Breaking down ‘Breaking Bad’ (SPOILERS)

SPOILER ALERT: This piece is meant for viewers who have seen the previous night’s episode. If it’s still chilling on your DVR, abort now.

WASHINGTON – WTOP is counting down the final eight episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” with an in-depth look at the show’s hidden meanings, story elements and directing techniques.

For those of you who are caught up – and I mean caught up, addicted, obsessed – here are some brief observations from each night’s episode:

Saying Goodbye

In case you’re having “Breaking Bad” withdrawal, check out this pair of YouTube gems.

The first recaps the entire series by spoofing REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.”

Viewer beware: there is some foul language.

This second video splices clips from the show to R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).”

Someone has a lot of free time, but we are eternally grateful.

Season 5, Episode 16: “Felina,” Series Finale

Well there you have it, folks. The series finale of “Breaking Bad” was decidedly more tidy than “The Sopranos,” which I still insist was less open-ended than most people think (see more below). But even if the “Breaking Bad” finale was safer, fans are guaranteed to wake up happier. Creator Vince Gilligan tied up all the loose ends in a way that was fitting, fatalistic and bittersweet.

Before our final analysis, check out this goosebump-inducing promo:

The Drug Money: It appeared Elliott and Gretchen’s interview with Charlie Rose in Episode 15 would be their final appearance in a sort of “Gray Matter” spark for Heisenberg’s rampage. But I was absolutely thrilled that the Schwartzes factored back into the finale. It was a writer’s stroke of brilliance to have Walt leave them his money at gunpoint, with instructions to give it to his children in the form of an endowment. Not only was it the only way that Flynn would have accepted his father’s drug money, it also gave Walt the last laugh against his manipulative former business partners. The whole reason Walt was in the “empire business” in the first place was because of “Gray Matter.” Schwartz is another word for black; Walt’s last name is White; and “gray matter” is somewhere in the middle. The idea is that all good characters — especially anti-heroes — have a light side and a dark side. In essence, we are all gray matter, able to break bad or break good depending on our choices.

The pivotal confrontation required masterful direction, and Gilligan was up to the challenge, taking the reins for the final episode. The scene opened with an eerie shot of Walt sitting in the darkness deep in the background, as Elliott and Gretchen entered the front door. He’s again shown watching through a doorway in a shot recalling John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978). From there, we get a wideshot of Gretchen and Elliott in the kitchen to the left of the frame, as Walt stands out of their view to the right. This technique of allowing the audience to see what on-screen characters can’t is very Hitchcockian, like Mr. Thorwald coming home without Grace Kelly knowing in “Rear Window” (1954) or Tippi Hedren not seeing the maid coming during her office heist in “Marnie” (1964). Finally, Gilligan gives us a shot from inside the fireplace looking out, just moments before Elliott and Gretchen realize Walt is there. The laser-scope snipers were the icing on the cake — almost as brilliant as the comic relief of these “snipers” being Badger and Skinny Pete with laser pens. Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword.

The Ricin: When this final season began, Lydia seemed the most obvious candidate for the ricin. You’ll remember that Walt was poised to poison her early on, but decided against it. Since then, the filmmakers have consistently drawn attention to her tea bags and lipstick on the rim of cups. In the last week, I began wondering if Walt might ricin himself in a sacrificial suicidal act, but in the end, it was the right move to give it to Lydia. While I still think she was an anti-climatic foil compared to Gus Fring, the order of the drug villain deaths consistently moved up the chain of command, starting with the small-time druglord Tuco, crossing the border with The Cousins, moving higher up with Don Eladio, moving to a regional level with Declan, expanding more nationally with Gus, and ultimately claiming the life of the international ringleader Lydia, a demise signaled by Todd’s posthumous ringtone. The last to die? The true mastermind? Heisenberg.

The Machine Gun: Walt’s high-powered assault rifle was memorably set up in his trunk eight weeks ago. But no one could have foreseen its ultimate use with a remote control gadget. While this was the episode’s biggest “suspension of disbelief” moment, it was badass enough for us to roll with it. The remote control gun answered two key questions: (A) How could Walt possibly take out the entire Neo-Nazi crew by himself, and (B) Will Walt use his brilliant mind one last time to outsmart his opponents, similar to his chemical explosion at the end of Season One? Unlike predictions involving the swimming pool, the answer came on a pool table, as Walt reached across for his car keys to hit the remote control button and let the bullets fly.

Hank/Marie: While we got plenty of closure from Walt’s drug trade opponents, we also got closure with Walt’s family members. Marie wore purple right down to the end, and while her appearance was brief this episode, we got to see her one last time looking out for her sister. More importantly, Walt gave Skyler the GPS coordinates of Hank and Gomez’s burial plot, assuaging our concerns about the lovable Hank getting a proper burial.

