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Breaking Bad: Face Off

Walt: "I am offering you an opportunity for revenge."

What a jaw-dropper. Explosive. I wonder how many puns I can get in there before you all start to groan?

Seriously, though. This episode was what made me certain that I absolutely had to review Breaking Bad. "Tio" Hector Salamanca, a silent, helpless man in a wheelchair, was introduced in the second episode of season two, so long ago. How incredibly cool and utterly devious was it for Walt to give Tio the power to kill his mortal enemy just by dinging his eternal bell? It was the perfect takedown of an exceptional villain. Perfect. I loved Gus coming out of the room and straightening his tie in a very Gus-like way before the camera moved around to show that half his face was gone.

Loved the spaghetti western music as Gus approached the nursing home, ready to kill his helpless enemy. Tio, careful not to look at Gus and give away his glee, with his finger poised over the bell. And that last moment, when Tio looked Gus in the eyes, and Gus knew he'd been played — but too late. Tyrus wanted to protect Gus by killing Tio, but Gus had to kill Tio himself. And Walt KNEW that. Tio KNEW that. It's this fidelity to the characters they create (well, that and the bizarre but believable plot twists) that has made me love Breaking Bad.

Gus removed his Pollos clip-on tie and yellow shirt, and put on an obviously expensive blue jacket and tie before he went to the nursing home to kill Tio Salamanca. Loved that last little character bit. It was such a Gus thing to do. Gus Fring was a fascinating character, and probably one of the best villains I've ever seen on television. Gold acting stars to Giancarlo Esposito for his entire run.

And gold acting stars for Mark Margolis. Tio Salamanca expressed so much complex emotion without ever saying a word, especially in his final scenes in this episode. I loved, loved, loved his scene in the DEA office in front of a huge roomful of people. I think Tio actually winked at Hank as the nurse was wheeling him into the elevator.

What I wanted to say in my "End Times" review, but didn't

If you go back and watch the previous episode after you've seen this one, it's obvious what is going on. The third time that the gun spun, it stopped while pointing at the pot containing lilies of the valley, and Walt looked directly at the plant. And Huell did lift the cigarette; you can see him pocketing something right after he searches Jesse. What's chilling is that everything Walt said to Jesse in their crucial scene in the house was a lie. Walt was acting. Shudder.

It certainly gave us the final piece of the puzzle that completed Walt. The mild-mannered high school teacher with cancer came up with this convoluted way of killing Gus, and he poisoned a little boy to do it — victimizing a child, just as Gus did, and knowing Jesse would believe Walt wasn't capable of doing such a thing. (If Jesse ever finds out, there will be hell to pay. Not to mention if he ever finds out how Jane died.) Walt looked so relieved when Jesse told him Brock would live. And now we know why.

How many people has Walt killed, directly or indirectly? I've lost count, especially if you include the plane crash. This season also made me realize how often poison is a plot point in this series. Of course, meth is poison, so that's deliberate.

Jesse and the end of the superlab

The final scenes with Walt and Jesse in the superlab were wonderfully satisfying. Walt shot and killed both of Jesse's captors (taking out two more of Gus's employees as well), and the two of them, again partners, put on their coveralls for one last time and destroyed the lab. I particularly liked Walt and Jesse walking out together, matter-of-factly wiping their fingerprints off the entrance, and hitting the fire alarm so that the laundry employees could get away safely.

Walt needs Jesse. He can't do everything himself, and he must have someone he can trust. I have no idea what's coming, but I've often thought that the end of the series will have to include either Walt killing Jesse, or vice versa. And of course, I'm hoping it's vice versa.

What next?

There was a lot of set-up (or more accurately, a clean slate) for next season, plus a couple of questions. How on earth did Walt get those poison berries into Brock, for one? Saul and Huell know about the poison cigarette, for two. Skyler knows for sure now that her husband is a monster, for three, and what is she going to do about it? We never did find out for sure that Walt is in remission, for four. And of course, since Gus took out the Cartel and Walt took out Gus, that leaves a great big opening in the southwestern meth trade.

Will Hank be satisfied that with Gus's death, Heisenberg is no more? I doubt it.

Mike the Fixer was not in the episode, and that certainly was lucky for Walt because I doubt Mike would have fallen for Walt's subterfuge with Tio. I'm also wondering how Mike will react to all this. He would certainly be a valuable employee for Walt to have, but he would be an even more dangerous enemy.

Bits:

-- The title of this episode is the perfect double entendre.

-- You knew I'd talk about color, didn't you? The ones that jumped out at me were:
(1) Walter White is now driving a white car, because from now on, it's all about him. And of course, the lilies of the valley were white.
(2) The Whites and Schraders were pretty much all wearing black, except for Hank, almost as if they were in mourning for Walt's soul.
(3) When Jesse was frantic to save Brock, he was wearing a blue shirt with angel wings and a sword.
-- Did Walt actually put the bomb in a diaper bag? That sort of goes thematically with poisoning Brock, doesn't it? Loved the magnet from the bomb getting stuck on the elevator door. Those comical, absurd moments are always so great.

