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TV Review: Breaking Bad 5.14: Ozymandias
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Breaking Bad Season 5.14 Ozymandias

Breaking Bad
Season 5, Episode 14 – “Ozymandias”
Directed by Rian Johnson
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Laura Fraser, and Jesse Plemons
AMC
Air date: September 15, 2013

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“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.

I got assigned Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias to read in high school and it very quickly became one of my favorite poems. As with most art, there are several interpretations one can take from its content, but the most frequent — and applicable one, to Breaking Bad at least — marks the loss of power, the decline of leaders, and how their “works” often fade.

Earlier this year, I felt that the AMC promo featuring Bryan Cranston reading Shelley’s poem was a little on the nose, but it did further cement the fact that everything is going to fall apart in the final eight episodes. But we already knew that things were going to end poorly — I keep coming back to the scene in “Hazard Pay” where Walt and Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) are watching Scarface – “Everyone dies in this, don’t they?” Yes, Walt. Yes they do.

All along Walter White has felt slighted and pushed aside. He wants people to remember Heisenberg and the power that man commanded. It’s incredibly poetic (heh) that the tagline for these final eight is Walt in the desert asking for people to “remember my name.” We’re not quite sure which name that is (Heisenberg or Walter White), but all things point to Walt looking to make a stand. A stand for people to remember him.

You may forget his works, but you’ll never forget his name. Walter White made sure of that tonight as we learned how much of a monster he can become.

Full-on SPOILERS for this week’s action-packed Breaking Bad are below. You’ve been warned.

“Ozymandias” is broken into two definitive halves: what happens in the desert and what happens just before Walt gets in the car at the end of the episode. In between those events is shock after shock, showing that this show has created one of the most incredible and down right gusty storytelling. Breaking Bad has essentially broken bad, taking the show to places I would and could never imagine it going.

Tonight, Breaking Bad revealed its true end game and it’s even worse than I thought it could become.

Look at what happens in this episode: Gomie (Steven Michael Quezada) and Hank (Dean Norris) die. For Jesse (Aaron Paul, it is all finally hitting the fan. Breaking Bad has always been in the habit of showing consequences of what happens from Walt’s decisions. It’s fitting then, that we return to the first cook. To the first lie that started it all. The lie that started an empire that we all knew would fall.

And that’s the beauty of Ozymandias: the fall. We knew the descent itself would be bad, but not on this horrific scale. The terrors kept coming, over and over again. Not a soul is spared. Nothing beside remains.

And it’s all heart-breaking. The fall consumes all. And the way it consumes all is handled in that perfect, cascading effect that only Breaking Bad can execute upon. The entire cast delivered Emmy-worthy performances tonight.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

But something struck me about Walt’s angry call to Skyler (Anna Gunn) at the end of the episode. Part of that call is definitely anger, part of it likely a plan to somehow “save” his family for the last time. But in that moment, Walter White does despair.

He’s looked upon his works. They’re shattered.

And he despairs. For there is now nothing left. Walter White is broken. Alone.

And that’s more terrifying than anything that happened in this episode.

Quick Thoughts:

– The credits didn’t roll until 25 minutes into the episode. That’s how much insanity happened in the first twenty-five minutes.

– I officially want the worst for Walt. I want him to have his life ended in the worst possible way. I don’t know how much of salvation there can be for this man. But congrats, Vince Gilligan, I now hate this man.

– So now we know the endgame. I firmly believe Walt has returned to ABQ to kill the Nazis and potentially save Jesse. Although, I think that ricin might be a solution to the Pinkman problem.

– I cannot believe what we saw tonight. This show is going for broke in ways that continue to downright baffle and amaze me. I don’t think there’s ever been a show that has continued to provide legitimate shocks week in and week out as it comes to a close.

– I might come back to this review later in the week after I revisit the episode and had a bit of time for it to settle in. There’s just so much here to pick apart.

Two more left.

Eager to hear your thoughts, everyone.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, I’m 100% confident the phone conversation was a way for Walt to absolve Skyler of any involvement and to spare his family in the wake of all that happened. Walt knew that the police would be listening to the call and it’s the only thing he can do to protect them now. He pins various aspects of the past years on himself (Hank’s death, the fact he acted alone) in order to draw the heat on himself. In the wake of it all coming undone, Walt channels Heisenberg for a final performance to absolve his family to the best of his abilities. There’s no way his family will accept him again, so this is the next best thing – to fully take responsibility for once. What I thought at first was a pure act of rage turned out to be much more layered and deeply complex than I could have imagined. It’s a bittersweet moment.

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