You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Tuesday, 17 September 2013




"I met a traveler from an antique land..."

I've been eagerly awaiting this episode based on its title alone. If there's anything that having an English Literature degree has enabled me to do, it's pick up on references to popular Romantic poets. The poem Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is a sonnet that demonstrates the impact of time on the legacy of a once-mighty ruler; the central irony of the piece being that a statue he built as a testament to his power comes to symbolize instead the ravening inevitability of history: that we are all forgotten. Given the tagline to this final eight episodes, "Remember My Name", it seemed that big things had to be in store for an episode that sought to evoke the Ozymandias of lore.

Speaking of lore, it's intriguing that this episode, written by Moira Walley-Beckett, chose to open with a flashback. While we might have gone into "Ozymandias" desperate to learn the fate of Hank (and to a lesser extent Gomie), the show took a moment to remind us of its roots. After all, the site of the current shootout is also where Walt and Jesse first cooked meth in that RV, what seems like a lifetime ago. While this was obviously new footage that had been recorded, slotting neatly into the timeline of the first season - Aaron Paul, for one, looks noticeably older than he did five years ago - it served as a poignant reminder of just how much has been lost.

For one, it was nice to see the old Walt-Jesse dynamic with Walt as the patient science geek, Jesse as the bored would-be student. I rewatched the pilot of Breaking Bad just yesterday in introducing a friend to the show: I'd forgotten how comically offbeat it was with Walt in his tighty-whities and his bickering with Jesse. As Walt says to Jesse in this flashback, though, about the meth-cooking process, "The reaction has begun". Even as Walt wanders off into the desert, spinning lies to Skyler about Bogdan and his schedule at the car wash, even as she's in the process of boxing up a porcelain clown figurine - remember Skyler's eBay phase? - the wheels are already in motion.

It's amazing how naturally in this scene Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn slip back into their old roles: Walt making us excuses for his absence to a Skyler who can scarcely imagine her husband might be up to any wrongdoing. Walt is slightly flustered, Skyler gently patronizing, and the whole thing has such gentleness to it, it reminds you how heartbreaking it is what their relationship's become. As Breaking Bad has followed Walt's descent into Machiavellian amorality, the show has naturally become so much darker. As such, this cold open is like sunlight breaking through the clouds, a brief glimpse of hope, of what once was. You almost wish it would never end.

Nevertheless, we are forced to watch as, on the plans of the To'hajiilee, the figure of Walt circa 1998 fades away, then Jesse kicking around outside the RV, then the RV itself. Those familiar characters, those loveable, redeemable icons disappear, and we hold our breath 'cause we know what's coming. As soon as the thankfully brief title sequence has run its course, we hear, at first, the gunfire; the Nazi trucks fade in. Hank is slumped behind his vehicle, bleeding from a wound in his thigh. Gomie, his loyal friend and companion, and beneficiary of so many good-naturedly non-PC jokes, is out of cover, face-down in the dirt and clearly dead. One down and one to go.

Still in the process of making a final stand, Hank crawls out of cover to reach Gomie's shotgun. The camera draws out ahead of him and we see, unbeknownst to Hank, Uncle Jack make his approach. With Hank under the gun, Todd - fucking Todd - is more concerned with Jesse. Whether this is due to the promise he's made to "Mr. White" to deal with him, a new-found obsession with Walt's former apprentice, or part of his scheme to improve the quality of his meth isn't immediately clear, though the show continues to emphasize the parallels between the two: "What do you figure, he may be headed down that gully there?" "That's the way I'd go." 

While Jesse is all about human weakness, Todd and his Nazi brethren are full of ruthless efficiency. I said early in my review of S05E11 ("Buried") that, as suggest by the blood on his shoe, Jack wasn't a real professional, but the show's gone out of its way to prove me wrong since. Like Hank, Uncle Jack has a clarity of vision that Walt lacks. From the instant Hank discovered Walt was Heisenberg, he set about bringing his brother-in-law down. Similarly, Jack didn't hesitate in opening fire on a perceived threat - he took a moment to assess the situation then did what he felt he had to. It's only now, as Jack cocks his gun and prepares to finish Hank off, that Walt even enters into the equation.

