by: Michael Shields
“Tagging trees is a lot better than chasing monsters……”
I took some time recently to delve into the connection between Breaking Bad and Walt Whitman (which you can find right here). Thus it surprised me little when I was informed that the title of episode 8, the mid-season cliff-hanger of Breaking Bad’s conclusive season, was christened….’Gliding Over All’…which is a Whitman poem1:
“Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul–not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.”
The “Death, many deaths I sing” line is a haunting allusion to the many deaths we indeed witnessed2 as blood was generously splattered over prison floors, walls, and jumpsuits3 before finally resting on Walt’s hands as he did, once again, what needed to be done.
Everything matters in Breaking Bad. Attention to detail is one of the most appealing aspects of the show. So, when Todd mentions in what appears to be a passing act of desperation — in the episode entitled ‘Buyout’ — that his uncle has connections in jail (and Mike confirmed it was true) that is relevant. You are assured that will come into play. That is how Breaking Bad works; it’s a scientific process. And that connection allowed Walt to do some housekeeping, make a decision, as he is the only vote left. Because of this detail orientated precision we know when we later see Walt put the ricin he had with him during his meeting with Lydia back in the electrical socket for another day we can all be assured that that day will eventually come.
Walt appeared, from the very onset of the episode4, to be contemplative. Maybe the murder of Mike, and the fact that he realized it was unnecessary, did something to him, and thus we see him sitting in thought before Mike ends up on the wrong side of the barrel. He later calmly considers the painting in the Hotel Hacienda during the planning for the prison murders, a painting we have seen before during a therapy session after Walt’s “fugue state”5. We then see him pool-side in a deep meditative state6 prior to Skyler cunningly giving him even more to chew on.
Objects breathe in Breaking Bad. They are essentially characters that become part of the story. The paper towel dispenser Walt bullied in ‘Four Days Out’ returned in this episode reminding both Walt and us of earlier times, and further gave him perspective7. And just as a shot of a plant meant so very much to the end of Season 4, now the mere cover of a book has become Breaking Bad legend8. The inscription within it damning to Gale’s “other favorite W.W”.
To my other Favorite
It’s an honor working with you
It appears that Walt is in a much better place with both Jesse and Skyler, for now. Jesse’s fear of Walt –9 as he knows what Walt has just done – lead to their most pleasant interchange of the season10, reminiscing over the early days cooking in the crystal ship11. I was almost as relieved as Jesse when Walt finally did the right thing and paid him12. Skyler’s visual appeal to Walt’s sensibility appeared to not fall upon deaf ears. It seems as if she finally found a way to get through to him. We even saw a glimpse into what could be as “normality” showed it’s elusive face in the White household as the episode waned…but the truth is this momentary group hug won’t last long as Hank will return to that patio a changed man.
I find myself in awe of this show, time and time again. As Hank returns from work to Walt’s strategically-timed presence they have a conversation I won’t soon forget. Hank speaks of a Forestry job he once had, and how he wished he savored it more as times we’re so much simpler then (He just wanted to make money to buy beer). It was a telling, heartbreaking scene as Hank was a shattered man at that point. After he unwittingly calls Walt a monster to his face Walt responds by coyly mentioning “I used to love to go camping”. Levity is then gloriously lifted as we cut smoothly to Walt zipping-up his lab yellow’s and walking into an indoor tent to do what he does best. Just incredible. And what’s more insane is that Vince and the gang found a way to powerfully conclude an episode with something so subtle as a man picking up an inscribed book (One that was foreshadowed for YEARS!!). This is nothing short of sorcery.
Some of this week’s most memorable lines:
“There is no WE Jesse” – Heisenberg
“We’re going to make a lot of money together” – Lydia
“Whacking Bin Laden wasn’t this complicated” – Todd’s Uncle
“I certainly can’t launder it, not with 100 car washes” / “How much is enough, how big does the pile have to be?” – Skyler
“I’m out” -Walt
Business was booming13. Lydia, and her incredible knack for self preservation and general awkwardness, even found a way for Walt to get his product to the Czech Republic’s 500,000 meth-heads eager for a better high. Walt’s empire, the business he claimed to be in, was now fully formed. He had accomplished all he set out to do, even growing to a point that Gus had yet to – international markets.
Season death count (thus far): 12
The game has changed, completely. When we return to Breaking Bad next summer for the final 8 episodes of this already legendary series we are returning to a very different world……a world where both Walt and Jesse want out of the game 14, where Mike is no longer, and where – most importantly – Hank knows that the man he has broken bread with and shared countless drinks with is the monster he is looking for. Hanks knows that Walt is Heisenberg.
