Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
"He’s OK, like a fruit fly’s OK."
Well, now it’s official: Don’t ever doubt Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
Prior to last night’s finale, cleverly titled “Face Off” (more on that in a little bit), Breaking Bad’s magnificent fourth season was one of desperation, anxiety, fear, and the sensation of impending death for our man Walt. As the season began, Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), AMC show’s unbeatable antagonist, needed to demonstrate to Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) that his rule is almighty and not to be fucked with; to do so, after Jesse shot Gus’ most trusted chemist, Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) in the face at the end of last season, Gus sliced one of his lackey’s throats open with a box cutter, in front a trembling Walt and also petrified, though partially numb, Jesse.
From that moment on, Walt’s battle of wits against Gus seemed like a one-side affair. Gus, knowing that Jesse is Walt’s quasi-son of a crystal-meth-cooking partner, manipulated Jesse into trusting him, giving young Pinkman more power throughout the season and playing mind games that presented Gus, not Walt, as the best option for Jesse to show loyalty toward. And Walt, realizing Gus’ plan and feeling helpless against it, pleaded with Jesse in near tears more than once, even coming to blows with Jesse and getting his face knocked to shit. Then Walt started joining his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) on private eye missions, investigating Hank’s hunch that Gus is Albuquerque’s biggest drug kingpin.
Gus, understandably, wasn’t too pleased by this, and, against Jesse’s orders to not kill Walt, threatened Mr. White’s family and, ultimately, went at him with homicidal force. Heading into “Face Off,” Walt’s back was against the ropes; making a wire-triggered bomb in his kitchen, Walt then attached it to Gus’ car at the end of last week’s episode, “End Times”, but Gus sensed something was afoul and walked away. By that point, Jesse was back on Walt’s side, the shift back to his original alliance caused by the poisoning of his girl’s young son, Brock, which Walt convinced Jesse that Gus was behind.
For a second there, we thought Gus would make it out Season Four alive, having somehow ducked Walt’s murder attempts and having secured his placement atop the criminal world’s food chain, at least long enough to cause further damage in Breaking Bad’s fifth, and final, season. But, if Gus did in fact die by the end of “Face Off”, we’d expect nothing less than an epic sendoff. Per usual, though, the show’s mastermind, Vince Gilligan, defied all of our expectations while still delivering on our biggest hopes.
"Damn right, Gus had to go."
And it’s all Jesse’s doing. With Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) as his messenger, Jesse schooled Walt to the best possible way to get Gus alone, in a place where Walt could finally finish him once and for all: Hector Salamanca’s (Mark Margolis) room inside the Casa Tranquila nursing home. Giving the pivotal flashback in “Hermanos”, in which a younger Hector murders a less-experienced Gus’ closest friend at point blank range in Mexico, a brilliant payoff, Jesse’s message to Walt informs Sir White that Hector is Gus’ enemy, not his friend.
Walt employs this newfound knowledge in an awesome way: He gets Hector on his side. But Hector introduces a unique term to their deal, requesting a sit-down inside the DEA office with Hank, who killed Hector’s twin nephews in last season’s amazing “One Minute” episode. Bringing his nurse and her letter chart with him, Hector gets his meeting with Hank, the latter defying his wife Marie’s (Betsy Brandt) commands to not take the meeting. Hank’s under the impression that Hector has information that will prove his theory about Gus right; all Hector wants to do, however, is utilize that letter chart and his bell to tell Hank to “SUCK MY”. It was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment amidst yet another consistently intense and frequently paralyzing Breaking Bad episode. What a great moment.
With that personal eff you out of the way, and Gus now believing that Hector is snitching to the DEA, the old man is ready to see Walt’s plan to finally end Fring's life through. Walt straps one of his homemade bombs to Hector’s wheelchair, and, once Gus shows up, along with his bothersome goon Tyrus (Ray Campbell), to inject Hector with a lethal needle for seemingly ratting, Hector rings his bell and sends all of the three sky high and smack down into hell.
Now, about that “epic sendoff.” Right before the bomb goes off, there’s a look on Gus’ face that we’ve never seen before: one of sheer, I’m-totally-fucked terror. Other than the aforementioned “Hermanos” flashback, it’s the only time we’ve seen Gus totally vulnerable, and even scared. But, lest Breaking Bad hand Gustavo Fring his pink-slip in atypical fashion, the intelligent assassination scene concludes with an incredibly morbid punchline. Casa Tranquila’s nurses and staff comes rushing to Hector’s now-decimated room, but then stop in their tracks, seeing Gus step out of the wreckage. Gilligan, the episode’s director, first shows us Gus from the left, and untouched, side, but then slowly pans the camera around Gus’ front and holds on a shot directly in front of him, which shows us Gus’ half-blown-off face—bloody skeleton, brain matter, and all. Ever the debonair bad guy, Gus adjusts his tie, looks directly as us viewers, and collapses.
Get it—“Face Off”? Genius, right?
All season long, it seemed like Gus had the upper hand, but, again, never count Walter White out of any duel. He’s clearly the smarter adversary, having tricked Gus into walking feet-first into his death, and also having deceived Jesse in order to get Pinkman back on his team. The episode’s final image patiently zooms onto one of the plants in Walt’s backyard pool area—in the flowerpot, there’s a label that reads “Lily Of The Valley,’ the same poisonous leaves to which the doctors attributed Brock’s incident. It wasn’t Gus who nearly killed the little guy—it was Walt after all.
We’ll let Walt say it himself: “I won.”
As did Vince Gilligan and everyone involved with Breaking Bad’s phenomenal fourth season.
Note to AMC: The Walking Dead, which now has the unfortunate task of picking up the network’s Sunday night crown, best absolutely kill it this upcoming season. If not, don’t think we haven’t saved all 13 Breaking Bad episodes in our DVR library, and that we won’t just re-watch them all at their usual night and time.