-- Walt got his innocent next door neighbor, an older woman with a cane, to go check his house for hit men. (She was played by Vince Gilligan's mother.) This was yet another example of how ruthless Walt has become, risking that poor innocent woman's life for the sake of his master plan.

-- Broken glass all over Saul's office. And I loved the Christmas tree switch to set off the lab explosion. And the bingo caller in the background when Walt approached Tio with the plan. You think it was a gamble?

-- Don't you love it that they blew up the "house of tranquility"?

And pieces:

-- Jesse was tased and kidnapped in front of a police station with cops walking by. Do you think they were saying something about the ineffectuality of law enforcement, perhaps?

-- Saul is now so paranoid that he was checking the police station for bugs.

-- With so many other good things in this episode, they took the time to give Saul's assistant a priceless little scene where she extorted $25,000 out of Walt. Laugh out loud funny. Even in an episode with the stakes so high, they bring the funny and they bring it well.

-- Tio Salamanca and the nurse with the communication board thingy was such a cool touch. Those scenes could have been exasperating, but they weren't.

-- Hank did indeed see something incriminating in the photos. Apparently, electricians have chat rooms. :)

-- Jess Lynde, you were right. The barrels in the lab had bees on them, not the letter "B."

Quotes:

Jesse: "Did you bring a bomb into a hospital?"
Walt: "What? Was I supposed to leave it on his car?"

Saul: (entering the interrogation room) "Isn't this cozy? What'd you tell them?"
Jesse: "I told them they were a couple of dicks."
Saul: (to the cops) "He's a wordsmith."

Saul: "Old guy in a wheelchair, doesn't talk, rings a bell. I mean, does that ring a bell? I mean, the guy actually has to ring a bell."

Hank: "At least he didn't shit himself."

Skyler: "Was this you? What happened?"
Walt: "I won."
He couldn't keep his mouth shut. But hey, she knew anyway.

The first time I saw this episode, I was so tense because the suspense was killing me. The second time, I enjoyed every moment of it, and laughed out loud several times. It's brilliant.

Four out of four blue neckties,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

11 comments:

  1. Great review for a great season finale, Billie. You are so right about fidelity to the characters being what makes this show a cut above. That's why I love it so passionately. I mean, I love the cinematography and the insane tension and the black humor and lots of other things about it, but it is the characters, the exploration of the characters, and the careful attention to making sure the moves the characters make are believable given what we know about them that makes the show work so very well.

    That's why I was initially so put off by the suggestion that Gus was behind the poisoning. It just didn't make sense in the context of the character or the show, and I was incredibly let down, until I came around to believing Walt did it. Then it all made perfect, horrifying sense. I was thrilled to have my suspicions confirmed in the finale. Sometimes a "predictable" outcome is a letdown, but when it is a culmination of what the story has built to, it is oh, so satisfying, even when you saw it coming.

    I can't say enough great things about this episode. The title was perfect. The humor was wonderful. Tio was fantastic. Gus was fantastic. Gus's final repose was fairly ludicrous, but still totally, jaw-droppingly awesome. I remember being utterly stunned when he walked out of that room, seemingly alive, and then the camera panned ... Wow. So much wonderful goodness, capped by the completely chilling moment in which Walt crowed about "winning." I can't wait to see how that works out for him.

    So it was bees. Cool! Thanks for the confirmation. And congrats on finishing the retro reviews in time! You did great work, and I'm very excited we'll all get the chance to ponder and discuss the new season as it airs.

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  2. Thanks so much, Jess. I love your comments and it's obvious how much we both love this show. I'm so glad I was able to finish in time! For awhile there, I thought I'd have to leave some of season four wait for later, and I would have hated that.

    I ended up buying the entire series (so far) on DVD, and I've enjoyed the commentaries that I had time to listen to. Bryan Cranston in particular comes off as such a sweetie, constantly giving credit to everyone else but himself, that it just makes me even more impressed with how good an actor he is.

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  3. It was Mike who said they can deal with Hank and they can deal with the cartel... but not both at the same time. It was that division of thought that led to the demise of Gus. He knew he didn't poison Brock. He knew Walt did. Yet he still walked right into Walt's trap.

    I love a show when I can root on and cheer Gus taking out Manny from Scarface and his entire ranks and laugh with glee as Gus taunted it in Tio's face... And then root on and cheer Tio to blow Gus to kingdom come. God I love this show!!

