'Breaking Bad' season finale: Flower power

breaking-bad-s4-finale.jpgThe title of "Breaking Bad's" season finale was "Face Off," without the hyphen you'd usually see if it was referring to a fight between two people.

I didn't think much of the missing punctuation until about three-quarters of the way through the episode, when it suddenly became clear that the choice of "Face Off" rather than "Face-Off" was a very deliberate choice on the part of series creator Vince Gilligan, who wrote and directed the finale.

Wow, on several fronts. First of all, that Walt finally managed to get a step ahead of Gus, using Gus' hatred of Hector to finally get out from under the chicken man's control.

Second, that graphic, hugely surprising, title-fulfilling shot of Gus walking out of Hector's room, straightening his tie as we've seen him do who knows how many times. The thought process went something like this as the camera swung around from Gus' left side to head-on: "Come on -- there's no way he could have survived ... oh my god!"

And finally, the final shot of the season, confirming everybody's worst suspicions about how far Walt would go -- and fulfilling what Gilligan told us at the start of the season about whether it's important that Walter White remain a sympathetic character. You can read Gilligan's full quote here, but this is the money part: "It's super important to me that people stay interested in Walt. It's not quite as important to me that people continue to root for him. That may sound kind of like splitting hairs, but this show is something of an experiment in that we're taking our good guy and turning him into a bad guy throughout the course of the series."

There was a huge amount of debate online after last week's episode about what happened to Jesse's ricin cigarette, whether Walt had taken it or, as Walt convinced Jesse, that Gus had gotten his hands on it and used it to poison Brock as a way of re-exerting control over Jesse.

As it turns out, the people who suspected Walt were right, at least in principle. Brock wasn't poisoned with ricin, but with berries from a lily of the valley plant, which is highly toxic but easier to treat. Walt surely knew that and therefore, at least in his mind, didn't really endanger Brock's life in order to set his plan in motion.

Walt has come to justify increasingly awful behavior over the course of the last year-plus (roughly the amount of time the show has covered) of his life, and if he even sees the lines he's crossing anymore he certainly doesn't pay them much mind. It's going to be awfully hard to find any sympathy for Walter White in the 16 remaining episodes of "Breaking Bad," but Gilligan's real goal is still there: I am hugely interested in seeing what happens to this guy next.

What seemed like a too-neat ending before that final shot of the Whites' back yard also leaves open a bunch of possibilities for those last couple of seasons, foremost among them whether Jesse will find out what Walt did and what happens when he does. There's bound to be a DEA investigation into the bombing (and maybe the superlab fire too), and there's also bound to be someone else who steps in to fill the void left by Gus' death. Walt may be breathing easy at the moment, but there's no way that can last.

And meanwhile, we'll all try not to have nightmares of a faceless Gus Fring for the next week. Once again: Wow.

Other thoughts on "Face Off":

  • We have to wonder if Skyler knowing Walt's business so intimately might become a big problem. She hasn't shown many moral qualms about laundering money, but the look on her face as she asked Walt about the bombing seemed like real fear at how far her husband might have gone.
  • One more thing that could come back to bite Walt: Mike. He's been off screen for the past couple of episodes, but he'll likely be recovered not too long from now in show time. When he is, he's capable of making Walt's life quite uncomfortable. 
  • It's not the kind of work that gets award recognition, so we'll recognize it here: Mark Margolis' silent performance as Hector Salamanca has been incredible this season. What he's been able to convey emotionally even through Hector's physical limitations is pretty amazing.
  • Gus' exit presumably means that Saul will find a reason to stick around. That cannot be a bad thing.
  • It's a long way from now until July, but we're not betting against Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul to be shoo-ins for Emmy nominations again. Giancarlo Esposito should be on people's short lists too.

What did you think of the "Breaking Bad" finale? Where do you stand after Walt's actions in getting rid of Gus?
Photo/Video credit: AMC
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