(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
Do four better hours of dramatic television exist than the last four episodes of season 4 of Breaking Bad? I’m drawing a blank. Maybe you can pluck the four best episodes of, say, Twin Peaks or The Sopranos and stand them up against Breaking Bad, but four in a row? I don’t think so.
We left Jesse, Mike, and Gus racing away from the carnage of Don Eladio’s hacienda at the end of episode 10. Episode 11 opens with a makeshift ER in a desert warehouse. Jesse drives up as doctors run out to help Gus and, if they get around to him, Mike. They’ve got extra blood to match all of their blood types, Jesse’s too. Gus was thorough, as ever. Mike’s shot up good, and won’t be mobile for a week. Gus and Jesse head out on a six mile walk to the U.S. border. Gus points out that Jesse proved he can cook all by himself. Jesse gets the implication and says if Walt should die, he won’t cook. Just fire him, says Jesse. “You know that won’t work,” answers Gus.
And it’s not that we didn’t know Gus had it in for Walt, but this is the first confirmation from Gus. Which once again proves that Walt’s seemingly overly paranoid fear this entire season was entirely justified. I love how Walt is always right. He always knows exactly what’s going on. It’s just that what he does with his knowledge is inevitably deranged and awful. In contrast to Gus, who’s as calm and calculating as can be.
With Jesse gone to Mexico, Walt cooks alone, and he’s more paranoid than ever. He asks Tyrus for any info on Jesse, gets no answer. He asks what Gus wants to do about Hank. No answer. Later on, after Hank decides to check out the laundry, when Walt, rather than drive him there, purposely turns the car into an oncoming SUV, Walt can’t have his car seen at the laundry. He’s snuck inside in a laundry basket. He shoves off all of the laundry and asks Tyrus angrily, “Does the laundry have to be dirty?” Tyrus gives him what for Tyrus almost passes as a smile. “No.”
So Walt drives Hank to the chicken ranch. Where they see nothing of note. Hank asks Walt about his beat-up face. Walt says only, “I’m done explaining myself.”
Gus visits Tio in the rest home. Tio’s watching Bridge On The River Kwai. As Gus pulls up a chair and sits across from him, we hear the bridge blowing up in the background. Foreshadowing! Gus announces that Don Eladio and all of his men are dead, including Tio’s grandson, Joachin, shot by Jesse, who Gus points to, standing behind them. Tio sees Jesse and seethes. Tio’s whole family is now dead. “The Salamanca name dies with you,” says Gus. “Look at me, Hector.” But still he refuses to.
Skyler goes to Ted’s house. Ted has it all figured out. He won’t be writing a check to the IRS. How can he, when the money comes from illicit gambling? When Skyler points out the whole problem stems from Ted cooking his books, Ted argues that he had to do that to save jobs and his company. He writes a check out to Skyler for $617,000. She rips it up and insists he write one to the IRS. He refuses. So she calls Saul with a plan. Saul assures her that he’s putting his A team on it.
Huell and Gaff, the A team, arrive at Ted’s house, and inform him that he will indeed be writing a check to the IRS. Ted tries to bullshit, to claim it’s all a misunderstanding between him and Skyler, but no go. He writes the check, signs the papers…and then runs! But he trips on a rug and slams headfirst into the kitchen counter. Oranges fall all around him as his fingers twitch. Not a good sign. As Huell says later to Saul in explanation, “It was an act of God.”
After Walt’s car “accident,” he shows up at the lab four days later, and realizes someone’s been cooking. Jesse. That night he goes to Jesse’s house. When the door opens, he sees Andrea and Brock inside. Jesse, furious, shoves Walt out on the lawn. Walt begs for help. Gus is going to kill him! Walt has never been more pathetic, and Jesse’s never been more in control. Their roles have been reversed. Now it’s Jesse keeping Walt alive, but he wants nothing to do with him now. Jesse goes inside, and Walt turns to see Tyrus with a taser.
Next thing Walt knows, he’s on his knees in the desert with a black bag over his head. Gus arrives. Even beat down this way, Walt knows exactly what’s going on. He says he knows Gus isn’t going to kill him because if he was, he’d already be dead. Jesse’s keeping him alive. Gus tells Walt he’s fired. He’s not to come to the lab, nor is he ever to see Jesse again. “Or what?” asks Walt. Or Gus will kill his wife, his son, and his infant daughter. But first he’s going to kill Hank.
In total panic, Walt goes to Saul, wants to use the final option, i.e. the guy who will relocate them and give them new identies. It’ll cost about half a million, in cash. Walt has the money. He begs Saul to call the DEA and tip them off that someone is coming for Hank.
