The shootout concludes; Walt becomes Heisenberg; and Holly breaks hearts.
Both "Ozymandias," the Percy Shelley poem, and "Ozymandias," the Breaking Bad episode, are about recognition. In the poem, Shelley's words guide your eye across three distinct sights: the legs of a statue, dismembered from the rest of the body; the statue's frozen face, half buried in the sand; and the inscription on the pedestal. It reads: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Shelley makes you see the destruction of a fallen empire in the broken statue of its king. "Ozymandias" writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Rian Johnson make you see the destruction of a meth empire in the haggard face of its Heisenberg.
The episode opens on a flashback to Walt and Jesse's first cook. Jesse's still a goof, swordfighting with the air. Walt still has hair and mustache. He calls Skyler and lies to her about where he is. Because this is a prelapsarian White family interaction, she's cheery and willing to believe her husband. Really, she doesn't care where Walt is. In the glow of her pregnancy, she just wants to talk to Walt about baby names. Why not Holly? It's her new favorite, she says. Walt likes the sound of it. The "sands stretch far away" as Johnson fades Walt, Jesse, and the RV from the shot. The landscape is unchanging, is unfeeling.
Then we fall back into the firefight. A bloody wedding ring becomes shorthand for Hank's been tagged, shot in the leg. Walter tries to negotiate with Jack for Hank's life, promising the whole of his fortune—$80 million—to the crew if they'll only spare his brother-in-law. Because he's family. In what makes for a touching last line, Hank tells Walt, "You're the smartest guy I ever met, and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago." Walt is failing to recognize the reality of the situation. He's failing, as Hank says, to see. And then Jack shoots Hank to death.
Episode director Rian Johnson (who also directed "Fly") holds Walt's pained face in a tight close-up. Brilliant and painful, the shot quotes Shelley's sonnet: "Half sunk, a shattered visage lies." There's no mistaking the black hole of Walt's mouth and his pinched eyes for anything other than shattered. The man who wanted to have it all—to be a capable family man and a ruthless criminal genius—has the blood of his family on his hands.
More than a visual rendering of Shelley's poem, the shot is a match for the moment in "Hermanos" (Season 4, Episode 8) when Gus's business partner and lover Max is killed. There's nothing like the death of family to bring a mastermind low. But, in the case of "Hermanos," this is the beginning of Gus's rise to power. I don't think this is the beginning of anything other than the end for Walt.
Jack and the neo-Nazis dig up Walt's money, and that pit becomes a grave site for the bodies of Hank and Gomie (peace to Steven Gomez, killed off camera). They tell Walt they'll leave a barrel, as "greed is unattractive." What is it about these white supremacists and their sage wisdom? Can we get a collection of their aphorisms for bed-side reading?
Vengeful over the loss of Hank, Walt brings up Jesse—Jack's crew hasn't dealt with him. Or they would've if only the could find him. Walt points him out and the crew drags him from under the car, where he'd been hiding. Todd, the Weirdly Benevolent, buys Jesse some more time on this earth. They'll keep him around to see what he's told the DEA. Sounds like a plan to Jack.
Angry that he hasn't been able to satisfy his bloodlust, Walt tells Jesse that he watched Jane die. Like Gus visiting Hector in the retirement home, psychological torment will have to do with death off the table.
This grim business in the desert concludes with one last fade. Each moment gives the desert the detached characteristics of a god. It watches. We watch. We watch the scene of the cook fade. We watch the trucks and shell casings from the shootout fade. We see Walt alone, a monument to the destruction. We look upon his handiwork and despair.
Then, jokes. A stray bullet punctured the gas tank of his car, leaving Walt to walk through the desert, rolling his barrel of money. AND HE ROLLS IT RIGHT PAST THE PANTS HE LOST IN THE FIRST EPISODE.
But he fails to recognize the pants. (Also, khakis = the statue's legs in Shelley's poem.) However, he does not fail to throw cash around and buy a truck from an old man whose house he comes across while rolling.
Meanwhile, Marie is strong-arming Skyler into telling Flynn (she does), and, in what must be a little bit of a flashforward, Todd is treating Jesse like a dog, hooking him up to a chain in the neo-Nazi's neo-Superlab for a little cooking demonstration. Sadness abounds.
No, really—this is fucking sad. Flynn and Skyler find Walt at home, frantic and filling suitcases with clothes. They've gotta go, and right now. Only Skyler knows that something must've happened to Hank, because how else could Walt be standing in their home? She knows Hanks dead, and Walt confirms this when he says that he "tried to save him." So Skyler does the reasonable thing and picks up a knife. (Somehow this is the reasonable thing to do.) All praise due to Rian Johnson for nearly giving me a heart attack with the choreography and editing of the knife business. As Walt and Skyler struggle, each cut and gesture makes it seem like Flynn is going to be stabbed. This would've been too much to bear, too much. That said, what we do get is, like, one second away from reaching that bear limit.
Skyler slashes Walt's hand open with the kitchen knife, and then they grapple beneath portraits of the Whites in the hallway. They fall to the floor, where Flynn then jumps in to protect his mother from his father, now a violent, self-deluding nightmare of a man. How do I know Walt is delusional? Because he stares at his wife, who is wearing his blood and cowering on her kness, and he stares at his son, who spreads his arms wide to protect his mother, and Walt shouts, "We're a family!" Again, he fails to recognize what is in front of his face.
Crazed and desperately clinging to this idea of family, he lifts Holly from her crib and jets. Speaking of Holly, if there's an Infant Emmys, the actress playing Holly deserves every significant acting award available. Under the care of Walt, she cries and whimpers for her mama and it's just total waterworks. Total. Tears. Nothing. But. Tears.
The episode wraps with the most loaded moment of the series as far as I'm concerned. There's been much written about the vitriolic misogyny directed at Skyler by fans of Walter White. Actress Anna Gunn has written eloquently about this in the New York Times. Of course, she wasn't as hard on the show as she could have been. Breaking Bad has never taken a focused interest in her character to the degree it has to Walt, Jesse, and Hank. She is forever reacting. It's rare when the show spends any significant amount of alone time with her to foster empathy for someone who is married to an egomaniacal liar and manipulator. Still. The show has been trying in recent seasons to make her more of a real presence (just like it's done with Marie this season), and I don't think it's a coincidence that the language Walt uses when he calls her and chews her out is the exact sort of language Internet trolls use. He calls her a bitch, a word he has never used. The show is giving these trolls a moment to recognize how terrible that kind of thinking is.
Breaking Bad isn't always the most subtle of shows, and if you could watch that scene thinking that you are supposed to do anything other than sympathize with Skyler and detest Walt, you should rethink your perspective. Walt is crying as he says these terrible things. He hates what he's saying. And yet the moment was greeted with tweets like the following:
Come on. Let's be better than this.
Of course, Walt's rant is most likely an attempt to keep Skyler free from the police's scrutiny. He knows the police are listening, and goes full Heisenberg to heap all the culpability on himself. And then he disappears.
Those tears, and the fact that he delivers Holly to safety at the fire station, point to Walt finally having a moment of recognition. He hates what he's done and what he has become. After an episode of blindness, maybe now he can see. He better. He's going to need it when he uses that big gun to free Jesse from Todd, Jack, and the rest of that family.