Approaching the End
Andy Greenwald: In two days, Breaking Bad will air the fifth episode of the second half of the fifth season. In other words, when the action cuts to black and Vince Gilligan’s name flashes across our screens on Sunday night, we will be more than halfway through the final run of one of the greatest television shows of all time. We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink about the ending as an abstract: how it might happen, what it might mean, and who might survive it. But now the reality of it is looming, like a box cutter held to our collective throats. We’re perched on the precipice. There’s nowhere to go but down.
Roller coasters tend to pause at a similar place, so perhaps we should take a moment here and appreciate just where we’ve been and what it means for where we’re going. Because, lost in the excitement about the ending is the cruel inevitability of it: How characters we’ve come to love and care about might really be snuffed out before our widening eyes; how the ones who do manage to survive will be taken from us anyway when the show goes dark. Part of me is desperate to know what will happen, but another part — a potentially larger part — is dreading watching it come to pass. Are you actually looking forward to Walt Jr. discovering his father is a monster more fearsome than Count Chocula? Or witnessing the horrific demises of Skyler, Hank, or — please no, bitch! — Jesse? Can’t we all just pop a few Schraderbräus and get along? Or at least appreciate this glorious, late-summer Friday when all our fictional friends are still breathing that hot Albuquerque air, even if the hot breath of fate is breathing down their necks?
Up until its heart-fluttery final moments, last week’s episode marked a slight deceleration. Hank talking to Jesse, Walt talking to Skyler, boxes being ticked. It felt like a soldier packing his suitcase before heading off to war. Some may have thought the quality dipped along with the pace, but I think we’ll come to appreciate “Rabid Dog” when all is said and done. Because it was a reminder that for all talk of loose ends and how Breaking Bad will likely avoid leaving us with any, the show is actually even more conniving than we often give it credit for. What Breaking Bad does, week in and week out, is show us its work; all the ropes and pulleys of plot, all the chutes and ladders of story. Everything is laid out for us in advance. Just like cooking up a batch of the blue, it’s not magic; it’s just formula and science. This means when the endgame does come, it will be utterly recognizable and, perhaps, it’ll seem totally inevitable. These past four weeks have been Vince Gilligan spilling the puzzle pieces out onto the patio furniture next to Walt’s pool. The final picture is right there for us, if only we knew how to look.
Endings tend to color everything that has come before, often unfairly so: St. Elsewhere is remembered mostly as a six-season joke about a snow globe; it’ll take poor Lost another decade to rehabilitate itself. This circumstance seems different, since Breaking Bad is careening toward its finale with the same reckless mania that launched it. Most shows only toss away the training wheels in their last season, when the financial demands of a network finally loosen and suddenly everyone and everything is on the table. Breaking Bad, by contrast, has long treated our expectations with the same contempt Hank saves for Jesse. The TV drama rule book was, like Walt’s pants, lost in the desert all the way back in the pilot. Yet even though we’ve become accustomed to grim surprises, I’m actually more worried about my fellow fans than I am about the content of these last few hours. We’re all still frantically huffing away at this show like a tweaker at one of Jesse Pinkman’s famous all-night meth raves. In the past, when the supply ran out the next hit was always but a few short months away. Now the party’s just about over. I don’t think we’ll be angry when the dawn breaks on Monday, September 30. But the hangover is gonna be brutal.
What If I Don’t Like the End?
Sean Fennessey: I hated last week’s episode. I found it not just distractingly implausible, but far worse, different. It moved like so many network dramas, weaving in gotchas and false reveals, and featured characters acting in ways they never had before. I realize no one gives a damn about this. I am one of the reasons the ratings for Breaking Bad have spiked this season. I am a prestige drama carpetbagger, late to the party, weak with opinions, willing to chip in an “Oh, I looove that show” without revealing my newcomer status. I have no theories; no insight. I should be grateful I even got a ticket for this methylamine locomotive. But that doesn’t change the fact that for the first time since Season 2 — when the episodes were so glacial, it caused me to quit the first time around — I dislike the shape of the series. I’m not quitting again, obviously. It has been chiseled upon my brain by recappers, Twitter vagrants, and overeager friends that Vince Gilligan will get this right, whatever that means. He’ll satisfy our desire for elegant execution. But now, for the first time, I’ve begun to think, Maybe I won’t like where it ends. And it won’t be because someone will die or won’t die. It’ll be because I feel like I’m watching a different show. Then again, I’m a carpetbagger.
“Great Hotel, Mom and Dad! I’m Just Going to Check Out the Breakfast Menu Really Quick.”
Everybody Loves Gomie
John Lopez: Before we bid Walt et al. a fond assault-rifle-powered adieu, I want to take a beat to appreciate America’s New Mexican, Steve “Gomie” Gomez. I can’t be the only one who felt that, amid the runaway-methylene-freight-train chaos that is Season 5, it would’ve been nice to see the actual scene where Hank outs Walt to his faithful, if skeptical, Chicano adjutant. We get to see Crazy Aunt Marie make coffee, but Gomie just appears, fully informed, manning Hank’s DIY filmmaker setup? Just imagine Steven Michael Quezada’s incredulous eyebrows as Hank interrupts the Gomez family dinner with Jesse in tow. (If you aren’t already a fan of Quezada’s artfully nonplussed performances, check out his 9/11 stand-up routine. ¡Orale!)
