Monday, October 10, 2011

The Televangelist: 'Breaking Bad' Season 4 Finale

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Congratulations, Walt. You are completely morally bankrupt
  • "Congratulations, Walt. You are completely morally bankrupt"

Despite having read a very good and convincing argument last week that Walt poisoned Brock I refused to believe it. "Breaking Bad" was a hot topic of conversation all week among friends, acquaintances and strangers, and while most of us chose to conveniently deny the idea that the value of human life for Walt is so low that he would poison a child to trick a friend, there were some (soothsayers?) who insisted Walt had broken bad a long time ago. "What about Jane?" they insisted, recalling the moment when Walt allowed Jesse's drug-addled girlfriend to choke on her own vomit. But that was different, was it not? Jane was not an innocent, and though she may not have deserved death, that death ended up having ever further, terrible consequences - the plane crash - that Walt surely had learned a lesson from. And yes, Walt certainly did. What he learned was that the death doesn't need to be the end game. It can be used as a catalyst to control other pawns into place for a larger scheme. In this case, getting Jesse back on his side, allied against Gus, by poisoning Brock. "Who do we know who would use children?" Walt asked Jesse last week. Even in his heartbroken rage Jesse had to admit there was no other monster capable of such an act. Except, we learned this week, the one he was staring in the eye.

The season finale was a quieter episode than the proceeding two. Like many good dramas, the height of action and confusion took place in the penultimate episode, setting up the windfall in the finale that, for most shows, either ends the series or prepares it for the next season. Walt's family was safe, Jesse was back on his side, Brock looked like he might pull through. It was Walt who ran around, frantically and furtively, getting from Jesse one small yet crucial piece of information. But Walt didn't even need to keep his relationship with Jesse to get it - as it turns out, it was Saul who passed on the information about Hector to Walt. It was Saul, incidentally, who also passed the poison berries masked as candy to Brock. How much did that cost you, Walt? Surely just your soul. Of course Walt didn't stop there - later when returning to his house under the presumption it was being watched (which it was), he called an elderly neighbor to go in before him, under the pretext of having left on the stove. Walt proves himself to be, potentially, more immoral than Gus. And as Jesse gives him a searching look, after learning it was Lily of the Valley, not ricin, that poisoned Brock, "[Gus] still had to go, right?" Did he?

What was it that I felt when, for a moment, I saw Gus leave Hector's room post-blast seemingly unscathed? My first thought was certainly "the man is not human!" But was I relieved he was alive? Or horrified that the battle against him was not yet over? There was Gus, walking calming out of the dust from the explosion, adjusting his tie. As the camera panned around to the half of his face and upper body missing, I was momentarily confused - were we still watching "Boardwalk Empire?" Or has "The Walking Dead" started? It took almost two commercial breaks for me to finally close my slack-jaw. Walt finally found Gus' only Achilles heel - the only part of Gus that seemed human, his connection to his slain partner and the elaborate plot he wove to destroy the lives of those involved. Walt knew that Gus was honorable enough to go and kill Hector himself. The vendetta had to be settled personally. Walt's final pawn was Hector, who became a suicide bomber for the cause. Some regimes use highly-trained assassins to get what they want - on a very small scale, Gus had Mike. Then there are others who take the Russian / Soviet Union approach: just throw bodies at it! We have more than they do! This, it would seem, it Walt's preferred method. And, much as it did in the Napoleonic wars and World War II for Russia, so too did Walt prevail.

"I won," Walt says to Skyler. But at what price? The final scenes with Jesse and Walter calmly setting fire to the lab and sharing a parting handshake were particularly moving. For two seasons we've waited for the other shoe to drop, and for Jesse to find out Walt allowed Jane to die. Somehow the two of them got passed it, and after nearly a season of deep emotionally turmoil Jesse seems to have moved passed killing Gale. But if Jesse found out about Brock … to quote my watch-partner Martha "I would go through the TV and kill Walt myself." And why did Walt weep? Not for Brock, surely, and probably not for Jesse. For himself? For getting away with it? For losing himself completely? I hate to bring "The Wire" into this, because I always seem to find an excuse to do so, but it can't be helped. If Gus was like Stringer Bell, then Walt is wholly of the Avon Barksdale camp. That is, despite his apparent wishes in the past to have a nice, quiet life as a meth peddler, he instead solves his problems through chaos and violence. In "The Wire," the differences lead to betrayals between the two men who were closer than brothers. The result? Avon in jail and Stringer dead. We know Walt will die, but how? And what will he have left behind? And can we ever call it justice?

Next Season: "Breaking Bad" will end next year in an extended 16-episode season, that will (at some point) find Walt's life coming to an end.

Musings and Miscellanea:

— Walt sitting in the hospital cradling that bomb was a moment of bizarre comic relief, and made me think "What, is this Seattle Grace?"

— "If I ever get anal polyps, I'll know what to name them." - Saul

— Despite all of my reservations about Walt and about everything happening, I still found Walt's rescue of Jesse and their interactions thereafter to be, once again, badassssss!

— I loved Jesse saying he heard about ricin "on 'House' or something." I found that to be totally plausible. Come on, who among you doesn't feel the need to shout, every once and awhile, "It's not lupus! It's never lupus!"

— I'm not surprised it took the nurse awhile to figure out "DEA" was not just the beginning of a word - how many people in a nursing home would ever need to call the D.E.A.? Second point: wow, those people have the patience of saints to use those word boards.

— Marie Purple Count: pillows, paint, rug, curtains, crib, candles … and yet, Marie herself was not wearing any purple!!

— That crazy little woman saying "hi!" to Walt was a nice touch.

— Walt also used Hank - once again - this time, to set up the meeting with Hector that would alert Gus. By the way, Hector for King Troll? "SUCK MY …" "FUC …"

— Random Bonus Picture 1: If only President Obama would go Gustav on the Congress …

— Bonus Picture 2: Walt and Jesse switch places.

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