Breaking Bad – Season 5, Ep. 14, “Ozymandias”
Original Air Date: September 15, 2013
From a story of how one man’s best laid plans got in the way of his insatiable urges, leaving no one in his life unaffected, we move on to yet another. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had begun the TV series “Breaking Bad” as a highly-respected high school chemistry teacher and family man, albeit one who always felt like he’d been handed the short stick in life. A man of his intelligence ought to have been the next Alfred Nobel or Werner Heisenberg. Instead, Walter was left only with a death sentence: a lung cancer diagnosis. Turning to meth cooking with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) might never have entered into his mind otherwise. It never should have, considering that his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), happened to be a DEA agent. Within a year’s time, Walter would not only be producing the most pure form of crystal methamphetamine that anyone in Albequerque, New Mexico (and other parts of the world) had ever seen, but create a legend driving fear into the hearts of men with his nickname of “Heisenberg,” and become a drug kingpin in his own right. But, like most empires, Walter’s was destined to crumble.
By the time of “Ozymandias,” Walter had burned all but one of the bridges in his life. Jesse had seen Walter’s monstrous side and had finally had enough. Hank had inadvertently discovered Walter’s secret through the signature of a dead man in a Walt Whitman book sitting on a stack of magazines in Walter’s bathroom, and realized that his own brother-in-law was the very man he’d been trying to track down and arrest for nearly the entire length of the series’ run. In an enemy-of-my-enemy situation, Jesse gave Hank all the information he needed to make an arrest, something Hank was in the process of doing out in the New Mexico desert when a group of neo-Nazis with heavy artillery showed up and opened fire.
Walter had always genuinely tried to keep his family safeguarded from his double-life as Heisenberg, even resorting on this occasion to bargaining his $80 million in cash with the neo-Nazis. Now, with Hank dead, Walter had finally and ultimately failed in that task, losing his brother-in-law and most of his fortune (the Nazis left him $11 million), all Walter can do now is race home and try to convince his family to join him in a getaway. This does not go over well because his sister-in-law, Marie (Betsy Brandt), in believing Hank to be triumphant has already forced Walter’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) to tell their cerebral palsy-afflicted son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) everything. Walter Jr. tells his mother something that many fans have been screaming for a while now, “If that’s true, then you’re just as bad as him!”
Walter shows up at the house, evasive about answering why he’s not in Hank’s custody. Skyler puts 2 and 2 together. In a terrifically shot sequence, Skyler sees before her two options of something to grab: Does she go for the knife rack, or the telephone? Skyler chooses the knife. The scuffle that ensues causes Walter Jr. to call the cops. This gives Walter the opportunity to make his tearful getaway, but not alone, as he picks up and carries his infant daughter, Holly, with him. With Walter driving off, Skyler gives chase but to no avail. Walter realizes his mistake later when Holly tearfully cries out her first word, “Mama!” Leaving Holly in the passenger seat of a fire engine, he calls Skyler, now flanked by her sister and the police. Sparing Skyler the chance of going down with him, he angrily resorts to name-calling and insists that his empire was something he built all on his own, that she had no part in it whatsoever. Skyler doesn’t get it at first, but you can almost see the proverbial light bulb above her head turn on, and she plays along. Walter has only one course of action remaining that won’t result in jail or death, and that’s to hop into a van and start a new life. Yeah, like that’s gonna last…
Named for and directly influenced by the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the only thing wrong with this episode is that it runs a total just of 47 minutes (minus commercial breaks). You’re so busy admiring this work of art that it’s over before you know it. The opening sequence sets the tone, making you sweat upon seeing the death of Hank and the threat upon Jesse’s life. For five seasons, these were my two favorite characters in the show, and now there was a very real possibility that they might both meet their maker within seconds of one another. The acting and writing on “Breaking Bad” were always worthy of accolades, but there is something sincerely special about “Ozymandias.” A lot of it is thanks to Bryan Cranston, whose character is witnessing his entire world falling down around him. Walter White’s greatest scene in the entire series may well be that last phone call to Skylar. But perhaps the most heart-wrenching performance comes from the one person in this show who doesn’t realize they’re an actor, the infant(s) appearing as Holly. Whether her reactions are purely spontaneous or are prompted by someone off-screen, “Holly” grabs your attention just as easily as Cranston, Anna Gunn and the rest of the main cast.
Written prose is not the only media from which “Breaking Bad” drew inspiration. Music plays a very important role, not just in setting a mood but in telling a story. In “Ozymandias,” it is “Take My True Love By the Hand” by the Limeliters which parallels the narrative just as neatly as Shelley’s poem. Walter loves his family, yes, but it’s his brand of blue crystal meth and the empire he built with it which makes up his passion in life. So, it’s no mistake that the song plays as Walter is rolling his last remaining barrel full of money along with him as he travels through the desert following the shootout. He’s “taking his true love by the hand” and “leading her through the town.”
Series creator Vince Gilligan calls this his favorite episode of “Breaking Bad,” and I must concur. It has also been suggested that “Ozymandias” could easily serve as a series finale to most any other series. Given all that was packed into this one episode, I once again see no reason to disagree. But as this was the fourteenth episode of Season Five, that means that there were yet two more episodes before we officially bade Walter & Co. a final farewell. Likewise, this five-part series of television reviews has one more episode forthcoming. “Ozymandias” would surely be a perfect one to finish with but, like Walter White, “I still have things left to do.”