Follow our Season 5 TV Talk of Breaking Bad here.
Breaking Bad aired its last episode of the year, the mid-season finale "Gliding Over All." As we'll have to wait many excruciating months for the next episode to air, Henri, Devin and Meredith are all chiming in for one mega-TV Talk of this incredible episode. Join the conversation in the comments!
It's the last episode of the first half of the first season, and we open with a close up shot of a fly hanging out on the desk lamp at the Vamonos offices. Clearly this is a reference back to season three's"bottle episode, "Fly." Some people love that episode, others (myself included) found it to be one of the only episodes that was a little blah in the entire series. But however you felt about that particular break in the plot of season three, we can all remember that a fly in the lab means that we're sacrificing purity, and so we need to be obsessed with getting that fly out. The only question is... who is the fly now?
On camera, Todd walks into that scene first. He's there to help Walt with "this other thing," which happens to be disposing of Mike's body. But before they can get down to the now menial task of putting a body in a bucket and covering it with acid, Jesse shows up. He wants to talk about what they should do about the nine people on Mike's list, but Walt doesn't give a fuck.
"There is no we," he says. "I'm the only vote left. And I'll handle it."
Then we go to commercial. And we don't do this a lot here, but it's worth noting that in this first commercial break we get to see a personal plea from Bryan Cranston, who says hello and then says how proud he is that he gets to show us the first TV ad for Argo. Um... okay? But please, dude, don't go breaking the fourth wall and ruining my appreciation for your perfect performance as Walter White with this kind of thing again, okay? You lost your credibility when you talked about how awesome Total Recall was going to be. I know that's part of the job of being an actor, but still.
Anyway, back to the show.
Walt is in the shower. He grabs for his towel, and we see a seemingly innocent copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass."Hmm..." we think. "I wonder if that's important at all?" And some of us think back to when we last saw this book. But before we can get too carried away, we cut to:
Prison interrogation room! One of The 9 is going to talk! But Hank doesn't care, because it's a "buyer's market." Shwoo! That was a close one!
Meanwhile, Heisenberg goes to meet with Lydia, because he still wants those names that Mike totally died without giving him. Lydia instantly knows that Mike must be gone, because no way would he go along with this, and she worries that Walter Heisenberg would kill her as soon as she gave up the names so she comes up with this whole other plan to be useful - she can sell his drugs in the Czech Republic! Because that's what she does! And she was totally about to do that with Gus, but then someone killed him.
I have no idea if I actually believe her on this or not, but I think I'm leaning toward not. It feels a little too irresponsible for Fring, but then we don't really know how obsessed he was with empire building. Walt, of course, hears about a way to spread his kingdom further and is instantly into it. And that turns out to be a good thing for Lydia, because he had brought his ricin with him and hidden it under his Heisenberg hat. He may have teased her about it, but he totally WAS planning on killing her right there in that restaurant once he had the names he needed to clean up his other loose ends.
We see that ricin, then we get another commercial break. And I swear this is the last time I bring up ads during this show, but during this break we saw that super awkward Ciroc ad featuring Aaron Paul hanging out in Vegas with a bunch of hip hop moguls impersonating the Rat Pack. And man... as much as I can imagine that there are a few people out there who still admire P. Diddy (or whatever his name is now) and think it's cool to drink vodka that he drinks in TV commercials, those people can't have a huge crossover with Aaron Paul fans, can they? I mean, I'm glad that Aaron got the payday and everything, but I can't imagine the Ciroc target demographic and the Breaking Bad fan base overlapping AT ALL. Sure, their marketing department can chalk up this paragraph to another "mention" that gives them "impressions" and everything, but I'm only going to remember the brand Ciroc in case I go to a bar with no other vodka on the list so I can remember that I need to have a whiskey instead of a vodka martini that night.
And now, back to our show.
Walt puts the ricin back into the electrical outlet, and we see him push in the night stand that covers it from a shot in the mirror. Watching that I couldn't help but wonder if Skyler has set up any sort of surveillance in their bedroom, and thought that maybe she'd find the ricin and use it against Walt. And if she doesn't have any sort of hidden "nanny cam" thing going on, then I don't care how many arguments people online like to get into about how compelling her character is or isn't, she has totally earned whatever is coming to her. If your husband is a notorious meth dealer and you know that and you sleep in the same bed with him anyway because you're scared of him, you need to think about maybe going down to your local cheesy spy shop and getting some basic gear.
Walt doesn't think about that, though. He puts the ricin back, then he tells Todd that he's ready to meet his uncle. They hang out in what is either a back room at the Sons of Anarchy HQ or just a shitty motel somewhere, and we hear the white supremacist gang planning out a hit on The 9. It gets stressful for a minute, with the leader saying, "Taking out all these guys is doable. But in three separate jails, within two minutes? Whackin' Bin Laden wasn't this complicated."
