This is a Breaking Bad episode recap by Thought Pollution writers Colin Neagle and Liam Green.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
Walter is fully submerged back into a life of crime, this time entirely against his will. If the end of Breaking Bad is about bringing Walt to justice, this series of events is the best that we’ll get.
Last week, I discussed how my original prediction – that Walter would murder Jesse in the heat of the moment – would have let Walter off too easily. A crime of passion, one that couldn’t be avoided, could almost be justified. Walt would instead need to struggle with this decision.
For this to carry any weight, Walter would need to plan it out himself, and watch from the back seat as the decisions he made brought death to people he couldn’t fathom murdering himself. As he plotted Jesse’s murder early in the episode, Walt couldn’t call him a “rat,” even though he is one and that’s why Walt needs him dead. Walt is so disgusted with the thought of murdering Jesse that he’s willing to emerge from retirement – which would cost him his family if Skyler found out – to make sure he doesn’t have to witness it.
However, the only way Jesse’s murder would be more painful for Walter is with Hank caught in the middle. There’s something poetic about the fact that Walter is restrained and forced to watch as the murderers he invited carried out the murders he tried – and failed – to stop when he decided they were not worth his freedom.
It’s important to also look at it from Hank and Gomez’s perspective. Operating without DEA approval, the agents (and Jesse) have lately been as shady and manipulative as Walt, particularly this week. So it’s only perfect that an army of chaos would arrive just as Hank and Gomez are beating their chests and reading Walt his rights.
This explains Walter’s behavior this entire season. With a fortune stashed away and the return of his cancer, Walter decided to put crime behind him and win his family back. Even when his past has crept back into his new life, he’s resisted all temptation to resort to crime to keep justice from playing out. It’s only fitting that Hank, after employing the same methods Walter was trying to abandon, would suffer the same consequences Walter had tried to avoid. That’s why Walter grimaced as he shook hands with Jack. In the Breaking Bad world, every bad action has far worse reactions. (They even once caused a plane crash, remember?!)
Watching this all play out was fascinating and impressive. Everyone knew Jack and his goons would show up anyway. Yet watching them pull onto the scene was still as stomach-turning as anything we’ve seen on the show. As frustrating as it was to watch the episode fade out mid-shootout, I have to give credit to Michelle MacLaren, who directed this week’s episode and episode 10, “Buried.” After “Buried,” I praised MacLaren for focusing on Lydia and leaving the Aryans’ massacre of Declan’s crew to the audience’s imagination. Trying to fake a gang-on-gang shootout like that could have easily looked like a cheap Michael Bay knockoff, especially given AMC’s financial history.
But this one was carried out perfectly. Walt and Jesse, who dragged these strangers into an inexplicable-yet-inevitable shootout, are forced to watch it play out with front-row seats. Walter screams, desperately, for Jack to let Hank arrest him, and wriggles to avoid being caught in the crossfire. Jesse prepares to plunge back into depression as he watches his one chance at happiness literally blow up in his face. Jack and the Aryans, just as confused by the situation as Hank and Gomez, shoot first and set the whole scene on fire.
The challenge with so many shootout scenes end is how they’re wrapped up. In real life, a shootout is probably a terrifying thing to see – it only ever results in murder. The thrill of watching it on television comes from the middle part of the battle – the suspense of flying bullets, dives behind cars and the often-terrible aim of the bad guys. The end, when one side ends up dead and the other side a murderer, just seems morose. It’s almost too real to handle.
By starting the shootout only to end the episode before we definitively see anyone get shot, MacLaren accomplished two goals. She framed an entertaining but relatively believable shootout scene, and left the audience waiting to see how the show’s most morally compromised characters will be repaid for their actions.
Liam: Man, oh man, that cliffhanger. Don’t see any way Hank or Gomie are still kickin. I’d love to see a supercut video of people’s reactions to that shit. Vulture, are you listening?
Colin: It doesn’t look too good for Hank, Gomez, or Jesse. We know Walt somehow makes it out, but we don’t know anything about the three who are on the wrong end of an arsenal. I think, however, that Walt and Jesse both live. This could go one of two ways.
Jesse could sneak out of the back of the car and flee the scene. Once Hank and Gomez are killed, Todd will go grab Walt and ask him where Jesse is. Walt, realizing that Jesse got away, could lie and say Jesse was never there, which is why Walt was trying to call it off in the first place.
Another possibility is that the Aryans kill Hank and Gomez, and when Todd frees Walt from his handcuffs, Walt instructs them not to murder Jesse. The two of them – Walt and Jesse – are taken for a ride with Jack and end up cooking crystal meth against their will, just as they did under Gus.
Either way, I think Walter saves Jesse. Walter has been urged to murder two people this season: Hank and Jesse. He resisted both, on multiple occasions, and could ultimately end up responsible for their murders anyway. If he gets the opportunity to save one of them, he probably will. Thematically, it makes more sense if it’s Jesse.
Liam: Or maybe Walt gets away, Jesse is about to be killed but he bargains for his life because he can cook? That would keep him in hock to the Aryans, and could possibly instigate Walt’s return about seven months in the future – especially if things have happened to his family. Either they die or they leave him. I don’t see them standing beside him at the end, although I guess he’d still want to save them if they became endangered later.
Colin: One more thing I noticed this week: Lydia’s concern over the meth quality may have something behind it. I predicted Todd wouldn’t cut it as a meth cook, and the Aryans would force Walter back into the business. But I’m starting to think there’s more to Lydia’s situation. When Todd asks her if his uncle could “smooth things over” with the Czech buyers, Lydia gets condescending and turns him down. It’s implied that these mystery Czech dealers are far more dangerous than the Aryans, which would be pretty damn scary. Remember when Lydia came to the car wash and begged Walter to come back? She was barely holding it together, and told Walt that he was “killing her” by not helping. We have one more big unexpected turn of events, as evidenced by Walter’s return to Albuquerque from New Hampshire. Lydia and the people pressuring her may be the ones behind it.
Liam: Hmm. Lydia having her shit decidedly not together is nothing new, but I think your theory holds some water.
As an unrelated take, I now think that Marie is an absolute wild card. Even if I don’t think she commits any violent acts, I can see her being some sort of catalyst for the eventually widespread knowledge that Walt is Heisenberg. Or maybe that’s the Aryans’ doing?
Fuck, man. The board is set, the remaining pieces are moving and the end is near.