Has there ever been a run of episodes of a TV show that have been quite so punishing (for viewers as well as characters) as this last half-season of Breaking Bad? If last week felt like the darkest we could go, Ozymandias took us further down the spiral.
Ramping up the cruelty, it started out with a flashback (not to something we’d seen before) of that first cook in the desert with Walt and Jesse bickering and then Walt making a lying phonecall to Skyler to tell her he’ll be late home. But it was all so lovely and he was doing it all for the right reasons.
Then Walt, Jesse and the RV all faded and when we came back to the same spot in the desert, there was a gunfight going on. And then it ended and we knew bad things were happening, and for all the wrong reasons.
The first kick to the gut was the sight of poor Gomie dead in the dust and Hank wounded and defeated. Maybe he’d somehow survive, having made it past it the credits? Despite Walt’s best efforts, ASEC Schrader wasn’t going to beg Nazis to spare him for some barrels of drug money, and he was shot dead.
At this point, Walter White was at a pivotal moment in his fall from humanity. He’d tried to save his brother-in-law and failed, and you could see that it affected him. But there was still Jesse, hiding under Walt’s car. You could see the calculations and then Heisenberg took over and ratted Jesse out.
For a moment it looked like things were going to get even more brutal and heartbreaking with a second execution, but instead Todd (of all people) spared him, though only to chain him up as a meth cook terrorised into servitude by an unspoken threat to those he loves.
Ah yes, those he loves. As if condemning him to death wasn’t bad enough, Walt had to rub it in, taunting Jesse with the revelation of his part in Jane’s death. That was cruel and unneccessary and you wonder whether it will come back to haunt him.
A little bit of karma provided us with some brief levity after Walt’s car broke down, leaving him rolling his remaining barrel of money through the desert, but the sight of Marie (an unknowing widow) arriving at the car wash made it clear that we weren’t done yet.
And so the final unmasking of Walt took place off-camera, with Skyler convinced to tell Junior the truth, which was horrible to see, but nowhere near as horrible as what followed when they got home.
Last week I compared the shoot-out to Game Of Thrones’ Red Wedding, but it was nothing compared to the final breakdown of the White family, with Walt and Skyler rolling on the floor fighting over a knife, Junior calling the cops on his dad and Walt running off with Holly, leaving Skyler slumped in the middle of the street, broken.
That one paragraph makes it all seem straightforward, but it was brutal and heartbreaking to watch. If Walt at the start had been trying to protect his family, Walt now was just after whatever he wanted. Fortunately, Holly inadvertently guilt-tripped him into leaving her at a fire station, but not before another wrenching scene.
On first viewing I thought Walt was being uncharacteristically dumb in making another phonecall where he lists all of his crimes, this time knowing that the police would be there and recording it. But now I can see that it was a rare moment of kindness from him, making it clear to those listening that Skyler was (more or less) innocent. Not that he didn’t still pile on the anger and resentment a bit too much for it not to be genuine.
So, we’ve got two episodes to go and where are we? Walt has taken the easy exit Jesse rejected a few episodes ago. Hank and Gomie are dead, but the police will know all about Walt’s exploits now. Jesse is a slave meth cook for Nazis. And soon Walt is going to head back home with some hair, some big guns and… do what? I can’t wait to find out, but can it go any darker than this episode?