Spoiler Alert: Do no read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad Season 5, Ep. 14 – “Ozymandias”.
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.' - Percy Bysshe Shelly, “Ozymandias”
The poem that gives this episode its name, “Ozymandias”, tells the story of a powerful pharaoh that built monuments to his greatness, but time and misfortune have turned those monuments to ruins. It’s a warning to all those that aim to build empires; even the strongest will fall and be forgotten.
Last year Walter White explicitly stated he was in the empire business and tonight he watched that empire crumble to the ground.
The episode began with a flashback to Walt and Jesse’s first cook, the beginning of the empire; in the exact same spot where it would all come crashing down. Walt had chosen that spot to hide his money for sentimental and perhaps even egotistical reasons. It was his own private monument to what he had created; seven barrels of cash, which was all he had to show for everything he’s done.
And now it’s gone. He’s left with a tiny fraction of what he had (which is still quite a lot and more than enough to live a fuller life than what he has left).
And Jesse has become a living monument, not to Walt’s success, but to the destruction he has caused along the way. In a moment of bitter outrage and blaming Jesse for Hank’s death (because God forbid he take any of the blame) he hurt Jesse with the only card that even Walt has had too much of a conscious to play before; the truth about Jane. It visibly crushed him and while his bruised and battered body is a physical representation of the damage Walt has caused to everyone in his orbit, Jesse’s defeated psyche is an even greater testament to Walt’s power.
It’s not a monument to be proud of, but it’s all he has left. And in the end it’s the only way he will be remembered, by the people he has left broken.
In a way, it took Hank being killed (which was one of the most intense death scenes I’ve ever seen on television) to reminWalt why he started this mess in the first place: his family. Unfortunately the shock of seeing his brother-in-law killed meant that it manifested in the same manic, controlling way its been happening for the last few seasons. He attempted to bully Skyler and Walt Jr. into being “protected” by him, which resulted in a tense fight over a knife and his son calling the cops on him. So he kidnapped his own daughter and hit the road with a barrel full of cash.
But Holly’s cries for her mother finally, finally awoke Walt to see what he had become. He saw that his desire to protect his family had put them in harm’s direct path, had gotten his brother-in-law killed, and left nothing but shattered people in his wake. So he put on his Heisenberg mask for one last ditch effort to save the family he had already destroyed.
I’ll admit, my hatred of Walt runs so deep that it took until my second viewing to see his phone call for the protective measure it was. His words were too spot on to the man we all know he truly is, they were too close to being verbatim the kind of hatred spewed against Skyler in countless comment threads around the internet.
But by saying those words, thoughts he’s clearly had before though never vocalized or actually accepted as rational, he absolved Skyler of any involvement. He played the part of Heisenberg, the ruthless drug kingpin who would never need his wife to help him in any illegal activity, convincingly enough for the police he knew were listening that they would focus all of their efforts on him and hopefully not notice his wife’s involvement.
It’s a risky move and not one that’s guaranteed to work, but he played it anyway. The man who got into the dug business to save his family knowingly used his last conversation with his wife to call her a bitch. Thankfully, I think Skyler knew what Walt was trying to do, but he’ll never be sure that she did and he’ll have to live with that for the rest of the time he has left.
When Breaking Bad began it was another anti-hero story, but they took that trope to the very edge and made the protagonist an out and out villain. Now they’ve seemingly done the impossible and made us care about him again. From everyman, to king, to fugitive.
At the end of “Ozymandias” Walt was taking the out Jesse turned down and starting a new life, but we know that in a few months time he’ll be back in New Mexico armed to the hilt with an apparent score to settle. Is he trying to save Jesse? Do Todd and his creepy uncle’s gang go after Skyler and the kids they way they’re threating Andrea and Brock to force Jesse into cooking? Will Marie make good on her desire to see Walt die? Only two more episodes to find out.
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