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'Breaking Bad' Season 4 Finale Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 9th 2011 11:20PM
['Breaking Bad' - 'Face Off']

Before I get into my review of the fourth-season finale of 'Breaking Bad,' I'd like to point you to some additional coverage of the AMC drama.

Click here for an interview with the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, and go here for an interview with Giancarlo Esposito, a.k.a. Gus Fring.

Ryan McGee and I have also recorded a special 'Breaking Bad' podcast with Time TV critic James Poniewozik; you can find that right now here or on iTunes.

As for the finale itself, well, it gave us a few things to talk about, didn't it?

Spoilers ahead for 'Face Off.' Don't read on unless you've seen the final episode of 'Breaking Bad's' fourth season.

Wow. This gripping finale had an absolute mastery of rhythm and pacing -- it was like a great piece of music with a spellbinding central melody. But when a great show is really on fire, which has clearly been the case with 'Breaking Bad' this season, it takes something we expect to happen, and it presents it in a way that we didn't expect. It makes the inevitable feel fresh and powerful.

'Breaking Bad' does that frequently, to great effect. The show is constantly telling us what will happen in episode titles ('Box Cutter,' 'Face Off') and showing us the objects that will be used to create mayhem (that box cutter, Walt's gun, the homemade bomb). When Walt dropped that gun toward the end of 'Face Off,' I chuckled to myself: "And there is Chekhov's gun!" 'Breaking Bad' likes to show us all the parts of the trick -- but then, thanks in part to the way it expertly creates tension and dread, it's able to surprise us with how the trick actually works in practice.

For instance, we knew that Tio Hector hated Gus. We knew that Walt had an improvised bomb. We even saw Walt trying to set the bomb off with some kind of percussive device. And most of all, we know that Walt is absolutely desperate, and when the man's back is against a wall, he's capable of seriously creative thinking.

And yet, what the hell was going on? We saw Walt in Tio Hector's room -- what were they up to? What did Walt mean when he said, "Let's get to work"? We saw that Gus, through Tyrus, took every possible precaution before entering that room. Surely Gus, the man who possessed (as Poniewozik called it) adult-onset Spidey senses, would know something was up.

And he did, but it was too late. What the show had so meticulously created out of all those carefully assembled pieces literally blew up in Gus' face.

What a terrific piece of filmmaking that final Gus sequence was. When, after the blast, he emerged from Hector's room, I was torn by two conflicting reactions. Well, OK,my first reaction to the whole sequence was "Holy [expletive]!" On the heels of that was this reaction: "Finally, proof that Gus is a superhero! He's indestructible!" The third reaction was: "Oh come on. Gus could not have survived that blast. He's a great character, but let's pay tribute to that greatness by not having him be improbably indestructible."

Ah, but then the camera panned around, and we saw the image that will haunt many of our nightmares for years to come. But just before that came my favorite moment: Gus Fring, straightening his tie for the final time. That was such a perfect encapsulation of the man. Half his head might be splattered on the walls, but just before he expired, he was the fastidious, perfectly controlled Gus Fring we knew. It was all so beautifully observed, so fitting.

Before that explosion, it seemed clear Gus would die. In some ways, the show has been telling us all season that either Walt or Gus would have to go, and without Walt, there's no show, so his passing did seem pre-ordained (and indeed, in the interview, Gilligan said that before the writers even began scripting season 4, it had been decided that Gus would die at the end of it).

But if 'Breaking Bad' has done one thing well, it's shown us the vast difference between pre-ordained and predictable. Even though that gripping close-up of Gus and his dramatic walk into Casa Tranquila (all of which was backed by terrific music from the show's composer, Dave Porter the band Apparat, per Alan Sepinwall's review) telegraphed that Gus would die soon, we still didn't know the manner of his exit.

When Tio Hector finally looked him in the eye, Gus' Spidey senses kicked in. He knew this man hated him, and Hector would only look at Gus in that ferocious way if something very bad were about to happen. In the last second before the blast, we finally saw Gus lose it, but there was a kind of poetic resonance to that. His whole reason for being at Casa Tranquila could be summarized in one word: Max.

The Gus we've seen has been tightly controlled and controlling, able to see around corners, always 10 moves ahead. But Max was Gus' weak spot, and also the source of his strength. His determination that he would be the man to take out Hector was his undoing; Tyrus could have killed the old man any number of times. But it had to be Gus who took out Max's murderer; he had to get vengeance for his one true friend. In a way, you could say that in moment, Gus was most like Walt -- reactive and stubborn as opposed to cool and calculating.

Yet if he hadn't seen Max murdered in front of him, who knows if Gus would have become the relentless empire builder he became. I think half the reason Gus built that empire was so that he could use it to take down Don Eladio and Hector. Mission accomplished, but not quite in the way that the master planner had envisioned.

Gus was confident enough to think (not without cause) that he could outwit an infirm old man, but you could view the entire series as a long, fascinating examination of the old adage "Pride goeth before a fall." Walt will never learn that lesson, as evidenced by the delighted look on his face when he said two words to a horrified Skyler: "I won." Of course, winning a death match with Gus Fring is nothing to sneeze at, but Walt's arrogance is to think that his ability to scramble out of deadly situations will last forever. If Gus could be killed by someone more desperate than he was, so can Walt. Not that Walt will ever truly understand that, maybe not even when he's drawing his last breath.