But Heisenberg is in his full Steve Jobs mode again and tells him, "It can be done exactly how I want it. The only question is... are you the man to do it?" Then we get a nice tracking shot that cuts between the barbed wire on top of a fence at one of those prisons to the room divider in the White's residence. Then it's into one of the two big montages of this episode.
The first one is set to "Pick Yourself Up," which was apparently first composed for the 1936 movie Swing Time and then also quoted by Obama in his inauguration speech when he said, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." But I doubt that even Vince Gilligan was thinking about that when he added it into the show. It really just felt like they were referencing the sunny poppy tune that's all about starting over without a care. Still, it's a nice little shout out for the first episode after the RNC nonsense of the week, and the last before the election.
Of course, Walt doesn't pick himself up and try again in a feel good way - he has nine people murdered in two minutes, and then Hank finds out about it all while he's posing for a picture with a bunch of young athletic girls. He's not happy.
We cut to a commercial, but we don't need to talk about it this time.
When we come back, Walt is playing with Holly and seems to be in good spirits while the news is talking about the coordinated attack in different jails. Marie turns the TV off because Hank is coming home and in a bad mood, and Walt starts to get ready to go. But before he can, Hank offers him a drink, so of course Walt sticks around to see what Hank might say. After all, it's not like Walt was actually there to see his baby girl. Walt doesn't care about babies at all!
Hank pours some whiskeys and then starts talking about his summer job in college, ultimately coming to the conclusion that "tagging trees is a lot better than chasing monsters," and then we cut back to Walt, who looks at Hank a little disbelievingly, with eyes that tell us that he doesn't consider himself a monster at all. Then there's a super awkward match action cut that transitions us into a cook, and the next big montage of the episode.
This time it's set to Crystal Blue Persuasion, and can we please take a minute to ask ourselves why in the hell this song has never been used in this show before??? I mean, DUH. But then, I also wonder how long Gilligan and Co. have been saving it, and if this one maybe has some significance. For years when people asked Tommy James about that song and what sort of drug references he was making, James responded by saying, "Of course, everybody thinks if they don't understand what you're talking about it must be about drugs. But it wasn't. We were going through a real interesting time back then, and a very wonderful time. Everybody in the band, by the way, became Christian. And we're very proud of it. And 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' was sort of our way of saying that in a kind of pop record way." So is it reaching to think that maybe using this song while Walt is sending drugs to Europe and making an ass ton of money really is a method of foreshadowing that he's going to try to become a better man?
Who knows. At any rate, he makes a lot of money, and then we get an aerial shot of Albuquerque that shows how many bug tents have to go up in one neighborhood. Now I imagine that fans of great TV will sooner move to Bodymore, Murderland than the ABQ, because bugs are super gross and corner boys can just be avoided.
From there we see Skyler with the baby over at Marie's, and Marie starts talking about how maybe it's time that she takes the kids back because it's totally been three months. THREE MONTHS. So remember how much happened in that one year of everything else we've seen on this show? This season has taken us through 25% of that time. And apparently Skyler has just been letting her kids hang out in another house that entire time, too. Crazy. Marie is super nice to say, "Oh, no, we love your kids!" But seriously, my brother is about to have his first baby, and if he brought that thing over to my house and said, "See you in three months!" I'd say something like, "Just call child protective services, because I won't have your kid anymore by then."
Skyler goes home and apparently has been thinking along those same lines, so when she finds Walt staring out at the pool she tells him to take a drive with her. They go to a storage unit, which we quickly find out is basically Walter White's version of Scrooge McDuck's money bin. Skyler takes a sheet off of a big pile of money, explains that she has no idea how much it is, but it's definitely enough for them to live off of for ten lifetimes, and explains, "This is it. This is what you've been working for. How much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?"
We cut to commercial before Walt can answer, but part of me was assuming that he had made the Ducktales money bin connection as well and was thinking, "Big enough for me to swim in, bitch!" But if he was thinking about that, then he also should have started thinking about getting a different sized storage unit, one that was more vertical rather than horizontal, and then trading in all of those bills for coins. He totally could have had enough pennies to go swimming in if he'd wanted to, but the jury's out on whether or not he had enough money to build his own Gizmoduck.
After the commercial break we come back to Walt in a CAT scan - at least, I guess it's a CAT scan. I don't go to the doctor, so maybe that was just a regular check up. But whatever it is, it seems to help Walt think about his lot in life. He goes to visit Jesse, they reminisce about their old RV, and then on his way out he says, "I left you something," and after a lot of tense music we find out it's money.
