Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “End Times”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

Any episode would have had a difficult time following up “Crawl Space’s” insane ending and, indeed, “End Times” is a slight (stressing slight) step down from the heights of the one that preceded it. Still, it was a very strong installment of Breaking Bad and there’s plenty to talk about, so let’s bunker down and brace ourselves for a discussion on “End Times.”

Teaser
“I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that I made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices… No more prolonging the inevitable.”
With the seemingly the same music used in the kinetic opener to “Shotgun,” Walter and Skyler are frantically packing as DEA agents arrive to escort them safely to Hank and Marie’s house in the wake of the newest threat on Hank’s life. As they prepare, Walter informs Skyler that he will not be joining the rest of the family while she protests, saying he feels like his presence poses the greatest threat to everyone. “All that matters is that the rest of you are safe and that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” While she refuses to believe that they’d actually do anything to him, he reiterates [1] again that they’re not necessarily in bed with the nicest folks. She expresses her concern with how she’ll explain away his absence, desperately searching for another option. Walter gets a nice dig in about her decision to give her former lover most of their money when he reminds her, “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t.” Walter then says his goodbyes, first with a tinge of regret when he informs Hank via a phone call that he won’t be there due to his responsibilities at the car wash, and then when he waves goodbye to Skyler and Holly as they pull away, knowing full well that it could be the last time he sees his wife and daughter. He watches through the window as they pull away. And then the title card hits…

[1] For what seems like the millionth time. Skyler can actually be pretty dense sometimes. Maybe it’s due to carrying the weight of her self-righteousness. Who’s to say?

Act One
“I’m going on record: This blows.”
After watching his family depart for seeming safety, Walter sits outside by his pool, with his revolver by his side waiting for the inevitable. At this point, the man is resigned to his fate and is simply waiting for the hammer to finally drop. Meanwhile, Junior is frustrated and doesn’t understand why his father is risking his life over a need to be at the car wash and he takes out his anger on Skyler by blaming her for not doing a better job of convincing Walter to join them. Hank tries to downplay the entire situation by terming it a “smoke screen,” saying that someone doesn’t appreciate how he’s been spending his free time. He then lays out his theory for the rest of the family, eventually pressing Gomez (there as part of the protection detail) to check out the laundry as a possible lab site. Gomez is initially reluctant, but after some patented Schrader ball-busting, we smash cut to Gomez pulling up at the laundry to humor his friend [2]. After taking crap from Hank about his deficiencies in charming suspects/witnesses/pretty much anyone, Gomez does a fairly effective job of getting the general manager of the laundry to submit to a warrantless search of the facility, allowing Gomez, another agent, and a drug-sniffing dog to give the laundry a once-over. As Gomez tours the building with a digital camera, taking shots of anything and everything, the camera pans down to show Jesse and Tyrus in the lab, Jesse inquiring, “So… how long we gotta be quiet down here,” before adding, “I’m going on record… this blows.” Almost instantly, Tyrus receives a call from Gus wanting to talk to Jesse. “This is all a result of your former partner. Do you see now? Do you see why this can’t continue?” he tells him. Jesse again refuses to sign off on Walter’s death, reminding Gus that there will be a problem if Walter is killed. When Jesse asks what’s next, Gus’s ominous answer? “There will be an appropriate response.” We’ve seen how Gus generally responds. This is gonna be baaaaaad.

[2] There’s also a disconcerting (and head-swimming) amount of exposition going on at this point.

Act Two
“HT – Honeytits. I say it’s endearing.”
After completing their examination of the laundry, Gomez and his fellow DEA agent leave the facility and immediately the general manager calls Tyrus to give him the all-clear signal. We move next to a scene that shows the extreme measures Gus is taking to shield Jesse (and at one time Walter) from the investigation as Jesse is being driven out into the middle of the desert [3] hidden in the back of a tractor trailer bed to the spot where he parked his car. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he calls Walter on his cell phone but upon getting Walter’s voicemail, isn’t able to bring himself to actually leave a message. He then checks his own mailbox to find message upon message from Saul, each with increasing urgency. Upon arriving at Saul’s office and receiving a pat-down from an overzealous Huell, Saul informs Jesse that the “end times” have arrived and that he needs Jesse to find somewhere else to park his drug money because he is disappearing [4] in order to stay out of Gus’s crosshairs. Jesse is confused [5] and shocked to hear how Gus put the screws to Walter in the desert, eventually leaving stunned with his money. At the Schrader house, Hank is going through the photos that Gomez took at the laundry, frustrated at an inability to find anything damning within them. Meanwhile, Skyler is growing increasingly restless with the lack of news from Walter, so she makes her way outside (with permission from the DEA protection detail) and bums a cigarette from one of the agents. In a smart cut, the action moves to Jesse in his house playing with a lighter as he receives a phone call from a hysterical Andrea. He ends up rushing to a hospital where he learns that a very ill Brock has been admitted and that, “It’s like he’s got the flu, but it just keeps getting worse,” despite the fact that he seemed fine that morning. After consoling Andrea, Jesse heads outside to unwind with a cigarette of his own, only to find that the ricin-laced cancer stick is missing from the pack. As soon as he realizes what may have happened, he rushes back into the hospital. Gus hasn’t been above putting children at risk in the past, so is this his “appropriate response?”

[3] Which, in all honesty looks almost like the final scene in David Fincher’s Seven, what with the arid desert pockmarked with electrical towers everywhere.
[4] With another season left to go, this had better not be the end of Bob Odenkirk as Saul. That would be unacceptable.
[5] This likely puts an end to my theory that Jesse was present when Gus was threatening Walter in “Crawl Space.”

Act Three
“You are the last piece of the puzzle. You’re everything he’s wanted.”
Jesse’s realization that Brock may have been poisoned by the ricin-laden cigarette sees him hurriedly rush back into the hospital to find Andrea, causing the doctors to tell them to go outside. In a great one-take, POV shot, we see Jesse and Andrea rushing through the corridors of the hospital to a waiting area where Jesse lets her know that the doctors should be looking at Brock’s case as a possible poisoning. When she questions why he thinks this, he obviously can’t get into details but tells her to tell the doctors to look at ricin as a possible cause. He then tells her that he’s sorry, but he has to leave to find someone [6]. While Jesse is presumably looking to find Gus, Walter is laying low in his house with his trusty revolver waiting for Gus to strike. Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door and it’s Jesse needing to talk to Walter. Walter agitatedly ushers him in telling him, “I don’t know what you’re thinking coming here.” He then lays out to Jesse just what Gus put him through in the desert and Cranston is predictably incredible in conveying the range of emotions rushing through Walter’s body. He tells Jesse that he’s terrified of what Gus is going to do as he walks to the other end of the room, leaving his gun unattended on the sofa. As Walter turns his back and tells Jesse, “I don’t know where, I don’t know when… all I know is that it’s going to happen. I’m powerless to stop it,” Jesse moves to the couch and picks up the revolver, aiming it at Walter [7]. Jesse has jumped to the conclusion that Walter was behind Brock’s poisoning, pointing out that Walter was at his house the previous night and saw him with Andrea and Brock, while Walter struggles [8] to keep up with what’s being thrown at him. In a sequence that is yet more Emmy material for Aaron Paul, his feral emotion and rage at Walter is picked apart as Walter points out the logistical impossibilities of his poisoning Brock since Jesse himself admits that the cigarette was in his possession that morning. Jesse posits that Huell pocketed the cigarette when he was patted down earlier in the day at Saul’s office. When Walter asks why he would poison a child, Jesse tells him, “It’s your way of ripping my heart out before you’re dead and gone.” It’s coming into focus that, indeed, this is Gus’s revenge and his “appropriate action.” He’s been unable, to this point, to get Jesse on board with having Walter killed so what better way than to manipulate Jesse into having motive and doing his dirty work for him. Walter realizes this as well and begins laughing hysterically. “I’ve been waiting… I’ve been waiting all day for Gus to send one of his men to kill me, and it’s you,” he says. He points out how indifferent Gus has been to child murder in the past [9] as a way of reminding Jesse who he’s in bed with and gaining Jesse’s consent to eliminate Gus himself. When Jesse reminds him that they’re the only people who were aware of the ricin plan, Walter shoots that down by noting that Gus has cameras everywhere and has likely known all along. He then suggests that Tyrus had reason and opportunity to lift the cigarette from Jesse’s belongings that day as they worked in the lab. “Don’t you see,” he says, “You are the last piece of the puzzle. You’re everything he’s wanted.” Jesse is still unsure and aiming the gun, so Walter calls his bluff, pulling the muzzle of the revolver and placing it directly on his own forehead. “Go ahead. If you think that I am capable of doing this then go ahead. Put a bullet in my head and kill me right now,” he demands, telling him, “Do it.” Of course, Jesse is unable but the muzzle leaves an indelible mark on Walter’s head. Jesse decides to leave to deal with Gus on his own but Walter warns him against it, saying, “You’ll die before you get anywhere near him.” He advises him to leave and disappear, not looking back, but after Jesse reiterates his desire for revenge Walter offers his help. And just like that… the band’s back together.