My prediction is that, when 'Breaking Bad's' series finale arrives, Walt's death or ultimate punishment will come at the hands of Jesse. How could that not happen, especially if Jesse ever found out who poisoned Brock? Finally Jesse would realize that he's allied himself with a monster, a monster who manipulated him back into an alliance that was mainly about saving Walt's skin.

Walt and Jesse are really the perfect pair: Walt needs someone to look down on, just as Jesse needs someone to look up to. They are each other's poison. It would only be fitting if they are each other's undoing (in the podcast, Poniewozik floated the interesting idea that the ultimate punishment for Walt would be to have his cancer return in full force and for him to travel the road to death alone, apart from his family. That would indeed be poetic justice for the man who's said all this time that he was doing these awful things for his family.)

Perhaps with the death of Gus, there will be a power vacuum that Jesse and Walt will fill in the Southwest's underworld. But it's hard not to think about that moment in the Superlab when, just after the gunshots, Jesse heard Walt walking toward him. Jesse may be all too willing to believe Walt's lies, but there was enough animal instinct in him to wonder if maybe he was Walt's next target. He wasn't -- this time. Does Jesse really believe that Walt has his best interests at heart? I have to think that, on some level, Jesse knows that's not true. Next season, I'm betting, will be at least partly about Jesse maturing even more and deciding he doesn't need a father figure any more. The day he doesn't, Walt had better look out.

The difference between Walt and Jesse is that it destroyed Jesse to kill Gale at the end of last season, but Walt exulted in the murder of Gus. True, Gale was a far more innocent victim than the owner of Los Pollos Hermanos, but look at everything Walt has done, not just over the course of the last few seasons but in the last couple of days of his life. Walt asked his elderly neighbor to go into a house that held assassins. He poisoned a child as a means to an end (an act that never even crossed the mind of Gus Fring, criminal mastermind). He blew up three people.

The brilliance of this show is that it has never backed away from depicting Walt's embrace of the dark side. Walt's face in that "I won" moment was the face of evil. 'Breaking Bad' has used sensationally composed visual language, spare storytelling, brilliant acting, terrific pacing and an astonishing deployment of suspense and foreshadowing to tell us exactly what's coming. Thanks to the show's masterful blend of all those elements, it's impossible to look away.

A few final notes and favorite lines:

* "I must have seen it on 'House' or something."

* "How's that news, exactly, the two of you being in danger after doing something idiotic?"

* Not only is the show going forward with no Gus, but there's no more Superlab either. Hard to imagine both of them being gone.

* Of course Bryan Cranston always nails the dramatic moments, but I also appreciated his gift for physical comedy in this episode, especially when he leapt over the wall at his house.

* Even at the end, Jesse needed reassurance that Gus had to be taken out, even after he realized that Gus didn't poison Brock. You have to wonder if Jesse's trying to figure out if Brock's poisoning was an accident or something else. If Jesse ever follows that chain of thought, it could be very, very bad for Walt. Especially if Jesse spots that pot of flowers at Walt's house (in the interview, by the way, Gilligan confirmed that Walt poisoned Brock).

* I know there was a lot of chatter on various sites last week about the ricin and whether Walt or Gus poisoned Brock. Well, it turns out that Walt poisoned the kid with a substance from the Lily of the Valley plant (and if you rewatch last week's episode, you'll see that one of the times that Walt spun his gun around on the backyard table, when it stopped it was pointing at the plant, which Walt looked at quite attentively). You may well wonder how Walt had the time to poison Brock and how he managed to do it. I also wonder how Huell lifted Jesse's pack of cigarettes (and perhaps replaced it with a different, ricin-free pack?) without Jesse noticing, and what Saul's involvement in all of this was. Those are certainly valid questions, but in my book, neither of these questions ruined my intense enjoyment of the finale. When a show has been as consistently terrific as 'Breaking Bad' has been this year, I'm more willing to take things like that on faith.

* Because of the show's meticulous build-up to Gus' death scene, it could strip down the moments that came before it to very basic, simple elements: music and shots of Gus' face and of him walking toward Casa Tranquila. 'Breaking Bad' has made me ponder so many things pertaining to morality, fate and free will, but it doesn't try to jam all those themes overtly into the story. They arise organically, and, as I've come to appreciate in a much bigger way in seasons 3 and 4, are really fostered by the show's preference for minimalism and understatement.

* Great choreography of Walt and Jesse's ambling departure from the laundry. That moment had a very 'Reservoir Dogs' feel.

* For a guy who had no lines, Mark Margolis certainly made a strong impression as Tio Hector, especially when he gave Gus that ferocious look right before the bomb went off.

* Though Jesse doesn't yet know the full extent of Walt's crimes, and Skyler doesn't either, it's slowly dawning on Skyler that she's married to a truly terrible person. The look on her face during that phone conversation with Walt was one of utter horror. Now will she take the hint and get her kids out of there? I doubt it. A less catchy title for this show would be "People Don't Want to See What's Right in Front of Them."

