The final season of “Breaking Bad” has thus far been all about confounding audience expectations.
The cliffhanger that ended the first half of the season last year was not a big action scene, but Hank having a revelation about Walt while sitting on the toilet. When the show returned to complete its run, it delivered a confrontation between Hank and Walt and Jesse’s realization that it was Walt who poisoned Brock more quickly than a lot of shows would have. You could even argue that the flash-forward scenes at the start of each half of the season gave a glimpse of Walt’s future sooner than anyone expected.
After last week’s episode eased up on the tension just a little bit, though, it seemed reasonable to think that the show might move forward in time a week or two while Hank and Jesse got their plan together and Walt hashed out the details of his hit on Jesse with Todd’s uncle Jack. (At least that’s how I saw it.)
Sunday’s (Sept. 8) episode, “To’hajiilee” (named after the reservation where the climactic action took place), delivered not one, but two jaw-dropping moments in its final 15 minutes of airtime, upending expectations yet again and ratcheting up the tension to near-unbearable levels. It was an exhilarating bit of television, and one that is likely leaving a lot of people yelling at their TVs as the screen cut to the end credits.
First, if you had “episode 13 of 16” as the point when “Breaking Bad” would show Walter White in handcuffs, brought down by his own greed and hubris, then you’re lying. But Jesse and Hank’s plan to make Walt think his money was in danger works just about perfectly: Huell gives up everything he knows after seeing the faked photo of a dead Jesse, and Walt goes into a panic when he sees what he thinks is one of his barrels of cash* about to be burned.
(*Excellent improv on Hank’s part here — he tells Walt the photo was faked in his backyard, with a grill standing in for the barrel.)
It’s a testament to how well “Breaking Bad” has turned its sympathies away from Walt and toward the people he’s manipulated that watching Hank put the cuffs on him was actually kind of thrilling. Hank, and especially Jesse, finally have the upper hand.
But then, to just about everyone’s detriment, Jesse’s words about Walt from last week’s episode — “Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact reverse opposite is going to happen” — come true.
Walt’s panicky decision to call Jack backfires when he sees Hank and Gomez accompanying Jesse. Hank calls Marie rather than the tribal police first. Both decisions are proven to be pretty stupid, but they also both feel like something these men, in this particular moment, would do rather than just an Idiot Plot to set up the final showdown with Jack and his crew.
The past few episodes have seen Walt go from a man who held tight control of his world and was usually a step ahead of everyone else to someone who is now playing catchup. This reactive Walt has started to flounder, and he sees the call to Jack as an easy way out of his Jesse problem. Had he waited a beat and seen Hank and Gomez with Jesse, he arguably doesn’t make the call to Jack*. But given his panicky state it’s not hard to see why he did.
(*Whether Jack would have held off if Walt told him Jesse was in the company of two feds, we’ll never know for sure. As Alan Sepinwall pointed out in a discussion after we had each seen the screener of the episode, Walt’s bigger blunder may end up being bringing Jack and Co. to the spot where all his loot is buried.)
As for Hank calling Marie before notifying any other law-enforcement entity, again, it’s dumb but understandable. Given the way Walt’s lies have affected the Schraders, it’s not hard to see why Hank would want to break the news to his wife first.
Not dumb, though? Hank and Gomez refusing to reach for their badges. Given that Jack’s crew exited their cars with guns up, they had to know there was no way they’d back down, even if they had flashed their credentials. Likely it was just a ploy on Jack’s part to get them to lower their weapons for a second.
And now, we all have to wait a week to see who (other than Walt) survives the shootout. The NMNs didn’t appear to be paying Jesse much attention, and he was wisely trying to slip out the passenger door of Walt’s car. Hank and Gomez are pinned behind Hank’s truck and badly outgunned — but no one on Jack’s side appears to be an especially good shot. Still, it looks very bad for Hank and Gomez, at least. For those of us watching, though, it was one incredible way to end an episode.
A couple other brief notes on “To’hajiilee”:
- As usual, executive producer and director Michelle MacLaren does a fantastic job with the location shooting in the New Mexico desert and with framing the shootout. If anyone’s looking for a director for a western, she’d be a pretty great choice.
- It would appear that Todd is getting the wrong idea about the kind of relationship he and Lydia have. Their strained interaction made for a fantastically awkward and slightly creepy scene to open the episode.
- Walt Jr. being a little starstruck by Saul at the car wash was a funny moment in an hour otherwise light on humor.
What did you think of “Breaking Bad” this week? Who’s going to survive?