Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias” (season 5, episode 14)
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
It’s hard to come down from television shows. Heavy scenes, hard-to-watch moments that feature deaths and characters crying, it sometimes feels like one needs to take a shower soon after the episode is over. Breaking Bad might be the epitome of a show just like that, a conniving show that deals with tragic consequences and horrible people getting involved in a horrible world.
Consequences, obviously, being the most prominent theme on Breaking Bad. “Ozymandias” feels like an entire hour of consequences finally opening upon Walt in an absolutely riveting episode. Beginning the episode with a flashback that calmly reminds us of the good ol’ days when Walt used to cook meth strictly to support his family, his unborn baby, and still had the capacity to smile at the thought of bringing some pizza home for dinner. He was a different man then. He doesn’t remember who he used to do this for until the episode’s final moments; after everyone is either dead or hates him immensely.
The now completely broken Walt sees all the errors of his ways once his son and wife are cowering up against the couch away from him. Walter Jr., protecting Skyler because she just had a physical fight with Walt, calls 911 and reports that his dad just attacked them. That he might have killed a man earlier. That he’s holding a knife. These words hit Walt in the hardest ways, but he screams at them that they’re acting out. That they’re a family. “A family…” he whispers to himself before he rashly grabs baby Holly and drives away.
At its core, “Ozymandias” is about family. Walt witnessed Hank’s death, his secret is exposed to his son, his wife threatens him to leave with a knife, and he’s finally broken down once he sees them scared of him. Earlier this season, we learned that Walt’s stance on killing Hank was a no-good. He’s family, so that option is off limits. On some fundamental level, Walt knew what a family member meant and what the emotional and long-term consequences would be. When Hank is killed by Jack right in front of him, Walt falls right over in tears as if he was the one shot. At that moment, any of Walt’s semblance of being a good guy in his eyes fell. Everything is now over and completely ruined for everyone around him. In many ways, Walt is the cancer he was trying to fight.
So, puzzling together his next move, he calls Skyler and gives her a speech over the phone about his entire operation. He goes on and on in the cruelest of voices about how she just wouldn’t stay out of it and how she couldn’t just shut up and leave him to his meth cooking. Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn showcase just what excellent actors they are as mid-way through the scene the audience realizes just what Walt has up his sleeve: He’s telling her she was right all along, knowing full well that the police are listening to his every word. His plan is to clear Skyler’s name and become the enemy he’s been all along.
“Ozymandias” instantly places itself among the best episodes of Breaking Bad. The fact that last episode has received similar acclaim, it’s stunning how well “Ozymandias” stood next to its previous installment, among the many shoes that were dropped throughout the entire hour. Director Rian Johnson’s commitment to each individual actor’s ability to hold a scene with tight closeups is nothing short of genius, just like Walt’s exit plan. Once the tears fall from his face when Hank’s name is mentioned in a context that isn’t respecting his memory, Walt ends the conversation with Skyler and eventually leaves Holly safely at a fire station. We see him next, with a barrel of money beside him, waiting for Saul’s vacuum repairman. He boards the van and leaves, an entirely different person.
- Jesse’s face is bruised all along the right side, resembling Gus.
- “Ozymandias” brings back a poetic side of Breaking Bad with its teasers and juxtapositioning. An element I loved in earlier seasons (mainly “Half Measure”).
- Speaking of earlier seasons, Walt’s egomaniac way of telling Jesse about Jane’s death was tragic. The way he’s almost proud of it in this moment, due to Jesse’s betrayal, is sickening. I never thought that Walt would tell him the truth of that night as an attack.
- The firemen that Walt left Holly with were playing chess. I couldn’t see the moves exactly but the king was definitely about to go down.
- Very good baby acting for the actress who plays Holly.
- So most of Walt’s money is gone, Jesse’s hanging out with Todd being forced to cook, and Skyler and the rest of the family is in ruins. It’s easy to see just why Walt would come back to Albuquerque in the flashforwards, but how does Jesse fit into this?
- It’s sad to see Hank go. Dean Norris’ presence in the show really grounded a lot of things and gave us a character to somewhat root for (especially towards the end here). Hank won’t be forgotten. Gomie, on the other hand, maybe.
- Heartbreaking to think about, I know, but I can’t stop coming back to Walt and Skyler’s conversation on the phone. He can’t truthfully tell her that she’s been right all along in order to help her from his charges and she realizes what he’s pulling by the mid point. Fantastic stuff. Anna Gunn deserves an Emmy for this episode.
- See you next week for the penultimate episode!