Skyler/Flynn/Holly: To the delight of many viewers, Walt’s family was spared. Todd’s ski-mask threat to Skyler was ominous last episode. There was also the loose end of Marie daydreaming about poisoning Walt, which led me to worry she might somehow accidentally poison Skyler, Flynn or Holly. Instead, they were spared their lives. What fabulous directing from Gilligan in Walt and Skyler’s final scene together, pushing in on Skyler in the kitchen to reveal Walt standing behind the pillar. As the scene unfolded, you could see Skyler’s face reflected in the microwave, as smoke from her cigarette billowed up over her face. Best of all, she and Walt were visually divided by a pillar, showing their symbolic division until Walt finally tells Skyler the truth (unlike Michael Corleone). As Skyler says, “If I hear you say you did it for the family one more time,” Walt cuts her off, admitting, “I did it for myself. It made me feel alive.” What a powerful admission from a man dying of cancer. It was hard not to tear up as Walt bid his final goodbye to Holly in the crib, then watched Flynn from afar. While the series has made great use of music, this was a great example of letting silence tell the story. Well done.

Jesse’s Escape: On the “Talking Bad” post-show, Gilligan said his final Walt/Jesse encounter was inspired by the ending of John Ford’s western masterpiece “The Searchers” (1956), a movie we’ve referenced numerous times here in our weekly WTOP recaps. Just as Ford’s legend grows, so does my respect for Gilligan. Jesse’s escape scene had a number of nice touches — Walt taking a bullet for Jesse, Jesse getting revenge for Andrea by strangling Todd and Walt shooting Todd’s uncle — money be damned. With bodies sprawled across the floor, Walt gives Jesse a chance to shoot him, but as soon as Jesse hears it’s what Walt wants, he doesn’t give him the satisfaction. Instead of a father-son embrace, Jesse gives a teary-eyed nod to Walt before he drives away, plowing through the compound gate and breaking free of this evil world with a chance to get back to “woodworking Jesse” (his last pure memory of applying himself). We’re left to wonder what becomes of him. I’d like to think he becomes a father figure for Brock, starting fresh in New Zealand, where he and Jane planned to go.

Walt’s Death: We all knew Walt had to die. He’s been preparing for it for a while now. What we didn’t know was how it would happen. We got the answer last night, with police cars riding up to the scene as Walt dies in the reflection of his crystal meth tank, with Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” playing on the soundtrack, a nod to what Gilligan called Walt’s “precious.” The final shot of the camera craning up over Walt’s body was both a callback to the crawl space episode, where he officially lost his soul, and a more literal visual of his spirit rising above his body after death. It was also eerily reminiscent of Scorsese’s shot rising above DeNiro’s carnage at the end of “Taxi Driver” (1976).

Art vs. Entertainment: Which brings us back to the notion of a tidy “Breaking Bad” ending compared to “The Sopranos,” which is still top of mind for TV fans after the recent death of James Gandolfini. They’re two completely different ways of wrapping up a television series — the conclusive versus the ambiguous. One rewards viewers instantly in a more mainstream Hollywood route. The other challenges viewers to find deeper layers on repeat viewings — a much more European approach.

“The Sopranos” was clearly the latter, causing some to throw their remotes when the screen cut to black. In hindsight, however, it’s pretty damn conclusive that Tony was whacked if you consider five key elements: (a) The shot pattern between objective and subjective shots holds that it was Tony’s POV when we cut to black; (b) the expertly timed Journey lyrics suggest “strangers searching in the night” as the gunman enters; (c) the symbolic dialogue by Tony’s son tells him to “focus on the good times” while his soon-to-be killer is out of “focus” in the background; (d) our pop culture memory knows Al Pacino grabbed his gun from the bathroom in “The Godfather,” a film referenced numerous times by the “Sopranos” mafia; (e) the restaurant blocking suggests Meadow should have been sitting next to Tony, impeding the gunman’s path, but arrived late and likely watched her own father’s murder.

When the WGA recently ranked “The Sopranos” the best written show of all time, “Breaking Bad” fans hoped their show would rise the ranks higher than No. 13. Based on the strength of the two-part final season, I have a feeling it could one day crack the top ten, but will it take a hit for taking a tidy way out in the finale? Maybe. But that shouldn’t cause us to forget that “Breaking Bad” was an overall brilliant television series. The show has proven it’s still possible to beautifully straddle the line between art and entertainment. Too many shows/films choose one or the other — when really it’s a false choice. As Jesse says during the pilot, “This ain’t chemistry. This is art. Cooking is art, and the sh*t I cook is the bomb,” to which Walt replies, “The sh*t you cook is sh*t. I saw your set-up: ridiculous. You and I will not make garbage. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised.”

Indeed, the setup was ridiculous. A nerdy chemistry teacher who becomes a methamphetamine kingpin. But somehow, Gilligan and team managed to create a stable television product that performed as advertised for six great seasons. They did not make garbage. The show was chemically pure. It was art and the bomb at the same time. We’re gonna miss you, W.W.

