Wednesday, September 18, 2013

(TV) Breaking Bad season 5 episode 14 "Ozymandias" TV review

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
Much like the rest of season five of Breaking Bad as well as the series as a whole, episode 14 "Ozymandias" was another hour of television at its best. For someone who has a low suspension of disbelief and is rarely, if ever, affected by what transpires on the small screen, I was transfixed by the events of episode 14 leaving me somewhat morose yet firm in the knowledge that for all the hours of TV that I will watch for the rest of the year, I'll be lucky if anything was this good as we see Walt's world crumble around him as he loses the one thing he craved and coveted the most, control.

We saw in the last episode that Walt’s plotting had come back to bite him as Uncle Jack and his crew disobeyed Walt’s orders to stand down and decided show up armed to the teeth with guns trained on Hank and Gomez. After the shortest and most pointless negotiation in TV history, Uncle Jack and Co decided to throw a hail of bullets at Hank and Gomez and the rotten but brilliant bastards who created this masterpiece decided to leave the aftermath of what transpired to next week.

While I was not so pleased that last week ended at that precise point, in hindsight, it was a great move as it would have been hard to stomach what was going to take place notably before the opening credits. Episode 14 started with a flashback to Walt’s and Jesse’s first cook in the run down RV turned meth lab which lends an opportunity to see how far Walt and Jesse have since that first cook to the point where they find themselves.

We also see in this opening scene get to see the extent of Walt’s moral corruption as we see Walt prepping himself to lie to Skyler over the phone which was quite a shock for me as over the seasons, we all have gotten used to him lying effortlessly to the people he loves but in this short scene, we realize that Walt wasn’t always the world class liar he is now, it took practice.
After the opening credits, we hear a hail of bullet over a black screen, the gunfire stops then we flash-forward to the present day to find Uncle Jack and his crew had ceased gunfire. After a beat of silence, as if after the onslaught they were expecting return fire, Uncle Jack and his crew wait, guns still drawn at Hank’s bullet ridden SUV.

In the next shot, we’re with Hank slumped against the SUV holding his bleeding thigh, all out of bullets and with Gomez dead, all out of back up. Despite this, Hank bravely tries to crawl his way towards Gomez’s shot gun but is beaten to the punch by Uncle Jack who takes the shot gun before Hank can get his hands on it. Walt, still handcuffed in the SUV, pops his head up seeing the coast is clear after Uncle Jack and Co lit it up only to see Jack about plant a hollow point between Hank’s eyes which sends Walt into a panic, as he implores Jack not to shoot his brother in law.

After being let out the car, Walt tries to do what he does best, beg and negotiate his way out of a situation. Over the series, Walt has had to beg for his life and others particularly during his encounters with Gus Fring where begging and negotiation were the only two strategies available to him against ‘big bad’ characters like Tuco and Gus.

The constant theme in Breaking Bad has been Walt’s attempt to exert control over his life and others leading to him ruining the lives of others and eventually the destruction of his own. Views of Walt have hardened with every heinous and reprehensible act he has committed throughout the series from watching Jane die to poisoning a child he went some way to redeeming himself as he begs and negotiates for Hank’s life.  

With Uncle Jack holding a gun to Hank’s head, Walt see that his begging and pleading won’t work on Uncle Jack and decides to in essence pay Uncle Jack not to kill Hank as he offers his meth cash and offers a world of possibilities or as Walt phrased it “any future you want” as Walt lays out his case against killing Hank.

However, for all Walt’s begging, pleading and negotiating, Hank was as resolute in not begging for his life (as Walt had that market cornered)  as he realized that if Jack as prepared to shoot him when he was armed, he would shoot him on the ground, injured and unarmed no matter what Walt had to say.

Fatefully enough, Uncle Jack considers Walt offer to give up his meth cash to let Hank loose then asks him what he thought and Hank, defiant and cocksure as ever, tells Jack to “go fuck yourself”. Walt tries to plead with Hank to comply and play ball but Hank tells Walt “you’re the smartest men I’ve ever met but too stupid to see he made his mind up ten minutes ago” and with that, Jack shoots Hank in the head after Hank accepts his fate.

