Face Off

Monday, October 10th, 2011, 4:18 pm

Did some multi-tasking last night–I got my ironing done for the week while watching “Face Off”, the season finale of Breaking Bad. Suffice to say the latter was more interesting that the former and since I don’t have anyone to TALK TO about it I’ll just scribble a few thoughts and observations for yinz to peruse.

  • I don’t get scared or shocked all that easily, but when the camera panned around Gus Fring after the explosion and we saw the horror that was now his face, yup, I was shocked. It was a profoundly disturbing image and one I haven’t been able to get out of my (still-intact) head. You see the door blow off and Gus strolls out, straightening his tie, and you really believe that this guy could’ve survived the blast, because Gus can survive ANYTHING. And then the reveal. Maybe I should’ve seen it coming from the episode title, but I didn’t. No sir, I did not.
  • Unfortunately I knew SOMETHING big was about to happen (and that the closing shot would be of great import) because I listened to Bryan Cranston’s interview on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast and Cranston told listeners that they would be an “Oh shit!” moment with 15 minutes to go and that the last shot of the show would be a zooming close-up of an object that would blow your mind. When Jesse talked about the Lily of the Valley plant I knew that’s what we’d see in that final frame. Everyone loves spoilers, but sometimes they live up to their name.
  • I’m still not on board with the Brock poisoning plot. OK, we need to be kept in the dark as to whether he was poisoned, by whom, what with, etc. But the narrative gaps are huge, especially for a show that has been so diabolically deft in its plotting. How did Jesse lose the ricin? How would a poisoner, any poisoner, gain access to Brock to administer the toxin? The answers we got last night (both from the show and from interviews with creator Vince Gilligan that I read) did not fully satisfy. There’s a clue in the penultimate episode “End Times” that is obscure but telling, more the former than the latter. Is what ultimately happened plausible? Yes. But that’s a low bar to set for such a great show.
  • I watched the chapel scene between Gus and Jesse ten times in a row, focusing on the part where Jesse says that Brock isn’t sick, he was poisoned. Giancarlo Esposito should win an Emmy just for the two or three seconds that follows, he takes in the information, considers it, and his mouth opens as he realizes that Jesse suspects him. Gus is instantly gracious toward Jesse, telling him that Tyrus will clean up the lab and that Jesse should return in a week. It isn’t until he reaches the parking garage that Gus has had time to fully process what just happened and realizes that Jesse did not reach this conclusion by himself, that Walt must’ve planted and then nutured that seed. Gus realizes that he’s exposed, that Walt might know exactly where he is at a specific time. It’s not that Gus has “Spidey sense”, as it seemed during the end of “End Times”. It’s just that Gus, a preternaturally methodical and patient man, deduced that he’d been drawn out into the open. He knew Walt wouldn’t dare a direct assault, that he’d try to kill from a distance. Perhaps Gus didn’t know there was a bomb attached to his car, but he did know that Walt was a step ahead of him. And the last time that happened, Gale ended up dead. Gus would not make that mistake.
  • Everyone says that pride is Walter White’s fatal flaw, but it was also Gus’s downfall. He could’ve killed Hector whenever he wanted. He could’ve let Tyrus do it. But no. HE had to be the one who dealt the final blow and ended the Salamanca line. He wanted Hector to finally look in his eyes and see that Gus at the moment of his death, just as Gus looked into the eyes of his dead partner (lover?) 20 years previous. Any idea that Gus has supernatural intution ended in that stunning scene in Hector’s room, as Gus did not seem to even consider that the weak, pathetic, superfluous Walter White had again lured him into a trap.
  • So what happens during the final 16 episodes that will bring Breaking Bad to an end? The reviews and comments I’ve read all point out obvious threats–like Mike, still recovering in Mexico. Or the German conglomerate that financed Gus. What’s left of the cartel, or another drug gang. And, of course, the DEA. There’s no way to predict what will happen next (my batting average on guessing the next plot twist is around .100) but when I saw Walt and Jesse shake hands on the rooftop I got the idea that, in their minds,  it’s over. No more cooking together, no more life of crime, no more cheating death. They torched the Superlab and as they wiped their prints it felt as though they were washing their hands of this life.
  • Of course, that isn’t going to last. Walt’s pride will not allow him to sell air fresheners and run the car wash. He defeated Gustavo Fring. The cartel is smashed. Hank and the DEA are left to sift through the corpses and destruction HE left behind. The idea that Walt will settle back into suburban monotony at the very height of his powers seems impossible. He CAN settle back, of course, he CAN retire and live without fear. But that can’t happen now, can it? Gus could’ve run his chicken franchises and made a tidy living, but that idea seems ludicrous. As does the idea of Walter White, Heisenberg, asking his bland customers if they want hot wax. I think that Walt’s ultimate enemy will be himself, his self-regard, which will cause him to lose everything he supposedly went into crime to save. The last thing he says to Sklyer in last night’s episode is, “I won”. I think before the end of the series we will see considerable irony in those words.
  • One thing I’ve found remarkable about Breaking Bad is how quickly the characters have their allegiences whipsawed back and forth. Jesse and Walt risked their lives to save each other on numerous occasions, but they’ve each ruthlessly screwed the other over (Walt from arrogance and self-preservation, Jesse from betrayal and rage). Jesse saved Mike’s life on two occasions, Mike saved Jesse once…this after Mike was going to execute both Jesse and Walt at the end of Season 3. Jesse saved Gus’s life then conspired to murder him a few days later. Gus warned Hank about the Cousins coming to murder him (in the hopes that Hank would rid him of that problem, sure) then planned to kill Hank later. Trust is often a fatal disease in this world.
  • I may be the only Breaking Bad fan who cares about this, but does anyone other than Saul know that Ted Beneke is dead? It might seem small potatoes compared to all that went on the last few episodes but if the Federal Government is going to be Walt’s primary adversary next season the IRS might find Ted dying shortly after sending them close to a $700,000 check slightly interesting. Throw in the FBI looking into the explosion and the Superlab fire and, of course, Hank and the DEA sniffing around, and Walt might long for the day when his problems could be solved with a pipe bomb.

Quibbles aside, what an episode. What a show. And now we wait till the summer (hopefully) for the best show on TV to return.

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