First appeared on Blogcritics.
It has taken me a couple of days, and several times watching and re-watching episode 13 – “To’hajiilee” – to actually digest what happened and be able to write about it coherently. After watching it initially, I thought something went wrong with my television or cable box, but I realized they were working fine and that last second of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) cringing in the back of an SUV during a firefight really was the end of things for now.
So much happens in episode 13 that it may be impossible to do it justice, but the most important scene involved Froot Loops and a little boy eating breakfast. Despite the many other things happening, to me the essence of what Walter White was, what he has lost, and what will be his downfall all become manifested in that scene. What is more natural than a kid eating his breakfast and reading the back of the cereal box before school? The normalcy is cut to nil because the boy is Brock – the child Walt poisoned – and he is there to see Brock’s mother Andrea in hopes of flushing out Jesse (Aaron Paul) from hiding in order to kill him.
Brock looks up at Walt with some kind of recognition and a bit of fear – making us wonder if he knows this is the man who tried to hurt him. Walt falls back on the old teacher mode, saying “Froot Loops, good stuff!” This underscores the essence of his evil in the mundane ridiculousness of calling the bowl of sugary colored circles and milk “good.” His attempt to get Jesse is thwarted despite his indecency to face Andrea, the mother of the child he poisoned, as if he were a goodwill ambassador and there to save Jesse from another fall off the wagon.
When he leaves the house and goes back to the car, he tells the killers waiting for Jesse to make sure they take him elsewhere because he doesn’t want the boy or his mother to see anything or be involved. Walt has completely fallen at this point, believing he has some kind of decency to protect Andrea and Brock, even though killing Jesse will destroy them. Jesse never shows up because he is being kept “safe” by Hank (Dean Norris) and his DEA partner Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada), and they are preparing a trap for Walt out in the desert.
An elaborate scheme has been hatched to make Walt think that his buried money has been discovered. Using information from Saul’s lackey Huell, Jesse texts Walt a picture of a garbage pail with what looks like his money. Walt tears out of the car wash, where his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) stare at him and wonder where he is running off to so quickly. Of course, we know that Skyler is waiting, just as Walt is, to hear about Jesse’s fate, so her complicity is sealed and she is as guilty at Walt at this point.
Walt is driving like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. over the highways out of Albuquerque to get to his money hiding spot near To’hajiilee, a Native American reservation. He speaks to Jesse on the phone, and all Heisenberg’s cunning and calculations are thrown to the wind. This is the frail, vulnerable, and broken Walter White – the chemistry teacher who contracted cancer and was down and almost out for the count until he discovered his inner meth cooking self. Now he is just Walter, spewing over the cell phone a litany of his misdeeds, telling Jesse he did all these things to protect him too. He even admits to poisoning Brock, of giving him just the right amount in order not to kill him but just to make him sick. I couldn’t help thinking about that boy’s face, innocently eating his Froot Loops. This is how despicable Walter White has become, and we wonder if this is all being recorded in order for Hank to drive the nail deeper into Walt’s coffin.
When Walt gets to the site of his buried treasure, what to his wondering eyes does appear but nothing – just the stark desert landscape. Cranston allows the moment to register in such depth in his facial expressions, revealing how Walter knows he has been had, has lost to his protégé, that Heisenberg has not just lost but has been defeated.
But in glorious Breaking Bad tradition, nothing is as it seems. Walt sees a car coming, dashes behind some rocks, and makes a panic call to Todd (Jesse Plemons) and his white supremacist Uncle Jack and crew. He gives them his location via the handy-dandy lottery card possessing the area's coordinates, and tells them there are three men to deal with now – until he realizes Jesse has come with Hank and his partner.
