Buckeye: Breaking Bad has its violent moments, but based on my recollections I don’t know if we’ve ever actually seen as many bullets fly as during the final moments of “To’hajiilee.” Yes, Todd’s family of goons massacred the last batch of replacement cooks at Lydia’s behest, but we only heard the carnage befalling Duncan above ground before viewing the results the results. This week, the opposite: a lengthy, tense, virtually silent standoff before a squeeze of the trigger and ensuing POP-POP-POP of the volley, with the only sounds before the guns’ firing, Walt’s helpless cries, now drowned out. One fears that, based on knowledge, Hank and Gomez, will soon face the same fate that befell Duncan and Mike’s ten prison friends. (We know Walt will survive, but Hank and Gomey are outmanned. But who knows, it’s not like anything unforeseen has ever transpired on Breaking Bad before.)
The episode’s finale appears structured to provide Hank with a final moment of short-lived glory. Hank no longer has to play Javert to Heisenberg’s Jean Valjean, but his chase might place him underground all the same, even if not done by his own hand. That “To’hajiilee” ends mid-shootout allows Hank to bask for as long as he can in the afterglow of his career’s work. Even had Todd’s crew not arrived so quickly to potentially take Hank’s life, Hank’s driving Walt to the DEA office for booking would have taken Hank’s career. At least he’s going out on a high note, and the episode does allow this to sink in: Walt’s long, slow walk across the sand to his brother-in-law; Hank’s blustery, exaggerated tough-talk banter with Gomez; the complete reading of the Miranda warning (I loved this detail, as it’s almost never done in movies or television). That Hank hasn’t yet died gives marks his career’s coda as a successful one.
But for all this punctuated noise and technical skill on display (Michelle MacLaren, as director, merits a lot of praise for this), I’m not sure that this episode was as shockingly jaw-dropping as others in the series’ run. For one, even if the last few minutes were riveting, there was no element of surprise, not after Walt supplied Todd’s uncle with the coordinates of their location, and certainly not after Hank’s “I love you” to Marie. The arrival of Todd’s crew was so obvious that I assume it was intentional. How else to place those skinheads at the resting place of Walt’s money and Walt’s evil? I don’t know, but I wasn’t as floored as I was, say, during Walt’s videotaped confession. And it’s true that the series’ end remains fascinatingly unpredictable. As has been a theme this year, I’m still amazed at the early occurrence of developments we expected at the season’s inception, a shootout like this being one of them. There are three hours left, but at the end of this most recent one, my reaction was more “Damn” than “HOLY FUCKING SHIT.” kyra, I believe you might agree with that?
kyra: I really enjoyed a lot of things about this episode right up until the ending. Walt twistedly tries to flush out Jesse by threatening-without-threatening Andrea and Brock.* I appreciated that his plan didn’t work, as this episode was full of mistakes by Walter White. Next Hank and Gomey play off each other with some great tough talk directed at Huell (who in my opinion, was a horrible actor in the scene given cops are telling him his life is at risk). This leads them to knowledge of the money barrels, which in turn leads to Hank’s own plan, which works perfectly.
*Doesn’t it seem like Brock recognizes Walt as the guy who poisoned him, or in some way thinks of Walt as a bad guy? I know the kid is shy, but there have been two scenes now where the director seems to deliberately be showing how uncomfortable Brock is around Walt. Just something to think about as we head into the finale.
The drive out to To’hajiilee was written, acted, and shot brilliantly. It all comes to a head on the highway: Walt rattles off the list of all the times he has KILLED to protect Jesse. Not only is this accurate, but it helps you appreciate just how scarring murder must be. While these events have transpired months ago, some of them further back than that, Walt recalls the list quickly and completely–these are not things he will soon forget. There is that old phrase, in vino veritas, and while Walt is not drunk, he is in such a stressful situation that he’s not capable of lying at this moment. He is trying to get it into Jesse’s head how much he cares for him, which seems ironic considering he just paid for a hit. However, when Jesse mentions the money, Walt can’t help but snap. He yells at him to stop. How dare he burn my hard-earned money. Then after regaining composure, he pleads to Jesse’s heartstrings: the money isn’t for me. I’m dying–it’s for my family. Obviously this won’t work either given the Brock poisoning.
Even up to the moment when Walt realizes it’s all over (and we go into a commercial break with a great shot of a tear in Walt’s eye), I was enjoying the episode. However, when Hank calls Marie, that’s when I started having a problem. First of all, this was beyond dripping with foreshadowing. For him to say it’ll probably be a while till he sees her, I’m thinking ‘yeah it’ll be a while alright.’ I have a problem with this phone call because it’s premature. He has plenty of time for celebrating when he gets home, but making this call now felt like the show taking poetic license in a bad way because the writers know Hank isn’t leaving the desert alive and they want one final conversation between him and Marie. I was OK with it when Gus fixed his tie after the explosion, because that was a perfectly captured moment, but I just didn’t like the way the show treated its audience in that moment. They were clearly not trying to hide the fact that Todd and his Nazi friends were about the roll in, but something about this phone call made it seem so obvious that it bothered me. Also, the firefight itself didn’t make a whole lot of sense given the Nazis seemed apprehensive about shooting at cops, and neither Hank nor Gomey showed their badges. Why?