Season 5, Episode 15: “Granite State”

Fitting Sendoff: How fitting that the very night this week’s episode aired, “Breaking Bad” won its first Emmy for Best Drama Series. The show has seen great success in other categories in the past — Bryan Cranston has won three Emmys for Lead Actor (Drama), Aaron Paul has won two for Supporting Actor (Drama) and editor Lynne Willingham has won two Emmys — but it repeatedly lost the top prize to “Mad Men” and last year to “Homeland.” Finally, the series is top dog in 2013, with Anna Gunn winning Best Supporting Actress (Drama) for good measure. It was great to see Dean Norris hugging the show’s creator Vince Gilligan, who had just killed off his character, and Cranston, Gunn and Paul embracing, despite their recent on-show feuds.

Calm Before the Storm: It was virtually impossible to top last week’s episode with Hank’s death, Jesse’s discovery about Jane, Flynn’s fatherly epiphany and Walt and Skyler’s knife showdown. Instead, this week’s episode felt like a setup for the grand finale next week. There were jolts and gasps for sure: masked men threatening Skyler inside her own home; Jesse trying to escape his pit like “The Dark Knight Rises”; and Todd’s murder of Andrea, where Jesse’s Gale Boetticher sins come to revisit his loved one on a front porch. But overall, “Granite State” served as a transitional episode.

Vince Gilligan and team needed to show certain “procedural” things in order for the finale to unfold properly: moving Walt into “unofficial” witness protection as Mr. Lambert; giving Saul Goodman an alternate identity in Nebraska; allowing Skyler to hash out legal matters with a roomful of detectives; keeping Jesse trapped in his meth jail pit; and continuing Todd’s attempts to woo Lydia, both sexually and professionally. This may have been a letdown for fans who crave fast- paced, drug-infused action, but we almost needed that release after last week. Have no fear. It’s just the calm before the storm.

Bittersweet Sympathy: As we suspected, Walt’s wiretapped phone call to Skyler was an intentional move to take all the blame and give Skyler plausible deniability in his meth empire. Saul reveals this by telling Walt, “The phone call was a smart move. Kudos to you. Odds are it was recorded. It’s going to play great for a jury. It might even buy her a mistrial.” More importantly, it buys Walt sympathy with viewers as he tries (and fails) to make amends with Flynn, then realizes his wedding ring no longer fits. He’s forced to tie the ring around his neck like a necklace — or a noose — and by the end is so lonely that he pays Saul’s contact $10,000 just to stay and play cards with him for an hour in the cabin.

Cinema Echoes: There was a scene in Walt’s New Hampshire cabin where Saul’s contact says, “I’m not much of a movie guy.” But anyone who knows their movie history will realize the irony. The comment comes directly after Walt was smuggled inside a tanker truck, a la James Cagney in “White Heat” (1949), and directly before Walt’s trudge through the snow like Warren Beatty in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971). This doesn’t bode well for Walt, as both characters met grisly ends as the ill-fated protagonists of their gangster and western genres. This episode also had several other movie references, from Skyler smoking in the darkness of her home like Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” (1944), to Jesse trapped in a “Silence of the Lambs” pit, with Todd lowering a bucket like Buffalo Bill and Jesse picking the lock of his handcuffs like Hannibal Lecter.

Directing Techniques: Like every episode of “Breaking Bad,” there are plenty of directing choices to admire. The series has come full circle, using blurred audio to show Skyler’s distracted psyche during her interrogation, just like Walt’s blurred audio during his cancer diagnosis in the pilot episode. Note also the camera craning down “through” the floor of the vacuum cleaner shop to find Walt and Saul in their underground hideout — a move pioneered by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane” (1941). There also are shots with the camera in unique places, such as inside the wood stove looking out. Best of all, there’s the closeup of the back of Walt’s head as he dons his Heisenberg hat one final time.

Cliffhangers/Predictions: We’re there, ladies and gentlemen. The final cliffhanger of the series. And there was a tangible feeling of finality to the end of this episode. Having already been told, “If you leave this place, you will get caught,” we know Walt is headed for destruction. But he’s not going out easy. As the camera zeroed in on Walt’s half-empty shot glass, Dave Porter’s “Breaking Bad” theme played hauntingly on the soundtrack. It was the first time (to my knowledge) that the theme has played anytime other than the opening credits, signaling a sort of crescendo to the series. And to the writers’ credit, they return to the original source of his desire to be in the “empire business.” In a Charlie Rose TV interview, Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz deny Walt credit for their Gray Matter company and insist his transformation is complete, “I can’t speak to this Heisenberg, whatever he became, but the sweet, kind, brilliant man we once knew long ago, he’s gone.”