Emerging from the glass-covered backseat of the car in which he's been cowering, Walt still doesn't feature highly in Uncle Jack's concerns: he sends Todd to deal with the erstwhile drug kingpin. Meanwhile, bulldog tenacity is written in every line of Hank's face: he's in pain and about to die, but his gaze never falters. Walt tries to talk Hank free of the situation, making the situation clear to Jack that Hank's family. Unsurprisingly, Jack has questions about how the foremost meth cook in the whole of New Mexico came to have a DEA Agent for a brother-in-law. The irony is, of course, palpable: without exposure to the business through Hank, Walt might never have set foot on this path.

The degrees of tragic irony in Breaking Bad are so complex they require a graph. As Walt says to Hank, "You weren't supposed to be here": Walt only called in the Nazis because he thought he was in danger from Jesse, Jesse who had brought danger to his home despite Walt ostensibly being "the one who knocks". As Hank says, though, it's "Too late now". All that irony amounts, ultimately, to this, a confrontation in the desert between a former high-school chemistry teacher, a DEA agent and a group of fascists. All of Walt's grand ambitions amount to this. 

"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies..."

Hank Schrader, for all he's been through, for all his trials, has never been broken. As Kenny restrains Walt and Hank snarls up at Jack, with Jesse Pinkman at least momentarily out of our minds, it seems obvious, at least to me, that Hank was always the show's ultimate problem dog. Jesse may have been obstinate, alternately headstrong and apathetic, but Hank was always Walt's intellectual antithesis: an apparent meathead with a rigidly moralistic code and unquestioning dedication to the war on drugs. Since then, Breaking Bad has transformed Hank into the closest thing it has to a heroic figure, and, as he lies there bleeding in the desert, it seems he will die for it.

When Walt tries to convince Hank to promise that he'll leave it alone, trying to rationalize his way to their salvation - "Nothing can change what's happened here, but..." - even as Gomie lies dead just a few meters away, Hank can't even bring himself to respond. As the situation draws to its inevitable close, Walt lays it all on the line: he offers the Aryans money, his money, all of it, $80 million. That gesture must go some way to redeeming Walt, somehow; that, even after all the terrible things he's done to earn that money, the deaths he's responsible for, the corruption of his family life, he's willing to give it all up for the sake of family, even a family member who loathes him.

Walt presents it to Jack that he can have any future he wants, that he and his gang can leave the country, live a life free of any concern or restrictions. Concerns aside with what damage a cadre of white supremacists could do with $80 million, Jack knows he can have both. For all the violence they've committed, the hurt they've caused, it's strangely difficult to hate Jack and his ilk. Breaking Bad hasn't made a big deal of their reprehensible beliefs - I can't remember one of them uttering a racial slur, for instance - and as for their actions, how are they any worse than what Walt's responsible for? The only different, perhaps, is that Jack's a realist.

When Jack turns to Hank sarcastically to ask if he'd take that dealing, referring to him dismissively as Fed, Walt's expression hardens, his voice grows sharper: "His name is Hank." For all his righteous anger, though, Walt is missing the point: Hank, like Jack, has an ideology, a code. He's no more capable of walking away from the case, of leaving his partner's murder unavenged, than Jack is of taking the money and swanning off to Hawaii. For the briefest moment, though, it's nice to see Walt as the defender of the Whites (and the Schraders), instead of the person who tore their lives apart. Hank can only throw it away: "My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go fuck yourself."

It's almost enough to make you think he wants to die. Doesn't Hank care about Marie? Walt is desperate, disbelieving; Hank is stubborn. 10 minutes into the episode, 10 minutes after we might have supposed he would have died, Hank and Walt share a moment. Walt is almost in tears, pleading with him. "Walt, you're the smartest guy I ever met; you're too stupid to see". Walt's egghead status has always been an object of jest to Hank, dating all the way back to the pilot with Hank's toast to his brother-in-law with "the brain the size of Wisconsin", but here Hank's sincere. Walt is blind, as he always has been, to the motivations of anyone but himself.

"He made up his mind 10 minutes ago. Do what you're gonna d--"

Jack shoots him dead before he can finish his sentence. And with that Breaking Bad was changed forever, however short a forever it may be. The second half of this season, Season 5, seemed to be shaping into a face-off with Walt on one side and Hank and Jesse on the other. Now, despite all the bad blood between them and Walt's last-ditch attempt to save his life, Hank is dead and Walt has given the farm away for nothing. Jesse, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen. As that shot reverberates among the cliffs that opened the very first episode, we see, finally, where Walt's journey must at last take him: into the belly of the Nazi beast with a vial of ricin and an M60.

