Breaking Bad recap: season five, episode 14 – Ozymandias

Betrayals, brutality and bombshells keep coming as Walt moves ever deeper into the darkness

SPOILER ALERT: This blog is for viewers who have seen Breaking Bad season five, episode 14 – Ozymandias.

Click here to read Richard's episode 13 blogpost

'I've still got things left to do'

It's not often the bad guy gets to ride off into the sunset. But that's what it felt like as Walt sat waiting for Saul's guy in the same roadside extraction point where Jesse sat a few weeks ago, and then climbed into an innocuous people carrier. Behind him, the concrete looked like a mountain graveyard; in front of him, three bags and a barrel full of cash: the high price for all the bodies he has left behind.

If Breaking Bad has been about watching Mr Chips transform into Scarface, as creator Vince Gilligan has often said, this episode seemed in part to be about Walt acknowledging it – but also recognising that he has come to the end of his "empire business", as suggested by the title's reference to the Shelley poem Ozymandias. At every turn, as he wrestled with his two halves, the right and wrong, the White and the Heisenberg, he seemed to choose to be the danger, the one who knocks, psyching himself up after Hank's murder to sell out Jesse ("found him"); being out-played by the meth Nazis; abducting Holly after realising that Skyler and Junior have turned against him; finally abandoning everyone to make a run for it by himself.

Before we return to last week's excruciating cliffhanger, there's time to reflect: a flashback to the first time we were out here in the desert. We're back in the RV – and it's almost like a dream playing out in Walt's head, as we're reminded of a time when Skyler was happy to be making "nine bucks" on eBay, when Walt could still get away with a lie about pulling overtime in the car wash, and when a knife block could sit innocently on the kitchen counter. Then, as Walt's impromptu chemistry lesson fades (remember when he was a teacher?), it's time to return to the brutal present: "the reaction has begun" indeed.

Walt pleads with Uncle Jack for Hank's life: "He's family." Seasoned pros Jack and Hank both seem to be on the same page, and know even $80m isn't enough to buy his way out. As Hank points out, "You're the smartest guy I ever met, and you're too stupid to see – he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." Not only has Walt's gambit to save Hank failed, but he has also just given up the location of his DIY desert bank ("pretty specific instructions").

Then he sells Jesse out, with a "found him." Even in that terrible moment, was there a flicker of Mr White there? Did he try to run the angles, come up with some final "yeah, science!" moment to save Jesse before deciding that it was all over? Instead, it's Todd who comes to the rescue, pointing out that it might be wise to interrogate Jesse first. "I mean, he might have told them some stuff that might not be too good for us." (His "aw shucks" blankness may actually hide a shrewd operator.) Then, the first of tonight's bombshells, as Walt seems to tip headfirst into the darkness: "I watched Jane die. I was there and I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her. But I didn't." For all his ambiguity over the series, his wavering on the line, this was so cruel – sending Jesse off to die with this final revelation to break him. It's unlikely to be the "fast and painless" hit Walt ordered, but at least it will be out of his sight, unlike Hank.

That shot of Walt catching his breath, glimpsing himself in the rear view mirror, seemed to say it all as he took stock – he's alive, there's cash in the car, and blood on his hands – as he turned to look at the fresh marks in the dust, the hole he dug to hide the money now a ready-made grave for Hank and Gomez. Time for another twist in the desert: a bullet hole in Walt's fuel tank means he's out of petrol, leaving him with one option, to walk. Walt rolled his last barrel through the sand, like Donkey Kong unleashed from the top of his ladders (it's lucky he didn't hide it in boxes).

Elsewhere, a whirlwind of emotion and chaos: Marie still thinks Hank has arrested Walt, and finds it in her heart to try to save Skyler, restraining her tendency to overdramatise with a simple: "I will support you through this." Her condition is tonight's second revelation, as Skyler's hand is forced. Walt Jnr has to be told – before he finds out from someone else. And in turn, Junior's clear logic cuts through to Skyler ("If all this is true and you knew about it, you're as bad as him"), and she sees Walt again as the monster she has to protect her children from.

Back at the White house there's more panic. Walt is ready to run, to get Skyler and Junior to chuck a few things in a bag and get out – "I will discuss all of this later" – but they refuse. Walt's left alone again, alienated from the family he has used for so long to justify his actions. Breaking Bad has had more of its fair share of violent scenes that linger in the memory – Gus adjusting his tie with half his face blown off, Danny Trejo's head on a tortoise, the kid assassin who shot Combo and cycled off. But this fight was especially painful to watch. The stakes seemed so high with Junior and Holly in the room, the knife flailing around – it looked at one point as if he might get stabbed. Instead, Junior protects his mother. "I need the police – my dad, he pulled a knife on my mom. He attacked her, he's dangerous." It's a cold reminder of the "domestic situation" distress call Skyler made to have Walt removed from the premises back when they were both keeping the truth from Junior.

'You're always whining and complaining while I do everything'

Walt runs off with Holly, his blood staining her pink and white jacket, Skyler left distraught in the middle of the street. He calls to unleash a tirade of abuse – "This is your fault. I warned you for a solid year – you cross me, there will be consequences. You never believed in me, you were never grateful …" After his demolition job on Jesse, it's like he has been possessed as he mimics her "whining" ("It's immoral! It's illegal!"). But is there more to the conversation than just his ego being unleashed? Is he giving her a way out, calculating that there would be a trace on the line, the police listening as he took full responsibility for everything, absolving her as he says: "I built this – me. Me alone, nobody else. You mark my words, Skyler, toe the line. Or you will wind up just like Hank." What is it that he has left to do? Save Jesse? Get the money back? Get them all out of there? Just two episodes left now. It's going to be a long week.

Notes, observations and best lines

• "My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go fuck yourself". Adios, Hank.

• "Yo! So what's next?" If only you knew, Season-One Jesse.

• "What's with all the greed here? It's unattractive." Maybe it's because he reminds me of Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, but Uncle Jack does seem like a pretty fair sort of guy if you're in his good books – $11m is not a bad pay-off. Even his "Woah, simmer down there, Sparky" had a certain wit.

• "I'm sorry for your loss." Todd … emotes … again.

• "Good to go?" Colder than a trip to Belize.

• "Mama" – was this Holly's first dialogue on the show?

• "I will support you through this." Sisters, doing it for themselves.

• A word on Jesse's face: did Uncle Jack's crew bust up the other eye to mirror the one Hank pulped? How long does Todd plan on keeping him around, chained like a "rabid dog"?

• "Found him." "Let's cook." "I negotiated." You really know you're in the endgame when a show can pull out so many meaningful two-word sentences.

• "You stupid bitch." Was this the first time Walt has used Jesse's catchphrase?

• "Flynn? Could you put your seatbelt on? Please, it's not safe." Breaking Bad really is doing its bit for seatbelt awareness, isn't it? (Somehow, I could see Walt voting for Ralph Nader, the independent presidential candidate who campaigned for car safety in the 1960s.)

• This episode was directed by Brick and Looper director Rian Johnson, who also directed the great "bottle" episode Fly back in season three, and Fifty-One at the start of season five (when Walt splashed out on a swanky new car for Walt Jnr).

• Anyone in need of a little light relief? How about Jimmy Fallon's Joking Bad or the adventures of Heisenberg and Pinkman?


Richard Vine

The GuardianTramp

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