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Speaking of dark humor and Gus' final tie adjustment, wasn't it revealed in an earlier scene that he wore a clip-on ties? Wow.

May 27 2012 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

actionlvr you are crazy.

November 06 2011 at 5:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm still not seeing the connection to Walt being able to poison Brock. The episode has Walt sitting in his back yard and seeing the Lilly of the Valley. Forward to the call to Jessie about Brock and she says he got sick that morning. The last time Walt saw Brock was the evening before Walt was in the backyard and noticing the Lilly of the Valley plant.. Then also, Gus told Jessie in the conversation he has with Jessie at the hospital that he will see him WHEN he is ready to return "NEXT WEEK" as if he figured on the boy dying from the poison. Even his gesture to get the finest doctors as he is on the board there sounded like his cover up of his actions as is his support of the local law enforcement and DEA office. Now I am sure somehow they will do an episode where it shows just how Brock was poisoned and it may be Walt by some smoke and mirrors in my opinion and also it will be revealed at some point to Jessie that Walt watched Jessie's lover die in the bed next to him and did nothing to save her in order to protect himself from her blackmailing attempts. That is where Walt became the MONSTER that Jessie will kill him over in my opinion.

November 02 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love this show and LOVED the finale. They get better each year!!! I had DirecTV, but when I started working for DISH I switched over. I just wanted to let you all know about the impending FOX takedowns on DTV. They're going to lose Breaking Bad, Sunny in Phila., NFL Action and lots more!! Check out Dishnetwork.com to find a way to switch and keep all your favorite shows!!

October 24 2011 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did anyone else notice that just after the bomb went off, when Jesse and Walt were talking just outside the garage, that it appeared they were being watched from within the garage? Then, after they concluded their conversation about Brock, the camera focused back on the "Los Pollos Hermanos" medallion. It occurred to me that perhaps there was some significance as it means "the Chicken Brothers". Could there be another "Chicken Brother" out there to seek some revenge for Gus next season?

October 24 2011 at 12:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dallas Graham

He poisoned the kid with the knowledge that Brock would be taken care of and wouldnt die. He knew how much Jesse cared for him and did it to bring Jesse back to their alliance since Gus had clearly brainwashed him. Walt is not evil nor a terrible person. He did what he had to in order to protect the ones he loved. Hank, Marie, Skylar, Walt Jr, Holly, ect were all in danger. You guys are bagging on him because he outplayed a truly terrible person (Gus) by having to embrace his dark side. The kid pulled through in the end as I'm sure Walter knew he would (he is a chemist) and at the same time he got himself and Jesse out of the mess Gus had them in. His family came out unharmed as well.

I dont believe Walt "deserves" any type of punishment or ultimate judgement. He won a battle against a criminal by thinking like a criminal. Quit hating on Walter he might as well be a badass now.

October 24 2011 at 5:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dallas Graham's comment

IF Walt did poison the kid Brock, he has finally become the "monster" that Gus was from going through all the past events of the four seasons. His brutal face to face killing of the two captors holding Jessie in the lab proved to me that he has crossed that line anyway. Perhaps, in the end Jessie will end Walt's rise to the top by finding out he watched Jane die without trying to save her life, as well as if Walt did poison Brock. Walt has said he had to face the consequences that were coming, and in the end the last one standing it seems will be Jessie.

November 02 2011 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Best. Episode. Ever.

Rarely have I cried out aloud during a television show. This episode, I cried out TWICE: Gus stepping out of the room, and the final close-up on the Lily of the Valley. Mark Margolis' change in expression, cutting back to Gus, was unbelievable...The sadness in his eyes as he finally looked at Gus...then the rage, then the crazy revenge.

Plus, how can a show that is so intense, also be, at turns, so funny? "Line P, letter S..."

Only teensy problem: Wasn't the wrong side of Gus' face blown off? Wouldn't the blast have blown his left arm/shoulder/face? Am I the only one who noticed this? Didn't diminish it for me, though. This show is the best on TV, bar none.

October 12 2011 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael Rayner

Mo, just wondering your thoughts as to being led to believe that Gus poisoned Brock when really Walt did it. It made me think of how in the S3 finale of SOA we were led to believe that Jax had turned on the club when the club knew his plan all along.

October 10 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lou Sytsma

Gus's tie straighten in the finale was a perfect character moment akin to Spock's tunic straighten at the end of The Wrath Of Khan.

As for a series finale prediction, Walt has to be brought down. Whether he will be in his own mind, I tend to doubt it.

Walt and Jesse may bring about their mutual destruction and my money is on Saul stepping in to pick up the pieces and ride away a rich man. Because, hey, lawyers always win in the end. ;) And Saul could also end being Jesse's new father figure and/or partner if Jesse survives.

October 10 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dexter Morgan

Marooned on a desert island with Dexter's Reunion buddy Trisha.... and Betty Draper....Give me my Fab 5 dramas....
Breaking Bad

A definite WOW finale....TV was never better....Breaking Bad....Dexter....Boardwalk.....all on 1 night !!!

Mad Men

October 10 2011 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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