Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias”: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair

Breaking Bad: Season 5

“Ozymandias”

Aired: September 15, 2013

Writer: Moira Walley-Beckett

Director: Rian Johnson

“I’ve still got things left to do.”

– Walter White

As many of you may already know, this week’s episode gets its title from a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem (which you can hear read by Bryan Cranston in the embedded video below) is about Ramesses II, who is considered by most to be the greatest and most powerful pharaoh in the Egyptian empire. It is, in essence, a poem about the fact that no matter how high you rise, eventually everything you’ve accomplished will be lost over time.

It’s a fitting name since this week Walter White lost everything. He lost his brother-in-law. He lost his fancy new car. He lost his moral compass. He lost the trust and support of his son. He lost his family. And as he climbed into that van at the end of the episode, he lost his identity completely. Heisenberg’s reign is officially over. Walter White no longer exists. All that’s left is a dying man with $11 million, no one to pass on onto and no meaningful legacy to speak of.

The episode briefly took us back to the first cook once again, showing Walt’s optimism at his new endeavor and his budding partnership with Jesse Pinkman. We saw Skyler before she was aware of Walt’s crimes. Walt practices his very first meth-related lie over and over before calling her, but he doesn’t even get to finish it. She trusts him and simply asks him to pick up some pizzas on his way home.

We go from there to present day in To’hajiilee, where what we all feared plays out exactly how you would imagine. Walt tries to bargain for Hank’s life while Hank, who briefly looks over at the fallen Gomez, has resigned himself to his fate and simply refuses to plead for his life or humble himself before Jack’s crew. As Hank so astutely tells Walt moments before his death, “You’re the smartest guy I ever met and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago.”

Uncle Jack is kind enough to leave Walt with 11 of his $80 million. And Todd is nice enough to spare Jesse Pinkman’s life in order to use him to become a better cook. But these are just two small courtesies in an episode filled with a series of escalating gut punches. Everything is stripped away from Walt piece by piece and we the viewer feel every devastating blow as it happens. Walt tries to rush home to round up his family, but Marie has beat him there and the damage has already been done. The ensuing fight between Walt and Skyler, as Flynn first looks on, then ultimately intervenes, is one of the hardest things to watch the show has ever given us (and that’s saying something). If you were clinging onto any small sliver of hope that Walter White was still the hero of this story, that had to fade away as you watched Walt Jr. shield his terrified mother from a man he no longer knew.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Walt’s final call to Skyler. At first, it threw me off because Walt is too smart of a guy to not know the police were listening in on the conversation. He confesses everything on a line that he has to know is being tapped. But then it finally clicked and I realized what he was doing. It was ultimately an act of kindness. He was saving Skyler from any legal repercussions. The police intervened because of a report that he was a violent child abductor. He plays into that image, threatening his wife and saying that she never supported him in his criminal actions and that she should keep her mouth shut because she’s clueless about his operation anyway. On the record, he is making it clear that his wife was an innocent victim and that he was forcing her into going along with it all. You see tears streaming down his eyes as he does it. He’s already lost his family, but he can still save Skyler from prosecution. This doesn’t exactly make him a hero, but it does show that there is still humanity left in the man.

And then, after falling on his sword and taking all of the blame (including the blame for Hank’s death), Walt leaves Holly at a fire station with her home address pinned to her chest and then disappears under a new identity.

We can only assume he’s gone until he returns on his 52nd birthday with an assault rifle and a vial of ricin to exact his revenge on Uncle Jack and his crew (and perhaps inadvertently save Jesse, though at this point that relationship seems utterly beyond repair).

Two episodes left. I really hope my heart can take it.

And another thing …

  • Forget Low Winter Sun. AMC should be forced to follow Breaking Bad with an hour of soothing music and puppies in fun costumes.
  • It started out as such a nice day for Flynn – he was learning the family business, he met local celebrity Saul Goodman – but things went downhill quickly. Skyler and Marie picked the wrong day to get him up to speed.
  • This show does a lot with colors, particularly the outfits people wear, which is something I haven’t really touched on in these recaps before. But it’s hard to ignore the terribly unsubtle fact that Marie showed up in all black while Skyler was dressed in all white when the two came face to face. (Though Skyler’s outfit did have a touch of blue in the sleeves – you know, blue like the meth).
  • Speaking of Marie, I found myself wondering how differently this whole show would have played out if she had been married to Walt instead of Skyler.
  • “I watched Jane die.” After Jesse put the pieces together about Brock, I wondered if he would ever find out about Walt’s other great sin against a person Jesse cares about. I never imagined he’d find out like that though.
  • Walt laid on the ground for several hours while Jack’s crew dug up his money. He had to be staring at Jesse under the car that whole time.
  • And finally, as promised, here is Bryan Cranston reading “Ozymandis” …

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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