For the present, though, Walt is devastated, as are we. Of everything he's been through, we've been through, this is the most brutal. Breaking Bad, as groundbreaking a show as it might be, has never previously killed off a member of its original cast; arguably, unlike The Sopranos or The Wire, it hasn't had the numbers to thin, the cast to kill. We close in on Walt in what seems to be almost a dolly zoom (the 'Vertigo' shot, suggestive of an incalculable shot). Walt collapses, first onto his knees then onto his side, as the sun flares up behind him. Todd looks on, impassive, uncomfortable; after all, sociopaths are notoriously uncomfortable with other people's emotions.

The rest of the sequence is almost an afterthought: Uncle Jack already has the coordinates to the money, the ones Walt sent him as his location. He lights up a cigarette and watches as Kenny digs; we hear the telltale thud almost immediately. Walt grimaces in emotional agony, seemingly oblivious to the loss of his fortune. He's responsible for this on so many levels: from the death of Gus, which opened up a pair vacuum Walt filled only temporarily, to his poisoning Brock, about the only thing that might have turned Jesse against him.  He can only lie there and weep as Hank and Gomie's bodies are dumped in a ditch. RIP, Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez.

The camera remains focused on Walt sprawled in the background even as Hank's body is dragged through the foreground and dumped off-screen - in fact, we never see Hank's body in hard focus. Director Rian Johnson, who directed "Fifty-One" earlier this season, denies us even that bit of closure. All the life seems to have gone out of Walt. Jesse was always the pathetic one; Walt's never been anything if not defiant. It's almost believable that Walt could just lie there and die of grief and self-pity were it not for the briefest glimpse of Jesse hiding out beneath the car. Then, after all that agony and death, Jack leaves Walt a single barrel, somewhere in the region of $11 million. 

Having murdered Hank in cold blood, Jack nevertheless shows charity towards Walt. When one of his henchmen grumbles, he even takes a moment to comment, "Jesus, what's with all the greed?" Even while snapping his fingers in front of Walt's face, trying to elicit a reaction, Uncle Jack never boasts about his magnanimity. Is he trying to buy Walt off, give him a reason to stop him coming after him, or is he leaving Walt a barrel by way of an apology, because it's the decent thing to do? Todd even apologizes to Walt for his loss. In this world, evil is never a simple thing; even unrepentant Nazi murderers are capable of charity.

As I've said earlier in this review, Walt has never been about ideology. His doctrine has always been one of money and family and, most recently, of empire building. More so than any other show I can think of, including The Sopranos, the bedrock of Breaking Bad is, in essence, that of the American dream: libertarianism, exceptionalism, the idea that one man, without rules and boundaries, can be a king. Jack, it seems, doesn't kill Walt because of Todd, because Todd respects Walt, because Todd wouldn't forgive him Walt's death - there is family to be considered. In the world of business, however family, ties and bonds, can be fatal: as the flash-forward suggests Walt may yet kill Jack.

For now, for the sake of his own life, Walt has to contend with shaking Jack's hand - "no hard feelings". Walt was unwilling to do so an episode ago, but now... Still, if there's one thing Walt has proven he's capable of it's moral compromise. After seeing Hank executed in front of him, it seems a switch has turned in Walt. Still concerned with "Pinkman", Walt, after lying on his side in the dirt, is more than willing to point the Nazis in his direction. We track in on Jesse hiding in the dip underneath the car as the Aryans close in and drag him out screaming. Even so, it never seems quite plausible that we could lose Jesse too so soon.

Walt looks down at Jesse as Jack prepares to dispatch him. Why Walt's so keen on yet more violence is difficult to get your head around until you consider his history of rationalization. Isn't it Jesse, after all, who brought him out here to the desert, who forced his hand, who got Hank involved in their private conflict, who bears responsibility for Hank's death? In the space of moments, it's dismally simple to see how Walt could, once again, convince himself that none of this is his fault. It's easy to say that Walt has lost his humanity, but perhaps this is just another sign of it: an inability to come to terms with the evil he's done driving him towards further wrongs.

Jesse has his eyes shut, prepared to die, buzzards circling overhead; all it takes is two slight, almost imperceptible nods from Walt - "We good to go?" - and it's apparently a done deal till Todd - Todd of all people - intervenes. When Todd suggests they take Jesse back to base and interrogate him, discover what he told the Feds, it's evidently a stop-gap measure. Maybe Todd gets off on torture or maybe, more likely, he's still invested in his promise to Lydia. Now, having shown us the best of Walter White, him at his most noble and sacrificing, "Ozymandias" shows us at his absolute worst. For once, all he has to do is tell the truth, and that truth, long since forgotten, is Jane.

More than willing to let Jesse be tortured, it's almost as if Walt feels obliged to deliver the coup de grace himself. He tells Jesse - terrified, vulnerable surrogate son Jesse - that he was there when Jane died, that he watched her die, “I could have saved her but I didn’t”. This is a monstrous side of Walt we've never seen before, a sadistic side, a side that wants Jesse to feel the same pain he felt when Hank was killed just minutes before, the same helplessness: "whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command". Jesse, already demolished, is taken off and the convoy pulls away, leaving Walt alone, more alone, perhaps, than he's ever been.

He gets in his car, looks in the rear-view mirror at the patch of dirt where the money once was, where the RV once stood: all gone. It's not long before Walt's car breaks down, too - an event so obvious and so justified you could almost belief that karma was in the works. Having said that much of the comedy from the early seasons has leeched away, Breaking Bad still excels in tragicomedy, and the scene of Walt rolling the barrel of money across the flats to the tune of bluegrass-y folk song "Take My True Love By Her Hand" - "Time are getting hard, boy; money's getting scarce" - more than qualifies. That barrel never crosses the midpoint of the screen.

The sun is beating down and, this being an Indian reservation, Walt soon comes across a Native establishment, a mud-brick, adobe-style homestead. Walt stops at the settlement's wooden fence, captured beneath the horn of a bull's skull - the landscape is desolate and death lingers over all. Across the fence, he barters for the gnarled Native owner's car. Out here in the desert, everything is for sale, even the things that aren't, and Walt, though he may be out of scruples, is still a millionaire. What Walt can't know, what (again) he can't buy his way out of, is that Marie, the other, more passive side to the now abortive Schrader threat, is on her way to confront his wife.

Unaware of the true situation - that her husband is dead, that all their plans and hopes are for naught - Marie still thinks that Walt is in custody, that Hank has proven triumphant and will soon be heading home. Skyler, anxiously placing a call to Walt, has no way of knowing otherwise, too. Walt Junior is working the till when Marie arrives unanticipated. Her response to his question of what she's been up to - "Oh, you know, this and that" - sounds positively Fargo-esque. The Coen Brothers, with their quirky bleakness, are some of the few filmmakers I can cite as a possible inspiration behind Breaking Bad and the parallels are never clearer than at the car wash.

We might get our share of dumb crooks at Saul's, but what follows between Skyler and Marie in the car wash office resonates with the Coens in terms of their interest in moral accountability. Marie lays out the story as she knows it from the other side of the desk - two more people, like Walt and the Native American, divided by experience. Marie tells her sister that Hank has Walt, that Walt is "dead to rights"; she coolly demands that Skyler sit and listen as she lays out her version. We stay on Skyler's head, slowly bowing; her hands come together as if in prayer. This is what she's been waiting for, what she might have hoped to avoid with Jesse Pinkman's death: the truth is out.

Again, unaware that the truth has been buried along with her husband, Marie continues to lay it out. Her self-righteousness, almost vindictive - "I for one could not be happier" - would be nauseating were it not so plaintive: "All I know, all I have been forcing myself to remember, is that you are my sister, and so I'm here." It's at this point that Skyler finally exhales, having been holding it all in, on the verge of breaking down. Marie has never been developed as a character in the same way Walt has - she's been a kleptomaniac, a caring wife - which, despite all Walt's done, can make her difficult to like when she's put in an adversarial position, especially that of the disappointed school ma'am.