Walt is now on a death march. He’s less Tony Montana battening down the hatches and more William Holden leading Borgnine and the boys on a one-way trip to face Mapache in “The Wild Bunch” (1969). The fact that Walt’s actual son (Flynn) told him to “go ahead and die” suggests Walt only has one “son” left: Jesse. Expect Heisenberg to go into Todd’s compound, guns blazing, killing Todd, Lydia and the Neo-Nazi gang, while accidentally destroying the very drug money he sought to save, echoing the end of “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) where the gold dust vanishes in the wind.

Walt will say he’s going into the compound to get his money back; but deep down, he wants to save Jesse. I predict the two will have a final showdown, guns drawn, neither able to pull the trigger, with tears in their eyes and love in their hearts, only for Walt to take the ricin in a suicidal act, as Jesse starts fresh in New Zealand like he once promised Jane — perhaps as a father figure to Brock?

Depending how twisted the writers are, Skyler and Flynn could meet a gruesome fate. Remember, as Walt and Flynn watched “Scarface” (1983) in an earlier episode, Flynn laughs, “Man, everyone dies in this!” Was this foreshadowing? Was Todd’s ski-mask warning more than an empty threat? If Skyler and Flynn are in fact killed, expect it to happen in the backyard swimming pool. Gilligan has been setting this up for a while, from Flynn puking in the pool, to Skyler taking a catatonic walk into the deep end. Were these signs of their final resting place? And if so, maybe Marie gets custody of Holly after all?

Of course, all this is just a guess. Vince Gilligan usually has something else up his sleeve.

What do you think will happen?

Season 5, Episode 14: “Ozymandias”

When we look back on the entirety of “Breaking Bad” in a few years, I have a feeling we’ll remember Season 5, Episode 14 as one of the most memorable. Not only were the directing choices clever and the performances powerful, the writing tied up so many key loose ends.

Tying Loose Ends: A number of fuses have been burning for a while that finally exploded this episode. Walt’s sins have finally visited upon his own family with Hank’s death, foreshadowed brilliantly in Episode 13 and executed flawlessly in Episode 14. Gomez is a goner. Marie is a widow. Flynn is finally clued in on his parent’s dirty deeds, tossing aside his crutches to protect a mother against a father he’s falsely sided with all along. We’ve also learned just how much drug money Walt has saved: $80 million. And most shocking, Walt has finally revealed to Jesse that he was the one who killed Jane, lighting a new fuse that will likely lead to a final showdown between Walt and Jesse.

Power Performances: Dean Norris went out in style with his own moral code, a touch of colorful language and a reminder of just how much Hank’s character has grown since the jock of Season One. Bryan Cranston convinced us that his world came crashing down as Walter White crumpled to the ground, then channeled his inner Heisenberg with a severe turn to the dark side, only to offer a glimpse of hope (more in a minute). Betsy Brandt has miraculously made the once-kleptomaniac Marie sympathetic, switching from purple to a widow’s black to say, “Everything changes now.”

RJ Mitte stepped up and delivered Flynn’s disbelief after having his world shattered, a realization that was a long time coming. And Anna Gunn stole the show, trembling with so much riding on three words – “Where is Hank?” – then grabbing a kitchen knife to face down the monster, dropping to her knees in their suburban street, covered in her husband’s blood, screaming for her stolen child.

Directing Choices: This Skyler-Walt showdown was foreshadowed in the episode’s opening flashback. Active viewers should have noticed the low-angle shot of the kitchen knives early on, as Walt called Skyler to make a drug-related lie and Skyler suggested naming their daughter Holly. This comes to fruition when we return to the present day, repeating the same shot of the kitchen knives and the telephone, a reminder of the fate that existed the minute Walt started cooking.

The knife foreshadowing was just one of the many clever shots this episode. Note Skyler with the vertical jail-bar window blinds behind her as Marie says Hank arrested Walt. The low angle of Hank’s dead body being dragged screen left, revealing Walt in the background, visually implicating him in Hank’s death. The shot through a bullet-riddled car window like the last shot of “Bonnie and Clyde.” Walt turning his rearview mirror on the exact spot where Hank was killed. And, best of all, the extreme wideshot of the desert, as Walt, Jesse and their RV dissolve away, only for the Hank/Gomez shootout to dissolve back into the frame. This technique drives home the notion of fate, that the world exists independently of these characters, although the shot was sadly broken up by a commercial break.

Soundtrack: “Breaking Bad” has always been adept at layering its images with memorable song choices, and this episode was no exception. I loved the whistling tune as Walt rolls his money barrel across the desert like a tumbling tumbleweed: “Say goodbye to everyone, had a job a year ago, had a little home, now I’ve got no place to go, guess I’ll have to roam.” It instantly recalled “The Searchers” theme by Roy Rogers & The Sons of the Pioneers: “What makes a man to wander? What makes a man to roam? What makes a man leave bed and board and turn his back on home?” Blending the gangster and western genres, “Breaking Bad” has transformed Walt into an anti-hero drifter.

