTHING. Needless to say, Flynn does not take the news of his parent's criminal drug enterprise very well, and Skylar being forced to repeat everything to her son isn't an easy task either. The two scenes in which this takes place at the car wash are more examples of just what incredible actors Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, and R.J. Mitte are. I can't imagine "Ozymanias" isn't the Emmy submission episode for either of the two ladies.

After that exhausting conversation, Skylar drives Flynn and Holly home. Another brilliant shot in an episode filled with them, we first see this family where Skylar and Flynn's back's are to the camera, but Holly is driving backwards yet facing us. The Whites get home and to their surprise, they see Walk packing up his things ready to leave Albuquerque forever.

What happens next is probably the best scene in this episode, and that's a fucking phenomenal feat considering we just witnessed the fall out of the shoot out between Hank and the Nazi's. In fact, this upcoming scene is so fucking great, that Entertainment Weekly named it the best television scene of 2013.

Initially, there's a lot of confusion on Flynn's and Skylar's part considering they were JUST told Walt had been arrested and was in booking. And then the realization of why Walt is alive and free is because he murdered Hank. We as an audience member know that's not exactly how it went down, but from the perspective of Skylar and Flynn, that's exactly what happened. That's the only logical explanation.

As Walt is packing up his things, Skylar goes to reach for the phone laying in the corner of the kitchen. The phone is in the exact spot it was during the flashback when Walt was calling Skylar about being home late from work. The phone is in the foreground, and there's no reason to think Skylar is going for anything else. It's a piece of absolute brilliant film making that Rian Johnson makes us believe that Skylar is going for the phone. When I first saw this episode, that's exactly what I thought was going to happen. But nope, fake out! Skylar side steps the phone and grabs a knife out of the knife block that's hanging out in the background.

Walt again tries to reason with Skylar and he knows (or at least he thinks he knows) that Skylar isn't going to hurt him. Without any hesitation, Walt starts to walk towards Skylar to try and reason with her. This is now the second time today where logic and reason fail to win out and violence takes over. Skylar swings the knife and cuts Walt's hand. Again, the show takes just a brief moment to let what Skylar does sink in- both for the audience and for Walt.

Walt grabs Skylar's arm and tries to wrestle the knife away. Flynn jumps on Walt's back, pulls Walt off of his mom, and then goes to protect Skylar. Walt has officially lost his family forever. There is no going back. There is a parallel to what happens here and what happened between Hank and Uncle Jack in the beginning of this episode. Even though Skylar and Flynn are alive, Walt will never see them again- at least they won't be his family anymore. He's justified everything he does for the sake of family, and he not only loses his brother-in-law, but also his wife and his son.

After realizing that his family will not be joining him on his exile, Walt does one of the worst thing's he's ever done (I guess relatively speaking considering we've already listed about ten terrible things Walt has done within the past 18 months, but again, another parallel to the confrontation at the beginning of this episode). As Walt goes to leave, he takes Holly with him. This is now the second time someone this half season has tried to take Holly away. First it's Marie, and now Walt. That moment where Walt puts Holly in his truck with Skylar chasing after him is just devastating. I remember watching that moment live and audibly yelling at Walt, and that moment's effectiveness didn't change when I re-watched the episode for this post.

However, Walt kidnapping Holly doesn't last very long. As he's changing her diaper in some random bathroom, Holly starts to repeat "Mama" over and over again. A moment of humanity and clarity comes over Walt, and he realizes he has to give Holly back. Walt safely drops off Holly at a fire station and calls Skylar to "yell at her". When I first saw this scene, I thought Walt was legitimately mad at Skylar, but he berates Skylar in an attempt to save her. Walt knows the cops will be recording this phone call to Skylar, and he goes on a tirade that makes it appear that Skylar was only complicit in this criminal activity because Walt was forcing her to be a part of it. Walt tries to be as abusive as possible while also criticizing Skylar for her ignorance. The look on both Walt's face as he's attempting to muster the anger to yell at Skylar and Skylar face's as she both recognizes what Walt is doing while also hearing the words come out of his mouth is just heart-wrenching and superb. Another great showcase for Anna Gunn to repeat at the Emmy's and everything Walter White does is a great showcase for the incredible Bryan Cranston- although in a season full of great showcases, I also have to believe that "Ozymandias" is also Cranston's Emmy submission episode as well.

Before this scene ends, we cut to firefighters playing chess and we briefly see this:

We see the player's king literally backed into a corner. But wait!

The player moves his king....

... and places him in another location. Even though the king was backed into a corner, the king still has one move left in him. All hail the king!

The episode ends with Walt calling on Checkov's disappearance vacuum service, and disappearing into the sunset. Walt's reign as a meth kingpin is officially over. He's going to get a new name, a new identity, and even if he wanted to cook meth, he can't anymore. Walt doesn't have any family left, doesn't have any resources left, has the cops trying to track him down to arrest him, and he's on his way out of town. But right after Walt leaves, a raid dog runs across the street. Jesse is still alive and looming!


* The episode gets its title from a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelly. It's about the decline of all leaders contrasted with their pretentiousness to build great and lasting empires- sounds like someone we know, huh? The same reason it's the title of this episode is also why it's the name of a Watchmen superhero.

* Not only did Rian Johnson direct my favorite film of 2012, but he's responsible for directing three Breaking Bad episodes. He obviously directed "Ozymandias" but also the aforementioned "Fly" as well as Season 5(a)'s "Fifty-One". Even though Johnson was not technically on the regularly scheduled rotation, he probably directed the three greatest Breaking Bad episodes of all time, So what's he up to now? Well, he's currently doing all right for himself.

* Hank's exact last words, "What? You want me to beg? You're the smartest guy I ever met and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago." He then turns to Uncle Jack and says, "Do what you're going to d....."

* The credits that appear on the bottom of the screen don't appear until 18:50 into this episode when we first see Bryan Cranston's name, but only as Walter White is driving away after the aftermath of the shoot out and the day.

* While there's a lot of things that concluded in "Ozymandias"- Hank's death, Flynn and the cops finding out the truth of Walter White, Walt telling Jesse about Jane- as Walt says to Skylar during that final phone call, "I've still got things left to do" (ONLY READ ON IF YOU'VE SEEN THE FINAL TWO EPISODES). This episode doesn't conclude the arcs to Saul, Todd/the Nazi's, or Lydia, Jesse is still alive cooking meth with the threat of Andrea hanging over him, and Walt needs to die. There's no way Breaking Bad could have ended with Walter White still alive and on the lamb. Plus, we have no idea why Walt buys that huge machine gun from Jim Beaver at the very, very beginning of Season 5. But still, there's a lot that happened in "Ozymandias" that's satisfactory if this truly was the series finale.



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