Before I get into the recap, I’d like to point out that the director of this episode is Rian Johnson. Johnson is perhaps most known for his time travel thriller Looper, but he’s also directed two other episodes of Breaking Bad. He brought us “Fly” (maybe the show’s most divisive episode) and “Fifty-One.” Now, he directs “Ozymandias.” It’s his finest episode yet. The episode’s title comes from a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem is about the inevitable downfall of kings and their empires. In this episode, Heisenberg loses his meth empire, most of his money and a member of his family.
An unexpected flashback opens the episode. We see a close up of bubbles rat-tat-tatting in a flask, echoing the sounds of gunfire from last week’s desert shootout. This is a clever move on the part of Johnson, because he knows that viewers expect to see the shootout continue right at the beginning of the episode. Anyway, Walt is teaching Jesse how to cook properly inside the infamous van. This is supposed to take place around the time of season one. We know this because Walt has hair and Jesse is still acting like Walt’s student.
After lecturing Jesse, Walt walks away to be alone. He’s coming up with what may be his first Heisenberg-related lie. He rehearses his lines, changes some of the phrasing and decides on a story. Walt will tell Skyler that his boss “has a bug up his butt.” These were such innocent times for Walter White. Walt gives Skyler a call. In those days, Skyler’s main concerns were pizza and making $9 on eBay. Skyler suggests a name for her baby: Holly. This scene foreshadows Walt’s later actions in the episode. It also reminds viewers how far these characters have come. Jesse, Walt and the van all fade away, showing us a vast and empty desert.
The quaint tone of the opening scene doesn’t last for long. We return to the empty desert, which is now replaced with trucks full of bullet holes and loud gunfire. The Nazis momentarily cease fire. What follows is almost too heart-wrenching to imagine. Hank’s leg has been wounded. He’s slumped against the back of a car, breathing heavily. His eyes are full of adrenaline and fear. His partner, Steve Gomez, lies dead in front of him. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he crawls to reach Gomey’s shotgun.
As Hank inches toward the weapon, we know his efforts are futile. The Nazis can be seen approaching him as he trudges along in the dirt. I have to commend Rian Johnson’s brilliant direction of this scene. By the time Hank has reached the shotgun, Uncle Jack is right behind him. It’s just horrific to see a beloved character like Hank be so easily trumped by a villain. In an unbearable few minutes, Hank is left alive as the Nazis chat.
Todd has lost sight of Pinkman, momentarily sparing Hank. Dean Norris’ unbelievable performance just crushed me. Uncle Jack raises his gun and points it at Hank. Hank’s eyes flinch as he prepares for his death. From the car, Walt hears Uncle Jack cock his gun. Walt begins to violently protest Hank’s murder. Cranston’s acting is so genuine that it’s uncomfortable to watch him beg for Hank’s life. “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him…” Walt pleads.
Walt reveals that Hank is family. Uncle Jack could care less that Hank is Walt’s brother-in-law. In fact, he thinks he did Walt a favor by preventing Walt’s arrest. “You weren’t supposed to be here!” Walt reminds him. I suppose one reason why this scene is so hard to watch is because the violence committed didn’t need to happen. Walt tried to prevent it. This is what happens when you work with Nazis. Walt is at his most desperate. He begs Hank to walk away and forget this happened.
Uncle Jack sees that Hank isn’t cooperating and once again raises his gun. Walt screams like a lunatic for him to stop. He reveals that his money is buried out here. “$80 million! And all you’ve got to do is let him go,” Walt cries. Uncle Jack ponders whether or not he should let Hank go. Hank is as defiant as ever: “My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go f*** yourself.”
Walt’s tearful pleading is useless. Hank locks eyes on Walt: “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, but you’re too stupid to see…he made up his mind ten minutes ago.” He pauses a moment, faces Uncle Jack and says, “Do what you’re gonna do.” BANG. The gunshot rolls and echoes throughout the desert. Hank is dead. Silence. Walt collapses to his knees as the sound cuts out. He sobs on the ground, just like Gus Fring once did in season four’s “Hermanos.” Walt’s sobs are disquieting. Perhaps even more haunting is Uncle Jack, who has no reaction to killing Hank.
The Nazis dig and dig, collecting all of Walt’s barrels. In the hole where Walt’s empire was buried, Hank and Gomey are laid to rest. Breaking Bad hasn’t disturbed me this much since Walt and Mike put Drew Sharp in a barrel. At least Uncle Jack has the decency to give Walt a barrel of his own money. That’s Uncle Jack’s version of justice. Todd offers his condolences: “Sorry for your loss.” Walt is freed of his handcuffs and stares off in the distance.
Uncle Jack and Walt make a momentary peace. Walt is a broken man. He shakes Uncle Jack’s hand with all the humanity of Gus Fring. As Uncle Jack walks away, Walt utters the name Pinkman. Walt has spotted Jesse, who’s hiding under a car. After the death of Hank and Gomey, I didn’t think Jesse had much of a chance. Nevertheless, it was sickening to see a gun cocked behind Pinkman’s head. This time, Walt gives Jack the OK to pull the trigger. It looks like Jesse’s life has come to an end…
Until…Todd interrupts Jesse’s execution with a thoughtful suggestion. Todd’s logic is that Jesse might have some information about what the DEA knows, considering he was in their custody. Jesse stares despairingly into Walt’s cold stare. Right now, Walt’s only mission is to make Jesse suffer. He believes Jesse is responsible for Hank’s death. Without blinking an eye, Walt tells Jesse: “I watched Jane die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could’ve saved her, but I didn’t.” Walt has ruined everything Jesse has ever cared about. The Nazis take Jesse away, leaving Walt behind in the dust trail.