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  4. Well done on finishing all your retro reviews, Billie. I would never have finally got into this show without them. Thank you :D

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  5. Agree with your theory on the ending. I've thought that for awhile, and yes, I'm hoping it's Jesse who kills Walt. Then again it would be sort of fitting if Walt ended up beating everyone before going into remission and slowly dying of cancer.

    Otherwise, I can see both of them losing everything or going to prison. But I don't think they'll end up escaping the series happy and successful.

    RIP Gus and Tio; bravo Esposito and Margolis

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  6. I was so dissappointed to learn that Walt would poison a child. I was so invested in his paternal affection for Jessie. It took me awhile to get over the shock.

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  7. You may hate me for this, but I found this season a downer compared to season three.
    Yes, it has had its stellar moments, and the last three episodes of this season were outstanding.
    But, and this is a big problem for both me and my wife, Walt is now such a despicable character - there is not a redeeming thing about him anymore - that I'm not really interested in watching the fifth season.
    I mean - how low can you go? Walt needs to go, he's so so evil and so so manipulating and poor poor Jesse.
    Ugh.

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  8. This was a fascinating season. It solidified my hatred for Walter, which is a nice feeling: now I don't have to deal with the sticky ambiguity of wondering how I'm supposed to feel about the man. I get to just luxuriate in the hate.

    Watching the first four seasons, I noticed many references to Junior's birthday, which felt like it was perpetually upcoming. I was starting to think something major would happen to Walter or to Junior on that day, and of course it did: Junior got his first "real" moment with his dad in almost a year, and Walt showed vulnerability to his son for the first time.

    Watching that scene (a few episodes ago), I thought that was it: Walt opening up and relating to his son, and Junior having one of those "wow, my favorite parent isn't a superhero" moments that all children must go through.

    If Junior hadn't taken that so well, I would have said that was Walter's abyss: the moment in which he is unable to do what he set out to do, which is to protect his child from the truth of Walter' mortality. Plus, what sort of jerk parent misses their child's 16th birthday?

    But I think now that the constant allusions to Junior's birthday actually have nothing to do with Junior. It's the beginning of Walter's metaphorical "birthday"--him coming into his own as a sociopath.

    The last few episodes of this season really follow (as most TV shows do) Joseph Campbell's model of the hero's journey. Walter's abyss (aka "Belly of the Whale") is his hysterical laughter when he realizes there isn't enough money in the crawl space. He is literally underground.

    After that, he undergoes the transformation from "dad who just cares for his family" to "meth-coooking sociopath who will stop at nothing to win." He fully re-emerges in that scene on the (symbolic) rooftop, transformed into a new man with a new "gift" to bestow on the world in the new season symbolized by lilies of the valley. Presumably that gift is more meth-cooking and more sociopathy.

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  9. If I'm not missing anyone, Walt has now killed 10 persons up to this point.

    Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane (by doing nothing), the two child-killers on the street, and five this episode: Tio, Gus & Tyrus and the two henchemen at the lab.

    Indirectly, there is of course hundreds, maybe thousands, because of the meth.

    Finally got into this series, and it's been fantastic following it with your reviews Billie:)

    I'm jumping straight into season five now...

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  10. This episode was just, well it was just a spectacular episode of television that I know will stay with me for quite some time.

    Everything about this season was slow burning and filled with the ominous feeling of dread. What is also interesting to me is that this was the season that every character seemingly set their chosen path for the future (and possibly their fate, as it happens I've only just started season 5 so I don't know where this is going)

    Jesse and Walt in some ways have both been on inverted journeys. Jesse has spent every season turning closer to the light within him, despite doing some terrible things, it appears to have a lasting effect on him. He seems to be the only character to recognise his own morality and not be willing to trade it. Walt on the other hand has been ambiguously dark since the beginning but the light in him seems to be well and truly gone at this point. I personally think that it's been a long harboured secret in Walt that, truly deep down, this has always been about him claiming his own sense of power. The wellbeing of Skyler and the family has always been a secondary consideration, Walt would never admit this of course. The key to any great liar is the ability to deceive oneself first and foremost.

    Gus and his last stand are among the greatest scenes I think I've ever witnessed. The music as he approached the nursing home was absolutely chilling. Giancarlo Esposito has delivered one of television's most iconic bad guys ever.

    As I head into season 5, I'm mixed with dread, excitement and ultimately a sense that Walt must pay for everything he's caused. But I sense not before a great deal more collateral damage is served.

    It may yet be too early for me to say where it ranks in terms of my personal favourite TV shows, but there can be no doubt that Breaking Bad is the greatest achievement in television creativity I have ever seen.

    Thanks for your fantastic reviews Billie! They have been a faithful companion to my viewing and I look forward to them accompanying me into the final season! <3

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  11. Sure, Skyler may feel that her husband is a monster, but her character also developed quite a lot this season. I think she has probably comes to terms that what occurred was clearly the lesser of two evils.

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