Review: Breaking Bad 5×14, “Ozymandias”

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That colossal wreck.

Vince Gilligan and co. were inviting some serious criticism when they titled an episode of their show “Ozymandias.” A poem that has so frequently been used in situations like these that most everybody who would be watching Breaking Bad has heard it somewhere, or is at least familiar with its implications, being directly invoked in an episode title is a rather overt way to set up expectations. It would have been all too easy to scoff it off as being too obvious a reference, too direct and lacking subtlety.

But they own it now. Shelley would look at this episode and be as proud as hell that it bears the name of his legendary sonnet. In the future, anybody who invokes the name of the poem will have not only its own legacy to contend with, but the legacy of Breaking Bad as well. Tonight was the culmination of five years of tense build up. This is the best episode of television I’ve ever seen.

Note: The following review, as you should probably expect, is filled to the brim with spoilers. If you care about that (though you probably shouldn’t), don’t read it. If you have seen the episode or don’t care about that, feel free to hit the jump and read on.

I don’t want to say too much because I feel looking too deeply at this episode could quite easily ruin the master crafting. I don’t want to look too closely, because I sense there are a couple of cracks in the glass (or perhaps its just not as blue as it should be). I could say that I’m not entirely pleased with the way that Hank was sent off, as I feel it is ultimately an unfinished character arc. He died not knowing why exactly Walt did what he did. He died in a state not of victory, but of utter defeat. He died… and it was played more as a moment for Walt than for Hank. But I don’t want to say that. Instead, I want to say that the gunshot made me gasp and hold in my breath for a solid 60 seconds, only to briefly take another breath and then hold it, a pattern that continued until the commercial break.

I could say that the scene with Jesse and Todd later in the episode was an odd moment that felt off because it was out of focus, taking us away from Walt’s crumbling empire and into what is ostensibly the driving factor for the next two episodes. But I don’t want to say that, because the minute Jesse appeared on screen my heart stopped beating and I watched in horrified anticipation. The image of Andrea and Brock chilled me to the bone.

I could say that Walt’s monologue to Skyler felt a bit too on the nose as a venting of vocal viewer hatred of Skyler throughout the past six years. It was a very blatant take down of those viewers to have broken Walt down to this morally empty place and then have his spout out nearly everything they’ve said about her over the course of the show. But I don’t want to say that.

I don’t want to say these things because, as I sat down to write this review, I had to think about them. I had to think about what I wanted to say, rather than immediately having these things to say. Because, as I’ve been saying nearly all season, this show has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. It’s built a rich tapestry of characters over the course of five seasons. This is the end game. The dominoes have been set up with great care and finesse, and others have examined and analyzed that process far better than I could ever hope to.

This? This isn’t set up anymore. This isn’t something that we should deeply analyze and criticize. This, friends, is the nudging of the dominoes. This is where we get to watch them all fall down beautifully, as the six years of set up finally pays off. The show is no longer about character development and progression. The show is about watching these characters, having already been crafted lovingly and developed expertly, explode. Watching them lose everything. Watching as everything around them vanishes, and all that they have ever had leaves them. Watching, powerless, and not just feeling the beating of your heart, but seeing it through your shirt. A+

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Breaking Bad 5×14, “Ozymandias”

  1. Matt says:

    Great point about how BB took on the Ozymandias legacy by the horns and completely owned it. Some of your critiques, though, I took some issue with.

    First, that Hank died in utter defeat, and unfinished as a character arc. I’d say he definitely didn’t die in defeat – he showed amazing dignity and poise in the face of death, refusing to cowtow to Uncle Jack in what he realized were his dying moments. And, he essentially set into motion the entire course of events that has led to Heisenberg’s demise to this point, and his certain destruction. Remember that we began this season with Walter having hung up the meth apron, content to leave his misgivings behind and enjoy his family, before Hank’s realization and acting upon it led to all of the events of this final season.

    And second, the Walter phone call. I, like you, didn’t realize this at first, and didn’t until reading a few reviews, but his words were actually a ploy to absolve Skyler of culpability; he was playing to the police recording he knew was taking place. Notice how Skyler realizes what he’s doing, and plays along with her meek “apology”.

    Cheers, and happy BB watching,
    Matt

    • Brandon Cox says:

      Regarding the Skyler thing, I definitely got that that was exactly what was happening, but the on-the-nose nature of Walt’s comments being a venting of the same hate and vitriol that has been slung at the character for six years distracted from the raw emotion of the scene.

  2. Eve Browning says:

    Great review of an epic television achievement.

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