Cranston’s expression again is overcome with realization – an awareness that now the game is over. He tells Jack not to come, and then he rises to face Hank in the glaring desert sun. Show creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan has mentioned on numerous occasions that this show is like a western told in modern times. Isn’t it fitting that Walt stands there holding a gun wearing an off-white jacket, while Hank is the man in black. It is a reversal of the old western good guy in white hat motif, and it would seem to be a perfect chance for a gunfight at the less than okay corral, but Walter has become one with his inner wimp again, dropping the gun and raising his hands in surrender.
Soon the handcuffs are being slapped on Walt, and Jesse stares in disbelief as we at home do the same. After all this time, we can’t process the image of Hank winning, of Heisenberg’s web being unraveled, of Walter White finally being read his rights and taken off to jail. It is an astonishing moment, but Breaking Bad fans have seen the flash-forwards, and we know that when Hank won’t get in the car and drive away, but instead relishes the moment to call his wife Marie (Betsy Brandt) to gloat and let her know that he has Walt, that things are decidedly not okay. Then we see the trucks rolling up – Todd, Jack, and the Klan that couldn’t shoot straight show up with their automatic weapons locked and loaded. We can only imagine what Hank and Gomez are thinking, even at first wondering if they were “reservation police.” That is quickly discounted when Jack – in Gilligan’s cunning nod to the classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre scene (the oft misquoted line "We don’t need no stinking badges”) – asks Hank and Gomez to show them their badges.
With Walt handcuffed in one car, and Jesse watching from the front of Walt’s car, we witness Walt’s last chance at redemption. He screams to no avail from inside the SUV with closed windows. He yells to Jack that “It’s off.” He attempts to stop what he and we know will happen – and the seriously outgunned Hank and Gomez begin engaging in a vicious firefight that ends the episode. We are all once again left on the edges of our seats, wishing next Sunday were now.
Since the next episode is entitled “Ozymandias,” (based on the poem of the same name by Percy Bysshe Shelley), we can start thinking of how this will play out. Shelley’s poem tells of us a once great king whose impressive works are all but forgotten, and just a small remnant of his reign is left to warn those who pass to look upon his works and fear him; however, nothing exists but a shattered statue in the desert.
Walter White/Heisenberg is the broken king, his meth empire gone and what is left of his life crumbling there in that moment. If Hank, Gomez, and Jesse die, and some of Todd and his group also die, what is left for the handcuffed Walt? If Todd and Uncle Jack (based on their superior firepower) kill Hank and Gomez and Jesse, and then take Walt prisoner (to force him into labor to make the “blue meth” all of Europe seems to crave), we have a set-up for the flash-forward.
On levels of evil we have Heisneberg and then we have the white supremacists – as if Gilligan is saying there is breaking bad and then there is really breaking bad. As the gunfight ensues and no one gets hit (at least by the end of the episode), I kept thinking of those good old A-Team gunfights where the same thing happened. How can hundreds of rounds go off and no one die? Sadly, at the beginning of episode 14 there will inevitably be a body count. One person we know who will survive is Walter White, but we don’t know how he will get there and what will happen when he does. My feelings are that Schwarzenegger machine gun in the flash forward isn’t for the DEA or the police, but for the pernicious group led by Uncle Jack and Todd. Walter sees what they can do, and in a final confrontation with them Walt will break something worse than Heisenberg, worse than a man who will poison a child, and kill a friend. We have to get there still – and there are many other events to take place, but Walter White’s fate is already sealed. He just may be the last man standing – outgunning the worse guys more successfully than Al Pacino in Scarface when he beckoned his assassins with “Say hello to my little friend.”
The truth is that Walt’s surviving may be worse than his dying, especially if everyone he loves is gone and the money he worked so hard to make disintegrates under the desert sands. Shelley ends his poem telling us “the lone and level sands stretch far away,” but at the heart of the poem is a decay that even a king could not control. Walter White’s life was about chemistry; Heisenberg’s was about chemical reactions, and their intertwined fate may just be that a destroyed legacy, no family or friends, and living with what you have done is the worst sentence justice could have ever devised.
Photo credits – AMC