Back at the White residence, Skyler is washing a dish when Walt comes up behind her and lets her know, "I'm out." Is this real? Is Walt lying? Skyler looks doubtful, but we cut to some beautiful timelapse clips of the desert sky, and then we're at a party at the pool, with Walt, Jr. or Flynn or whatever he's calling himself these days pushing Holly around the pool. Walt and Skyler are sitting and sharing a bottle of wine with Hank and Marie, and it's impossible to not think back to that time a little over a year ago when they were all sitting there having a seemingly nice dinner party until Walt revealed he had cancer. This time, the cancer seems to be gone. Walt, Jr. is even giving Holly some extra sunscreen to make sure she doesn't get any cancer and gets to keep her nice full head of baby hair. But then... But then...
Hank goes inside because he needs to take a shit. And because Hank apparently doesn't have an iPhone and therefore doesn't immediately think of bathroom time as a great opportunity to score another three stars on a new level of Angry Birds, he reaches behind him to check out the available magazines. Unfortunately, the only magazines the Whites seem to have are Fondue Monthly and Parenting, and Hank doesn't care about either of those topics now that he has finally gotten rid of the Whites' kids. So he reaches for the other option and finds... Leaves of Grass.
And then - oh shit - that's the copy of Leaves of Grass that was given to Walt by Gale. And it was inscribed to W.W., and Hank had totally talked to Walt about who W.W. could have been, even going so far as to say, "Walter White?" In the flashback, we see Walt say, "You got me!" Then we cut to credits.
I've gotta say, I never really thought we'd see this particular shotgun go off. Yes, we've known that there was bound to be some sort moment when Hank found out, because how can you deal drugs and have a DEA brother-in-law and not have that come up in your story? But at the same time, Breaking Bad has been so great about not going the obvious route that I had started to assume that we'd just never see these two paths cross. I'm happy that they're going to, though. And man, that is just such a great point for a mid-season break. It's a great place for Hank to finally start figuring out - on the toilet in Walt's house - with a great time in Walt's progression for it all to come down around him.
We all thought we were going to watch Walt grow to power and then lose his family, or wind up in a gun battle with some other contender, or have Jesse come after him because he suddenly found out about all the ways Walt has fucked him over the past 14 months, but then the writers seemed to have given him his family back, and he has the money, and he's worked things out with his loose ends and Jesse. But he forgot about Leaves of Grass.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
Here's hoping we can all enjoy songs of ourselves until next summer, when Breaking Bad returns.
Of course it was only last week that we determined that Walter White had finally gone the full measure and become an irredeemable villain. Of course the very next week, Walt begins to take some long overdue steps toward redemption. Make no mistake: I don't believe for one second that Walt has begun to or ever can redeem himself, but I do believe that in "Gliding Over All," he wants to. I believe it from the first scene, as he tells Todd he doesn't want to talk about Mike. "It had to be done." He's not bragging about winning that particular pissing match to the young apprentice who always jumps at the chance to flatter him. He just doesn't want to talk about it. And that's because Walt actually feels bad about killing Mike.
He feels bad about killing The 9. When he gets the phone call that it's done, he doesn't look pleased or satisfied or smug, as Walt so often looks. No, Walt looks grim. Chagrined, even.
So when Skyler shows Walt his giant pile of money and asks him, "How much is enough?", I knew Walt's answer would be, "This is. This is enough." He does his best to make amends with Jesse - of course not realizing that by showing up at Jesse's house with duffel bags full of blood money, all he's doing is making Jesse feel worse. I still enjoyed their brief moment of reconciliation, and I'm proud of Jesse for telling Walt that he's not coming back, and I'm proud of Walt for understanding that.
"Gliding Over All" is an episode that breaks every part of Breaking Bad's mold. It leaps forward three months in a series of murder, meth and money montages. (And yes, Henri, my first thought was, "I can't believe Vince Gilligan sat on 'Crystal Blue Persuasion' this long. That man has so much restraint.") And it seems to hit the breaks in Walt's spiral of inevitability, his inexorable journey toward that final full measure, becoming Heisenberg in total instead of in part. We get to see Skyler smile, for chrissakes! We see another pleasant patio dinner scene, something we haven't witnessed in two seasons. We see Walt question himself again and again. I read that (wonderful) scene between Walt and Hank differently, Henri. I didn't read the look on Walt's face as skepticism but rather dread. I read it as, "Am I a monster? I think I might be."
I also feel differently about the cancer than you, Henri. I think the cancer has definitely come back. Walt's looking a little peaked; there are at least three shots of his head dropping into his hands in exhaustion. I think that's why - in addition to the guilt and the giant pile of money - that he's out. He knows he only has a few months to live, and he wants to spend them peacefully with his family. After his CAT scan, Walt sees the paper towel dispenser he beat to shit the last time he believed he was supposed to get out of the game. That time, the idea of quitting infuriated him. This time, it brings him peace.
