59 episodes into Breaking Bad and I couldn't wait for it to go away. Being stranded (by choice) on a Vietnamese Island with little-to-no wifi (and no one to correct me) I watched episode 60 convinced I was watching the Series Finale. I watched it twice. Back-to-back. It was without a doubt the finest episode of BB in its entire five-season run. It was so good it made me forget how sick of this show I actually was.
Prior to Ozymandias I'd grown to hate almost every character on BB. Ozymandias made me realize Gilligan had too. After 5 long seasons of wanting every one to get what they deserve, they finally got it. Walt wasn't going to concoct another ingenious plan to save the day, there would be no more implausibly lucky breaks to keep things on track, Saul Goodman and his campy schtick weren't around to help Walt out of another impossible jam, Skyler's moping days were over, Hank's dog-with-a-bone antics earned him a bullet to the head, and Jesse became Todd's bitch, sparing us from ever having to hear Pinkman utter his irritating catchphrase again.
I can't stop thinking about this episode and what separated it from so many of the episodes preceding it. For one, the tone was much darker, with swift and severe consequences forced upon us with no comic relief to lift the burden. Ozymandias was grounded in a bitter reality, one only the real world can spit out at us unapologetically. In this episode Walt, Skyler, and nearly everyone else had the monotony of their routines snapped, followed by the subsequent catharsis that nipped at its heels. Their moment to be human – to be real – had finally arrived, and the actors (like the audience) had something big to sink their teeth into: Gravitas.
The other thing I loved about this episode was how grounded it was in Cinema. This didn't feel like a hurried TV production telegraphing major plot points. Instead, this was inspired filmmaking that was fully realized, looked and felt like a feature film. At times Ozymandias could be mistaken for a Coen brother's film. Throughout this episode, telling beats were played out dialogue free, subtext was rife, and scenes were constructed around psychologically revealing camera movements. All of these variables aided Johnson and Gilligan's master plan of reaching the audience without ever preaching to us.
One notable motif was the foreshadowing provided by the recurring shots of the knife block. First featured, looming in the foreground (yet, out of focus), as Skyler wraps a porcelain doll in a box. When the climactic scene finally arrives, the knife block is waiting, again in the foreground (and out of focus). Once Skyler reaches for it and grabs a knife from within it, we know that everything is about to change. Once she cuts Walt, she severs ties to him. It's at this moment the family has been cut in two and Walt has been removed from their lives. When Walt realizes this, we cut to his POV as the camera tracks away from Skyler and Jr. in slow motion. A soundtrack cue gives us the sensation Walt is being sucked out of his trance and back to reality. This is Walt's moment of clarity. At this point-of-no-return he realizes he's lost everything. A few scenes later when Skyler tells him over the phone to "come home" she means this on a much more profound level than the literal.
Another example of Johnson's subtle and subtextual choices is in an earlier scene where Marie sits Skyler down to inform her Hank arrested Walt. At the moment this is revealed to Skyler, Johnson suddenly flips the axis to punctuate the impact and sudden change this has on Skyler. She's finally free of Walt's grip. This is her moment to become human again. Later, on the phone with Walt, at the moment she recognizes Walt is attempting to clean up his mess, Johnson cuts to a shot of her front and centre, reflecting Skyler is getting things straight through the psychological effect provided by the symmetry of the shot.
Walt's call to Skyler is perhaps the best scene ever written and acted in BB's five seasons. Cranston in particular walks such a fine line to maintain the act of a psychopath, betrayed only by the tears in his eyes and slight cracks in his voice. It's heartbreaking. When Walt's glasses fog it's almost impossible to not cry for him, compassion you'd never imagine yourself having for a man so far down in the depths of hell. For once in a very long time we know Walt is no longer pacifying his sociopathic behaviour with the lie he's doing everything for his family. He now means it.
If Ozymandias had actually been the last episode, I'd forever remain curious, left wondering and satisfied to never know. Knowing now there's still two episodes left, I can't help but think it's going to be a let-down once all my questions have been answered. I suppose five seasons worth of bad choices was a big reason why this show had become unbearable to watch, so perhaps another two hours of Walt trying to make right what he'd turned so horribly wrong might be worth seeing. We shall see.
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