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October 13, 2015

'End Times' Arrive in an Intense Episode of 'Breaking Bad' (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 2nd 2011 11:00PM
'Breaking Bad' has done a spectacular job of making Walter White's journey from high school chemistry teacher to underworld player believable. Walt has done so very many bad things (though of course, in his mind, he's always had his reasons).

Redeeming or making up for the bad choices he's made isn't an option at this point, and hasn't been for a long time. But once in a while, Walt draws a line that makes you think he may not be truly evil. In doing his utmost to protect his family from the wrath of Gus Fring, Walt did the right thing.

Of course, it was really his only play, but when Walt said, "I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices," what could our reaction be but "Damn right you should!"

All season long, actually, the show has done a masterful job of making us root for -- or at least get deeply invested in the fates of -- various characters. It's been interesting to see Jesse gain new confidence as Gus' canny manipulations pulled him out of his post-Gale tailspin. And it's always easy to root for Jesse, because he's the one who's always most aware of the moral cost of the choices they're making. Though we should almost be used to it right now, we should almost be inured to the great acting on display, but the cast makes that impossible. Aaron Paul did incredible work in the scene at Walt's house; as Walt convinced Jesse not to shoot him, you could see that Jesse didn't want to believe that Walt could have poisoned Brock. On some level, this lost boy doesn't want to believe the absolute worst of his father figures.

It's pretty clear that Gus Fring is a very, very bad man, and yet he's so smart, so quietly powerful, so fascinatingly fastidious that there's part of me that was glad that Walt's homemade bomb didn't go off in that parking lot. For Walt, so much of the deadly meth game is about ego, power, proving something to himself and others (obviously, it stopped being about the money a long time ago, though having a bit more of it on hand last week would have been nice).

Gus has provided a deeply compelling contrast to Walt's reactive, arrogant style: Gus is clinical about the business and is always clear about who he is and what he wants. Unlike Walt, he doesn't need to feed his ego; a man who will walk grimly through a hail of bullets landing at his feet is not showing off, he's merely making a statement. We may not like Gus' illicit businesses or his strategies for building employee moral (which essentially boil down to, "Do good work or I'll slit your throat"), but his rules are as rigid as his posture. We may not respect his how he makes money, but it's hard not to respect his clarity. If nothing else, he's a professional.

Walt's the opposite, for all his poses of competence. He's always scrambling, always three steps behind but telling himself he's smart enough to catch up. And through it all, despite every bad thing he's ever done, Walt still has Skyler in his corner. She knows what he is, more or less, but as she pleaded him to join her at the Schraders', it was clear that she didn't want him to die. What is it about this man that keeps people who should know better in his corner? Are they just as prone to self-deception as he is, or is it something more? It's one of the tantalizing mysteries at the core of this amazing show.

Jesse still has Walt's back as well. Walt doesn't deserve it, but somehow, despite everything they've been through, Jesse is back on the same page with Walt as the episode comes to a close (he's even calling him "Mr. White"). Gus pressed every button Jesse had -- his need to be trusted, his desire to be a hero, his need for approval. But he can't bring himself to let Gus kill Walt, just as he himself can't pull the trigger when he has the chance. On some level, Jesse must know that Gus' interest in him has always been based on business needs, whereas his relationship with Walt goes deeper.

Whether they like it or not, Jesse and Walt are bound together, in ways they don't even fully understand. This brilliantly plotted hour ended with Walt and Jesse together again, with Gus on the outside -- or rather, scanning the roofs for the unseen enemy that he could feel out there.

As he has done since he arrived on the show, Giancarlo Esposito again gave a masterclass in how to own the screen without saying a word.

This can't end well, but I can't wait to see where 'Breaking Bad' goes next.

A few final notes:

* In a show full of master manipulators, Hank can really hold his own. He deftly goaded his boss into going to check out the laundry, which led to that great shot of the camera following the agents and the dog, then tracking down to Jesse and Tyrus in the Superlab.

* One of the things I love most about the show is its complete mastery of rhythm. There are incredibly intense moments, such as Jesse's arrival at the hospital and Walt and Jesse's gripping showdown, but there are various gradations of intensity before and after those big scenes. This hour, we got everything from a quiet scene of Skyler having a cigarette to the long shot of Gus' intense glare. And of course, there's usually a Saul scene to lighten things up just before the show plunges you into a whirlwind of insane developments.

* "I'm the real target." With Walt, even his desire to protect his family has that edge of arrogance.

* Poisoning Brock certainly was the way to rip Jesse's heart out. Jesse's always been the abandoned little boy of the show, one who secretly mourns the death of his innocence. To see a little boy on the edge of death -- a death that may have been caused by Jesse's friendship with his mother -- had to feel even worse for Jesse than the death of Gale.

* When in doubt, Walt can always draw on that old chemistry knowledge. It was almost amusing to see him doing some old-school kitchen chemistry.

* Hank has been 100 percent right about everything. Wonder if he'll ever actually know that?

* One final note: Come back here next Sunday for extensive coverage of the 'Breaking Bad' season finale, which will include an interview with creator Vince Gilligan, among other things.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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just a quick note, Steve Gomez is NOT Hank's boss, rather his partner ...

October 08 2011 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
O Nikos

And what exactly was the point of all these? The one show that you couldn't possibly find anything wrong with, meaning we'd get a quality review, it seems like this is the typical high school assignment of having to write a couple of thousand word essay, and it's all complete fluff.

October 03 2011 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to O Nikos's comment
George Otwori

Maybe to acknowledge true quality TV and stop endless amount of Hacks in Hollywood continuing to deceive the public with their half-a@% ideas. To stop devolution from happening on TV when the audience perception is inexperienced with quality TV..

The producers and Writers behind Dexter actually still think every new season that there progressive and breaking new ground.

Critics like Maureen Ryan have the courage to point out that not only is Dexter went down in quality but Showtime network has compromised it brand by adding a standard formula to all their programs with overarching stories.

October 03 2011 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to George Otwori's comment
O Nikos

One small detail. We're actually talking about Breaking Bad. Sad that in your attempt to be a Maureen Ryan apologist you didn't even read what she was talking about. Pretty telling really. At least her "reviews" are so laughable they border on funny so they're entertaining from that aspect. This is the 4th show (maybe more I've lost count) she has completely missed the point and just completely goes off the deep end on.

Guess what they say about the good part of when someone makes a fool of themselves is that some people can be entertained while laughing at them is true. Sorry for the harsh words Maureen but they are true this past month or so. I'm torn between wishing that keep entertaining us, or wishing to get back to quality reviews of TV shows.

October 03 2011 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Lou Sytsma


October 02 2011 at 11:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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