Unfortunately, Walt - not Heisenberg - kept a very stupid memento of Gale Boetticher, because Walt actually quite liked Gale. He liked him enough to do something as unforgivably stupid as leave that copy of Leaves of Grass next to a toilet that Hank uses regularly. A copy inscribed with both of their initials in Gale's handwriting. And as Hank recalls Walt's glib, "You got me," we cut to credits one moment after we see Hank's thunderstruck realization.
HOLY SHIT INDEED.
What an incredible place to go to hiatus! What could the final half of the season - so, so far away, those last eight episodes of Breaking Bad - bring? Now that Walt's ostensibly out, Jesse's out, Hank's finally clued in - how is this going to go? Especially keeping in mind the bacon-53 flash forward from the season premiere (featuring the return of Bobby Singer as the arms dealer). WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, YOU GUYS?!
One more thing to keep in mind: "Gliding O'er All" is a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass:
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.
Never forget: Breaking Bad is the story of inevitability.
So now we know what the end game is. It's going to boil down to Walter vs. Hank, and without the bug in the DEA office, Walter will likely have no idea Hank is on to him. Walter's smug condescension of his brother-in-law is about to come back to bite him in the ass.
I think you guys covered a lot of what happened on the show, but I find myself wondering what happened during that CAT scan. Is the cancer back? Is that the final impetus for Walt to get out of the game? I can't imagine that just seeing the pile of money is enough - empire builder Walt would look at that room and imagine it filled top to bottom with cash, and then he would start imagining a bigger room. But if Walt got his final diagnosis - the cancer is back, it's untreatable, he has a few months or a year to live - then I understand the calm he has in the hospital bathroom, the decision to get out. It was his cancer that triggered the start of this all, and it was his remission that really pushed him forward. He felt unbeatable, immortal. Now if his mortality is staring him in the face, he might finally decide to actually spend his last days with his family.
Of course we know things don't turn out well. We saw the flash-forward; within nine months of the end of this episode Walt is wearing a full head of hair and toting an M60 machine gun.
Meredith, you noted that it was Walter White who saved Leaves of Grass, not Heisenberg. I quite like that, and I agree - it's Walter who is Heisenberg's undoing. And it's only right that this burgeoning meth king should be destroyed by himself, by the last vestiges of his own humanity. Having Leaves of Grass show up again this episode feels important, not just for the plot reasons, but because it reminds us of who Walt was before he ordered nine men to be murdered in a Godfather-esque symphony of blood. There was a lot of Michael Corleone in Walt this week - surely no accident, as the show has gone out of its way to reference gangster films this season - and it will be interesting to see in the final eight whether Vince Gilligan et al think Walt, like Michael, has truly lost his soul.
The episode opened with yet another fly; insects have been heavy this season, and at first I thought that the return of flies was just Rian Johnson winking back at his own previous episode. But it seems like these bugs mean something. In Fly the fly was a contaminant in a clean system; as Walt looks at the fly in the Vamanos Pest office I wondered who is the contaminant - Walter White or Heisenberg? Who is the real person? This episode makes it seem like the answer is Walter, but I think we have eight more episodes to prove that wrong.
Finally, as Henri noted Walter trotted out the ricin again this week. It seems to me that the ricin must play into the end game. Will he poison Hank? Maybe he'll have to use it on the white supremacists (Breaking Bad is a show obsessed with repercussions, and surely there must be repurcussions to hiring jailhouse Nazis to murder nine guys. Especially when they're related to Todd, the bizarro version of Jesse). Or maybe that ricin is going to be Walt's final exit - it makes sense that the chemist would turn to chemistry for his death. Hell, he could have already dosed himself in the flash-forward at the beginning of the season.
One last thing: you have to keep in mind how impressive Hank's realization is at the end of the episode. For us it seems pretty obvious, but I suspect that anybody else - anybody without Hank's drive, his intuition and his single-minded nature - would have missed the clue in the book's inscription. It's been three months since the Fring case died with the witnesses, and that Hank still has all of that at the tip of his brain is a testament to what good police he is. Yeah, it's funny he found it taking a crap, but that he found it at all is amazing. I think next season we're going to see Hank not only torn up deciding how to deal with this, but also torn up realizing how many times he had Heisenberg sitting on his couch.
I lied, one last last thing: a Simpsons quote. In the words of Homer:
Damn you, Walt Whitman! I-hate-you-Walt-freaking-Whitman! "Leaves of Grass", my ass!