Walt has spent all season solidifying his position, building his team and empire, and harvesting power. His continued sloppiness, a direct result of his arrogance, has caused a transfer of power he undoubtedly did not see coming. And a turn of the page has put the the ball in Hank’s court now….
Morality and the forces that challenge it are going to be put back in the forefront during the rest of our journey as one man’s duty to society (his life work – his obsession) is pitted against his very own family. Walt is not only Hank’s brother-in-law but also one of his best friends. Skyler, who is neck deep in this and will certainly be held accountable if this all hits the fan, is his wife’s sister whom he cares for very much. And his niece and nephew, who he too loves, will surely suffer with Heisenberg’s demise. Hank has a very heavy cross to bear, and many decisions to make 15. We are merely half-way through the season and we are perfectly set up for a wild ride next summer. Walt was right when he jokingly told Hank “You got me”16. Now what does Hank do with this information? This is what it all comes down to……
On multiple occasions I have compared Walter White to Vader in asking the question: Is there still good left in him? In ‘Gliding Over All’ it is implied that the answer may actually be yes. If this is the case we will be entering a fascinating final chapter to this saga. Walter White has always been at his best when the wrong he is doing is for a right (for those he loves). If the vile acts he is committing, acts such as purchasing automatic weapons in a diner, are done for reasons other than vanity then maybe, just maybe, we can once again root for him17.
It would be remiss to not discuss this half of a season as a whole. I was initially taken back by the aggressive nature of the story lines throughout the season as they seemed so bold. The magnets and the train heist were a lot to accept. But in hindsight I am way off on that as both were handled with care and were thrilling. The truth is the entire concept is outrageous as a whole but it is written, shot, and acted so impressively that it materializes as a realistic storyline — turning a simple chemistry teacher into a murdering kingpin. But it has always been about spectacle, and this season thus far is no different. In a recent Rolling Stone interview Vince Gilligan spoke on this saying: “We’re obsessed with coming up with moments that people won’t soon forget….and sometimes they border on the operatic or perhaps on the hyper-real, if not surreal. It’s all about showmanship.” Breaking Bad has given us countless moments, visuals, we will never forget….Krazy 8 with a bike lock around his neck, Tortuga’s head on a tortoise, Gus fixing his tie with half a face, etc., etc., etc.. Showmanship indeed, and after Sunday night’s finale we can add a prison murder montage, a stack of money, and a book to Breaking Bad’s rich lore of “moments that people won’t soon forget”.
In closing I think it is important to look ahead and we do this by looking back. In episode 1 of this season (‘Live Free or Die’) we see Walt in a Denny’s, alone and looking rugged. It’s his birthday. He continues the family tradition of writing his age on his breakfast plate in bacon, something Skyler used to do for him. His age is 52. Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ Part 52 is well known……and in it’s words may lie some clue of what is yet to come…….
Song of Myself, Part 52
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains
of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
To be continued….
- Part of ‘Leaves of the Grass’ [↩]
- In a montage set to Nat King Cole’s ‘Pick Yourself Up’ [↩]
- 10 men across 3 prisons in 2 minutes [↩]
- With a early nod to the ‘Fly’ episode, one of the most undervalued and telling episodes of Breaking Bad whose significance is so profound that it requires an article onto its very own [↩]
- One of his first great lies, in the episode ‘Bit by a Live Bee’ [↩]
- Walt’s pool, to many, represents the American Dream [↩]
- I will just go ahead and say it….I believe the cancer is back. Not only does the shot of the dispenser make me think this but also the change of heart that followed [↩]
- Which we see early in the episode as well while Walt showers [↩]
- Possibly Aaron Paul’s greatest singular scene of acting, ‘Problem Dog’ not withstanding [↩]
- For the viewer, Jesse was not in a good place [↩]
- “We had money. Why’d we keep it? Why’d we have to have the world’s shittiest RV?” [↩]
- Walt’s power was highlighted once again as the words “I left something for you” rattled with the resonance of a kiss of death [↩]
- The second great montage of the episode – set to Tommy James and the Shondells’ apt ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ [↩]
- I wonder what Declan thinks of this change of heart – an intriguing story line is bound to develop here [↩]
- How bad will he look at work if the rest of the DEA finds out the truth [↩]
- First seen in the episode entitled ‘Bullet Points’, and then again last night [↩]
- I do realize I am speaking of a man who just had 10 people viciously killed – but Breaking Bad will do that to you [↩]