by: Michael Shields w/ Chris Thompson
In this weeks episode of Breaking Bad we hunker down with Hank and Gomez during their final stand……
Walt did the math. In order to provide for his family he would have to earn $737,000. That was it. Once obtained, this generous sum would provide for his family beyond him, and he was to be out the game, never to cook again. The last time we heard this number mentioned was in a telling conversation with Jesse, one in which Walt let him in on the fact that he was once on the ground floor of a business that would go on to be worth billions (Gray Matter). And, he went on explaining cock-sure and without mincing any words, Walt was in a position to rectify his loses (and his ego), as he was now in the “Empire Business.” $737,000 would no longer be enough.
From the moment Skyler learned of Walt’s felonious business venture, he has pleaded to her time and again ((“IFT”, “Buried”)) that “all of the sacrifices that I have made for this family will be for nothing if you don’t accept what I’ve earned.” It has, from day one, always been about the money.
So, when Jesse ((“Timmy Dipshit there” – Gomez)) mentioned his plans to get Walt where he “really lives”, it was easy to assume he had a plan that revolved around those 7 barrels of money Walt buried in the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation, at Cow’s House Hill – the exact location where Walt and Jesse cooked their first batch of crystal meth together (Full Circle!). But how? The revelation of how, and the ingenious plan concocted by Jesse and Hank ((I love how it took the unlikely partnership of Jesse and Hank to finally talk Walt down. Jesse knew his weakness (“I know some evidence this greedy asshole won’t destroy.”), and Hank got Huell to spill about the barrels and the van, and also fabricated the picture of the money and Jesse’s brains.)) to pull one over on the great Heisenberg ((“In this episode, Heisenberg has been out-Heisenberged for the first time in history” -Vince Gilligan)) was only a fraction of what made “To’hajiilee” one of the most memorable and important episodes of Breaking Bad yet.
We can not get to it all. There are countless moments in “To’hajiilee” ((Written by the great George Mastras, who wrote “Hermanos”, “Crawl Space”, AND “Dead Freight”, and directed by the incomparable Michelle MacLaren.)) that we could dig into with zest. We could uncomfortably speak about Todd’s seduction of Lydia or his “She Blinded Me with Science” ringtone. We could chuckle as we recount Hank molding Huell like putty in his hand or Walt. Jr’s celebrity run in with Saul ((Was that our final “better call Saul”?)). We could probe thoroughly the meaning behind Brock’s knowing glare, his mad-dogging of Walt ((Kids just know when someone is off – and this moment makes me wonder how Walt administered the poison berries. It is very unlike Breaking Bad to not share that moment.)), or we could recall the tension as Walt rockets through town towards the desert as Jesse unmercifully taunts him (“Fire in the hole, bitch!”), a magical, action-packed scene shot so that we, the viewer, were fully in the know Walt was being played. But, it is more important to give due time to the pivotal moment in Breaking Bad history where Hank – for a moment – captured his white whale.
“Walter White, you have the right to remain silent. Everything you do and say can be used against you in a court of law.” Thus begins the words that we as an audience have been waiting five seasons to hear. The words that tell us that Hank Schroeder, DEA Agent extraordinaire, has finally captured Heisenberg.
There are few scenes in television and movies that stick with us more than when our hero has been captured by his nemesis, and in this weeks episode Vince Gilligan provides us with another stunning example of this fact. In an astonishing about face, we see Walter White marching to his fate, burdened by his sense of morality, instead of trying to engineer his escape above all costs.
In this moment we see Walter vulnerable, fully defeated and broken. The chilling silence, and pain, are deafening as he cowered behind a rock searching his soul for the only answer he could live with. It was finally over. Ozymandias ((The title of the upcoming episode.)), within arms reach of his buried treasures, shedding a tear as his empire falls apart around him. Never in his life has he been this impotent.
Walt, succumbing to his fate, and allowing himself to be captured is in sharp contrast to the man we have come to know. Every time Walter has had to engineer his escape, there has been a moral line that he has had to cross. We’ve seen it repeatedly throughout the show, from how he managed to kill Krazy 8 and Gus Fring, to allowing Jane to perish, to how he was able to manipulate Jesse to murder Gale, and ultimately, to poisoning a child. In every instance Walter crossed a line, a line that he could not return from, and in that manner he became just a little bit more Heisenberg.
Yet in this weeks episode, we find Walt unable to cross that line. He could not allow his brother-in law to be killed. Things have gone too far and for once his moral code takes a backseat to his pride and desire to win. The thought of killing Hank is just too much. He’s family, no matter what (Jesse resides in a gray area, he’s “like” family). Walt has reached his limit, he’s been finally pushed to the end, but unfortunately for Walt, Todd’s uncle Jack, and his Aryan Nation Brothers are willing to cross that line for him, especially now that Walt has promised them a cook ((Did Walt really think a simple “don’t come” would change Todd’s uncles mind? There was no way they were going to sit idly by. It had been established earlier in the episode how important it is for Walt to get Todd up to speed. “Blue is our brand.” – Lydia We later heard Skyler explain to Jr. the importance of branding.)). And as the episode wound down and the gunshots began to fly, we are left with a foreboding sense that Hank is not very long for this Earth.
From the very moment “To’hajiilee” began, it seemed like it was a send-off episode for Hank. He was his regular old self, cheeky and filled with swagger. Confident and in high-spirits. No longer so pensive or quiet and slinking around in the dark. Following a tender moment between Hank and his good buddy Gomez ((Gomie honoring Hank with the reading of the rights is akin to him saying: “You have been right about everything.”)), there was an air of finality to his phone call to Marie. It was heartbreaking, evil in its foreshadowing ((“I’m much better now” – Marie “I gotta go, may be awhile before I get home. I love you.” – Hank “I love you too.” – Marie)). Hank shared in his victory with Marie finally putting her at ease. It doesn’t matter that the feelings are short lived, because when Hank strapped those handcuffs on Walt and read him his rights he had truly won. His conscious was clear and all their suffering was not in vain (What better way to go out?). A special moment shared between them that when it was finished, you were poised for something awful to happen to him. And in rolls the Neo-Nazis…… ((As Walt Walt was forced to watch, powerlessly, as his own worst-laid plans unraveled before him. How fitting.))
What is funny, and kind of unfathomable at this point, is that within “To’hajiilee” we witnessed two unexpected redeemable moments for Walt. First, he made it stringently clear to Jack, Todd, and the rest of the Aryan brotherhood that Jesse was not a rat ((Funny that he turned out to be just that – a rat – something that disgusted Walt completely as Walt has fully accepted himself as a criminal, and criminals don’t talk to the DEA. Not only is he a rat, but Walt calls him a “coward”)). And secondly, he chose to not let Hank die. Instead he had to ultimately decide between killing himself or submitting finally to handcuffs. This suggests that maybe we will end up, once again, sympathizing with Walt throughout the final 3 episodes, one of the great tricks Vince Gilligan and his team repeatedly play on us. Then again, we are talking about the man who is responsible for landing Hank, Gomez, and Jesse in the midst of an epic wild west shootout, one that they are unlikely to walk away from ((Jesse’s hand motioning slowly for the handle of Walter’s car door does suggest he is going to get away in the fog of gunfire. Hank and Gomez on the other hand……)). Batten down the hatches, bullets are flying and there remains only a triumphant trilogy of episodes left. The end is upon us…..