Ozymandias is everything Breaking Bad has been building up to over the past five seasons and it is a truly shattering hour of television. It will now be another two years before Mad Men concludes but as far as final seasons of all-time great US dramas go, Breaking Bad is currently on pace to outstrip them all. Walt's best-laid plans have fallen apart in devastating fashion, but Vince Gilligan's are still well in motion, rushing without hindrance towards a breathless finale.
Walt and Jesse await the rewards of their first cook in an opening flashback that bears as a reminder of what this show's lighter-in both tone and heft-origins. The stakes were so much lower back then: Jesse's brattish innocence had yet to be crushed, Skyler's business acumen earned her a meagre $9 profit on eBay and Walter's great distracting lies amounted to nothing more than Bogdan keeping him late at the car wash. These people haven't really changed in the past 18 months but circumstance has dictated that they become twisted and hardened; their defining characteristics have been amplified concurrently with the stakes they face, and they have never been higher as we return to the present.
Gomey is dead, Hank is injured and remains hopelessly outgunned, but he sees the situation clearly-unlike Walt with his cockroach-like persistence-so he draws a line. The descent into moral relativism has been all too steep for those in Walt's orbit to avoid so far, and Hank, at this late stage, is probably the first to mark himself as a good guy. "My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself", he spits, earning himself a heroic death.
Walter's pointless begging forces him to reconcile himself with his death a few more times than anybody would have ever wanted to. The great Heisenberg appears to be the only one unaware of what must happen. Neither the Nazis nor Hank aspire to his conciliatory criminal ideal, the Nazis because they are scum-pragmatic scum but scum nonetheless-and Hank because he is the last bastion of righteousness in this show. His journey from racist, graceless plot device to martyrdom is complete.
We don't actually see Jack put a bullet in Hank's head, but director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, season three's 'Fly') and Cranston capture Walt's anguish perfectly. He drops to his knees and then to the ground with his mouth endlessly agape and tears in his eyes, the sun flares along with the white noise that rings in his ears; he stays like this for hours. His decision to turn Jesse over to the Nazis gives them the material they need in order to come into their own.
In this, their moment of great triumph, the Nazis gain a few layers. By killing Hank and actually making actual use of their limitless firearms, they prove themselves more than a plot complication. While it initially seemed so unfair that these brutes that have only appeared in three or four episodes are playing such a major role in this show's endgame, they have now become real characters. The slimy smile that forms on Jack's face when Kenny finds the treasure is as angering as it is delicious, and his decision to spare some of Walt's fortune in order to please his nephew seems kind of sweet if anything: Allowing Jesse to live is another interesting choice. These monsters have belatedly earned some dimensions, at least.
Eventually, we return to A1-that opening scene lasts 20 minutes-where Marie and Skyler drain what little emotion we have left. Betsy Brandt makes a wonderful transition from relief and triumph to abject despair, forcing Skyler to bring her son right into the melting pot.
RJ Mitte hasn't been given a lot to do on this show beyond eat breakfast in the past, but he gets his biggest showcase ever when calling bullshit on Walter White as meth kingpin and then in the ensuing confrontation at the White household. As his mother and father struggle with a knife, during what has to be one of the most terrifying sequences to date, Junior dives in heroically to save Skyler's life. By calling the cops he proves himself to be just as badass as his poor uncle, and Mitte makes his presence felt.
Looking back at this season this far, it seems if there's one thing it has drawn attention to it's Walter White, the actor. He has had varied success with the myriad lies he has told, starting with the one at the episode's beginning and reaching a despicable height with the confessional DVD that Marie insists Skyler destroy every copy of. Cranston/Walter's masterpiece, however, comes in an act of almost-redemptive self-sacrifice at this episode's end.
Knowing that the police must have swarmed his house, he calls Skyler and it is as horrifying as it is glorious. At first, it appears Walt's undying need to find a scapegoat will be satisfied as he tears into Skyler, he's like an entire Skyler-bashing internet comment thread rolled into one and wrapped in a most poisonous venom. But then, it all becomes clear as he continually recriminates her and implicates himself. It's literally unbelievable that he own up to his actions in such emphatically honest terms - did Holly's cries for her mother really puncture Walter's self-image or is he knowingly playing the monster while still somehow void of self-awareness?
Either way, he is no more. Heisenberg is dead and Walt might as well be. "My name is Walter Hartwell White, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Words: George Morahan