Breaking Bad 5.14 "Ozymandias" ReviewA tv review article by: Nick Hanover
We knew it would happen. From the start of the fifth season, as we glimpsed a free, future Walt purchasing some tools of vengeance, it was clear that Heisenberg would not be going to jail. And when the half season ended and Hank discovered who Heisenberg was, it was clear that he would not survive to the end of the show. All that was uncertain was when Hank would die and how. Like a lot of viewers, I suspected that Walt’s “acquisitions,” the machine gun and the ricin, were meant to be used on Hank and Jesse respectively. But now that Hank is lying dead in an unmarked grave out where Walt’s cash used to be and Jesse is a victim of what looks to be a torture porn scenario, it seems a lot more likely that Walt’s final targets will be the neo-Nazis who robbed him of his last shred of humanity.
That’s not really the truth, though, is it? As heartbreaking as Hank’s death was, and as frustrating as Walt’s blood money going down the drain was as well, “Ozymandias” was such a powerful, debilitating episode because every single horror that unfolded was Walt’s fault. Walt clearly believes that Jack and his henchmen are to blame for his new rock bottom, but the truth is that Walt’s hubris is the instrument of his own demise. Too proud to believe he might not be able to sooth Jesse again, Walt waited far too long to act on the “Jesse problem,” and when he did act, it was rashly, through the use of monstrous men who he underestimated and believed to be too stupid to get the upper hand. So of course it blew up in his face and cost him both his real family— including Skyler and Walt Jr., who have become unified in their betrayal at Walt’s hands— and Jesse and Hank, his non-blood family.
In case any of us still felt Walt was some kind of hero, he cast out the last vestiges of sympathy he could be afforded when he decided to twist the knife in Jesse’s heart a little further by telling him he could have saved Jane. Unlike Walt’s theatrical phone call later in the episode, this was an action spurred not by a need to push away the people he hopes to protect, but an effort to prove to Jesse that as much as he thinks he has cost Walt, there is always so much more that Walt can rip from Jesse’s own chest.
Hank died not as a victor, but as an honorable man who sacrificed himself rather than winding up corrupted and more than anything else, that seemed to unhinge Walt, who was forced to view both the full consequences of his actions and to get a glimpse at what a stronger man in a similar situation to his own did. Because Walt has never been able to say sorry or to hold himself accountable for his own actions, it was only natural that he would lash out at Jesse and view him and his captors as the rightful targets of his arrogant hatred.
From Walt’s perspective, he is still an honorable man, a man who made horrible compromises in order to protect his family, who did disgusting, evil things in their best interest, but that reality he carved for himself couldn’t survive the facts that were presented when he ran to his family. Marie’s timely intervention at the car wash was enough to convince Skyler that the ordeal was over and since Walt was already in handcuffs, the only right thing to do was inform Walt Jr. of his father’s activities. Walt Jr., now almost certainly forever renamed Flynn, predictably did not handle the news well, and remained doubtful of Marie and his mother’s claims until they came home to find Walt crazed, demanding they pack immediately and leave.
You can actually see the moment when Flynn loses all faith in his father and gives up on him, it’s when Walt can’t even bother to come up with a lie in response to Skyler’s desperate need to know where Hank is. Flynn doesn’t act on this until Skyler lunges at Walt with a knife and in the scuffle cuts open his hand before grabbing the knife himself, but his face and his body language communicate that the battle for his trust was already over.
Because this is a Rian Johnson episode, there’s a lot of murkiness; murkiness of aesthetic, murkiness of loyalties, murkiness of intentions. Johnson’s flair for extreme close-ups that make situations unclear rather than clearer came to a climax in Walt and Skyler’s knife skirmish, as the tension that had been building was ramped up to unsustainable levels and it genuinely seemed like Walt might accidentally kill his own wife or his son. Instead, he killed whatever hope they had left for him, forcing Flynn to call the cops which in turn forced Walt’s own hand as he kidnapped his daughter Holly and fled.
Walt, ever the planner, seemed to genuinely be lost for once and a confusing call back home initially seemed like he had snapped. But the murkiness cleared up as Walt started crying, trying to keep the hostile timbre in his voice as he painted a picture for the cops he was sure were monitoring the line, a picture of Skyler and Flynn as hostages of a violent husband and father who wouldn’t let them escape the criminal empire he had secretly built. Like a sinister update of a children’s film where the wild animal has to be yelled at in order to run back off into the wilds it came from, Walt had to brutally remove whatever love his family still had for him in order to save them from his crimes. Even then, Walt couldn’t help but make one little vague pronouncement about how he still has things to do, not the least of which included dropping Holly off at a fire station before riding off to acquire the tools he needs for vengeance.
But what is even left for Walt to kill or break down? As far as he knows, Jesse is dead, and while that’s not true, Jesse’s actual fate is far worse, chained up in a less fancy meth lab where he’s forced to work with his nemesis Todd until he has outlived his usefulness. The neo-Nazis that Walt clearly believes are more responsible for Hank’s death than he is aren’t afraid to make it clear to Jesse that they are unafraid to go after his own sort of family, as that picture of Brock pinned up in the lab indicated. So does Walt think his family is in their sights as well?
Or is he just so desperate to blame someone else for his epic fuck-ups that he’s going to hunt them down out of spite? There is of course the matter of the cash that the Nazis took from him, but the police surveillance at his house proves that even if he reclaimed it, it’d be difficult if not impossible for him to get it into his family’s hands.
There is still a domestic apocalypse to come, and we know Walt’s business is nowhere near finished. Now we’re stuck waiting to see how much further this former bastion of American domesticity can fall.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.