By: Eric Thomas
Breaking Bad only has three episodes left, and in the show’s six year history—no week will be as long as this one. In the years since Breaking Bad faded in, the internet is now awash in “episode recaps” acting as blog pilot fish to break down every frozen frame of what has emerged as the greatest television show ever made.* There’s even a half hour show that exists only to discuss what happened in that week’s show. ** It’s foolish to step into that cacophony at this late date, the Ticket already has a recap ably written by Jamie Samuelson, so why add to the applause? Because episode 13 of season five needs some extra love—“To’hajiilee,” was one of the greatest in the series stellar run. I can’t remember anything quite like it.
Breaking Bad is snakily written, hiding the explosions behind a barrier before unleashing the Kraken. Jamie Samuelsen’s episode recap last week lamented the lack of plot development, but the show has done that often. Breaking Bad builds more than any show—you often can’t see the forest through the trees. Did we really need to see Jane at the meeting with her father? Did Gus’ back-story really need to be told? Probably not, but it added gasoline to the rolling burn later. Breaking Bad wastes no time, they actively mine idle moments for the conflagration to come.
The writing has never been finer than in “To’hajiilee,” where it feels like Vince Gilligan and his writers are just showing off. In the closing moments, the writers built a bridge to several different endings. Did you enjoy Walt in cuffs, read his rights by a victorious Hank, who gets kudos from his partner and love from his wife? Did you like Jesse, spitting in Walt’s face? How about Walt peering through the bushes, betrayed by the only two people whose lives he spared? Heisenberg walked toward Hank’s outstretched gun, totally defeated. All the endings we’ve speculated about for years were laid bare before the Nazis with guns showed up. To add injury to insult, the show unfairly cut hard to credits while the bullets were still flying. We’re left to wonder which of the possible outcomes await us next week.
So what happens next? Remember: Breaking Bad will always give you clues in its past. The show has usually shown you what’s going to happen when the bomb hits. The positions in the gun battle is important. Hank and Steve are in roughly the same position as Tuco Salamanca was in that early shoot out from season two, with Todd and his uncle standing in Hank’s position.
The flash-forwards from earlier in the season (Walt meeting the same arms illegal dealer that sold him his snub nose pistol from Season 4 at the same Denny’s from “Box-cutter” and then stopping for the ricin at his house in this season’s opener) tell us Heisenberg emerges alive from this. We also know that his activities become famous enough for Carol to scream when she sees him.
Here’s a guess: Hank and Steve are as dead as fried chicken. Steve is going down as a good soldier, in the line of fire between Hank and Walt. Hank will get shot in roughly the same way that Tuco went down, an irony that’s a little too rich for the Breaking Bad writers to pass on.
The only question is Uncle Jack and Todd. I can’t believe the writers would allow Todd to get through this. He’s more chilling than most ruthless Breaking Bad villains. He stares down the sights and fires with absolute indifference when he kills, not just Hank and Steve but young children. Fictional characters who gun down kids can’t live. Maybe Hank and Steve take out the biker crew in their own blaze of glory. Besides, Todd is in the way as a character. He needs to go in the next episode, along with the rest of his biker crew. We need to focus on Walt and Jesse here at the end. All parties need to be eliminated at the end, including Hank. When Hank called Marie, it set up what’s next: With Hank killed in the desert, Marie knows what happened. She’ll expose Walt to the DEA, Walt has the time to get out of town and no one ever finds the money in the desert.
It’s the perfect ending, with Hank dying as a hero and Walt exposed as the murderous, cop killing (although not really) kingpin? One problem with that theory: Why would Walt, with that much heat, return to ABQ for a shootout with the gun he procures in the first episode of Season Five? That’s the one thing that theory does not explain.
This show has always been about its two protagonists, and we need to clear the deck and focus on them. It is to be hoped that this little gun-battle will focus the story on what matters.
*Yes, it’s better than the Wire. Breaking Bad never had a season on the docks that everyone ignores now. Breaking Bad’s only misstep is that season four looms a little large over the rest of the series.
**Talking Bad. Just like Talking Dead, which explores AMC’s exemplary show about the Zombie apocalypse, the Walking Dead. While the concept of “after-show discussion show” works for the Walking Dead, it doesn’t work at all for Breaking Bad. It’s probably the studio audience. There’s something creepy about people wildly applauding the slow decay of the human being who was Walter White.