[6] The theory from this viewpoint is that he’s going to go full-bore at Gus.
[7] Well… there goes that theory.
[8] Or does he?
[9] Andrea’s brother in season three.

Act Four
“No… don’t go, don’t go, don’t go…”
The episode’s final act opens back at the hospital with the doctors informing Jesse that he’s no longer welcome at the request of Andrea and her family. It’s sad to see this for Jesse as Andrea and Brock were the one good thing in his life and they’ve apparently cut him out of theirs. Surely, this will only steel his resolve against Gus even more. Despite not being a persona non grata, he decides to spend the night at the hospital anyway and is awakened – rudely – by Tyrus the next day as he tells him that he needs to get himself to the lab and get back to work. Jesse has other plans, however, and informs Tyrus that he’s not going anywhere and that if Gus has a problem with it he needs to face Jesse himself. When Tyrus tries to physically move him from his seat, he pulls a Walter and starts screaming to everyone in earshot that he’s being attacked as a way to remove Tyrus from the equation. It appears that this was part of a plan by Jesse and Walter as Jesse immediately texts Walter to let him in on what’s happening, while Tyrus predictably calls Gus to let him know that there’s a “situation” developing. Over at the White home, Walter is playing mad scientist by fashioning an explosive device of some kind from a large supply of cold packs as we see Jesse’s text come through [10]. Gus eventually does arrive at the hospital so it would appear that the first part of Walter and Jesse’s plan was successful but Gus is smarter than to arrive without protection as he’s flanked by both Tyrus and another guard as he enters the building through the parking garage. After being informed by Tyrus that Gus is present, Jesse meets with him. Gus offers some (seemingly) fake sympathy, but tells Jesse that regardless of the current circumstances, he needs him to finish the cook. Jesse refuses to do so. Gus, clearly not happy, offers to help Brock by noting to Jesse that he belongs to the hospital’s board and that he can make sure that Brock gets the best care possible. Jesse, in turn, points out to Gus that Bock isn’t sick but that he’s been poisoned. When Gus asks how this happened, Jesse says that the doctors don’t know and it’s obvious that the two men are playing each other, each subtly letting the other know that they’re on to what they’re trying to do. Gus ultimately takes the high road, telling Jesse that since the current batch is surely ruined that Tyrus can go to the lab to clean up and that Jesse can stay at the hospital for the time being. “You will start a new batch when you are ready to return. Next week,” he says. With that, he leaves, heading back to the parking garage with Tyrus and the other guard. It quickly becomes evident that the other part of Walter and Jesse’s plan involved Walter planting the explosive device on Gus’s car while he was occupied with Jesse as Walter is on the roof of a nearby building, surveilling Gus and his men in the parking garage. Innately, Gus senses that something strange is going on and stops dead in his tracks. Walter, growing increasingly frustrated mutters to himself, “Why did you stop?” Gus walks out to the garage’s railing and peers out over the horizon. Walter ducks down in response, not sure if he’s been spotted. He keeps his eye on Gus, the soundtrack building tension as Gus contemplates… and then decides to leave his car behind by walking on foot out of the garage. Walter, feeling he may have lost his final chance to strike, pleads, “No… don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,” before slumping down in defeat.

[10] “Think we got his attention,” it reads.

Overall Thoughts: Very successful outing on a lot of fronts. While it may not have had the showy conclusion of the last handful of episodes, it set up the finale quite nicely. It brought Walter and Jesse back together in an organic and believable way following their seemingly irreparable fight in “Bug,” with both men motivated by their mutual desire for revenge. The stakes have become so high between Walter, Jesse, and Gus that it’s hard to see the finale passing without at least one of the men dying. And that’s one of the greatest achievements that Breaking Bad has reached – heading into the finale, there are so many possibilities. Literally nothing is off the table, and when a show proves that it’s capable of that… nothing is more thrilling for its audience.

Rating: 89/100 

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Written by jeremylikestv

October 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

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