In truth, we all knew that there was no way in hell that episode 14 was going to end with Hank still breathing as the odds were against him and Gomez making out the desert alive but for Walt to reveal where his meth cash was buried was a poor decision as there was nothing Walt could have said to stop it from happening. After five long but brilliant seasons, Walt’s actions have come back smack him right between the eyes and the force of this fact literally flattens him as Jack and his crew dig up and load Walt’s meth cash on their trucks.

Feeling charitable, Jack decides to let Walt have one of his eight barrels of meth cash out of respect for the admiration his nephew Todd has for him and makes a clearly reluctant Walt shake his hand still reeling from him murdering his brother in law. Walt may be one of the most morally depraved characters in the history of TV fiction but in this scene, it showed that he actually did care about his family despite the horrible things he has done he purports to have done on their behalf.

With hate and anger still burning in his eyes (needless to say Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris were fantastic this episode) Walt reminds Jack of their deal to kill Jesse, Jack tell Walt if he finds Jesse, he’ll kill them and then out of nowhere, Walt informs Jack that he found him as wee Jesse burrowed under Walt’s car hoping that he wouldn’t be spotted Jack’s henchmen.
Soon enough, Jack’s men drag Jesse out from under Walt’s car struggling and screaming as looks like he’s going to suffer the same fate as Gomez and Hank as Jack has Jesse on his knees with his gun aimed at the back of Jesse’s head. I got to admit I had my heart in my mouth when in between a beat of silence the scene, we see two birds flying in unison in complete silence which has me expecting Jesse to be dead by the next frame as Jack takes the safety off his gun.

Jack asks Walt if he’s ready, Walt slowly nods yes but before Jack could do the deed, Todd interjects and sells what I thought was a cock and bull story about Jesse having information about they could get out of him that he might have told the DEA which saves Jesse from impending doom as he convinces Jack to take him captive. While Todd may have saved Jesse, it was strange as while he has been pleasant, he is clearly is a sociopath so him sparing Jesse a quick death in the desert definitely had an ulterior move as we find out later in the episode.

Todd spotted Jesse in Walt’s car before the gunfight got started but acted like Jesse had got away and is also in the knowledge that Jesse is just as good a meth cook as Walt thanks to Walt’s tutelage making what happens later in the episode not only common sense but smart thinking on Todd’s part.

Jack agrees with Todd reasoning and gets his men to snatch Jesse and take him with them but just as Jack men drag Jesse kicking and screaming, Walt asks them to wait and finally tells Jesse about watching Jane die. Walt watching Jane die was one of the many acts that has made Walt over seasons one of the most reprehensible characters in modern TV fiction and he has held on to this secret for so long with him only once coming close to telling Jesse.

While you could make a sophist argument that Walt wanted Jesse to know before Jesse met his impending doom, you would still be making a sophist argument as he told Jesse about his role in Jane’s death out of pure spite as he blames Jesse for Hank’s death. For most of season five, we have seen Walt in complete control of others and most of all over his emotions but in this episode and last week’s installment  Walt has shown he still has an emotional life as for some time now he has been the program’s chief antagonist making one cold and inhumane decision after another.

Every action Walt took in this episode was based on his emotions and it has been some time as Walt, at least in terms of his ability to feel, makes a return to humanity, even if his emotions are some of the nastier traits of the human psyche.

All in all, what has just been described up to this point was again some of the best television you will see this year and any year after it. Everyone in involved from director Rian Johnson to the actors, Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris in particular, were top notch this episode as they have been throughout this great TV show. After what has been described so far, you would have thought there would have been a let up in the tension and heartbreak for Walt and all involved in the drama but that’s not how Breaking Bad does business as the moving parts Walt was once able to control with cold and calculating ease have now spun out of orbit.

Marie, poor Marie, bolstered by Hank’s phone call at the end of episode 13, decided to pay a visit to A1 Car Wash and after an awkward hello with Walt Jr, tell Skyler in her office after a small beat that Walt is under arrest and offer here support on the proviso that Skyler tells Walt Jr. who and what his dad really is. Throughout all Marie’s demands, Skyler is silenced by her shame and culpability in everything that has transpired to this point and all she can do is agree until Marie insists on her  telling Walt Jr. about his father still trying to protect her son from the awful truth about his father

Throughout the run of Breaking Bad, every character, and I mean every character, has either grown to hate or fear Walt or do both at the same time except Walt Jr. and we get the sense that the only thing that would break Walt down would be for his son to know what he has done and disown him as throughout the series, Walt Jr. has been the only person who doesn’t look at Walt and see the devil in beige slacks.