For all her "Answer me, do you understand me"'s, her "what he's done to you"'s, and demands that Skyler hand over every single copy of "that obscenity", Marie is, after all, in the right. When she says that it's time to tell Walt Jr. the truth, our first reaction is to cringe away from it, to recoil even. Junior has been kept in the dark so long, he's so naive and klutzy, it's impossible to gauge what his reaction will be. Out of the characters in Breaking Bad, it's Junior that's changed the least: two years may have passed within the show's narrative, but, his preference for being called Flynn aside, he's still the same kid who made a website soliciting donations for his dad's cancer.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Jesse, now lying beaten and abused in the darkness beneath a heavy grate. When a sheet is swept away and sunlight floods through, he cringes away from it; less a rabid dog than one who's been profoundly abused. We can't know how much later this is - long enough for Jesse to take a beating, to give the Nazis everything they want - but it can't be more than a few hours. Whether as a junkie or a vigilante, the show has taken delight in punishing Jesse since day one. Now, as Todd helps him up and escorts him through to the lab, we saw at the start of the previous episode, it seems Jesse, his face bloody and swollen, has found himself  in Hell.

Hooked up to a rail, forced to shamble around the lab like Quasimodo, dragging it behind him, Jesse is to be Todd's tame meth cook, his Igor or perhaps his Frankenstein (Monster or otherwise). However, more than any chains or guns, it's the photo of Andrea and Brock clipped to the wall - presumably taken during the stakeout at their house - that makes him a prisoner. Even if he can't be part of their happy family, Jesse could never let anything happen to them. The threat is clear, if implicit: when Todd says, "Let's cook", Jesse's in no position to argue. Now a prisoner of the Nazis, might Walt's sojourn with the M60 constitute a rescue mission of the boy he betrayed/abandoned?

Returning to the car wash office, the first thing we see is Walt Jr., tense, hyperventilating. Skyler is crying. Once more, as with Gomie's discovery of the truth, the show has avoided showing us the moment of revelation. While it's not as clean a reveal as Hank's discovery of Leaves of Grass while sitting on the toilet, Skyler struggling to find the words, to find a way to tell her son that his father, a man he adores, is a criminal. Then again, Breaking Bad has always favored the emotional aftermath over awkward exposition. It's now the difficult questions come: "How could you keep this a secret? Why, why would you go along?!" Skyler, lest we forget also a victim of Walt's.

Over the course of the show's run, Skyler and Walt Jr. have become less people for Walt to interact with than objects for him to manipulate. Skyler - who long ago acted out, had an affair, debated leaving him - has become Walt's cover, his loving wife. Aside from the scene in "Buried" where she tended for him as he lay passed out on the bathroom floor, Walt and Skyler's marriage has become one of convenience. Junior, meanwhile, has been lied to so long, it's no wonder his head's spinning: all he can see are the lies, the bullshit. 

"Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed..."

Walt has mocked Skyler and Junior in his actions, in his dishonesty, even as he played the loving father and husband; the trauma they are now experiencing, that trauma that is "stamped" upon them, is all borne of this. Even now Marie is patronizing "Flynn" telling him to breathe. Breaking Bad - like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and so many others - is defined by its strong male characters. Without Walt and Hank to take control, it's up to Marie to give the orders. Even as she commands the shattered Skyler and shaken Junior to go home, Walt is already back at the house packing. Given he's supposed to be in Hank's custody, what is Skyler to think?

Once again, Walt becomes a victim of his own success, of the legacy of ruthlessness he's built. It's that legacy, we know, that'll convince Skyler he's capable of having killed Hank, that legacy that Junior is now having to come to terms with. The car beeping to signify Walt Jr.'s seatbelt is undone - "You're shitting me, right?" -  underscores the tragedy that must be approaching. The shot of Holly in her child seat in the back - Holly, the only White as yet unscarred by Walt's misdeeds - suggests that her time may come. In the meantime, Junior may believably be screwed up for life; perhaps this is a fate worse than the death I came to expect for them both.

In any case, they arrive home to find Walt throwing bags in the back of the Native American's pickup. As Junior and Skyler furiously try to question him, Walt hurries them into the house, hurries them along: "The priority right now is to pack". Walt is at his most driven, his most frustrating, curtailing the questions they desperately need in order to get out of the house, what, five minutes earlier? Who is he running from? What do they have left to fear? Or is that Walt can no longer bear the site of his family home, the lies that inhabit it, the table where he and Hank once shared a drink? "And on the pedestal these words appear..."

