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Breaking Bad Watch: Flush of Recognition

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, make sure you take any necessary bathroom breaks, then watch Sunday night’s 2012 finale of Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad began its final season with enough shoes-waiting-to-drop to fill Carrie Bradshaw’s closet. The ricin. The cancer. Madrigal. Walt’s secret poisoning of Brock (which, combined with his allowing Jane to die and killing Mike, makes three times he’s hurt someone close to Jesse without his knowledge). Ted Benecke’s head injury. Walt and Skyler’s marriage. And, as set up in the first scene: what “business” is Walt looking to take care of with that machine gun?

This first half of the last season dropped some of these shoes and left others hanging (the ricin is still out there, the gun still awaits). But “Gliding Over All” ended on a big one: the DEA investigation that was inexorably bringing Hank closer to the trail of his own brother-in-law. (I cannot characterize the last scene better than Ken Tucker, who noted that it gave new meaning to the term “info dump.”)

The bipartite structure of Breaking Bad’s last season (the final run of eight episodes is next year) forced the show to have two season 5 “finales.” And “Gliding,” an unusually mellow, reserved episode (for one, granted, including nine prison murders) took advantage of this by constructing itself as a sort of false finale—the ending that Walt, having won against Gus and Mike, having gotten his family “back,” might have imagined for himself, up until the end.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Four Terrifying Glimpses of Walter White, Lost Cause)

There was a sort of bittersweet, valedictory feel to much of the episode, which, even more than usual was loaded with callbacks to Breaking Bad’s past: the fly in the opening seconds, the paper-towel dispenser at the hospital, and, of course, Leaves of Grass. (Gale Boetticher died at the end of season three, but on Breaking Bad the dead stay very much with us.) It was as if we were looking back with Walt, on a passage in his life that was terrible and exhilarating, but, finally, over. Except that, as it turned out, it’s not.

I suspect some viewers are disappointed by the idea of Hank getting tipped off to Walt’s secret essentially by accident–literally, with his pants down. But on reflection, maybe that was the only way it could happen. This season gave us Walt utterly triumphant—if despicably so—and Hank, in the end, utterly thwarted on the verge of getting one of the prisoners to flip. There was simply no way Hank was going to catch Heisenberg; he was outmatched. But Walter White–relaxed, his guard down, convinced that he had in fact managed to pull off the perfect crime? That guy, Hank could get.

The first half of Breaking Bad’s last season felt like a strong setup to an end run–the elements involving Walt and Skyler’s home life, especially, have been devastating–albeit one with some odd pacing. It began with a flash-forward that suggested that Walt would end up the series in a very different psychological state than the triumphant one he was presently in, but it took baby steps toward that, instead slowing down and dealing with the minutiae of how Walt and company got their business going post-Gus.

“Gliding Over All” suddenly did the opposite, accelerating time and taking a leap forward. It covered about three months, a substantial shift for a show that moved roughly a year over its first four seasons. Walt’s imperial reign as an international drug importer was handled, essentially, in a montage–all business, all grinding clockwork. On Breaking Bad’s usual timescale, it could have been an entire season–how Walt operated in his triumph and why he decided to turn away from it. Instead, it fit within commercial breaks.

(MORE: Life Imitates Breaking Bad: Walter White Wanted on Meth Charges)

In part, that was probably dramatically necessary, because Walt’s success is not as compelling as Walt in jeopardy. But it also made to show that Walt’s “empire,” everything he had strived for, was, once achieved, a cold, unsatisfying thing. His triumph? A mound of green paper sitting in the dark in a storage locker.

And in a show that has paid very close attention to Walt’s moral and psychological evolution, it took an intriguing approach to Walt’s deciding to get out of the business. Rather than show explicitly why Walt decided enough was enough, “Gliding Over All” made that question–why did he get out?–the central mystery of the episode.

Was it his health? (The episode and the season opener suggested, though never definitively said, that the cancer was back.) Was it the experience of standing, with Skyler, in front of that massive cube of drug money, that shrouded, mystical Kaaba of cash? (Maybe, but it still leaves the question of why, since he explicitly told Jesse two episodes ago that he was in “the empire business”–that too much, essentially, would never be enough.) Was it exhaustion, disillusion, regret? (Again, maybe: he seemed drained, as if he realized that having won his personal drug war hadn’t made him happy after all, and his talk with Jesse about the RV and old times contained Whitmanian multitudes of unspoken woulda-coulda-shoulda.)