M.I.A. Perhaps the biggest feat was that such a compelling episode was done *without* Saul Goodman. Perhaps Bob Odenkirk was resting up for his AMC spinoff show, which is being billed as a prequel so as to not spoil Saul’s fate in the final two episodes of “Breaking Bad.” But Saul wasn’t the only one missing. Lydia was notably absent. One has to think she’ll make an appearance in Todd’s bizarre “Buffalo Bill” lair, where Jesse is chained to a wire and forced to cook meth while staring at a photo of Brock and Andrea. At first I wondered why Todd would need to keep Jesse cooking when his uncle’s crew just made off with $70 million of Walt’s money. The answer must be Lydia.

Cliffhangers/Predictions: Jesse’s capture leads me to believe that Walt will go guns blazing into Todd’s lair. Of course, Walt appears to despise Jesse at the moment, but the machine gun in the back of his trunk must be used for something. Will he muster up a father-figure forgiveness for Jesse, leading to a final one-on-one encounter? We may have gotten a hint at Walt’s soft spot in his phone call with Skyler, as police listen in. When you first watch the scene, it appears Walt is a raging lunatic, venting his frustrations at his wife. But when you watch it again, you start to wonder: did Walt purposely implicate himself to save Skyler’s skin? Did he just sacrifice himself by falling on the sword? And did Skyler catch on halfway through the conversation, playing along?

One thing feels increasingly certain: Walt’s days are numbered. As he rides into the distance – and a stray dog crosses the street – we assume Walt will die a lowly death among the dogs like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part III.” How will this happen? The machine-gun in Walt’s trunk? A suicidal dose of the ricin? The cancer cough that’s bound to return? We’re on the homestretch.

Jimmy Fallon’s “Joking Bad”

In case you missed it, here’s Jimmy Fallon’s clever spoof of “Breaking Bad.”

Season 5, Episode 13: “To’hajiilee”

Best Line: Each episode seems to bring a Tweetable hashtag. This time it was #flushhimout. This, of course, comes from Walt’s line about Jesse: “I don’t know where he is, but I know how to flush him out.” The “flushing out” is indicative of the episode’s biggest strength: the one up-manship between (a) Walt and (b) Hank/Jesse, who have formed quite the clever team.

Chess Match: This one up-manship begins where the last episode ended: Walt ordering Todd’s uncle to kill Jesse. It continues as Walt pays a visit to Brock and Andrea in an attempt to lure Jesse to his death. Hank returns serve by intercepting the voicemail and using a slab of bloody meat — and Jesse’s “playing dead” impression — to take a photo that suggests Jesse’s brains have been blown out all over the kitchen floor. Similarly, Hank takes another fake photo of what appears to be Walt’s money barrels uncovered, luring Walt to the very spot where they’re buried. In a stroke of genius, the chess match between Walt and Hank ultimately ends with neither of them being able to control the situation: the outside force of Todd’s crew rolling up for a shootout.

Best Shot: As you can see from Hank’s cellphone photos, carefully constructed images can be used to manipulate audiences. The same goes for the filmmakers of “Breaking Bad.” Once again, there are cool gimmicky shots, opening with a shot from the meth’s perspective as Lydia and company inspect its lack of “blueness,” and later looking up from the kitchen floor as Hank drops the slab of meat, appearing to stick to the camera lens. Still, my favorite shot is a bit of symbolic “mise-en-scene,” a fancy French word to describe all elements in the frame. It comes as Walt gets a phone call. Instead of a standard shot, we see him through the vertical blinds of the car wash window. This creates an illusion of “jail bars,” foreshadowing his ultimate arrest at the end of the episode.

Pop Culture Awareness: One of the great treats of “Breaking Bad” is looking for the references to other great works of TV and cinema, from Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) dying in a swimming pool. (In “Scarface,” he played the buddy of Tony Montana, who dies in a pool), to the oranges falling when Ted Beneke breaks his neck. In “The Godfather,” oranges often signal death). Episode 13 was no exception. The desert showdown was an orgy of western and gangster references. When Walt calls Jesse a coward, he might as well be calling him a “dirty, double-crossin’ rat” like Cagney in “Blonde Crazy” (1931) or calling Hank a “copper” like Cagney in White Heat” (1949). When Todd’s crew asks Hank and Gomez to show their (stinkin’) badges, it might as well be Bogart in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948). And the fact that Walt & Jesse’s drug journey begins and ends in the same desert spot was eerily reminiscent of “High Sierra” (1941), which begins and ends with Mount Whitney, where Bogart “rushes toward death.”

Full Circle: Many great works — particularly in the crime genre — have a circular effect, where a fatalistic force leads the gangster to meet his tragic end. Thus, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan is brilliant to have Walt and Jesse’s showdown happen in the same exact desert spot where the duo first cooked meth together. As Walt sits behind the rock, gun in hand, peering out at Jesse, Hank and Gomez, you’ll notice it’s the same spot where Jesse appeared at the beginning of the series. Walt asked, “Do you see anything?” Jesse replied, “Nah, just a bunch of cows.” The fact that it comes full circle both heightens the latest episode, and makes the early episodes richer upon repeat viewings.

