SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, gather up the family and some of your closest armed guards and watch last night’s Breaking Bad.
When I take notes on any show I’m reviewing, I like to include little side comments–often in capital letters to distinguish them–as a kind of running commentary of my reaction to the episode in question. My notes on “End Times” pretty much read like I’m standing up and yelling at the screen in a movie theater. “OH WALT YOU WENT THERE,” for instance. And: “OH MOTHERF****R NO.” And: “GUS WTF!”
This Breaking Bad, in other words, inspired some strong reactions. On a character level, this was an excellent, tension-filled, unflinching episode. On the plot level… I have some questions. But let’s look at the good stuff first.
After last week’s wrenching, exhausting freak-out of an ending, “End Times” began like the morning after a really awful night. In fact, it’s, apparently, just hours or minutes later the same day. Walter White has, more or less, resigned himself to dying—and yet this pretty much qualifies as good news for him, in that it looks like he will at least be able to get his family to safety, in the form of sharing Hank’s protective custody.
Good God, what a searing goodbye scene between Walt, Skyler and his baby. Walt began it bitter, even cruel, throwing Skyler’s gift to Ted in her face when she says, “There’s got to be another way”: “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t.” (That would be the OH WALT YOU WENT THERE moment.)
This is Walt being Walt; he can’t let go of his rightness or of a grievance—and yet, in another turn, he sort of does, as he essentially tells Skyler that he is going to die: Oh, Skyler. I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that, I’ve made choices. … I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices, no one else. And those consequences–they’re coming. No more prolonging the inevitable.” But the capper of the scene is Walt and Skyler’s almost completely silent last few seconds, as he looks at his baby daughter for what he assumes is the last time, and Skyler begins to say something to him, but can’t.
That bit about Walt alone suffering the consequences: he may believe it, but of course it’s not true. This becomes clear through the stir-crazy scenes inside the Schrader household, where the siege is an annoying overreaction to Hank, worrisome to Marie and, because of what only she knows, hellish for Skyler. The most gut-wrenching moment: Walt Jr.’s angry acting-out towards his mother, whom he blames for not getting Walt to come—meaning that, if Walt dies, this will be one last thing she takes the blame for to save her son’s memory of his father.
Walt, meanwhile, is getting ready to die—we see him, as in the show’s pilot, sitting despondent by the pool, this time spinning his gun—but not entirely ready. He has barricaded himself in the house when Jesse bursts in, having made the horrifying discovery that Brock is, it would seem, poisoned by the ricin stashed in his pack of cigarettes. (That realization would be my “OH MOTHERF****R NO” moment.)
And again, what a fantastic scene between Jesse and Walt. Even now, at the seeming end of all things, Walt cannot help but open with condescension toward Jesse: “Do you even know what’s happening, the full scope of what’s happening?” Walt, it turns out, is not aware of the full scope of what is happening, either, as he soon finds himself at the wrong end of a gun opposite Jesse, who is furious for reasons Walt can’t understand. And God, does Aaron Paul take Jesse on a magnificent journey explaining himself, sputtering out his far-fetched theory of Walt poisoning Brock until it becomes clear, through his anguish, that he’s desperately trying to convince himself that it’s not his fault, grasping for an explanation that makes sense, even if it’s hateful.
Or at least I thought that was where this was going, until the conversation takes a turn. “I’ve been waiting all day for one of Gus’ men to kill me,” Walt laughs. “And it’s you. Who do you know who’s OK with using children, Jesse, who do you know who’s allowed children to be murdered?”
Plot-wise, this is an elegant twist. But it also seems like an extremely complicated multiple bank shot, even for Gus. We need to assume—if Walt is correct—that Gus deduced the ricin plot (entirely plausible), got Tyrus to lift the deadly cigarette (possible), somehow managed, unnoticed, to get Brock to ingest the ricin (maybe–where and when was the opportunity?), all on the assumption that Jesse, on his own would assume that it was actually Walt (for whom the task would be even more difficult) and come to kill him. And yet Gus—who as Walt has said and this theory assumes, thinks a dozen steps ahead—does not anticipate that Walt would, as we have just seen, persuade Jesse of the more likely possibility that Gus was behind it? (Another problem: in order to rule out the more-obvious explanation—that Brock just got the cigarette from Jesse’s backpack and smoked it, like kids do—we have to follow Jesse laying out the chain of custody for his bag in the middle of the scene.)
I am either overthinking this or underthinking it, and it may be that the finale will answer these very questions. In any case, it sets up what will be one of the all-time signal scenes of this series (and my Breaking Bad Visual of the Week): Walt kneeling and staring up at Jesse, gun pressed into his forehead, and shouting “Do it!”
Which he doesn’t do. And like that, the team is back together. In a quick sequence, Walt devises some kind of remote-controlled explosive and, using Jesse at the hospital as bait, plants it on Gus’ Volvo and waits as Gus enters the garage, walks to his vehicle and…
Stops. Why? It is not entirely clear. Unless I am missing a clue here, which is certainly possible, Gus simply appears to have developed adult-onset Spidey sense. (This would be my “GUS WTF!” moment.) Again, the finale may well explain this—it has to, right?—but I feel as if there should have been some tiny physical cue, or something Jesse said that unsettled him.
(We see Walt turn on his remote, which emits a beep at his end, but there’s no indication of a noise in the parking garage; there is also the sound of passing sirens just as Gus stops, but I don’t see why sirens on a city street would read as a sign of danger, much less this danger. Or it may be that Jesse’s attitude toward Gus at the hospital somehow suggested to him that his star employee was no longer on board. Tell me what I’m missing. Update: Commenter Juliana posts a link to this week’s Inside Breaking Bad video, which says it was Jesse’s statement that Brock was “poisoned” that sits wrong with Gus. Why that would be—well, I’ll let you debate that one.)
But again, my objection to the plotting aside, it sets up a final moment—and another candidate for Visual of the Week—that leaves Walt on the roof of a building, yet, as he’s been for so much of this season, at a woeful low.
[Deep exhalation.] The season finale can’t come soon enough. I AM GOING TO WEAR OUT MY CAPS LOCK BUTTON!
Now for the hail of bullets:
* Watching Jesse nervously flick his lighter on and off, I’m struck by how many people on this show like, literally, to play with fire.
* “Honey Tits! I say it’s endearing!” Hey, am I the only one who found it a little touching that Saul asked Jesse to put in a good word for him with Gus before disappearing? Bless his mercenary heart, that’s his way of saying goodbye.
* I’d love to know whether Gus planned the hit on Brock—again, assuming that that is what happened—before or after he told Jesse that “there will be an appropriate response.”
* I don’t think it qualifies as a spoiler to share objective real-world facts from outside the show—spoiler alert if you think it is—but according to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no antidote for ricin, though its symptoms can be treated. Oy. On the other hand, the CDC was not able to come up with a simple cure for zombieism in The Walking Dead, so what do they know?