At home, Walt scrambles to dig up the money from the clothes bags under the house. But almost all of it is gone. Skyler, scared, appears above the crawlspace hole. She gave the money to Ted. She had to! Walt’s howls of agony turn to peals of laughter. He’s gone over the edge.
It’s a beautifully insane, unhinged end to the episode. Another failed move in the chess game against Gus.
Episode 12 opens with DEA agents arriving at Walt’s house to take the family to Hank’s, there to gather in safety against the threat against Hank’s life. Skyler and Walt pack in a rush, when he tells her he’s staying. It’s Walt they’re after, not Hank. Walt is essentially resigned to his fate. He’s made choices, and the repercussions are coming for him. There’s no escape.
He sits by the pool. On the table beside him he spins a gun around. It slows and points at him. He spins it again. It points at him. He spins it a last time…and it points away. The camera pans over slightly to see where the gun is aimed. It’s aimed at…well, what? The yard? What’s that about?
Of course, as we know, it’s aimed at one specific plant, lilly of the valley. It’s in this moment that Walt forms the plan that will unfold over these last two episodes. It’s a daring move to play out Walt’s scheme without telling the audience what’s happening. But leave it to Breaking Bad to play to the audience’s intelligence, something almost unheard of in television. Not until the final shot of episode 13 will it be revealed what Walt did. In the meantime, we’re taken along for the ride, never quite sure exactly who’s lying to whom.
Hank and the rest of the family are holed up in his place, surrounded by DEA agents. Hank reveals to everyone that he suspects Gus of running a major meth operation. He goads Gomez into checking out the laundry.
Gomez and another agent talk their way into the laundry and take a lot of pictures, revealing, as far as they or Hank can see, nothing at all.
Saul calls Jesse and insists that he come over instantly. Jesse arrives and is frisked at length and rather outrageously by Huell. What we learn later is that it’s during this frisking that Huell takes Jesse’s cigarettes and replaces them with another package (if you watch the scene frame by frame, you can just make out a pack of cigs in Huell’s hand). Saul is in panic mode, says he’s going underground. He gives Jesse the money he’s keeping for him, and relates Gus’s threats to Walt in the desert.
And then Jesse gets a call from Andrea. Brock is sick, in the hospital. Jesse races over. Seems Brock is getting sicker and sicker and no on knows what’s going on. Jesse goes outside to smoke—and finds his ricin cigarette gone. He runs back inside and tells Andrea to tell the doctors Brock’s been poisoned with ricin. She’s freaked out. What does he know? He won’t say. He leaves in a hurry.
Where to? To Walt’s house. Where Walt, we later realize, is doing nothing but waiting for Jesse to arrive. He’s barricaded himself inside. He lets Jesse in, rants about Gus being out to kill him, the usual stuff. Jesse listens impassively, then picks up Walt’s gun, points it at him, demands to know why Walt did it. Did what? Poisoned Brock. Walt feigns innocence like the master liar he is. But Jesse’s on to him.
And what’s brilliant about this scene is that Jesse has it completely figured out. Brock couldn’t have gotten the ricin, because Jesse switched it into a new pack this morning. It must have been when he was frisked by Huell! Jesse lays it all out, and he’s exactly right, except for one thing: motivation. Jesse thinks Walt did it purely out of spite.
Walt says he’s crazy. Why would Walt do something like that? What could he gain from it? Jesse can’t quite see far enough ahead to understand that Walt can gain everything by it. Walt acts like he’s hit with a realization: Gus, who we know has used children in the past, poisoned Brock. Tyrus took the ricin. There are cameras all over the lab, of course Gus knew about the poison. Why did Gus do it? To drive Jesse to kill Walt, exactly what Gus is after. And now here’s Jesse, gun to Walt’s head. Walt grabs the gun, presses it into his forehead. “Do it,” he says, over and over.
Jesse can’t. It makes too much sense. Gus must have done it. Jesse’s going to kill him. But Walt tells him not to act rashly, or Gus will see him coming. Together they can pull it off successfully.
Walt busies himself making a pipe bomb with a remote trigger.
Andrea won’t let Jesse in to see Brock, so he waits in the hospital, when he’s supposed to be at the lab, cooking. After an argument with Tyrus, Gus comes to the hospital to talk to Jesse. Jesse reveals to Gus that Brock was poisoned, and that he’s not leaving until the matter is resolved. Gus proves to be kind and understanding, tells Jesse he can come back to work next week.
Meanwhile, Walt is perched across the street from the hospital parking structure, ready to trigger the bomb he put on Gus’s car. Gus and his henchmen walk to the car. And then Gus stops. Stands there. What does he know? What does he sense? Gus walks to the edge of the garage and looks out toward Walt, who ducks out of sight, though he’s far enough away not to be seen anyway. Finally Gus walks away from the car.
Walt collapses, defeated. Another failed move in the chess game. He can’t escape from Gus, and now he can’t kill him.
Jesse spends much of episode 13 in a small room being interrogated by two policemen regarding the ricin. Why’d Jesse come up with a rare poison? Which poisin the doctors think might be the answer? Jesse bullshits.
Walt is desperate. He removes the bomb from Gus’s car. Where else can he find Gus that isn’t wired with cameras? Walt breaks into Saul’s office trying to find him. He’s not there, but his secretary is, and she’s pissed off. Now she has to get the door fixed? Great. Walt says he’ll pay for it, he just needs Saul’s number. She says the door will cost $25,000.
Walt races home to get the money, but he pulls his car up short. What if the house is rigged to blow up? Or full of men waiting to kill him? He calls a neighbor lady and says he fears he left the oven on, and could she use the spare key to go inside and look? With binoculars he watches her enter the house. What a swell guy, this Walter White. Sends his neighbor to possibly be blown up and doesn’t flinch.
His plan works. She doesn’t blow up and two of Gus’s men exit the back yard and walk away down the street. Walt hurries inside, gathers the cash, and is almost caught by the two guys coming back.
Walt meets with Saul, who talked to Jesse. Jesse’s only idea? The rest home where Gus visits Tio. How will that help? Saul relates a little more: that Tio killed someone close to Gus. “They’re enemies,” says Walt. A plan forms.
Walt visits Tio, says to him he knows Tio would love to see him dead, but that there’s one man Tio hates even more. “I’m offering you a chance for revenge.”
Using his bell and a board with letters, Tio tells his nurse that he needs to see the DEA. But Tio will only talk to Hank. Gomez takes Hank to the office, where Tio spells out SUCK MY–, and they cut him off. Try again. FU–, and that’s that. Tio is driven back to the home. Tyrus is outside the DEA offices, watching. He calls Gus to tell him what happened.
Back at the home, Walt prepares to wire up Tio with the bomb.
Tyrus comes to the home, checks Tio’s room for bugs. It’s clean. Calls Gus, offers to take care of the matter himself. But Gus says, “I do this.” It’s a personal matter. Gus has far too much pride to send someone to do his dirty work. This is strictly a matter between Gus and Hector. Walt found Gus’s one weakness, his one blind spot.
It’s a terribly sad moment when Gus arrives at the rest home and walks from his car inside. We know he’s going to die. He goes to Tio’s room, shames him for having gone to the DEA, prepares to inject him with some kind of poison, says, “Last chance to look at me, Hector,” and Tio looks at him. Gus is taken aback. Tio begins to ring his bell furiously, and at the last second Gus understands. Boom!
We get a little fake-out as Gus walks out of the room, seemingly alive. Then we see that half his face is blown off.
It’s fucking tragic. Gus is the hero of season 4. He’s everything Walt isn’t. Kind, compassionate, calm, wise. What’s Walt got over him? Brains and a totally amoral survival instinct. Walt becomes the bad guy in season 4.
After being released from the interrogation—seems Brock wasn’t poisoned by ricin after all, hmm—he’s grabbed by Gus’s men and taken to the lab, where’s he’s forced to cook at gunpoint.
Walt listens to the radio news and hears about the explosion. He smiles. Goes to the lab and shoots dead the two guards. He and Jesse douse the place in flammable fluids and set it on fire, walking out of the laundry like a couple of desperados in a Leone movie.
Finally, on the roof of the hospital, Jesse and Walt have a last conversation. Jesse reveals that Brock was poisoned by a common plant, lilly of the valley, which has red berries kids like to eat. So Gus didn’t poison him after all. “But he had to go, right?” says Jesse, pleading. “Gus had to go,” agrees Walt.
At Hank’s, everyone watches the TV, rapt. Looks like Hank was right all along. Walt calls Skyler. She asks if he did this. He says only, “It’s over. We’re safe. I won.”
The last shot is of Walt’s backyard. We slowly zoom in on the lilly of the valley plant, until we see its plastic nametag. The end.
Walt won, all right. On the defensive the entire season, he made a last desperate play, and it worked. A play that involved poisoning a little boy, not caring whether the kid lived or died. As Jesse says, the doctors claimed it was touch and go.
It’s with this last shot we understand that Walt is no longer in any way sympathetic. He is a monster. He is the bad guy. And the bad guy won.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13
- Season 3, Episodes 1-4
- Season 3, Episodes 5-7
- Season 3, Episodes 8-10
- Season 3, Episodes 11-13
- Season 4, Episodes 1-4
- Season 4, Episodes 5-7
- Season 4, Episodes 8-10