In this episode, Walt Jr. finally learns the truth about his beloved dad and refuses to take it in after Marie and Skyler sit him down convinced that what he had just heard was “bullshit” and directs his anger at his mother calling her out on her complicity in Walt’s crimes and when he asks Skyler why she stuck with Walt, she give a telling answer: “I’ll be asking myself that for the rest of my life”.

In a short but telling scene, we see the reason why Todd was looking out for Jesse in the desert as he retrieves a scared and beaten Jesse from a makeshift holding cell, still chained, to the meth lab we saw last episode and we see that Todd had got the cook the new operation was looking for as he chained Jesse to the ceiling and stapled a picture of Andrea and Brock to the wall to keep Jesse from doing anything silly like refusing to cook or try to escape.

We all know that Todd isn’t going to win any humanitarian awards anytime soon but his move to save Jesse and use his meth cooking skills was indeed smart, yet in a weird way, merciful at same time. Walt has spent the whole episode to get some semblance of control and in the next scene between him, Skyler and Walt Jr finally shows how Walt’s actions would, as we all expected, lead to him losing his family.

The White family fallout that has been on the cards from the moment Walt decided to get into the meth cooking business with Jesse and his moral descent coupled with his pride has only made his fall from grace that bit more terrible yet brilliant to watch.  

After an uncomfortable car ride home, Skyler and Walt Jr, pull up to Walt packing his things and dumping them in the old banger trucker he bought from a native Indian in the desert. As Skyler and Walt look in shock as what they are seeing, Walt, dirtied by the events that took place in the desert and in full panic mode urging them to come inside as Walt Jr badgers his father for answers.

As they go inside, Walt Jr. continues his search for answers but gets nothing back but orders to calm down listen and tells both Skyler and Walt Jr. to get packing totally ignoring their need for an explanation as even in the midst of his self-created chaos, control is still his first priority.

While Walt Jr needs answers to make sense of what his mother and aunt had just told him, Skyler ask the pressing questions of why he is out of cuffs and where exactly is Hank. Walt is excellent at lying everybody except to Skyler as while she knows when he is lying, she has rarely called him on it or as much she should have. However, after Walt uncharacteristically dithers his way through another one of his countless lies only this time, Skyler’s in the mood for truth as Walt powers of persuasion wanes tenfold every moment he tries to sell Skyler his “you can have any future you want” pitch.

Tired out by his lies and knowing that thee no way Hank would let Walt loose, she comes to the only conclusion that can be made, Walt killed Hank and he’s now on the run. Walt protests his innocence and tells Skyler and Walt Jr. of his that he tried to save Hank from his demise (leaving out the fact he was responsible for his death even if he didn’t pull the trigger) while, incredibly, still trying to take control of the situation instructing both his Walt Jr and Skyler to come with him.

If there was anything that hasn’t rung true about Breaking Bad was that all of Walt’s heinous acts hadn’t brought any harm to members of Walt’s family except for Hank  as they have been largely shielded by the consequences of his actions leaving Jesse, Mike and a litany of other characters to bear the brunt of suffering caused by one man destructive quest for self-actualization. In this scene, his actions finally hit home and Walt is too blind to see the wreckage.

Walt Jr. continues to badger and follow his dad around for answers as he gets his luggage, Skyler, sick of the sight of Walt, goes to kitchen counter where a rack of knives and the home telephone are and after a small beat of thought, opts for the knife as she realizes it going to take more than the cops to rid herself of this monster. As Walt and Walt Jr return to the living room, Skyler steps in in front of Walt Jr. with a knife in her hand and orders Walt to get out. Walt, still not realizing his family is in tatters, still tries to talk to Skyler down but Skyler clearly is not trying to hear anything Walt has to say as she cuts him off when tries to reassure her everything will be fine.

While Walt’s fatal flaw has been his pride, another major flaw of Walt’s, maybe as a direct by-product of his pride, is his ability to underestimate others which has been at the heart of the most of the chaos that has made this show a pleasure to watch. He has consistently underestimated just about everybody else that has come within his orbit especially Jesse and Hank, which led to the that excellent but fateful but excellent scene in the desert that ended last week’s episode and took up a large chunk of this week’s installment.  

Once again, Walt continued his five season trait of underestimating others by underestimating Skyler’s resolve to get him out of her and Walt Jr lives for good as Walt stupidly tries to approach Skyler to calm her down leading to Skyler taking a wild swing at Walt slicing his outstretched hand. In a mixture of shock and anger, Walt survival instinct kicks in and he reaches for the knife as he tries to wrestle the knife out of Skyler’s hand.

They eventually end up on the ground, little Holly crying in the background, Walt Jr. screaming for them stop in what looks like a fight to the death. Walt manages to wrestle the knife from Skyler and get on top of her, knife in hand, as he looks ready to commit his most heinous act yet but Walt Jr heroically jumps to his mother’s rescue and pulls his dad off her shielding Skyler as Walt gets up, with the knife still in his hand, looking for all the world like the monster we all know him to be.

On his feet and his adrenaline still up but waning, it’s only then Walt realizes he has lost his family for good as he sees the fear in the eyes of his wife and son beaming back at him while shouting “what’s wrong with you? We’re a family”. The moment is crowned by Walt Jr, the only person who still had faith in Walt, called the cops on him which finally breaks the spell over the Walt as he drops the kitchen knife with his face sunken with sadness and disbelief.
Looking over the past five seasons, Walt has made very few of the decisions that  purely emotional as the vast majority of his decisions have been icy and inhuman calculations as a result of the business he chose to make his money. However in this episode, his decisions were based purely on his emotions from bargaining for Hank’s life to spitefully informing Jesse of his role (or lack of it) in Jane’s death.

So it wasn’t much of a shock when Walt snatched Holly out of her playpen and ran for his truck. Skyler, only realizing what Walt had done when he was out the door, ran after Walt, now in the beat down truck starting the engine with Holly in his lap and reversing straight into the family car behind to get away from a frantic Skyler banging against the window and chasing the truck down the street as Walt sped away down the street.

In the next scene we find Walt changing Holly with his hand still bruised giving the sense that Walt, untypical of him, hadn’t though this through. This fact hits home as little Holly calls out for her mother in what was the most heart-breaking moment of this episode as Walt holds her close. Back at the White residence, we see a dejected Skyler has called cops on her husband on the lookout for Holly with Walt Jr. and Marie (poor Marie!!) for company, still wondering how Walt got free. Then the phone rings till answering machine picks up, it’s Walt.
Skyler Waits until the cops get ready to trace the call then picks up for Walt to give her the most hate filled and threat heavy phone bashing you ever see on television for years to come as Walt spills his blackened guts. Skyler asks where Holly is, Walt asks if cops are listening in, Skyler says no then asks him again about her daughter’s whereabouts then Walt lets rip about his frustrations with Skyler from her tendency not to listen to him about his threats not to cross him and that he took Holly to “teach her a lesson”.

He then reveals his feelings about the lack of faith Skyler had in him, her badgering of him when she found out his meth cooking business and her general lack of gratitude for what he feels he’s done for the family. The last straw for him was for her to tell Walt Jr about his meth cooking despite telling her to “keep her mouth shut”.

He then threatens Skyler to “toe the line” or meet the same fate as Hank. Skyler ask Walt what happened to Hank and Walt informs her that she’ll never see Hank again implicating himself in Hank’s murder which Marie overhears and finally get the new that her husband is dead. Telling from Walt’s emotion throughout the phone call, he knew Skyler called the cops and were listening in and in implicating himself in Hank’s murder, took all the weight off Skyler and put it on himself which represents another instance in this episode were his decisions were based on his emotions rather than his intellect.

Walt makes one more decision based on his emotions when he leaves Holly in a fire truck realizing wherever he plans to do next, he can’t do it with his baby daughter in tow. In the final scene, Walt waits at the side of the road waiting for the same red van that was going to take Jesse to Alaska and gets in as we watch the van drive away.

If you got to the end of this review, congratulations. I know this review is quite an epic at 122 words of 4000 but this was an epic episode of Breaking Bad so it deserved a review that matched its scale. In sum, when the discussions about the greatest TV shows come up and you have Breaking Bad at the top of the heap,”Ozymandias” episode 14 will be enough to justify your claim.

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