Skyler, though, has an impossible question, a question that needs answering, and it involves her brother-in-law. Skyler is a fixed point, immoveable on this. Walt is evasive - "I negotiated." "Negotiated?" "Yes." - at the very point he most needs to be forthright. Walt's mistrust, his paranoia, are hardlined into him at this point, or perhaps, for all his promises that, "We're gonna be fine", he can't bear to stop and look at the situation. And then the question comes: "What happened? Where is Hank?" Walt says that he needs them both, Junior and Skyler, to trust him when of course they can't. He promises to explain everything later, but Skyler advances, shaking, "Where is Hank?"

Walt tries to offer Skyler a fresh start, the same fresh start he offered the Nazis back in the desert, but, as the episode's cold opening served to remind us, there's no going back: "The reaction has begun". Walt's family is slipping away from him, and, now matter how much he smiles and implores, there's only one conclusion Skyler can draw: "You killed him. You killed Hank." Junior's reaction - his immediate "What?" - is painfully bewildered. Walt can protest all he wants that he tried to save Hank, but there's nothing he can say or do. After all the times he's abused their trust, Walt has finally lost control of his family; the terrible irony of it is that it's over the death of a man he tried to save.

As Walt leaves the room, Junior following, begging for understanding, Skyler picks up a knife. It's the same knife rack that sat behind her in the flashback at the episode's beginning and now, almost two year's down the line in show-time, she's turning it against Walt. Oh, Jesus... As Walt reenters the living room, bags in tow, Skyler turns, blocking Junior from him. Once again, we find ourselves staring down that corridor that's featured so prominently the last five episodes, only this time it's Skyler barring his way. Walt is frustrated, irritated even, by his inability to get through to her, but, even as he puts the bags down, the camera stays on the knife in Skyler's hand. 

This is Walt as the interloper. His ego, his amoral pragmatism, his violent masculinity - all elements brought out by his involvement in the drug trade - are not welcome here, in the home. Skyler, once the matriarch of the White family, forbids him to speak: "Don't say one more word." She says "Enough" and she sounds like she's had it. Her reaction is visceral, instinctive; however calm Skyler may seem, she's rightfully on the verge of hysteria. Walt, however, has nothing but contempt for raw emotion, his own displays of "weakness" aside, and, as he advances, Skyler lashes out: "GET OUT!" The camera focuses in on the slash across Walt's palm; Walt's turns his hand to look at it, shocked.

The sound of the tide builds and breaks with an almost comical "phwhip". In another burst of tragicomedy, more tragedy than comedy, Walt and Skyler battle over the knife. They grunt and groan, shaking back and forth in front of the family photos, as Holly bawls in the background. They throw themselves rigidly into walls, into furniture; the knife comes up, shaking in mid-air, as Junior watches on, still resting on his crutches, pleading with them to stop. It's only once Walt is ascendant, one hand on the knife, the other on Skyler's chest, that Junior intervenes. Having tackled his father off her, it's now Junior's turn to shield his mother.

Even as Walt, brow furrowed, demands to know, screaming, "What is wrong with you?! WE'RE A FAMILY?!", the episode's title comes into horrific focus. Skyler and Junior look up at Walt, terrified; for all Walt's mumblings of "We're a family", it's not enough to stop Junior reaching for his phone and placing a call to the police. "It's my dad. He pulled a knife on my mum. He attacked her. He's dangerous." Walt: murderer, drug kingpin, is doomed instead to be known as an abusive spouse. He has, at last, destroyed his family. 

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

After such an ignominious end to his ambitions, Junior's follow-up statement - "He may have killed somebody" - is almost a relief. If the only thing that remains to Walt is to be remembered, then perhaps it's better to be thought of as a killer than a petty tyrant. For now, Walt doesn't have time to think of that: even as Junior continues making his call to the police, Walt picks up Holly's car seat - his infant daughter still inside - and sharply exits the premises. Holly may be the only White, the only family member, who is not yet lost to him. Holly's innocence is all that remains to him. Skyler's reaction at losing her baby to this monster is utterly distraught.