Buckeye: I don’t know why Hank or Gomez neglected to show their badges, but to my knowledge their little investigation hasn’t received much in the way of formal sanction from the DEA. I’m not sure how many of his fellow agents Hank has clued in, besides Gomey, but Hank sure hasn’t been working out of the office lately, and his request to Huell—to not let the “agent” outside know much about the case—indicated either that (1) there was no agent in the motel parking lot and Huell is easily fooled (very possible) or (2) if there was an agent, Hank is trying to keep the end goal of his actions secret. It’s not like we’ve seen Hank rushing to court to procure warrants, though he’s been persuasive and creative with Jesse and outwitted Walt this week. So maybe it’s a little detail, but I’m positing that it’s possible Hank and Gomez didn’t show their badges because they weren’t supposed to, and if Hank succeeded in bringing Walt in, it wouldn’t have been under the auspices of perfect legality.
As for the skinheads’ apprehension about shooting cops, I’m not sure how much apprehension existed. They certainly haven’t showed much compassion for anybody but themselves, and while killing cops is less pragmatic (if we’re talking about time served) than killing practically anybody else, it’s not like such an act wouldn’t comport with their worldview. In fact, given the libertarian outlook they evinced in their diner bathroom conversation, it’d probably surprise me if they didn’t like killing off all the vestiges of BIG GUBMINT. And that’s to say nothing of whatever neo-Nazi ideology they subscribe to, and nothing of Todd’s own creepiness. To ask about Todd briefly, he might be the most sadistic person on the show; everybody else generally either kills to save their own skin (this group includes Walt) or because they’re told or paid. But a lipstick-obsessed dude whose personality never changes in spite of killing is a different beast, I’d say—isn’t there an argument to make that Todd is the most unpredictable character on the show heading into these last few episodes? He’s certainly not as powerless as Walt now is, in Todd’s uncle’s thrall, nor as unprotected as Jesse without Hank’s need for him. It will be Todd, and not Walt or Jesse, who holds the leverage, provided the shootout concludes as we suspect.
I do take your points about the shootout, that Hank’s call to Marie was a dead giveaway. Again, I think that was intentional, at least as long as the writers were determined to set the climactic scene at the location of Walt’s money, because Todd’s crew wouldn’t have found their way there unless Walt told them where it was. There is something poetic about that location—Tohajiilee is the location of Walt’s and Jesse’s first cook together—that would justify their reasoning for doing so (and perhaps Walt’s reason for driving back there in “Buried.” I don’t think they needed the shootout there, and I expected the barrels of Walt’s money to disappear for good from the series once they went underground, but perhaps they opted for the location because of its literary resonance. (Not only does the site represent Walt’s beginning and his end, but Walt’s being literally trapped in the middle between the two parties who want him in their custody reinforced his demise—Walt is a person who wants custody and control over everybody else.) So while there was less shock and awe for me this week, I did still appreciate the technical mastery of the sequence and a final minute or two of bravado from Hank.
kyra: I don’t want to dwell too much on this, as the set-up was good and having slept on it I think the episode ultimately works. Especially the way it ended, in vintage BB fashion; a normal show ends the episode after the shootout, while Gilligan makes sure that this one ends in the middle. One thing I’ve been wondering: why does Walt, who finally succumbs to calling for a hit on Jesse, have such qualms about murdering Hank? How do these two ideas square? They both are family, and they are both out to get him.
I want to close with a couple predictions for next week’s episode, “Ozymandias,” which Buckeye and I have been focused on since the titles were released.
1. The episode will not open with the conclusion of the shootout. This one seems kinda obvious, but vintage BB has the pre-credit open always as something cryptic. I see no reason why they would stop now. I’m thinking perhaps we get a 3rd flash-forward in this episode, which leads to one of my later predictions.
2. Gomey and Hank both kick the bucket. Hank is given one last scene to say his goodbye to Walt, but neither of them leave the desert alive.
3. Jesse survives, and is taken ‘hostage’ by the Nazis and forced to cook meth for them.
4. Walt purchases the giant gun in order to save Jesse from the Nazis, in one final murderous act to show how much he cares for him. At this point there’s no other possible baddies that would necessitate heavy artillery, and there has to be a compelling reason why he is back in New Mexico.
Buckeye: Good question about Walt’s refusal to attempt killing Hank. You’re right that he considers both “family” and, thus, in Walt’s mind untouchable—until recently. As opposed to Jesse, Hank has a more formal familial (if not biological) connection to Walt, but I think the real reason Walt surrendered was simply that had he shot at Hank, Gomey would’ve gunned him down a second later. Even an arrested Walt still has an instinct for self-preservation. That’s about the only answer I can muster.
I agree with all of your predictions, and especially like your first—that the next episode won’t start with the standoff’s conclusion. One thing I’m having trouble predicting is how Walt will extricate himself from the skinheads’ grasp. He’s going to have to convince them that Jesse can cook as well (and as purely) as he can, because it’s Walt they want—as far as Todd’s uncle is concerned, he’s still under orders to kill Jesse. Especially considering the next episode’s title, it would make sense if Walt wasn’t cooking and/or is found out somehow, I just can’t guess as to how, plot-wise, that will take shape.