Cliffhangers/Predictions: The episode-ending shootout between Hank/Gomez and Todd’s crew, as Jesse reaches for the door handle and Walt cowers in the backseat, will go down as one of the most thrilling cliffhangers of the entire series. The cut to black likely had folks screaming at the TV — in a good way. It certainly appears that Hank is done, due to his ominous final phone call with Marie, where she asks why there are brains in her trash can, and Hank saying he won’t be home for a while. If that turns out to be their last conversation, what a bittersweet and fitting goodbye. What makes his potential demise so beautiful is that he is allowed to taste momentary victory before the rug is pulled out. Gilligan and company allow Hank the pleasure of outsmarting Walt, handcuffing him and reading him his Miranda rights. So even if it’s time for this awesome character to go, we at least feel the closure of Hank finally getting his day in the sun — even if it’s his last.

Season Five, Episode 12: “Rabid Dog”

Coolest Shot: “Breaking Bad” directors love to place the camera where human eyes normally wouldn’t go. In this episode, we are placed everywhere from inside the ice machine, to inside the blue suction hose cleaning up Walt’s gas-soaked carpet. These shots are indeed flashy, but my favorite shot of the episode was much simpler. Did you notice the episode opened with a shot of a fire hydrant? And Walt’s car pulling *in front* of that hydrant, blocking it from view? Right there, in the opening shot, observant viewers would have known the outcome: Jesse will not burn down Walt’s house, because visually, Walt’s car has rendered the hydrant useless.

Shows like “Breaking Bad” — and others like “Mad Men” — are finally asking we, the viewers, to study the images not only for entertainment, but also for meaning in the great tradition of history’s best filmmakers. It’s a call for us to look closer and think deeper.

Biggest Surprise: While I fully expected someone to interrupt Jesse’s arson attempt, I was wrong in my prediction that it would be Flynn. While this would have set up a fascinating confrontation between Walt’s two “sons,” I was pleasantly surprised to see Hank barge in at the last second, gun drawn, to talk Jesse down. The exchange leads to something we haven’t seen all season: Jesse and Hank aligned with Jesse sleeping at Hank and Marie’s house, Jesse recording a counter confession video in their living room, and that great hallway shot of Marie asking Jesse whether he wants coffee.

Best Quote: The Jesse-Hank alignment also led to the best dramatic quote of the night: “You really want to burn him down? Let’s do it together.” Just like Episode 9 allowed us to tweet #treadlightly, this episode brought the hashtag #burnhimdown. Meanwhile, the funniest line of the night belonged to Saul Goodman, who showed Walt his battered face from Jesse’s attack last episode. As Walt cringes in shock, Saul spits a bit of his trademark sarcasm: “Yeah but you gotta understand, deep down he loves me.” What a great character Saul has become – a true writer’s dream.

Light & Shadow: This same scene allows for some fascinating use of light and shadow to visually enhance the dialogue. As Saul suggests Jesse has become the titular “rabid dog” that needs to be put down like “Old Yeller,” note that his entire face is cloaked in shadow. Walt is appalled, telling Saul, “Do not float that idea again.” Thus, his face is half-lit, showing that part of him has “broken bad,” but that part of him still wants to “break good” when it comes to Jesse (“Walt’s ruthless. He’ll do just about anything to protect his interests. I agree. Except when it comes to you. He cares about you. Can’t you see?”) This is how you visually tell a story, folks. Props to gaffer Steven Litecky and the grip and electric department, including Drew Louis of D.C.’s own American University.

Anything Goes: If one thing is certain from this shadow-filled car scene, we’re in the “dark days” of this television series. Everybody’s talking about whacking now. Saul suggests killing Jesse. Skyler wants to whack Jesse. (“We’ve come this far. What’s one more?”) Marie hints to her therapist that she wants to poison Walt. Hank is willing to sacrifice Jesse for a wiretap (“Pinkman gets killed, and we get it all on tape.”) Jesse thinks Walt is trying to whack him (getting spooked by a harmless father waiting to pick up his daughter), so he threatens to go after Walt’s family. And finally, Walt calls Todd saying he needs another favor from his uncle: presumably to kill Jesse.

Cliffhangers/Predictions: What did Jesse mean by hitting Walt “where he really lives?” Will Walt actually have Todd’s uncle kill Jesse? Where is Lydia in this whole thing? And what’s Hank’s next move, now that Jesse has aborted his wiretap plan? My long-shot prediction: Marie will take matters into her own hands, attempting to poison Walt, but inadvertently poisoning Holly or Flynn, the very niece and nephew she’s been trying to steal out of the White household.