Answering some of these questions, I’m guessing, will be the business of the series’ final run. But it’s an interesting move to have that take place after Walt decided to take the money and run. After all, we’ve spent much of the season wondering why he wouldn’t just quit, as Jesse tried to persuade him.

But the end of “Gliding Over All” reminds us that that is a hollow answer. You can never really be done with the kind of life Walt chose–you can’t just turn a trophy from a man you had murdered into light bathroom reading and be done with it. The enormity of it hangs over everything—who was not expecting something horrible to happen in that last poolside scene? You might get away with your life of crime, or not. But in reality, there’s no such thing as “getting out.”

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Train in Vain)

As I have quoted here many, many times, Vince Gilligan has said that Breaking Bad is the story of Mr. Chips turning into Scarface. It’s an apt description, but, as the mid-season finale suggests, also a bit of a fakeout. Turning Mr. Chips into Scarface was a long, difficult, and harrowing process. But for Scarface to turn himself back into Mr. Chips? Forget it.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* I liked the parallel of the two unused murder weapons: the ricin, which Walt did not have to use to kill Lydia, and Jesse’s gun, which he did not have to use against Walt. As much as Walt has told himself that, once he succeeds, he can run drugs his way–taking the violence out of the equation–the threat of death is always there.

* Speaking of which, as flighty as Lydia has sometimes seemed, she demonstrates her how she’s been smart enough to survive in a deadly business, calculating her value to Walt and offering up an opportunity that spares her a ricin cocktail.

* Nice touch, in his Leaves of Grass inscription, that Gale would have used the anglicized spelling “honour.”

* Breaking Bad Visual of the Week: Not one but two ironically scored musical montages in this episode–which is maybe one too many. But I’d give the edge to “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” not just for the song choice but the playful use of visual parallels: Saul’s pouring vodka and the pouring chemicals in the lab, Skyler and Lydia’s red mugs.

* So how would you rate the half-season overall? If forced to compare it against the other four full seasons—probably unfair since Breaking Bad seasons usually have a stronger second half—I’d have to mark off for some of the pacing/focus problems I mention above, and I wanted more from Jesse this season. But the sequences at the White household have been some of the most raw and effective the show has ever done.

MORE: TIME’s complete coverage of Breaking Bad episodes

39 comments
Paradise5551
Paradise5551

What does Walter White mean by he is out in the last episode when he was talking to Skyler? Does it mean he is out of making meth but not out of the business completely???

Okthen
Okthen

Vince Gilligan told a story, attributed to his grilfriend, (interview: Fresh Air) where she says "I can live without an idea of heaven, but not without a hell" or something to that effect.  This suggests that Gilligan wants the bad to be punished.  

It fits that Gale Boetticher is the key to Walt's downfall.  Gale is an innocent, his only sin is loving chemistry too much.


Sketch the Journalist
Sketch the Journalist

Ken Tucker's "info dump" was good, but my initial thought was that it was truly an "Oh CRAP!" moment for Hank.

AndyDV
AndyDV like.author.displayName 1 Like

I loved the shot of the Leaves of Grass book in the beginning of the episode while Walt was showering. A nice bit of foreshadowing, perhaps showing it was just a simple slip-up on Walt's part. Much like the broken picture frame revealing Gus' Cayman Island accounts that set this whole season in motion—despite all Walt's masterful planning, it's the little things that will do him in.

My biggest question is how Jesse will get roped back in to all this. The most horrific of Walt's actions have been toward Jesse and those he loves...none of which are known to Jesse himself...yet. How the death of his girlfriend, Mike, and the poisoning of Brock will be revealed and/or how their relationship will resolve will definitely trump Walt's relationship with any other character.

kmlgraph
kmlgraph

James states he wanted more from Jesse this season. Fair enough. Aaron Paul has been outstanding as Jesse throughout all the seasons. However I can't help but feel Dean Norris as Hank, has been mostly underutilized. His character as the big gregarious doofus who is actually whip-smart and pit bull like in his tenacity is compelling. Give us more Hank in the final episodes.  It's his time.

marty wombacher
marty wombacher

I thought it was a great season finale and wish the final eight would be shown sooner. I'm wondering if that scene from the first episode, which shows Walt with a beard, hair and different identity means he got placed in a witness protection plan? And as another commenter mentioned, Jesse had a bong and beer out, with five million bucks and a horrible frame of mind, how long before he starts using again? I cannot wait to see how this plays out!

