Major spoilers on the newest episode of Breaking Bad. Also, sorry for the late review.
This isn’t the first time Breaking Bad has evoked “Ozymandias,” which tells of the fall of a great empire. I’m not referring to the season’s trailer that featured Bryan Cranston narrating the poem, but the entire show’s run itself. Walt’s fall was inevitable from the start he made meth and Vince Gilligan has repeatedly referred that Scarface was an inspiration for his series. Not to mention the number of omens that Walt’s circle of lies couldn’t hold up. But Breaking Bad fashions its story in such an unpredictable manner and never sets up obvious cliches. It’s what has made the show the most enthralling piece of television since The Sopranos and The Wire.
But “Ozymedias” may have not be a metaphor for Walt, but for everyone else in the series. No one has won except for Todd and Jack, who are just a few lucky bystanders. Jesse is alive but is forced to be a slave for Todd making meth. Hank, who may have died a hero, still is dead, leaving Marie a widow. But Walt has lost almost everything he’s had. He loses almost all of his drug money, except for about $10 million, about an eighth of his supply, he has no more allies, and everything he’s done for the past year and a half has been torn down. For the first time since season one, Walt is truly vulnerable and can’t stand up to anyone.
But Walt’s collapse isn’t just about his drug empire, it’s about his family. It’s been a difficult time for the Whites since the series’ inception. ”Ozymendias” evokes Walt’s humble beginnings in the cold open, before he broke bad, when he was just first making meth with Jesse. Walt’s still a nerdy high school teacher, Jesse still is a punk, and Skyler’s still a loving, caring wife. Walt calls Skyler and they talk about money problems and what to name their new baby. There’s still structure in Walt’s life. But five seasons later, Walt has slowly been destroying the foundation of his family. Marie considers him to be inhuman and Skyler turns on him completely, threatening him to stay away. Even Walt Jr., who has admired his father from the beginning, has left Walt. He’s the one with the true courage in the family. When Skyler sees the choice of a phone or knife to take down Walt, she picks the knife. But Walt Jr. takes the phone and calls the police, telling them the truth about the Whites.
There are two sides of Walt that this season has especially been juggling around: the Walt who loves his family and the Walt who makes meth. No matter how bad Walt has become, there’s still some humanity left in him. He begs for Jack to spare Hank and even while cursing out Skyler winces painfully. Walt gives up Holly, the only thing he has left of his identity, when she cries for her mother. He realizes abducting her would make her his hostage, not daughter.
The ending of the episode, which has Walt leaving his life with only two suitcases and a barrel full of cash, could have been the conclusion of the series. Of course we know it isn’t, but it’s a great open note for “Ozymendias” to end on.