Having hammered on the truck window, screamed, begged, Skyler runs down the street, desperate beyond all measure, as Walt makes his escape from the family home. Once again, in the space of a day, Walt has inflicted extreme emotional distress out of malice or disregard on someone for whom he claims to care. It's Skyler's turn now to feel that same helplessness. Perhaps Walt's maliciousness, his infliction of helplessness upon others, in some way goes back to Walt's cancer diagnosis in the pilot, the injustice of it, his inability to escape from it or lash out at it. Walt was a good man and he got screwed. As a bad one, he's able to ensure he does not suffer alone.

For now, however, changing Holly's diaper,  his hand bound up with electrical tape, Walter White is the image of the loving father. Holly, at least, he still has affection for - though it's hard to believe even Walt could hold Junior's distrust against him. Holly he can salvage. Then again... As she speaks her first words, there in the public toilet, before his very eyes, we see the light go out in Walt's eyes: "Mama". Holly's first cogent act is to call for her mother. Though he hugs Holly, kisses her, holds her tight, we can see that Walt has no choice but to let her go. Though anger has been Walt's emotion of choice, it's worth remembering just how well Bryan Cranston does sadness too.

Back at the White home, local police are orchestrating an Amber Alert. Everyone, Marie included, is reeling; Junior tries to comfort her, but all Marie can says is that "Hank had him in handcuffs". A call comes through. Can you name a show in which phone calls have proven as pivotal as in Breaking Bad: from the one that directed Hank away from the RV back in Season 3 to the one that Walt makes now. Passing through the gauntlet of the White family voice-mail message - that must have stung - Walt is there to demand that Skyler pick it up. With Walt now memorialized as an abusive husband, if not yet a drug dealer, the police are quick to run a trace.

It's unclear yet as to how much Marie and Co. have told the police - as to Hank's murder and Walt's drug empire, they have no proof - but Walt seems to be doing a good job at digging his own grave. Though he asks for and receives confirmation that Skyler is alone, he must know that there are people listening; the fact he breaks his phone apart suggests he doesn't want to be traced. If there was any doubt in the show's portrayal of Walt as a pseudo-abusive husband, this phone call dispels all doubt: Walt's vitriol and blame casting are difficult to listen to - "What the hell is wrong with you?" "This is you fault. This is what comes of your disrespect."

Returning to the therapy session Marie underwent back in S05E12 ("Rabid Dog"), I suggested that the subtext, at least as far as the therapist might hear it, was very much that of Walt as an abusive father. Now, setting himself up as the indisputable patriarch of the White household - he took Holly because Skyler "needs to learn" - Walt is every cliche that archetype embodies and more. He's vengeful and vindictive, mocking Skyler's concerns. Hatred and resentment pours out of him like it's been building up for years. This, I'd suggest, is for much the same reasons that so many fans of Breaking Bad seem to hold Skyler in so much distaste.

While I, for the most part, have found Skyler complex and sympathetic - every unlikeable thing she's done has been as a response to something far worse on Walt's part - she was, for many seasons, and even now till a lesser extent, the person to whom Walt would have to go home and lie. Skyler was Walt's eBay-obsessed, slightly lecture-y ball and chain; the show forces identification with Walt, and, as I said earlier about Marie, Skyler has proven a magnet for criticism in his place. Hopefully, when Walt turns to outright misogyny, calling Skyler a stupid bitch, those who've been so unwilling to give the character a break might finally been forced to face up to some dissonance in this regard.

Then again, is it just possible that, as opposed to villainy, this is Walt at his most noble? In burning his bridges - even in the cruelty of telling Skyler (and Marie, and Junior), "You're never gonna see Hank again" - could Walt be letting her off the hook? I don't just mean this in terms of legal repercussions,but morally too. When Walt tells Skyler that Hank died because "He crossed me" and coldly threatens her to tie the line, it's impossible to overstate how vile he seems. At this juncture, it seems there are two distinct and opposing ways to view this scene. Both, giving Walt's conflict, the difficulty of gauging his motivation, seem almost equally plausible.

The first option is that Walt has gone off the deep end, claiming responsibility for Hank's death - whether or not he knows he's on the phone with the police - out of a desire to inflate his legend, like he encouraged Jesse to take credit to Spooge's death-by-ATM back in Season 2. He's treating Skyler like his competition, lashing out at her - "Family or not, you let that sink in". The second reading is that Walt is using his alter-ego as cover for his own hurt: by the end of the scene, he, like the rest of his family, is in tears. He's playing into his new persona as abusive husband in order to facilitate a break from those he loves and has almost destroyed.

