Breaking Bad: "End Times" - Pinkman's Law

The final sequence of “End Times” echoed the final scene of “Crawl Space” last week: a plan imploded at the last minute, Walt crumbling in on himself, visual stillness assaulted by aural dissonance. But whereas in “Crawl Space” the staging was intentionally (and effectively) showy, something about the coda to “End Times” felt, in retrospect, a bit … forced is the wrong word, more like you could see the wiring inside the machine. What’s the reason, for instance, for Gus’s Fring-sense to start tingling just out of reach of his car, and what does he glean from staring into the beautiful but blank ABQ afternoon before deciding to double back? Obviously you don’t get to where Gus is without being able to sniff out a trap, and if this moment had come in the middle of the season it might not have nagged at me after the fact. In the final minutes of the penultimate episode though, it’s hard not to see it as a bit of a stall.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t tense as hell, just that I need to see how it pays off. Same with the Mystery of the Missing Ricin, for which both Jesse’s and Walt’s theories seem suspect. The simpler explanation—that Brock snuck one of Jesse’s cigs, as adolescent boys are wont to do—would still fall squarely within the logic of a show where bad shit sometimes happens because bad people are constantly creating opportunities for tragedy to take hold.

Either way, it fits into the more important picture of how deeply psychologically ravaged these people have become, how wracked by pain and paranoia and guilt and mortal fear that their first instinct in everything is to see the machinations of an enemy—even when the definition of “enemy” is so protean. Neither of them can be expected to think clearly at this stage. They just react.

The tragedy that propels “End Times” is fittingly gut-wrenching, because of the skill with which Breaking Bad links everything together. Jesse’s return to a slice of domestic ease with Andrea and Brock last week was something of a revelation, considering how far back from the brink he'd managed to pull himself. That reintroduction of Jesse’s reluctant family had fantastic weight in its moment, but it also reminded us that he, too, has ties to the world, and that makes him vulnerable.

A threat to those ties is  the one thing that could force him back into a room with Walt. Whether that threat stems from Gus’s meticulous scheming or just wretched cosmic misfortune is beside the point. Jesse is caught between two men he sincerely believes capable of poisoning a child just to hurt him, and that existence is untenable. He’s got to change it or end it, and he doesn’t really care which.

So he’s back on Walter’s side…and strangely, so are we. Since his heart-to-heart with Junior, he’s been grasping for moral purchase, and at least earns credit for his last ditch effort to keep his family safe by essentially severing ties with them. Even as Walter pushes back against one original sin (cowardice), he also embraces another (need for control) in the martyr-like posture he assumes with Skyler. Yet Bryan Cranston is so phenomenal, mustering as much emotion as Walt's still capable of through that reedy voice and ravaged face, that his goodbyes to Skyler and Holly and even Hank win you over in spite of everything.

Of course, the show can’t turn us against Walt irrevocably with 16 episodes remaining, but it’s stunning how skillfully Breaking Bad manages to whiplash the audience’s sympathies over the course of a season, and the series. For a long stretch in the middle of the year, it was both totally reasonable and completely illogicalto be on Team Fring, and to long to see Walt’s awful comeuppance already. Now the tables have turned again—as Lisa Simpson might say, this time Walt’s the lesser of two evils.

 

Other notes:

  • Let's just rename Murphy's Law as Pinkman's Law and get it over with, shall we?
  • If Gus is responsible for poisoning Brock, I find it even more interesting that this goes down with Mike out of commission. Mike’s not a good man, but he is the father of a young child himself. Might he have counseled against it if he was around?
  • Saul’s getting the hell out of Dodge, and it’ll be a shame if he isn’t on the scene at all in season five, just to provide a few scraps of levity amidst the chaos. Poor Saul. He had a nice, steady little criminal operation going before he met Walter White. You gotta feel for the guy.
  • “There’s got to be another way.” “There isn’t. There was. But now there isn’t.”
  • “Because this isn’t Nazi Germany?”
  • “Someone didn’t like the way I’ve been spending my free time.” “What, minerals?”
  • “’Honey Tits.’ I say it’s endearing!”
  • “What am I, if not family?”
  • “I have been waiting all day for Gus to send one of his men to kill me. And it’s you.”
  • “I’m going to do this one way or another, Mr. White.” “Then let me help.”
  • “It is, as you must know, in both of our best interests.”

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