‘Breaking Bad’ Breakdown: ‘Ozymandias’

Breaking Bad Ozymandias

(SPOILERS AHEAD, so “toe the line,” ye Breaking Bad fanatics!)

Season Five, Episode 14: “Ozymandias”

Written by: Moira Walley-Beckett, Directed by: Rian Johnson

We all knew this was coming. “Ozymandias” is the soul-crusher, the sucker-punch, the point of no return. Breaking Bad has been assembled with such precise, intelligent complexity that its intricacies were almost comforting. Even though brutal, positively awful, things were happening on-screen (Neo-Nazi-orchestrated mass murders, child poisonings, what have you), it was easy to get lost in the show’s web-like plotting and cinematography, all the while ignoring the brutal truth: That there’s no way this can end well.

Quick Breakdown

As we all know by now, Vince Gilligan’s central premise was transforming “Mr. Chips into Scarface.” What was most remarkable about “Ozymandias” is how Walter White teetered back and forth between the two. In the last few episodes, we’ve seen more and more glimpses of Walt’s all-but-vanished humanity (for one, pleading with Jack to call off the Jesse hit, after realizing Hank was in the cross-hairs). The major pivot point in “Ozymandias” (and, perhaps, the entire series) was watching Hank, arguably the show’s lone moral compass, taking a bullet to the head. What would Walt’s response be? Would that humanity finally dissolve, once and for all? Or would witnessing the death of his brother-in-law awaken the old Walt buried within?

The answer, in typical Breaking Bad fashion, is far from black-and-white. But before we get too deep in the analytical stuff, let’s talk shop.

The episode opens not with gunfire but with a boiling beaker — a flashback to Walt and Jesse’s first cook. What a sudden shift in tone — this scene, compared to what we’ve been watching lately, is so simple, so bright, almost optimistic.

What the hell is going on? Gilligan and company (Hats off to writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Rian Johnson, in their respective final episodes) trying to humanize Walter before springing us back into hell, trying to give us a glimpse of what once was. Then Walt and Jesse and the van all fade away in the desert…

Then we pick up where the action left off in the prior episode. It’s grim. Gomey’s dead; Hank’s wounded; Jesse is hiding in pseudo-safety under a car. Nasty Nazi Jack (angered that Walt didn’t tell him about the whole “DEA brother-in-law” angle) plans to shoot Hank, and after some failed bargaining from Walt, he does so. The writing and acting in this scene is positively breathtaking (“His name is Hank!; “What do you think, Hank? Should I let you go?”; “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself”; “You’re the smartest guy I’ve ever met, and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago”). The image of Walt’s frozen, crying face, as he falls limply to the ground, is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen in my life.

(Is this the coldest, most brutal murder in the history of television? If so, It isn’t because Gilligan and company are insensitive — it’s because, when it comes to human drama, they’re realists.)

It’s brutal how quickly life goes on for these Nazi assholes. Todd, for the first time ever on the show, appears to break his macho criminal exterior. He starts crying lightly, wipes his eyes. When Jack and company drag Hank and Gomey’s bodies to their desert graves, Walt looks as lifeless as they do — a hollow shell of a man withering in the sun.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Todd says.

Jack says Todd respects Walt — no bloodshed allowed. He asks if he and Walt are square. “Pinkman, you still owe me,” Walt replies to Jack, pointing out his hidden former partner. This scene perplexes me — in a good way: Does Walt actually want Jesse to die? Is he that outraged over Hank’s murder (essentially brought on by Jesse’s scheme) that he wants Uncle Jack to make good on his deal? Or does he have an ulterior motive? Then Walt admits, seemingly at random, that he “watched Jane die.” “I watched her overdose and choke to death,” he says. “I could have saved her. But I didn’t.” Is Walt simply gloating out of frustration? (You killed my brother-in-law, so I want you to know that I killed somebody you love?)

Todd says they should ask Jesse some questions before they kill him, so the Nazis take him away to a dark dungeon, where they assumedly beat him, get information, and leave him to Todd. Jesse’s back in the meth game — this time against his will.

Walt’s car, suffering a bullet hole to the gas tank, peters out in the desert. So he buys a truck from a kindly old Native American and heads back to town. Back at the car wash, Marie tells Skyler that Hank has been caught. This scene is incredibly painful — Marie in a rare glimpse of authority, holding Walt’s arrest over Skyler’s head, not knowing the horrible truth about her husband.

