(SPOILERS AHEAD, so “tread lightly,” ye Breaking Bad fanatics!)
Season Five, Episode 13: “To’hajiilee”
Written by: George Mastras, Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
A good story suspends time. It assaults the senses, and it wipes away logic. Breaking Bad is one of those stories, and “To’hajiilee” is — just maybe — the most transportive piece of that story.
The episode begins with Todd finishing up a meth cook, as Lydia, Uncle Jack, and his creepy associates wait nearby for the purity results. While Todd racks up a slightly improved 76% rate, Lydia isn’t impressed, demanding to know where the blue color is. “Blue is our brand all over Europe,” she notes, though Todd’s Aryan kin have a way of convincing her to cool it.
Todd receives the phone call from Walt — the one we ended with in the previous episode. It’s crazy how this exchange is painted in such a different light: Todd’s calm, collected demeanor contrasted with the tension of Walt’s face in “Rabid Dog.” These are the subtle nuances that elevate Breaking Bad above other TV dramas. It’s clear that Gilligan and the writers knew ahead of time that they would be shooting that scene from two perspectives — or even if they didn’t know in advance, they certainly knew how to frame it for maximum impact.
While Todd and his crew seem to be calmly plotting their next move, the awkward and unlikely Three Amigos (Hank, Gomie, and Jesse “Timmy Dipshit” Pinkman) are left bumbling in place. After botching their near-victory of trapping Walt in broad daylight, Jesse promises he has a plan to “get (Walt) where he really lives.” There’s a lot of mumbling between Hank and Gomie as the exposition plays out, but they eventually track down Huell at a safe house, where Hank manipulates him (via a fake photo of a dead Jesse using bloody meat as fake brains) to believing Saul ratted him out to a bloodthirsty Walt. It’s sad to watch Huell squirm under Hank’s cold gaze, but this scene offers a bit of levity in a VERY dark episode, giving Huell approximately 500 times the amount of dialogue he’d been previously offered on the show.
Hank gets some preciously needed details about Huell’s hand in helping Walt dispose of his money (Regarding the barrels: “Got ’em at Home Depot; filled up every last damn one of ’em too”). By this point, the episode had been very, very talky — this is probably an instance where time constraints led to an overly quick exposition, but given how well acted and scripted these scenes were, it only adds urgency. Why cruise when you can floor it?
Meeting up with Todd’s crew, Walt talks shop about the Jesse hit, insisting to Jack and company that Jesse is “not a rat,” and that he’s “like family.” Talking about his murder puts Walt in obvious agony, and Bryan Cranston plays this scene (as he does every other in this marvelous episode) with unbelievable physicality, letting us pore over every eyebrow twitch and defeated sigh. Instead of money, the Nazis want Walt to help them with their meth problem and teach Todd through his blue-blundering. Walt agrees to one cook — once the deal is done.
Simply seeing Andrea and Brock roped back into Walt’s web of deceit is excruciating. He uses Andrea as a pawn to lure in Jesse, having her leave him a voicemail and asking to meet up (where the Nazis will be waiting). Unfortunately for Walt, Hank has Jesse’s Hello Kitty-cased cell, and he intercepts the message before Jesse gets to it. “Nice try asshole,” Hank says, in a callback to the Jesse line from the previous episode.
All of the sudden, Hank gets to play a straight-up crime-drama cop. He’s becoming more one-dimensional, but that feels like a natural extension of his character development. Weirdly enough, Hank has de-volved as the series has progressed. His goofy-uncle, racist-teaser facade is off. He’s a man with one mission only, and that mission has grown more intense with each passing episode.
The climax in “To’hajiilee” is masterful in an epic film kinda way. In an epic poem kinda way. It’s insanely perfect, building to a crescendo, descending, then building to another. After getting a tip from Saul about Huell’s disappearance, Walt receives an ominous text from Jesse: an image of a barrel. Jesse calls and taunts Walt, telling him he has his money and is planning to burn it all, bit by bit, until Walt shows up in the desert to talk. Of course, he’s leading Walt into a DEA trap.
The driving phone call scene between Walt and Jesse is insanely intense, suddenly turning the episode into an action film. Watching Walt get duped is both strangely satisfying and slightly heartbreaking. As he yells at Jesse and calls him stupid, he’s never looked more pathetic. As he arrives and sees traffic, he freaks out and calls the Nazis. But family loyalty once again, proves to be Walt’s Achilles’ heel: Once sees that Hank is with Jesse, he nearly starts crying. “Forget it,” he tells Todd’s crew. “Don’t come. It’s off. Do not come.”
Possibly my favorite still image of the entire series thus far: Walt, broken and desperate in the chilling silence, hiding behind a rock in the vast desert. Ozymandias, near his buried treasures, decaying in the heat.
There’s a terrifying silence to this scene. I don’t recall the last time I heard so little. Walt emerges, gun in hand, looking totally lifeless. “Drop it,” Hank screams. Walt surrenders, and Jesse looks unsure. “Walk towards me slowly.” The look of joy on Jesse’s face as those handcuffs emerge is unreal. Jesse reminds Walt that this is where they cooked for the first time. “Coward,” Walt says to Jesse, who promptly spits in his face.
And so it is finished. This is the end-game moment the series has been building toward. Right?
Hank calls Marie to tell her about getting Walt. (“Why is there what looks like brains in our garbage can?”) (Also, is this the first time we’ve heard Hank say, ‘I love you’? It’s the look of a man who just saw his wife give birth.)
Then Todd’s gang suddenly emerges in the desert sun like a gang of Western outlaws. Guns are drawn — lots of guns, and the episode concludes with a heart-pounding shoot-off. The build-up is officially over. The end is nigh, and it ain’t pretty.
Perhaps I’m still floating through the haze of my shell-shocked fandom, but this certainly seems like one of the greatest episodes of TV to ever air.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
Few shows can conjure such vivid images with an episode title alone. “To’hajiilee,” a Navaoi reservation in New Mexico, is the site of two pivotal Breaking Bad scenes: the seminal cooking session between Walt and Jesse and the burying of Walt’s drug money.
OK, so Todd is clearly in love with Lydia. With only three episodes to go, they certainly wouldn’t be introducing any plot line for the sake of filling screen time, so this is bound to pay off somehow. Any theories?
Two funny musical notes: Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” playing in the background in the Todd/Lydia scene; also, Todd’s ringtone is “She Blinded Me With Science?” If this isn’t somehow a meme within the next hour, I’ll be shocked. (Also, Lydia seems to know of this crush, as if she’s manipulating him for another purpose: She seems to almost flirt with him in their exchange, and she even tells him to call her by her first name.)
Todd makes Lydia coffee, which she continues to drink by holding with two hands.
“I don’t know where he is — but I know how to flush him out.” — Walt #FlushHimOut (Thanks for the spot-on timing, AMC. You guys are social media whizzes.)
“Fruit Loops…good stuff.” — Walt
“I guess you’d call it an occupational hazard.” “Don’t drink and drive; but if you do, call me!” — Saul