When people seem more concerned with interpreting the increasingly cryptic previews for the next episode of any show, it’s a pretty good indication that the prior installment ended with some kind of incredible cliffhanger. Of course, when it comes to Breaking Bad, that has to do with last week’s superb ‘To’hajiilee,’ which ended midway through a gunfight that found Hank and Gomez horrendously outgunned, and definitely outnumbered in the psychopath department.
There’s a moment after the inevitable happens with Hank that finds Walt looking back in his rearview mirror and he sees nothing; there’s no evidence of what just transpired. It’s reflective of the way that director Rian Johnson composed ‘Ozymandias’ around Moira Walley-Beckett’s superb script, in how so much of the brutality that’s perpetrated throughout the episode, from the deaths of Hank and Gomez, to Jesse’s torture, to Skyler pulling Walt Jr. into her office to confess her crimes and the crimes of his father, occurs off-screen.
All the truly gruesome and visceral violence is ostensibly left on the cutting room floor; major scenes, like the episode itself, begin in medias res, a tactic that constantly leaves the audience gasping for breath and trying to keep pace, rather than waiting for events to play out. In essence, Vince Gilligan and his Breaking Bad crew have already set up all their shots, and now it’s time to take them.
But this technique is significant in another way, too. Because for all the carnage that’s perpetrated against major characters in the episode, there’s perhaps none more horrific or lasting than what transpires between Walt and his family. Knife fights are one thing; there’s a good chance the cut on Walter’s hand will heal with time, perhaps forming a scar as a lasting reminder. The difference between Skyler’s attack on Walt is that it isn’t coming from a place of outright aggression, but rather one of self-defense (whatever her complicity in the past); it’s a violent response visited upon an assailant who has inflicted wounds upon his family that will surely never heal.
At this point, the scope of Walt’s storyline has been reduced from the souless pursuit of building an empire, to simply providing for his family, to mere self-preservation. Twice during ‘Ozymandias’ Walt tries to sell the magic and the wonder of a bright, shiny new life – “Any future you want” – that all his money will be able to buy, to those who are past the point of listening to him. Walt tries to buy Hank’s life from Jack, as though there’s something he has to offer the Nazi that the guy can’t simply take. Despite the promise of 80 million dollars and the sort of freedom from the toils of meth making that amount of money can buy, Walt winds up on the losing end of the bargain when Jack takes nearly all of his cash and the life of his brother-in-law.
In one final act, Walt buries any hope of ever returning under a torrent of words designed to paint him as the mastermind, and his family – and Skyler in particular – as the unwitting victims in his dreadful scheme. There is no future for Walter White anymore, and he knows it. In fact, there’s no Walter White from this point on either; there’s just a man who used to be him, and will soon be Mr. Lambert.
Breaking Bad continues next Sunday with ‘Granite State’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below: