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BREAKING BAD's Empire Falls in "Ozymandias"

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Written by : published Monday 16th September 2013

"Ozymandias" isn't just a character in Watchmen; it's also a Greek poem about the fall of an empire. How fitting, then, that AMC's Breaking Bad's ante-penultimate episode, which depicts Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) crumbling drug empire completely self-destructing, bears that title.

"Ozymandias" begins with a flashback to Walt and Jesse's (Aaron Paul) first cook in the desert, at the same location where the shoot out in the previous episode takes place. Jesse acts an idiot as Walt calls home to pregnant Skyler (Anna Gunn) to lie about his whereabouts and discuss what to name their daughter. It's a touching throwback to how it all began, as well as showing the bookends of the main plot arc. I can't imagine a better way to tie everything together.

Then, we're back to the current timeline of the story. It was hard to accept last week that neither Hank (Dean Norris) nor Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) was shot in the hail of gunfire brought about by Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and company. Turns out, Breaking Bad just chooses not to show us their wounds until this week, perhaps allowing viewers to hold out hope, as Walt does, that there is a way his brother-in-law can survive this showdown.

In fact, Walt pleads with Uncle Jack, as Gomez lays dead and Hank shot in the leg, willing to give up his entire eighty million dollar fortune to save Hank. Walt's hubris has been laughable before, but it's been a long time since he's been this pathetic, groveling with absolutely no power. It's a bit of a surprise that Walt will give up his money for Hank, but I guess family still matters to him somehow, or at least the idea of it does, as his actions during this hour show him scrambling to hang onto something he has already lost.

Hank is completely the opposite in this situation, defiant and bad-ass 'til the end. He knows he's dead, and he's not about to whine about it. Whereas Walt would never accept death with dignity, Hank is wise and brave enough to understand the scenario and hold his head high anyway. Hank doesn't want to die, but he sure fools everyone, biting out some great bits of dialogue before Jack inevitably puts a bullet in his brain.

It's hard to lose Hank, especially now. With Walt so close to being taken down, the one man who has spent so much effort working towards that goal doesn't get to see it happen. And Hank has kind of become the hero of the show. He will definitely be missed.

That said, at least the way this plays out fixes the hesitations about the end of last week's episode, unfolding the way it realistically should.

Walt does get to leave the desert, but not before angrily selling out Jesse, whom he definitely blames for Hank's death, leaving Jesse with the bitter truth behind Jane's (Krysten Ritter) death. There isn't any logical reason to cause Jesse this last bit of pain; it's delivered purely from a place of anger. Heisenberg is gone, and petty Walter White comes out, a despicable, weak man, the father-son relationship they once had completely gone now, both feeling betrayed.

Jack is willing to dissolve his deal to make Walt cook one more time in exchange for most of the money, and Walt departs with a single barrel, still having plenty of cash to live the rest of his life on, but  getting the more valuable outcome of being completely done with Jack. Walt is separating himself from the drug life, and in this moment, we witness the end of the character's professional journey.

It's not a problem for Jack to lose Walt's expertise because he has Jesse. Sure, Jack will likely eventually fulfill the bargain and kill Jesse. But until then, Todd (Jesse Plemons) gets to use Jesse to help make meth the way it's supposed to be made. Jesse cooperates because he still cares about Andrea (Emily Rios) and Brock (Ian Posada) and Todd knows this, using them as leverage.

This is the worst end for Jesse imaginable. His dignity and humanity are stripped from him, making him a disposable slave with a very finite time limit left on his life. Fans may hope a miracle happens and Jesse survives this, but it doesn't look likely at this point, and even if he does, it will come at great cost. With all of the dark stuff unfolding in "Ozymandias," it's not hard to imagine that the final two hours will be just as depressing.

Meanwhile, we see Marie (Betsy Brandt) in a position of triumph. Surprisingly, Marie is gracious in victory, still offering to help Skyler out. True, she makes Skyler spill everything to Junior (RJ Mitte), who doesn't believe the story at first. But she's determined to make sure her sister comes through this OK, which shows their bond isn't completely destroyed. This is good because the women will definitely be needing one another to lean on with both of their husbands removed from the picture.

This is really the first time we get to see Marie so strong. She doesn't possess the evidence to further Hank's mission alone, so this is all very short-lived. But it's a great pay off for a sometimes annoying character, stepping up and getting some good material.

After running out of gas (serves him right!), Walt finally makes it home and tries to flee with his family, who are less than cooperative when they quickly realize Hank is dead. It doesn't matter that Walt denies he did it, and in Walt's own twisted brain he probably thinks he isn't responsible; they blame him anyway. Hank's death is what finally wakes up Skyler to turn on Walt, and she has Junior's support.

There is a very tense scuffle with a knife, when viewers can be forgiven for thinking a member of the White family may be grievously injured. However, the scene is more emotional than physical confrontation. This is where the line in the sand is drawn and sides are taken, and it's probably also the final time we will see all four together. Walt's family's collapse is right on the heels of his business's demise, and so he snaps.

Snapping is the only way to explain the way in which Walt flees, smashing Skyler's car, taking all the money, and abducting baby Holly. Walt has never much taken care of his infant daughter, more in love with the idea of being a dad than determined to be a good one, and he likely takes Holly more to punish Skyler than because he wants to raise her himself. It's a very low blow.

I have to hand it to Vince Gilligan and the writers, though. Just when you think there is absolutely zero humanity left in Walt, he shows a smidgen of it, returning Holly via the fire department and calling Skyler to give her an out. Yes, the angry words Walt says to Skyler probably have a lot of honesty in them. They also serve, though, to absolve her of legal liability, making the cops think he bullied and forced her to participate, and his tears show he knows this, sacrificing himself for her.

It is a sacrifice, too, because what Walt says can be used as evidence to prove him guilty. Up to this point, with Hank and Gomez dead, there is still a chance Walt can get away with things, even if it would probably be temporary. In doing this, he focuses the blame now so that it won't continue to plague his family or eventually take them down, even though such events would likely come after Walt's death from cancer so it doesn't personally benefit him to do so. Though he doesn't leave his family the money, at least not yet, so his selfishness shows, too, even if one may argue he's "keeping it safe" for them until they can actually use it.

Then Walt gets into Saul's (Bob Odenkirk) guy's van and heads away for his new life. This is probably where we'll get the time jump and reach the moments shown briefly in the season premiere, with Walt returning home well after what we've just seen. This is really the end, with those others hours serving as an epilogue. Or is it?

"Ozymandias" will stand as one of the best episodes in one of the best shows on television. The drama is heavy, the feelings are flowing, and the stakes are high. Beloved characters go down, and relationships are dissolved forever. Yet, it all feels completely natural to the story, and with the stunningly brilliant acting of this cast, it's as moving as anything I've ever seen on the small screen. Extremely well done.

Breaking Bad has two episodes left, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

About the author JeromeWetzelTV

JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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