The mid-season finale of Breaking Bad felt like an episode of a show that knows it’s about to end. Partly that was because of all the callbacks: The fly. The vial of ricin. The paper towel machine at the hospital that Walt punched. Walt and Jesse swapping stories about the old beat-up Winnebago where it all started. It was like a checklist reminding us of all that had come prior as the show heads into its final break before the last eight episodes air next summer. But the other reason this episode felt like the first page of Breaking Bad‘s last chapter was because Vince Gilligan and company decided to quickly sweep up all the messes they had made this season in an effort to just get to the good stuff.
So Mike’s nine guys, the ones who had caused so much distrust and distress this year? Gone in an orgy of violence as Walt pays Todd’s uncle and his Neo-Nazi buddies to shank them all in prison before they could squeal to the DEA. And with them out of the way, Walt is free to prosper, which he does to an absurd degree after striking a deal with Lydia to have Madrigal distribute his blue meth to as places as far away as the Czech Republic. (This episode seems to make it clear that Lydia is not a fringe element within that company as some had theorized, and that all of Madrigal has dirtied its hands in the drug trade.) A lengthy montage spanning months shows the money come pouring in, and when Marie insinuates to Skyler that it’s time for her and Walt to take the kids back, Skyler makes a last-ditch effort to convince Walt to retire by showing him the storage unit full of cash he’s accumulated — more than they could spend in ten lifetimes.
And guess what? It works. We’re not exactly sure why it works. Maybe Walt just realized that much money was enough. Maybe the ten fresh bodies he was responsible for this episode was finally too much weight on Walt’s soul. Or maybe we don’t have all the pieces to solve that puzzle. Walt does get a cancer scan at one point in this episode. Any chance the disease has returned and that helped lead to a change of heart? Or, stepping out of the reality of the show and looking at it from a dramatic standpoint, perhaps it just makes sense that Walt needed to be at his most content — or the most content he’s been in a long time anyway — before his world truly starts crashing in. Whatever the reason, Walt calls it quits. He stops by Jesse’s house to drop off a few large bags of cash, settling all debts with his original partner. And though his marriage will likely never be fully repaired, he seems to have made a peace with Skyler. And when the two of them and their children sit out by the pool with Hank and Marie, everyone appears happy. There are loose ends out there. Madrigal. The Neo-Nazis. But those things don’t feel like problems for Walt. Everything feels finished and complete.
And then Hank decides to take a shit. And while taking that shit he finds a book stuffed between some bathroom magazines. “Leaves in the Grass” by Walt Whitman. And inside that book, an inscription: “To my other favorite W.W. It’s an honour working with you. Fondly G.B.” And sitting there with his pants around his ankles, Hank’s face is draped by a deep understanding. He knows G.B. is Gale Boetticker. And he now knows that W.W. doesn’t stand for Walt Whitman, as Walt had convinced him when Hank had seen a similar inscription in Gale’s notes early in season four. And so ultimately, finally, he knows that Walt White, his brother-in-law, is Heisenberg.
Cut to black. See you next summer. Enjoy the excruciating wait.
That, my friends, is the good stuff. And just thinking about what’s coming makes it easy to forgive “Gliding Over All” for its deficiencies, the biggest being that a majority of this episode served nearly no point other than getting things wrapped up so we could get to Hank on the shitter. There’s just a wink of Saul in this episode, and very little Jesse, who appears to be using again — a potentially major plot development that’s quickly set aside. The huge-ass cooking-and-raking-in-the-dough montage is beautiful to look at — I especially loved the big overhead shot with all the fumigation tents going up across Albuquerque — but it’s a little weird that so much time is glossed over when we recently learned that the entire first four seasons of Breaking Bad spanned less than a year. (Also odd: That the “drugs hitting the street” part of the equation is left out entirely, although that’s been an aspect of the meth trade that the show has been content to ignore for some time now.) And while I’m not sure it’s fair to call Todd’s uncle a deus ex machina, as he had been mentioned previously, he sure came in and cleaned up the mess with Mike’s guys in a hurry.
None of that stuff represents Breaking Bad at its finest. But with only eight episodes left, it was stuff that needed to be dealt with before moving on to the question we’ve all wondered since the show started: When will Hank find out about Walt? And even more importantly, what will happen when he does?
Some final thoughts as we prepare for the dark, Breaking Bad-less months ahead:
– I thought we’d get another flash-forward this week, but nope. Gilligan gave us that brief taste in the season premiere but decided to save the rest of future Walt’s story for the season’s second half.
– Laura Fraser really hasn’t been given much to do as Lydia. She’s nothing but nervous tics and clipped speech. Although I do wonder how much of a role she’ll play in the final eight. When Hank starts looking for screws to tighten on Walt, Madrigal will likely be the first place he’ll turn.
– Holy hell, that shanking montage was brutal. I was practically curled up on my coach by the fifth or sixth one. And when they switch it up by lighting the last guy on fire — not any less painful.
– Breaking Bad is still king when it comes to the blackest of humor. It’s great that after Walt tells Lydia, “So you put that list in my hands, and, in your mind, I immediately just murder you just right here in this restaurant, right here in this public place, immediately?” it is revealed that he, in fact, was going to do just that with the ricin.
– Every time there was a scene this season where Skyler and Marie talked alone, including in this episode, I half expected Skyler to start spilling all the beans. She always stayed strong, though I guess that’s a moot point now, huh?
– Speaking of this season, right now I’d say it’s been great but not as strong as seasons three or four. But, remember, we’re only halfway through, and this season’s biggest, most important job will be sticking the landing next summer.
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