After seasons of being kept in the dark about his father’s business, Walt Jr. finally learns the truth. And it ain’t pretty. “You’re shittin’ me, right?,” he asks of his mother. “If all this is true and you knew about it, you’re as bad as him.” Watching the pain on Skyler’s face is almost unbearable; she knows she’ll never be able to redeem herself to her own son, an eventuality that never really even occurred to me until this episode. Even if Skyler makes it out of this mess unscathed, will she be able to even carry on with any semblance of a normal family?

This leads us to another example of Walt’s Jekyll and Hyde morality. Furiously packing his family’s bags, he’s confronted by Skyler and a furious Walt Jr., who demand to know where Hank is. Walt promises to “explain everything later,” but it’s too late. (Ominous shot of both knives and cordless phone. Which will Skyler choose? An absolutely gripping bit of misdirection from Rian Johnson.) When Skyler threatens Walt with a blade and tells him to leave, a scuffle ensues, the pair struggling violently on the floor until Jr. breaks up the chaos.

“What the hell is wrong with you?,” Walt asks. “We’re a family. We’re a family.” It’s a sad, pathetic mantra that Walt keeps repeating to himself, the words echoing hollowly against deaf walls. If Jr. hadn’t stepped in to break up the fight and call the cops, what would Walt have done? Sometimes the unknowns on this show are as terrifying as what’s known.

Walt flees with baby Holly, as a panicked Skyler runs screaming in the street. Was Walt, in his own backward way, attempting to protect his child? Or was he simply trying to cling to the last living soul who hadn’t yet learned his evil? (Hearing Holly cry “Mama” is a knife to the heart.)

This leads us to the episode’s most emotionally layered scene. When Walt calls home to threaten Skyler, he has to know the cops have shown up. (He even asks her at the beginning of their exchange, and he’s too smart to believe her awkward bumbling.) Every Walt line lands with the distorted weight of an action movie villain (“You mark my words, Skyler: Toe the line, or you will wind up just like Hank”; “You’re never gonna see Hank again; he crossed me — you think about that”). It’s clear that Walt, choking back his tears, isn’t actually engaging in a power play. It seems he’s trying to put Skyler in the clear as a potential accessory to his crimes.

“I’ve still got things left to do,” Walt says. And we know, based on his ominous flash-forwards, that he’s certainly right. He puts Holly safely in a fire truck across the street and flees the scene, later hooking up with Saul’s Hoover Man for his shiny new identity.

What things does Walt have left to do? We know he eventually arms himself with the ricin cigarette and a machine gun, but who are his targets? The Nazis seem like an obvious fit, but for what reason? Simply avenging Hank’s death? Re-gaining his barrels of cash? Freeing Jesse from the shackles (literally) of meth-making?



All I know is that I feel like Holly after this episode — I really want my mama.

Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…

“the hideous crying clown” — that’s what Walt has become

Walt adjusts his rear-view mirror as to not look at himself.

Possibly the most unexpected music choice of all-time, as sweet country-western tune breaks in as Walt rolls barrel through the desert…”Time’s A Gettin’ Hard” by Eddy Arnold

I was watching some old episodes of Malcolm in the Middle this weekend. On that show, simply looking at Cranston’s face gives me the giggles; on Breaking Bad, the sight of his shattered visage gives me chills.

Just seeing (and hearing) the words Low Winter Sun is a major buzzkill.

Related Content

4 Responses

  1. He took holly to keep his wife out of trouble. He knew the conversation was being taped. That episode was so predictable and you are giving it way too much credit. Next Walt gets his money back and kills the dude that killed hank with the poison cig he came back for in the first of the season. So predictable!

  2. My friends and I were discussing the very last scene where Walk drove away and then a stray dog crossed behind him. I knew there had to be a reason that this was left in, even if it was an accident. What we cam up with is this: all the character that had a major role in this episode were dogs.

    – Hank was put down like a dog.
    – Jack was the alpha.
    – Jesse had his tail between his legs under the car, then literally was on a leash.
    – Junior stepped in and helped Skyler in her physical confrontation with Walt, as if a dog was backed in a corner. (I know, the expression is more for a rat, but it still applies).
    – And Walt is the stray.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide