The final “Breaking Bad” of 2012 was filled with powerful images — Skyler’s giant pile of money, Jesse breaking down after Walt visits, the prison-execution montage — and callbacks to previous episodes. In that way it felt very much like a finale.
But it’s not, really, and the way “Gliding Over All” ends illustrates the problem with splitting up the show’s final run the way AMC has done. If Hank’s Walt Whitman-based revelation (“Gliding Over All” is also the title of a poem in “Leaves of Grass”) had come in episode 8 of a normal season, it would have been a fantastic endpoint that would have us counting the hours until the following Sunday.
“Breaking Bad” won’t be back next Sunday, though, and not for a lot of Sundays after that — per the voiceover during the closing credits, the series will return next summer. And while surely lots of great ideas have come to people sitting on the john, it’s an odd image to close with when the show’s not coming back for nine months or so.
That’s a problem with the business end of things more than the storytelling, though. Seeing the pieces click into place for Hank offers up a host of possibilities for the final run next year, even if it doesn’t entirely answer why Walt needs such a big gun for his 52nd birthday.
Now that Hank knows what Walt’s been up to, what’s his first move? Go back outside and punch his brother-in-law in the face, if only for not even saying “That’s tough, buddy” on the day of the prison massacre? Keep it under his hat until he can build a case? Growing back his hair so he can tear it out over the signs he may have missed in the past year-plus?
Walt, meanwhile, thinks he’s through. Showing him the storage unit full of cash was the smartest thing Skyler could have done to attempt getting her life back, and it seems to have worked. Walt gives Jesse a big payout, tying up what he believes is his final loose end, and strolls off to a quieter and (in his mind) victorious life. As far as he knows, he’s getting away with it all, and whatever inside him that lets him live with all the manifestly horrible things he’s done can now take over and guide him through the rest of his life.
We know that’s not going to happen — both because we saw the flash-forward and because, really, that’s letting Walter White off too easy. The line about “Breaking Bad” is that it traces the character turning from Mr. Chips into Scarface, but Scarface didn’t just walk away at the end to spend his mountains of money. A reckoning is coming for Walt.
That it will very possibly come from someone Walt so clearly has contempt for — if not Hank, then maybe Jesse — will make it all the worse. Walt’s arrogance and desperate need to be acknowledged for his genius is what got him here, and each problem surmounted has only swelled his ego that much more. If pride goeth before a fall, Walt is in for a pretty steep dive.
Other thoughts on “Gliding Over All”:
- Aaron Paul didn’t have much screen time this week, but he made the most of his big scene with Walt. In addition to his breakdown after seeing the money — the last Anguished Jesse moment for at least nine months — he and Bryan Cranston played the awkwardness of that scene beautifully. It was like two old friends trying to connect again but realizing they have very little in common anymore.
- Speaking of that scene: Was anyone else waiting for Walt to say his cancer had returned? That seemed like the kind of cruel irony “Breaking Bad” could have handed out in this situation.
- Also killing it in “Gliding Over All”: Dean Norris. His hollowed-out look as he recounts to Walt his old summer job marking trees was something to behold — and a big reason why we mention “punching Walt in the face” as an option for him when the show returns. Seriously? Walt couldn’t even muster a “tough break” or something like that?
- Are you buying Lydia’s turn from jumpy wild card to coolly efficient drug distributor? Her self-preservation skills are to be commended, but the leap between her first appearance and this one, along with her help in pulling off the train robbery, seemed a bit long. Perhaps if we had known earlier just how closely tied she was to Gus, it would have been easier to swallow.
- The prison montage called to mind Michael Corleone’s elimination of the heads of the Five Families in “The Godfather,” but with neo-Nazi inmates doing the deed in extremely graphic ways instead of mobsters with guns and garrottes. That it was scored to the jaunty “Pick Yourself Up” made the scene even rougher to watch.
- We somehow got five seasons of “Breaking Bad” before the use of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” but it was the perfect song for the cooking-counting-shipping montage. “Breaking Bad” loves to fetishize the work Walt does, but this montage also served the purpose of moving time ahead a couple of months.
- We had a mini-“Friday Night Lights” reunion as Walt meets with the Aryans about the prison job. That was Kevin Rankin (Herc) figuring out the logistics while Jesse Plemons stood by.
What did you think of the way “Breaking Bad” ended its 2012 run? Where do you think the final episodes will take Walt?