Pen Guin
Pen Guin

Hank is involved...Walt is his brother in law...his medical rehab was paid for by Walt. ..he insisted he take the lead on the meth investigation...but why was Hank dropping a duece in the masterbathroom?

czer101
czer101

With all his smarts... why wasn't the money all deposited into a Swiss account? Why should Walt die... for what? Just to make a point? Bad guys win all over the world. 

And... him living makes the story line way more interesting. Have him disappear...

maybe to return someday but let us understand and see how powerful he has

become worldwide. Let us see his fame as the underworld gangster he is. Let Walt live!

TVHog
TVHog

It's been a good first half-season, if only because it set things up well for the second half.  I've missed Jesse too, but I strongly suspect we will see plenty of him in the final episodes.

Like Ken Tucker, I was a bit disappointed in the way Hank gets (another) whiff of who WW  really is.  I can't believe Walt left the book or the inscription around, especially after he and Hank had had a previous confrontation about the initials.

BTW, there were ten prison murders, not nine.  The lawyer who transferred the cash to Mike's nine guys was included.  I counted as they were erased and the tally was ten...

farmgurl6
farmgurl6

My take...Walt is not at all increasing his comfort level due to his so-called final success and Hank finding that book was not an accident.  The episode was the beginning of a bucket list for everyone he loved.  He gave Jesse enough money for a lifetime and basically said goodbye.  He gave his wife what she wanted, him out of the business for the safety of their children which allowed her to have her children back in her life.  And he is going to give Hank his victory over this case.  And yes, I am saying that Hank did not find that book on accident.

We all know Walt is on his way to his final days (and I would not be surprised at all if that lingering ricin that has been intended for so many, but always seems to end up behind the wall in his bedroom, won't play a hand in speeding up his own inevitable demise).  The guy is handing out wishes because he can.  That smile between his wife and him was not a smile of rekindled love, for her, that is gone.  She knows his plan...he tells her everything...that is a mutual smile of understanding for what he is doing.  And him doing all of this doesn't make him a revert back into Mr. Chips after his toe-dipping into Scarface.  It makes him his own, Walter White.

And I could be totally wrong, and that's why I love this show.  

canali
canali

you fans might like this: vince on  how next season could end (the writers are still kicking around various endings).

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.... 

...one thing I do know is that i'm going to be VERY SAD when it ends...seldom have i been as involved with a series as this one (don't think i'm alone, either)

vrcplou
vrcplou

 Interesting - and was it last night or a previous episode that saw Walt having an MRI (looking for the cancer?).  And I don't recall knowing the results of that MRI.  Maybe you're right.  But still gotta wonder how we get to the undone Walt with the machine gun that kicked off the season.  He doesn't seem to be going peacefully into that good night.

farmgurl6
farmgurl6

I had to re-watch that again and enjoyed it even more this time.  Walt has his hair, so he's not having treatment, but he is taking meds, so it looks like his health is poor and he has maybe chosen no treatment, as he wanted in the very beginning (my assumption is that the cancer is back).  I wonder if Skylar went through moments of regret when she begged him to take treatment against his wishes.  

Anyway....I'm going to guess the gun is to protect someone by killing someone else.  I'm guessing he is going after someone because there are tracer's in the trunk which if I understand that correctly, you wouldn't need tracers if you are protecting yourself from inside your home where you have the benefit of light.  And he's doing the job himself, which is interesting...My bet is that it has something to do with Lydia.  You can't make that much money and be in that deep internationally and just quit.  Lots of people are losing a shit ton of money and then there's little Lydia...she will do anything to live.  Anything.

vrcplou
vrcplou

Lydia is ruthless; she's not a little babe in the woods that got in over her head or roped into the biz against her will.  Maybe she's running things if Walt is really "out".  Or she's the threat to him later on.  I don't see her giving up an empire willingly.

canali
canali

notice how that MRI scene happened just before walt told skylar he was out...so maybe the cancer is back with a veangeance

Sara Rose
Sara Rose

Re Hank finding the book: For Walter to stage this, he would've had to have known the state of  his brother-in-law's bowels and that Hank would've already read the magazine on top and would flip open a book of poetry to the page where Gale had signed it.

farmgurl6
farmgurl6

I don't think it was staged for that night or any particular night.  I think it was left there for time to tell.  They are a close family...they have open homes.   