And yet, such predictions are futile. While the situations seem oddly familiar – Walt lies straight to Skyler’s face with a simple “no” like Pacino to Keaton in the final scene of “The Godfather” – but we have no way of predicting where it’s going. This is the brilliance of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, who fits Jesse’s description of Walt in a warning to Hank and Gomez: “He is smarter than you. He is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact, reverse opposite of that is going to happen.”

Season Five, Episode 11: “Confessions”

Best Scene: Jesse calls BS on Walt’s suggestion that he run away with a new identity. After Walt’s giant pitch, Jesse asks, “Will you stop working me for just 10 seconds?” The scene works so well because Jesse not only calls out Walt, but Walt has a moment where he gives Jesse a fatherly embrace.

Having begun the scene with a tarantula making a 90-degree turn toward Jesse, we as viewers wonder whether Walt will kill Jesse during this emotional embrace, just like Walter Neff did when he offed Phyllis Dietrichson in “Double Indemnity” (1944), or whether this is actually a true bonding moment between the two. Beautifully conceived. Beautifully written. Beautifully acted.

Worst Scene: The opening sequence where Todd describes the train robbery to his neo-Nazi henchmen. I’m so ready for the Todd-Lydia storyline to be done. At this point, they’ve taken a backseat to the more immediate family drama and are only sticking around as convenient warm body targets for Walt to go out in a final blaze of glory. The longer they stick around, the longer they feel like an anti-climatic end to the list of past drug villains: Gus, Declan, Tuco; The Cousins; Don Eladio; and even Hector Salamanca. Time for Todd and Lydia to take a trip to Belize, perhaps with ricin in the tea she so consistently drinks with lipstick on the rim.

Biggest Surprise: Walt’s DVD confession. We were lead to believe that Hank’s interrogation of Jesse would be the episode’s namesake “Confessions,” when in reality, Jesse gives up nothing on Walt. Instead, Walt conspires with Skyler to tape a false confession, wherein he pins all the blame on Hank, pretending it was he who forced him to cook meth. This video has a ripple effect where Marie must reveal to Hank that she allowed Walter and Skyler to pay for his medical treatment.

Best Line: This episode had no real gems like “tread lightly” or “take a trip to Belize.” So instead, we’ll have to go with Marie’s impromptu line to Walt at the restaurant: “You have to kill yourself.”

Coolest Shot: While the final shot of Jesse dousing the camera in gasoline is certainly creative, it’s more of a trick shot. I prefer the symbolic to the gimmicky, so my vote for “coolest shot” came in the interrogation room, where the camera watched from a high angle through a metal grate. It may be slightly jarring to the viewer, but it creates the feeling of a Catholic confessional.

Cliffhangers/Predictions: Is Jesse the one who destroys Walt’s home? Is he the one who writes “Heisenberg” on the wall, bringing us to where we were during the season premiere? Or does something stop him? I predict next week will open with Jesse about to torch the place, only for Flynn to enter and have a face-to-face with Jesse, who reveals the truth to Flynn. How fitting would it be for Walt’s de-facto son (Jesse) to be the one to break the news to Walt’s real son (Flynn)?

Season Five, Episode 10: “Buried”

  1. Once again, Vince Gilligan and team provide an amazing opening scene filled with slow disclosure. An old man leaves his home and starts his truck, only to find a wad of cash sitting in his driveway. He notices his next door neighbor has a wad of cash as well. He continues down the street to find numerous cash bundles and “follows the money” into a park, where a car has crashed with a whole bag full of cash inside. This, of course, is the “blood money” from the previous episode, and reminded me a bit of Bill Paxton and Billie Bob Thornton stumbling across the money in the crashed plane in “A Simple Plan” (1998). Immediately, we cut to a low-angle shot that reveals Jesse spinning around a merry-go-round. From here, we cut to the coolest shot of the entire episode: a high-angle looking down on the merry-go-round, rotating along with it. Cut to the opening credits. Boom. We’re hooked.
  2. After this engaging opening, Jesse is absent for most of the episode. In fact, he has barely spoken the past two episodes, wandering around in an almost catatonic state. This has allowed Aaron Paul to showcase his acting skills by “showing” rather than “telling.” He must express his thoughts via his face, rather than hilarious “yo” dialogue. By the time Jesse returns at the end, we appear to be on the cusp of a major revelation from Jesse to Hank that could break the case wide open. Will he rat out Walt?
  3. The comic relief worked much better this week, with Saul Goodman’s two henchmen lying on the stack of money in the storage locker, Scrooge McDuck style. This pop culture laugh is both shorter and sweeter than last week’s “Star Trek” rant by Badger and Skinny Pete. And it’s used to move the story forward, as Saul’s henchmen fetch the money for Walt and Saul to load into the truck. This brings more laughs at Saul’s law office, as Saul not-so-casually suggests “sending Hank off to Belize” just like Mike. Walt sounds appalled, stressing that Hank is family. But then again, so was Fredo. He was a brother, not a brother-in-law. Luca Brasi may sleep with the fishes, but Hank may be en route to Belize.
  4. This week’s episode featured two crucial desert sequences, employing the New Mexico desert as an equal character to any human in the story. The scene with Lydia in the underground meth lab is expertly crafted, as gunfire rings out above and bullet shells drop down into the lab below. As Todd helps Lydia back up to the surface, she covers her eyes to the carnage that we viewers are allowed to see. The second desert sequence is, of course, Walt burying the money. This features the episode’s second coolest shot, where the camera is actually attached to one of the cash barrels, spinning down into the pit as Walt buries it. The lens flares, covered-head wardrobe and music combine to paint Walt like his own form of “Lawrence of Arabia,” sweltering in the desert sun, perfectly setting up his passing out from exhaustion as he returns home.
  5. The warning to “tread lightly” pays off in a big way as the various characters learn of Walt’s transgressions. The scene between Hank and Skyler at the restaurant is powerful, featuring competing goals as Hank wants to get Skyler to confess on tape, while Skyler wants to flee out of fear of being arrested. This builds to an even more powerful scene between Skyler and Marie, as the two sisters sit on Skyler’s bed. As Marie asks how far back Skyler knew about Walt’s double life, a teary-eyed Skyler can barely speak. When Marie realizes her sister was hiding the secret *before* Hank was shot by the cartel, she realizes her own sister has put her husband’s life in danger. This earns a well-deserved slap to the face and an intense tug-of-war with Skyler’s baby, where viewers hold their breath, worrying the child will drop. The reason all this works so intensely is because the filmmakers have so successfully built up all the lies over past seasons. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, we have a wave of emotions to experience with the very characters who were in the dark for so long.