Perhaps I'm giving Walt too much credit - I find my sympathy has remained with him far beyond the point at which other people having been willing to write him off. The fact remains, though, that, in the space of a single episode, Walt has gone from pleading for Hank's life to taking credit for his death, a leap that in any other show might come across as ludicrous. Similarly, Skyler has gone from the concerned wife calling Walt to confirm he's okay to asking him to come home so that she can recover her baby (and he can be arrested). Breaking Bad has a habit of keeping you on your toes: when Walt says, "I've got work to do", he could mean more or less anything.

In what seems to support that second reading, Walt's first task, it seems, is to ensure Holly makes it back home. They may not be in that home very much longer - perhaps HEISENBERG is left sprayed on the walls as a message from the Nazis? - but for now Walt's making a gesture of good faith. The previous scene of Walt on the phone having taken place in the inky black parking lot of a fire station, lit by a single blazing streetlamp, the next thing we see is a chessboard in that fire station break room. Chessboards, deeply symbolic at the best of times - white/black, good/evil, move/counter-move - here seem to be almost defies the viewer not to interpret it as such.

The move the fireman makes, as far as I can tell, is the white king from A8 or H1 - the rearmost, rightmost square - to B8 or G1, its neighbor to the immediate left. Could the white king still be Walt - if you believe he's still redeemable - and, in which case, is doomed to face off against Uncle Jack as the black king? I could spend the rest of this paragraph trying to decipher it, but I'll skip ahead, instead, to the discovery of a whimpering Holly in the compartment of a fire engine; Walt presumably having turned the lights on to attract attention. For all Walt's talk of punishing Skyler, he gives her back her baby; that surely has to be worth something in the antihero stakes.

The final scene of "Ozymandias" - to my mind one of the greatest hours of dramatic television ever to be broadcast - sees Walt sat in front of "the tombstones": the giant slabs of upright concrete that line the roadside, the same place where Jesse waited for less than three episodes before. Unlike Jesse, Walt, with his three bags and his barrelful of money, gets in the car, gets in the car. There's nothing left to keep him Albuquerque - no family tie or injustice in need of avenging. His almost startled look in the side-view mirror says it all: for all his claims to Skyler of starting a new life, this is never a place in which Walt saw himself. At least not like this.

With a panoramic shot of the dry grass, the low, scrubby trees, the New Mexico sky at sunset, the car pulls off into the distance; a lone dog crosses the road and hops the curb behind it as we cut to black. This is it. In an event that's been teased these last five episodes, Walter White has finally left his family, and it seems, by the state on his fake ID in S05E09 ("Blood Money) and the title of the next episode, "Granite State", he's off to New Hampshire, exchanging those dusky oranges for igneous grey. There's nothing, it seems, to draw him back to the Land of Enchantment apart from revenge and we all know what they say about that. 

"Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away."

To end this review on a more upbeat note - this whole run of episodes haven't exactly allowed for that - it seems that the flashback that started "Ozymandias" was the last scene to be shot in the whole of Breaking Bad. It makes sense given the need for Bryan Cranston to grow his hair back, getting the RV out of mothballs, not to mention that they were already shooting in the right location. As well as bringing the show full circle, thematically speaking, it's nice to know the production Breaking Bad, if not Breaking Bad itself, got something of a happy ending: nice guy Walt and innocent Jesse bickering away, happily oblivious to what fate has in store for them.

Here's the promo for next week, "Granite State". Before then, though, if you haven't watched "Ozymandias" and for some reason still decided to read this, for the love of God, watch it. If you don't watch the show and, for reasons utterly beyond my comprehension, decided to read this, watch it. Go out and buy all four and a half seasons - or invest in Netflix for a month, it's less than £6 - and watch them. There's less than two weeks now till the season finale, and, taking into account next week's episode, that's 61 episodes, something like 40 hours of TV. I, for one, can't think of many better ways to spend that time.

All images and copyrighted terms used herein are the property of their respective owners, AMC, Sony Pictures Television, etc. I make no money from this site and my use of them is for purely educational and illustrative purposes.  Screenshots can't do it justice, of course, but they help to convey my thoughts.

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