Keep in mind that Walt isn't reading that book on the toilet either... it's a memory that provides one of the most difficult situations thus far for him.  Therefore, he wouldn't have it there for his own reading pleasure.  "W.W" was the only time in Walt and Hank's conversations that there was a millisecond of question that this person Hank knows so well, family even, could change the scope of everything he knew to be true in his personal and professional life.  Hank pushed his intuition aside because it seemed so implausible and frankly, he just did not want to pursue it on a granular level.

suzzap
suzzap

Walt keeps the book to massage his ego.  The inscription tells him that someone whom he respected recognized his genius. Walt craves that, and rarely gets it.  His ego is big, and gets him in trouble, like when he drunkenly suggests to hank that maybe GB wasn't Heisenberg, because Walt couldn't bear that Gale was getting credit for Walt's genius. Part of what led to Mike's tragic ending was his failure to properly thank Heisenberg (and to give him the same warm goodbye as he did Jesse).

I don't think he left it out on purpose; after all, it was in the master bath. I love that Hank decided to use that more private facility to do his business.  Family.

TVHog
TVHog

Well, I have to say, farmgurl, that you present a scenario that puts a lot of the pieces together and answers some of the key questions - including the one I posted previously.  Impressive...

maddogjmj
maddogjmj

 farmgurl, I thing you're onto something. Or several things as it were. Very insightful.

Batwing
Batwing

They used Up The Junction also by Squeeze at the end round the pool. Hank asks Walt, "Rocks right?" while serving him a drink. This series is perfect.

vrcplou
vrcplou

Do we really know Walt is out of the business?  I mean he says he is and he's back with the family, which means Skylar thinks he is, but is he really?  He's a kingpin so maybe he's abdicated the day-to-day running of the business to others.  I find it hard after being so ruthless and killing so many that he just gives up and says enough.  Or maybe he finally realized there's no way to run this business without violence.  But just because Walt says he's out doesn't mean he really is.  To me, anyway.  And I keep going back to Todd's white power relatives that committed all those killings for Walt.  Were they ok with walking away from this opportunity?  What about Lydia?  There's all sorts of people with big financial stakes in this business.  I find it hard to believe they were all ok with Walt shutting everything down.

beaverorduck
beaverorduck

When is Walt's watch going to figure into the drama?

Eric Armstrong
Eric Armstrong

I love it and I've been a huge fan since day 1...but this 8 episode mini-season was kind of unsatisfying. I know it's because I'm just used to getting 13 episodes/year...but still. I know it'll pay off in the end. Even if I do have to wait another year.

djacks24
djacks24

I doubt he is out of the meth business. It just seemed all to easy that he walked away. Or maybe he's done with the business, but the business is not done with him? I think its going to be a combination of what Hank decides (likely a career ending move that his brother-in-law turns out was Heisenburg all along), some very bad people who are not finished with what Walt started, and the cancer.  But, like Walt has deceived everybody around him, I believe the final episode of this year was left where it is to deceive the audience for a while.

casperj66
casperj66

Some one please remind me how that book fits in, and who wrote the inscription, and how does this make Hank think that walter is Heisenberg. Please it's killing me.

brianK
brianK

"G.B." = Gale Boetticker.  Gus's former meth cook, who worked briefly with Walt

casperj66
casperj66

I can't wait for the rest of this show. It is such a fantastic Drama. Do you also feel that the first scene of the first episode of this season, is going to endup beeing the last episode?

cap_n_jack
cap_n_jack

 Pretty simple (ok, not at all). In Season Three, Walt's assistant Gale is shown to be a big fan of the poet Walt Whitman; Walter White is later seen reading "Leaves of Grass" (presumably given to him by Gale). In season 4, Hank shows Walt the now dead Gale's lab notes which include an inscription about his respect for "W.W." who Walt points out must be Walt Whitman; Hank agrees and they move on. In this season Walt keeps the book Gale gave him, and Hank finds it. When he sees the inscription, he knows from the context (it says it's for the other "W.W." from "G.B.") that Walter must have known Gale and hence is Heisenberg. It's complicated to explain, but makes good sense.

casperj66
casperj66

Thank you, I knew it was about Gale, And W.W was walter, I just couldnt remember when the book came into the story. Thanks soooooo much.