Where will it go from here? A teaser photo from the post-show “Talking Bad” shows Walt and Skyler sitting at a Mexican restaurant. Their table has two empty chairs just waiting to be filled. It could very well be Flynn and their baby. But I’m salivating with the hope that it’s Walt, Skyler, Hank and Marie, finally getting everything out in the open, speaking in hushed tones and constantly interrupted by the waiter. Could ricin enter the guacamole? Check please.

Season Five, Episode 9: “Blood Money”

  1. The opening was a textbook example of “Slow Disclosure,” gradually revealing new information while posing new visual questions. We start off with skateboard wheels on what appears to be a skate park. What is this? A wideshot reveals it’s actually the empty pool of Walt and Skyler’s abandoned house. We then see a car pull up. Who’s in the car? It’s Walt, with beard grown out. He opens his trunk. What’s inside? A machine gun. He enters the house. What does he see? The word “Heisenberg” spray painted on the wall. Why is Walt here? To retrieve ricin from the electric socket. Who does he intend to poison? This is the question we’re left with as Walt accidentally runs into his neighbor. Her ghost-white face makes us wonder what Walt has done to invite such terror. Cut to the opening credits. Now *that’s* slow disclosure.
  2. The show effectively answers last year’s cliffhanger: Hank’s discovery of Walt’s double life via Gale Boetticher’s “Leaves of Grass” book on Walt’s toilet (“W.W.” = Walter White). The cat-and- mouse between Walt and Hank is brilliantly executed. In a stylized directorial approach, we linger outside the bathroom door, then plunge inside Hank’s head, as his vision blurs and Marie’s voice fades (she still wears purple, by the way). We get some blatant audience hand- holding as Hank pieces together the mystery in his garage, but the montage serves to cover the time lapse. A chemo drip reveals that Walt’s cancer is back with zero dialogue needed, and his vomiting allows him to discover the book is missing from his toilet. This leads to his discovery of Hank’s GPS tracking device on his car. Rather than see Hank plant it, we’re allowed to discover it along with Walt, adding to the surprise. This is the key: watching Walt and Hank interact, without always knowing how much the other knows.
  3. The supporting characters are each given time to shine, from Skyler telling off Lydia at the car wash, to Saul Goodman offering his usual legal zingers. Badger and Skinny Pete also are given a comedy attempt with a “Star Trek” rant, but this flops as the weakest part of the episode. As their banter drags on, Jesse bails out of boredom — like we wanted to do minutes earlier.
  4. Jesse appears almost catatonic the entire episode, showing his internal moral conflict and his desire to “break good.” His Good Samaritan gestures show just how far his character has come, discarding blood money out his car window like a paperboy. Speaking of Jesse, did you notice the receptionist reading a travel magazine as Jesse waited for Saul? I have a hunch this will foreshadow Jeese’s ultimate trip to New Zealand, as he once promised Jane.
  5. After years of build up, the climax between Walt and Hank does not disappoint. It’s the fulfilling culmination of Hank’s ongoing quest to nab Heisenberg, and Walt’s ongoing quest to evade the law. I would have preferred the episode to have ended with the image of the garage door closing (instead it closes seconds earlier), but the final line was both chilling and instantly tweetable: “Tread Lightly.” Your move, Hank.

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