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Television's Best Has Its Best Night Yet
September 16, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 7 comments

[Editor's Note: This story reveals details of Sunday's Sept. 15 episode of Breaking Bad.

You'd think there was only one show currently running on television, given all the space TVWW has devoted to Breaking Bad. And in a way, it simply does stand all on its own, as one of the most memorable series ever.

Immediately after it aired, some folks at TVWW discussed last night's gripping episode, Ozymandias, and it was unanimous. We just could not recall another scripted series that has left us so electrified, and accomplished such dizzying narrative heights. And there are decades of television behind us.

As creator Vince Gilligan had mentioned at a press conference last July in New York City, "The third to last episode will knock your socks off. It may be the best episode we’ve ever done... Unfortunately, there’s two episodes after that.”

He was not selling Ozymandias short. As palpitating as the the September 8 episode To'hajiilee was, this hour went higher, further and more thrilling than any episode previous.

First, there was the interruption of the gun fight with a bittersweet flashback to the innocence of Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) at the same desert spot two years earlier, when the they began their illegal drug operation, thinking of the easy money ahead. They were blissfully unaware of the dangerous and ugly road just ahead of them.

When we returned to the gunfight, it was only to the sound of it in the distance. Then, via a slow, soundless zoom over the hood of Hank's SUV, we learned Agent Gomez (Michael Quezada) had been killed.

Hank (Dean Norris) was bleeding from the leg, and his demise, too, seemed inevitable – but it was still unspeakably sad, as was Marie's (Betsy Brandt) complete shock at the news at the end of the hour.

As Marie crumbled, it was after sixty minutes where everything the series had been building towards for five seasons finally unleashed – all of it hyper-suspenseful, all of it hyper-sorrowful.

Jesse was found by Walt and turned over to Uncle Jack's (Michael Bowen) crew -- he was located not fleeing across the desert, but hiding in plain sight under Walt's car. Later, Jesse was caged as a prisoner, then shackled like an animal in a new meth lab, forced to show the new crew how to cook Walt's brand of crystal blue meth. It was a purgatory like no other.

Skyler (Anna Gunn) finally had to relent and admit the truth to Marie, that she had been helping Walt. Then Marie forced Skyler to tell Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte) that, indeed, his Dad had been a gangster and a crook the entire time.

We saw Walt's biggest fears finally come to fruition – ones against which he had been guarding scupulously throughout the entire series. Most of his money was gone, claimed by Uncle Jack's crew. And worse, Walt's son, Walt, Jr., learned of his father's activities as a criminal, and called the police on him.

Walt's ultimate hell was not his manipulating and lying, his arrogance, or his foolish choice to become a drug chemist when he learned of his terminal cancer. It wasn't the blood of his murders on his hands, or putting his brother-in-law in mortal danger, or sacrificing his surrogate son, Jesse, who had always trusted him and even loved him.

It wasn't even Walt's spite, as he told Jesse he had been there the night that Jesse's girlfriend Jane overdosed – and had done nothing to save her, instead seeing her as a liability, and letting her die.

Walter White's ultimate hell? His family's complete scorn of him, and Walt being in the world alone.

Perhaps most poetically, we saw the return of the mysterious man in a van that was to pick up Jesse, take him off to a new life, make a new identity for him, and make it impossible for him to ever be found again. This time, though, it was Walt making the call for himself, and the recent flash-forwards of Walt with hair, beard and a New Hampshire driver's license now make perfect sense.

There wasn't a segment of Ozymandias that wasn't pitch perfect, bringing this epic story towards its crucial climax.

Incidentally, I'm still sticking to the idea that the M60 heavy-caliber machine gun previously shown in Walt's car trunk is still meant for a showdown with Uncle Jack, similar to how Al Pacino went out in Scarface after introducing his gangster rivals to "his little friend."

Last night's episode title, Ozymandias, is after a 19th century poem of the same name by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It references Walt's tragic ego as it recalls a fallen statue of King Ozymandias toppled in pieces in the desert, abandoned. It mocks his hubris with a quote of the long-gone King etched there at the stone base pedestal: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

And so, in this most recent, most intense Breaking Bad episode, Walt, too, was toppled in the desert. He lay in dirt in a close-up – handcuffed, mouth agape, weeping silently at the loss of Hank. All that is left of the series is the end-game of his demise – and what happens to Jesse.

The only thing we could possibly have issue with is Gilligan's observation that Ozymandias was so good, that it's unfortunate there are two episodes after it. Somehow, we're not buying that this series isn't going to surprise further.