Tyler Munn
Tyler Munn

The note was from Gale Boetticher, Walt's former lab partner in the superlab that Jesse killed and Hank investigated.  This is the 2nd time a Gale/Walt Whitman inscription has happened.  Re-watch S4E4 Bullet Points.  

CMAC2012
CMAC2012

Possible ending...

Hank knows Walt is Heisenberg but an initialed copy of Leaves of Grass is not enough evidence to just walk out of the bathroom and arrest Walt.  At least I hope not.  Walt begins to realize Hank is on to him and hello scotch and ricin on the rocks for Hank.

Walt is not out of the business because Hank will destroy any easy exit and now Walt will be hunted to be silenced and will fight to protect his family from the Cartel.  I don't think he needs the big gun to fight the cops that would never work.  You don't plan a stand off with the cops.  They are out to arrest you not kill you.    I think that is why Hank will be killed by Walt and then all hell will finally break loose.  

DarkflameQ
DarkflameQ

I don't believe Walt has quit for one minute.

Even with that huge amount of money, the business is all about his ego now, not family.

I believe he has temporarily quit because he has setup Hank to go crazy by letting him know that he's the 'monster' he's been looking for well over a year but with all evidence out of reach.

Hank was already breaking before the convenient revelation at the end of the episode, this will firmly push him over the edge, Hank has just as big of an ego as Walt does and it won't be able to handle the fact that the most successful drug lord to ever evade him is his own brother in law.

Hank won't be able to share this information with the DEA either as it will make him look weak and he will quickly become the a laughing stock especially since he's the boss now.

He will be forced to keep the information to himself and go on a solo mission just like he has done previously in the series, the final episode will probably be a stand off between Hank, Walt, some gang and i'm sure Jessie will be in the mix some where too.

That big gun Walt had in the end of the first episode of this season is probably for a gang of some sort and will most likely be the last episode of next season, i highly doubt it's for the DEA though.

I believe at that point in the timeline, Walt's cancer has returned and he knows he has a guaranteed painful death sentence in front of him so he's probably going to go out with a bang rather than a wimper.

What ever the cause turns out to be, next season is going to be the best last season of a show ever.

Chris Kw.
Chris Kw.

I was a little surprised that all of the parties that we're benefiting from the blue meth were cool with Heisenberg quitting. In fact, I don't think they're cool with it. When Lydia first proposed the Czech market, she began to say something when Walt cut her off and told her that his answer was yes. I think Lydia could have been beginning to explain to Walt that once you start with these people you never stop. Or maybe I'm over thinking it. I didn't even remember when I wrote my bullet point recap. To read thatclick here.

I also think giving Jesse the money wasn't meant as a favor. Jesse was doing exactly what Walt had predicted he would do if he wasn't cooking. Doing drugs and playi g video games. Maybe it was just marijuana. But with much more money, Jesse is more likely to try to numb the memories of his past with harder drugs and video games. Once again, I could be wrong.

http://criticalsquare.blogspot...

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maddogjmj
maddogjmj

 If you read farmgurl6's analysis, it seems much more plausible that Walt will somehow let go of his famous formula to the other parties, and let Hank go on with his quest for them after he (Walt) is gone, most likely in a hail of gunfire (the machine gun) which further separates him from his complicit wife for her safety. Walt's persistent cough in the coffee shop and the last episode's ct scan hint at cancer's return. Remember that the last episode reflects a relatively long timspan. Just look at the montage of houses that are fumigated. And what better gift to give your brother-in-law, whose life is centered on the pursuit of "monsters," and who you caused to be permanently disabled in more ways than one, than to let him think he's the super-sleuth by finding the book, then giving him the remainder of the chase after he's gone? It seems a bit odd I know, but I see Walt finally getting his peace of feeling that he really is as smart and capable as he dreams of being - more so than his Nobel co-contributors who are now driving Bentleys, more so than the Gus Frings of the world, more so than his DEA brother-in-law - by laying out this plan. He's conquered the mental part, - it's just his body that's finally going to give out from the cancer, the condition that started it all.