I could literally hear my heart pounding with each passing second. “Coward”, Walt snarls at his former partner, and Jesse is more than happy to retort by spitting in the face of the devil himself. A fight ensues, these two would tear each other apart if they could, but Hank and Steve separate them and force them into different cars. Now it’s time for an exchange between another pair of partners, only it couldn’t be more different; this is one of the utmost respect. Hank, who can’t help himself from grinning, pulls out his phone and calls Marie, and she is beyond relieved that he managed to do the unthinkable. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald already singled out the line that followed as being the real gut-wrencher, and it’s the one that killed me too. “I gotta go, may be awhile before I get home. I love you.”
That’s the last thing Hank should’ve said in that moment, but he doesn’t know any better, oblivious to what’s coming straight for him and Steve. We are all too aware of what lies ahead, and at this point Hank may as well be Robb Stark at the Red Wedding, talking with his own wife about little Ned Stark. The feeling of dread that overcomes you in these situations is about the strongest emotion imaginable, real or fake, and you quickly let go of silly notions like hope and poetic justice. Sure enough, the trucks pull up and everyone but Walt is confused and surprised. His command to Uncle Jack to “not come” was clearly not heeded, and he is powerless to do anything to prevent the inevitable conclusion. And so are we.
For five seasons, Walt has put together a solution for every single predicament he’s found himself in. At first, the tactics he utilized were motivated purely by survival; when he relied on violence, it was only because there was no other option that would allow him to escape with his life. Slowly but surely, Walt became more and more ruthless and far less moral: allowing Jane to die, poisoning Brock, sending Mike to Belize and recording that horrible, damning confession to try and prevent Hank from pursuing him any further. There didn’t seem to be any line that Walt wouldn’t cross, no depths he wouldn’t sink to in order to secure the best possible outcome for himself. However, hiding behind that rock and being faced with either waving the white flag or calling in the Nazi reinforcements to eliminate Hank, Steve and Jesse, for once Walt couldn’t bring himself to take the full measure. Every man has a breaking point, and as much of a threat as Hank has become to his well-being, his legacy and his reputation with his children, Walt won’t kill him. There he was, trapped like a rat by the cat who was obsessed with being the one to catch him, only neither the rat or the cat counted on a horde of rabid hounds to show up and escalate the situation.
Bryan Cranston has always received universal acclaim for his performance as Bad’s cunning yet vicious anti-hero, and it’s because of episodes like this. The whole scene where Walt is hastily attempting to reach the spot where he buried his money is probably one of the most well-acted sequences of the entire series. Notice how the method behind Walt’s desperate attempts to convince Jesse not to burn his family’s future, and the source of his vanity, alternates between begging and dishing out harsh logic. “My cancer is back,” Walt admits, a plea for mercy that didn’t work on Hank and that Jesse isn’t buying for a second, and then follows the angry tirade to try and bring Jesse to his senses. “I killed Emilio! I killed Crazy-Eight!” Cranston so effortlessly flips from one persona to the next, putting up the facade that is Mr. White before throwing caution to the wind and allowing Heisenberg to take over. To be fair, everyone was great in this episode, especially Dean Norris and Aaron Paul, but it’s always Cranston who drains the game’s biggest shot at the most pivotal moment. It will be years before we see another actor even approach his level on a series again.
As for the end result of the firefight between the Nazi’s and the momentarily triumphant DEA Agents, not immediately learning who withstood the barrage and who bit the dust was excruciating. There’s no question that showrunner Vince Gilligan and his band of soulless writers wanted us to agonize over the fate of beloved characters like Hank and Jesse for another week (yes I know some people have turned on Jesse since he became a snitch, but the dude still has his fan following, I assure you). I’ve talked it over with some family and friends who watch Bad, and the one bullet point (pun intended) we all agreed on is that there’s no way that there won’t be any casualties. All of that buildup would be rendered pointless if everyone involved made it out intact, so you can bank on there being a major death or two. That sucks but hey, in a show this dark what else did you really expect?
I doubt it will be Jesse and we already know it won’t be Walt, but I have a feeling we aren’t going to find out right away (sorry Hank and Steve, that pretty much leaves you). There isn’t much time left to get us up to speed with the flash forward sequences; you know, the ones where Walt has hair, his house has been seized and he’s toting around a big ass machine gun. How the last few episodes will connect the dots and reveal what’s behind the final curtain is something that we are all dying to find out. Seriously, I couldn’t sleep the night after I watched it and woke up in a cold sweat, still trying to piece it all together in my mind. My best guess is that Walt’s agreement to do one last cook in order to help Todd will come back to bite him in the ass, and that the Nazi’s won’t take kindly to his decision to relocate to New Hampshire or wherever the hell he went. As for the ricin, maybe Walt is saving that for Lydia, but I’m just grasping for straws at this point. Who knows if he’ll actually get to slip it to her or if that’s even his target at all.
The journey to the final scene of “To’hajiilee,” the very last episode that the superbly talented Michelle MacLaren directed for this series, was five of the most satisfying hours of television ever created. It’s basically a cliche at this point to proclaim how amazing Breaking Bad is, but how else can I describe it? Instead of saving the Walt/Hank confrontation for later and simply acknowledging that both men knew what the other was up to, we were thrust straight into that much anticipated face-off when Hank threw the first punch and saw Heisenberg in person for the first time. Same with the fallout between Skyler and Marie, whose relationship was shattered with one bitter and overdue slap to Skyler’s guilt-ridden face. Bad doesn’t waste any time in getting to the truly memorable moments and it never disappoints in its delivery. That’s what’s great about it and also what makes it all so brutal to watch.
I originally intended to review all of the final eight episodes. Then the season began, the accolades started rolling in and still there was no Breaking Bad coverage from Pegboard. “Those lazy bastards,” you must have thought, “how could they not capitalize on the opportunity to share their opinion on one of the greatest, if not the greatest, television series’ of all-time?” I apologize faithful readers, but if you didn’t notice we pretty much took August off and are in fact, most likely, lazy bastards. Personally, I think we should all blame Kevin, who still isn’t caught up on Bad and apparently isn’t all that interested in things that are good. Nevertheless, there will be a review for each of the last three episodes, plus a season review, so keep an eye out for that
Normally I would wrap things up with a score and my reasoning behind why I didn’t decide differently, but I don’t think that quite works for what Bad has accomplished so far in its final run. The ferocity of the pacing and the show’s refusal to pull any punches and go right for the kill shot has me completely hooked, as I’m sure it does all of you. I wouldn’t change a thing in any of the episodes (not even the shockingly horrible marksmanship of the Nazi’s, which I have a feeling was intentional) and right now it’s hard to imagine the ending not surpassing what we’ve seen up to this point. After all, this is Breaking Bad we’re talking about, and when has it not totally blown away all of your expectations?