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'Breaking Bad. Deconstruction, Ep. 13: 'To'hajiilee'

A heart-stopping episode with major implications. Someone get the shock paddles!

Breaking Bad S05E13 Saul Walt - H 2013
AMC
Time to panic on "Breaking Bad."

Even if you knew what was coming in those final few minutes of Ep. 13 of Breaking Bad – and for all the subtle shock that the series has laid on everybody through the years, it wasn’t that hard to figure out – it almost didn’t matter. You can think something. But until you see that exact something happen, it lacks the visceral impact.

“To’haiilee’’ was one of the most intense episodes that Breaking Bad has rolled out – and that’s saying something for a series that routinely takes your innards and fork-and-spoons them like spaghetti – and the hail-of-bullets, slow-motion-filled shock-athon faded to black (nod to The Sopranos there?) leaving at least an ounce of doubt about the fates of Hank, Gomey and even Jesse. That ounce will be more than enough to come close to breaking the interwebs in the coming week, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario where, at the very least, Hank and Gomey make it out alive (even though Breaking Bad producer Thomas Schnauz tweeted out: “Take it from someone who knows: everything is going to work out just fine. For everyone.” He later followed with: “I apologize to everyone for my last tweet. I was actually talking about my lunch tomorrow, not the characters on the show.”)

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Theoretically, yes, there’s a way to make sure everyone lives. But that wouldn’t be very Breaking Bad like. Hank got his closure. He got to tell Marie that he loves her. He got to go out in a hail of bullets. And Gomey – collateral damage. I think Jesse lives to see another day, though.

Last week I predicted that this episode would center on finding Walt’s money, that Jesse’s master plan – though brought to fruition by the brain work of Hank – was to get Walt where he lives. And that’s the money. Without the money it would have been all for naught. Everything. Every decision, every ounce of labor, every moral line that got crossed. Jesse knew that.

And the dramatic execution of Hank and Jesse finally beating Walt at the brain game end of this empire business was really well done. They gambled on emotion clouding Walt’s decision making. Hank got to reveal that Steve Gomez thought the dirt surrounding the fake money would be too far off color and obvious – and Hank got to counter that he knew Walt would be flipping out and miss the details. He was right. That final scene was all about Hank getting what he wanted. He beat the almighty Heisenberg. He got Walt on his knees, cuffed, humiliated – defeated. Hank got to tell Marie that he did it. They shared a few key, lovely moments.

Jesse, too, got what he wanted. It was his plan that started it all. He got to have a big ol' smile cross his face when Hank slammed the cuffs on Walt. He got to spit in Walt’s face after Walt called him a coward. Perhaps even more importantly, he got to pull of a major stem-winder on Walt as the two talked on the phone and Walt raced out to where the money was. It was a beautifully executed, elaborate trick that was believable and human.

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There was even the added bonus of watching Walt’s face out in the desert, knowing he’d been duped, then knowing he’d lose. He got to call off his initial order to the white supremacist goons, giving him – in some people’s minds – an ounce of the very last moral decency a man like him could muster: sparing Hank’s life. You could even say that Walt’s screaming at them to not shoot Hank and Gomey (and, conceivably, Jesse), proved that Walt is not pure evil, that there is a line somewhere in his mind that he won’t cross, because of family, or the last vestiges of decency. I’m not against this notion – because when there’s no gray areas, no murkiness, there is no greatness in the drama. But let’s be clear – Walt is not turning around. He isn’t going to witness this and turn onto the road of redemption. This is not that show.

That's also why, despite pleas from the show’s producers not to jump to conclusions just yet, that I think Hank and Gomey are dead. For starters, that’s a lot of bullets to dodge. That’s a lot of missing, for a show that doesn’t like to deal in the traditional bad-aim mentality of traditional TV shoot-outs. I think there’s a credibility gap that arises if they live. But Jesse – I can easily see him surviving and some sound dramatic reasoning for it. (I just think the producers have been well-coached to be vague without being definitive. As it should be. As is expected.) But if Hank and Gomey are not dead -- or at the very least left for dead out in the desert, bleeding badly -- I'm going to have issues.

I loved that heart-pounding, stress-inducing ending too much to quibble with the fact Walt’s arrest went on too long and there was too much Hank jubilation to not trip the suspicion button in my brain that Todd’s Extended Army was, indeed, coming. So I’m not going to stick a demerit on that. Breaking Bad has faked me out more than any show I’ve ever watched. (Perfect example: Tortuga’s head on the tortoise – one of my all-time favorite scenes on any series.)

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Besides, it’s damned hard to write an episode like this – with three left – and get everything perfect. So much was right and so much could have gone wrong. Excellent job.

But who knows what next week brings, right? That’s the beauty of it. I guessed right this week and, certainly by all indications, next week is going to be Walt’s complete and utter mental implosion – his come to Jesus (or Satan?) moment for all that he’s done. It will be overwhelming. It will be emotionally awful. And he’s clearly going to be on the lam, heading to New Hampshire for whatever reasons Vince Gilligan and his writing staff have dreamt up. I can’t even speculate as to why (unless maybe he chases Jesse there?).

Anyway, guessing is fun. But watching is better. And being blown away is best of all. What an amazing piece of work this series is.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine