On TV: Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias”

Be warned! The following is on last night’s (bloodcurdling) Breaking Bad episode. Spoilers! That’s Heisenberg […]

Ethan Richardson / 9.16.13

Be warned! The following is on last night’s (bloodcurdling) Breaking Bad episode. Spoilers!

That’s Heisenberg himself, reading Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” the warning knell for any human emperor facing the leveling work of time. Like the cold open of this week’s episode, the flashback to the first cook–which took place where this standoff takes place–we are given Shelley’s Egyptian landscape in the desert of New Mexico. This is Breaking Bad’s now-staple poetic foreshadowing. Here, tonight, dies the Heisenberg Empire, in the same place of the first lie he ever told.

tumblr_mt7842nkY21qzpxx1o1_500We are watching in this episode, horrifically, the leveling work of the truth and, through it, we can see the pieces of that Season 5 cold open slowly coming together. Maybe that’s not the best way to put it–we are watching, life by life, all connections disappear into what will be the final picture of Heisenberg. We see now why Walt has a new name, but no family; we see now how the house at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane has become a skate park; even the options for whom that M60 might be targeted is narrowing significantly–but we’re left horrified after last night’s episode with the sheer devastation of it all. Like Ozymandias himself, we are looking at Walt’s ruin, “on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.” This seems to be the show’s conclusion, that time lifts the veil of lies, and the truth is the death of everything.

We may not have wanted to admit it, even last week after the heavy-foreshadowed phone call with Marie, but Hank was destined to die for this pursuit. Like Potter to Voldemort, Valjean to Javert, the “one cannot live while the other survives.” Operating behind the curtains of family precedence, family protection, institutional hurdles (DEA suspicion, lack of evidence), we might have hoped this mirage could continue on to the end of the horizon. (I think Gilligan and company have arranged it this way–that we know what will happen, but do not want it to.) Hank, though, as the fierce characterization of truth, is the anti-Walt. The fact that these lies have come so literally “close to home,” within his very family, intensifies his pursuit all the more. The opposite is true of Walt: the closer his false life encroaches upon the family it is supposed to protect, he softens and balks. And this becomes the deconstructive device for “Heisenberg.” The death of Hank is, in some ways, the death of Walt’s mythical empire.

The truth is out at home, too, and it entails a child abduction, a family butcher knife fight, and a call to the police. Skyler’s white blouse is covered in Walt’s blood, and did you catch Junior-aka-Flynn’s Romans 2 analysis for her? “If you knew this and never did anything, that makes you just as bad.” No matter how complicated the scenario, the truth cannot exonerate Skyler, or anybody. She knows this, but Walt still cannot exit the fantasy. He longs to escape his failure, to finally make use of that last-straw “vacuum cleaner repair”. But Skyler must know: did he kill Hank? No more lies, it is past all that, and time for the damning blow of the truth. (Even the money can’t be buried anymore.) This truth will take both of Walt’s legacies from him: his family and his money.


If this is Walt’s ruin, it is yet to be seen what that ruin will render in two episodes. As we watch Walter White ride off through the sideview mirror into a new identity, with no family and a barrel of money, is it hope, or more tragedy? The diaper-changing station is nightmare-eerie, with his bloodied duct-taped hand and the baby-talk. But something happens there that happened also after Hank was killed, and happened also as Walt, Jr. sat positioned on the living room floor to protect his mother–Walt comes to the awareness that he has done this. His “empire” has meant the loss of all vestiges of his life as Walter White. He gives Holly back safely, he leaves the house (for the last time, but not really, as we know), it could even be argued that his insane call home later that night is an exonerating move on behalf of Skyler. He knows his only way to save his family now is to leave it completely. Is Walt finally aware that he is the danger?

Stray Observations:

-All truth kills in this episode. Hank, Walt, Skyler. Even that moment when Walt feels he must come clean about Jane to Jesse–needlessly–in cold retribution for pulling Hank into this.

-I thought wrong about Jesse. Though I thought he would make some appeasing move amid the shootout, I should have known that he is still who he has always been, a lost sheep, hiding beneath the car, not wanting to die. And how many times has his face been beaten in?

-If the jury’s still out on Anna Gunn as actress, I don’t know what courtroom you’re in.

-Todd’s character is by far the most disturbing. The lipstick from the Rodarte-Quayle teacup, the weird sympathy to Walt after Hank’s death, and now, the picture of Andrea and Brock. He is a heartless savant.

-As Walt rolls the only barrel of money left through the desert, he passes, yes, the pair of pants he lost in the very first episode.

-Best line of the night goes to Hank: “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago.”

-After the Toyota van rides off into the sunset, a dog crosses the road. Stray dog? Problem dog? Dog eat dog?