Or that it doesn't still have room, in the coming final two shows, to soar even higher.
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Vance Hiner
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this series is better than any novel I have ever read, and I've read my share. Jonathan Franzen got his picture on the cover of Time (back when that mattered) and I wonder if there is a similar accolade available in 2013. Whatever it is, Vince Gilligan certainly deserves it. Dare I say Nobel Prize for Literature?
Sep 18, 2013   |  Reply
VH - Why not? If you consider long-form serial television as legitimate an art form as any other (and we do), then Breaking Bad has to be considered, along with a half-dozen others, as the very best examples of it. The series has blended narrative and depth of characterization as well as any Russian novel, eh? Add in the BB levels of performance and photography and you have a masterwork. –EG
Sep 18, 2013
Mike F
I recall an interview David had with Vince Gilligan on Fresh Air. It was just before the beginning of the season after Walt had let Jane had overdose. I am paraphrasing but Gilligan had said that one of the show's key tenets was that "all actions will eventually have consequences". I love that they are not pulling any punches here. The writing, direction and performances in these past four episodes has been breathtaking.

Favorite line from Sunday night: "Jesus, what's with all the greed around here. It's unattractive".
Sep 17, 2013   |  Reply
Mike, speaking of consequences... TVWW will have some speculation upcoming on that very point before next weeks show. Is anyone immune from their choices? Stay tuned. –EG
Sep 18, 2013
I've watched every episode from the beginning and developed an attachment to the characters as if they were my family and friends. To see Hank's death and Walt's reaction was so painful it was like real life. I actually feel a grief or mourning as everything in everyone's lives goes up in flames.
Sep 17, 2013   |  Reply
All our current anti-heroes – Walter White, Don Draper, Ray Donovan, Jackie Peyton – all are drawn in deep, complex character studies. The triumph of Breaking Bad and the other shows like it is that all their characters are relatable and very flawed. That is, human, just like the rest of us. That's what get's us so engaged, and it's the only way we can care about a show, and a cheating character like Walt, for so long. Not through outlandish plot contrivances. We've come to know the BB characters perhaps better than any others, and that's a credit to the creative team. –EG
Sep 18, 2013
I am embarrassed to admit that when BB first aired, I watched the first episode, thought the entire concept silly, and never watched again.

Then I sat back hearing about Emmy after Emmy, and still saying to myself, "eh, not for me...just because it wins Emmys....well, you get the idea. Some people will convince themselves of anything to justify being stubborn!

Finally, my son and father, both fans of the show, brought me to my senses. They knew I was an avid fan of great, quality television, as they were. They told me I would forever regret not watching this show, and so at the beginning of this summer I began watching it again, right from the beginning, and what I realized that this show truly requires viewing the first three episodes to truly "get it".

And once I "got it", I was hooked.

An entire summer later, and having watched the entire series right up to the current episode. What accolades can I add? Absolutely the finest show ever produced.
Sep 16, 2013   |  Reply
As of last year, it was always surprising to me, anecdotalally, how many people I mentioned the show to, had not seen it. As great an achievement as it has been, it still must be one of the hottest, most unwatched series on television. –EG
Sep 17, 2013
Being retired I do not have a water cooler over which to discuss BB. Thank goodness for the internet! I believe that this was the single best constructed hour of television I have ever watched. No need to say anything, elae.
Sep 16, 2013   |  Reply
Paul - In writing a friend today about the show, I said, "It was maybe the best hour of television I've ever had..." -- I think we'll be hearing a lot of that over the coming week, eh? –EG
Sep 16, 2013
HvD - I omitted that when Walt left Holly in the fire station, he left the warning lights flashing. That helped the firemen find her, but I also think it sends a signal that there is still much of his wrath to come. I think a lot of the $11 mil left went to his new identity, and yes, maybe he somehow figures out a way to still get it to Skylar. –EG
Sep 16, 2013   |  Reply
You say all that's left is "the end-game of his demise – and what happens to Jesse." I disagree. There's one other key element. Walt left town with around eleven million dollars, minus the cost of that sweet truck and his "disappearance." Walt's mission--his sole reason for breaking bad--is to leave his family with money. He must do that or die trying.

He was, after all, tipping off Skyler during the phone call. He knew the police would be there. So he exaggerated his role in her life, painting himself as far more sinister and domineering than he ever actually was at home. That's why his words and voice said one thing--I am the danger!--while his face and his tears said quite another. He was torn, and he was doing what he felt he had to do to take care of his family.

"I've still got things left to do."
Sep 16, 2013   |  Reply
Maxine Solvay
I agree that Walt is going to eliminate Uncle Jack and his gang with the M60 of the flash forward. I believe he learns of the new blue meth being cooked by Jack's gang (with Jesse's help) and comes back to retailiate. But why does he retrieve the risin (sp?) cigarette from the electric outlet inside his old house? Perhaps, he will commit suicide by using the cigarette, after videoing yet another confession clearing his family.
Sep 18, 2013
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