I mean, I get it, but here’s the thing: Now that Walt’s evil has infected everyone else, I’d argue Gomie is, by default, the moral center of the show. Just when we started appreciating Skyler’s long-suffering point of view, she goes Queen of Scotland on Jesse so fast, I half-expected her to scream “Out, damn spot!” Jesse’s seeking vengeance with a Shatner-ian rage, and Hank? Well, Hank has gone full-tilt Ahab. What does it say when everyone’s favorite klepto/suicide pusher, Marie, seems the comparatively hinged one? But while they’ve all been busy turning white-people problems into Manichaean struggles between good and evil, Gomie has remained the staid, level-headed federal agent you’d love to have a beer (or tequila) with.
Through five seasons, Gomie’s always been the reasonable voice drowned out in everyone else’s pathos. Even last week, when Jesse objected to being live bait, Gomie conceded, kid has a point. He does the grunt work, humors his boss’s mildly insulting racial slurs, all while keeping him from self-destructing: Hank would have been fired long ago if Gomie hadn’t covered his crazy ass. And when Hank wigged on the no-brainer promotion, who took it in a heartbeat? Even when Gomie gets angry, it feels reasonable: i.e., telling a legless Salamanca brother to rot in hell. Granted, Gomie would’ve been happy to let Gus Fring take the rap for Heisenberg, but, really, whose life is better with the truth out there? And while Hank drives Walt into a self-immolation scene of Wagnerian proportions, you know what Gomie would do? Slap the cuffs on him and “accidentally” bang Walt’s head on the door of a DEA Suburban. See, Gomie personifies that reasonableness that makes for real-world heroes; unfortunately, it rarely makes for addiction-inducing television.
WW + JP 4NEVR: The Lost Mix
Emily Yoshida: Last week, Jesse made Walt a mix CD. Then he did a bunch of meth off of it and it was rendered pretty much unplayable.
Drakeing Bad Grantland Exclusive: If You Saw Drake Appear in the Middle of a DEA Sting, You’d Freak the Eff Out Too
A Gentle Reminder That Not Every Breaking Bad Idea Would Have Been a Good Idea
From EW’s “Story Lines You Didn’t Get to See,” which is definitely worth your time:
The “shake and bake”
PLOT: Junkies were getting desperate for their drugs during a period when Walt wasn’t manufacturing, so Badger (Matt Jones) or Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) decide to do a “shake and bake.” We’ll let [executive story editor Gennifer] Hutchison take it from here: “You put all the ingredients into a two-liter soda bottle and then you put it on the back of your bike and ride around. The movement of the bike shakes it and causes the chemical reaction. But it’s really dangerous because it can explode. The idea was that would happen and they would be horribly injured.”
WHY IT WAS REJECTED: “It’s Badger and Skinny Pete!” she exclaims. “We can’t burn them horribly! That’s terrible!”
We take it back: That’s kind of an amazing idea.
Breaking Bad Life Advice
“Don’t try to turn an electric cord into a cigarette lighter, beloved inmates.” —Queensland Correctional Services
“DON’T DO METH” —Aaron Paul’s Carraba’s napkin.
Analyzing the Three Most Important Frames From This Week’s Sneak Peek Teaser
Mark Lisanti: You could break down every frame of this deceptively simple weekly teaser video — cut under the supervision of Mad Men secret-hoarder Matthew Weiner and an editor who was dismembered and buried in 15 separate holes in the New Mexico desert upon completion — and harvest an entire season’s worth of theories from the subtle clues hidden within. But that’s a loser’s game, because Vince Gilligan has been known to seed misinformation into his shots for the explicit purpose of throwing the Internet’s crazed, spoiler-coveting bloodhounds off his scent.
So we’re just going to do three frames. Try to stop us, Gilligan. You can’t. We have caught your smell, and the hem of your cuffed khakis is in our powerful jaws. We are looking up at you with the most adorable and forlorn set of droopy eyes. Take us for a walk, Vince. A walk to the answers.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
A close viewing of the clip reveals a dark-colored — probably black, the shade of impending Death itself — crossing Walt’s line of vision, a four-wheeled wraith hovering nearby to claim what’s left of his compromised soul at the first opportunity. But who’s in the car? Hank and Gomie? A DEA raid team, awaiting the signal to take him down? Lydia and some Czech goons who crave the blue sky formula?
We can’t know. By meticulous design, we can’t see into the SUV in the reflection of the window. In yet another masterstroke of obfuscatory cinematography, Gilligan and crew are once again hiding the truth in plain sight.
“Time is of the essence.”
Walt crosses the street, clearly worried that someone is following him, and recognizing that time is increasingly short. But is he looking in the wrong direction? Notice the SUV in the background of the shot. (Labeled: “SUV.”) The same SUV from before? Quite possibly. He could be walking right into a trap.
If Walt’s learned anything from his crystal-fueled journey into the darkness, it’s not to fear the danger. He is the danger. No longer on the run, crossing streets with furrowed brow and pounding heart, he’s taken control of the situation; he’s always thrived when in control, when knocking rather than being on the opposite side of the door that receives the knocks. Whenever Walt closes a flip phone with purpose, things are happening, things he’s put in motion. Things that assure he’ll remain a step ahead of his inferior pursuers.
But that SUV is probably behind him. That’s why the rear window is out of focus. They’re watching him. He doesn’t even know it. He’s too busy snapping shut that phone, confident that he’s about to win yet again. But they’re right behind him. How can he not see that?
You’re getting sloppy, Gilligan. Just like Walt. We’ve got you now. Look into our bloodshot, hangdog eyes. You know it’s the truth.
See you Sunday.