I usually hate having to sit through commercials, but I really needed one after the first few minutes of the show. The scene was a masterwork of acting, editing and writing. But, boy was it hard to get through. Now, Walter sits in his car and takes in what has happened. We needed a moment to breathe along with Walt. His car quickly runs out of gas; a bullet has grazed his gas tank. Walt is forced to roll his barrel full of money up the desert. Upbeat, whistling Western music lend to a surreal quality to this scene. Awesome Easter egg: Walt passes his pants from the pilot episode as he continues to roll the barrel.
The use of music here is outstanding. The Western tune manages to be lonely, ironic and blackly comic. It sums up everything Breaking Bad is about. The song also shows Walt to be nothing more than a lonesome cowboy who’s lost everything. Walt eventually reaches the home of a poor Native American man. He hands the man a wad of cash and buys a rusty old truck.
After spending half the episode in that godforsaken desert, we finally switch locations. Marie arrives at the car wash to talk with Skyler. Symbolism note: Marie is wearing an uncharacteristic black, while Skyler remains clad in white. Sadly, Marie still believes Hank is alive. She tells Skyler that Walt has been arrested. This is Marie’s last effort to help out Skyler. Marie still has hope for her sister. Skyler is quietly breaking down as Marie demands Flynn be told the truth.
Meanwhile, Jesse is lying on the floor of a torture chamber. He’s grotesquely bloodied and bruised-his cries for mercy are massively unsettling. We have seen Jesse reduced to such a state. Todd pulls him up and sends him to the lab. Here, Jesse is chained up, a slave to the Nazis’ demands. Jesse can’t even move without sliding his chain forward. A picture of Brock and Andrea has been taped to a pole for Jesse to see. Whether or not the Nazis plan on harming them is irrelevant. Jesse now has a reason to cook for them, an incentive to live. This is incredibly dark, even for Breaking Bad.
Back at the car wash, poor Junior has been told the truth. “You’re completely out of your mind!” he screams at Skyler. He can’t believe what’s going on. For the longest time, Junior has been the only character to remain innocent. He has been in the dark this whole time. He still doesn’t even believe the story can be true.
Walt is simultaneously packing his family’s things. Skyler, Junior and baby Holly are on their way home. “If all of this is true and you knew about it, then you’re as bad as him,” Junior tells his mother. Walt is running around trying to get his things together as they arrive home. Junior wants to know what is going on, but Walt pushes him inside. “Walt…why are you here?” Skyler asks. Walt won’t answer her questions. “Where is he? Where’s Hank?” she demands.
Walt, with tears in his eyes, looks at Skyler: “I have $11 million in cash right outside. We can have a fresh start.” Skyler is shaking. “You killed him,” she breathes. “No, no no! I tried to save him!” Walt answers. Everything comes out. Junior knows Uncle Hank is dead. In the middle of the chaos, Skyler reaches for a knife. “Get out of here…now,” she commands.
Walt approaches her and she swings the knife, slicing his hand. The two wrestle for the knife in a nail biting scene reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Junior is forced to tackle his father. “What the hell is wrong with you?!? We’re a family!” roars Walt. Then it hits him. The family he’s supposedly been fighting for all along is now destroyed. Hank is dead. Marie hates him. His son, who looked up to him, is now defending Skyler from him and calling the police. “We’re a family,” Walt mutters again. Quiet piano keys accompany this scene. This is Walt’s ultimate downfall. He’s lost his family.
Surprisingly, I feel bad for him. Cranston’s performance gave me goosebumps.
The police are on their way and Walt knows he has to leave. On his way out the door, he takes baby Holly with him. Skyler slams on the car window and chases Walt down but to no avail. The truck has taken off. She collapses in the street. Perhaps, Walt is trying to hold on to some piece of his family. Holly is the only one who doesn’t, or rather can’t, see Walt for the monster that he is.
Walt is changing Holly’s diaper in a bathroom somewhere. He smiles at her but all poor Holly can do is cry “mama.” It will break your heart. Walt realizes that he can’t keep her any longer.
The phone rings in the White house. The police are inside, along with Skyler, Marie and Junior. Walt is on the line: “Are you alone? No police?” Skyler demands to know where Holly is, as Walt unleashes a furious rant: “…This is your fault…I warned you for a solid year, you cross me there will be consequences…Maybe now you’ll listen…You were never grateful for anything I did for this family…” he spits.
Upon closer inspection, this “rant” is actually exonerating Skyler of any guilt. Sure, Walt may want to say things to her that have always bothered him, but ultimately Walt knew the police were on the line listening to the call. Walt actually made yet another sacrifice for his family. He alone holds responsibility for his actions, even though we know Skyler is an accomplice. As he continues to scream into the phone, tears stream down his face.
“Walt…where is Hank?” Skyler begs. “You’re never going to see Hank again,” Walt answers taking the blame for Hank’s death. Marie knows, just from Skyler’s reaction, that Hank is dead. I lost it in this scene. I can only imagine how Junior feels.
As for Holly, Walt leaves her in a fire truck with his address taped on her chest. A fireman finds the sobbing child in her car seat. In the closing scene, Walt sits at Saul’s pick up location. He is trying to disappear, like Jesse did in “Confessions.” The pick-up car arrives. We see Walt’s face in the rearview mirror as the car drives off into the sunset. Just like that, he’s gone.
Now we know why Walt has a new identity in the future. I can only assume he has the M16 in his trunk to get revenge on Uncle Jack. I wonder if Jesse will make it out of the series alive. He’s probably going to die in the next episode by Walt’s hands. I can’t believe there are only two episodes left. Apparently, these last two episodes will be 75 minutes long. I’m not sure how much more I can take. All this bloodshed and death is wearing me down. “Ozymandias” had to be the darkest episode yet. I say it every week, but this show keeps getting better and better.