The following post discusses the ending of last Sunday’s episode of Breaking Bad, so I hereby present the necessary
** SPOILER ALERT **
in case you DVR’d it or something.
Terrific tense episode with the train heist and, as usual, scene after scene of high-caliber writing and acting. But I’ve spent the last five days pondering the ending, particularly how masterfully it worked, because it’s rare to see a narrative trick executed that perfectly and even rarer for a show, already in its fifth season and known for surprising twists, to deliver a chest-punch that thoroughly bruising. As a writer myself, I’m fascinated with how they got it to work so well. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. The opening scene. As with numerous BB episodes, it’s both mysterious and quietly riveting. We know it’ll matter but we don’t know why.
2. At first we see the kid on the dirt bike and think, “Something bad is about to happen.” Then he sees something and we probably think, “Uh-oh, the kid found a body,” because kids are always finding bodies in movies and shows. But nope, it’s a tarantula, which he gets off the bike to examine.
3. He picks the tarantula up, which even if you know tarantulas are often docile, is hair-raisingly tense. But now we like this kid because he isn’t your typical Symbol of Innocence, but an independent boy riding his dirt bike around the desert and bravely collecting tarantulas in jars. A jar he brought along because he planned to find a tarantula. And then he rides off with his newfound pet, and how can anybody not like this kid and wonder what the whole scene is about?
4. Of course the next 35 minutes are so engrossing that we immediately forget all about the opening scene, and that’s impressive in itself. Walter’s doing this scene where he’s crying that Sky doesn’t love him anymore, and Hank’s afraid of the emotion and desperate to leave and get him a coffee, and then we learn that Walter’s tears are a ploy to get Hank to leave so he can plant bugs around the office, and yet the phony tears were so real and affecting that it’s just too great and complicated for the viewer to process, and then before you know it we’re smack in the middle of an honest-to-God train robbery. What kid with a tarantula?
5. Because things so often go awry with Walt and Jesse’s plans, the heist is a nail biter and genuinely exhausting. And then it all works out and we’re bathed in relief, thinking wow, what a very long and nerve-wracking scene, and look at how they’ve once again gotten us to root for drug-cooking villains we would despise in real life, and we’re almost disappointed that the episode wasn’t as full-on evil and bleak as the previous week when suddenly there’s the kid on the dirt bike again, having witnessed the entire secret heist, and even though the shooter draws his gun pretty slowly (I rewound the scene a few times), it’s shocking when he fires because, again, our brains are simply too overloaded from all that’s come before.
6. The shooter himself (whose name I cannot remember) has been teased along for several episodes as a nice, naive accomplice in the Mobile Cooking Plan. From the first time he dares to speak to Walter about that one home’s nanny cam (directly disobeying Mike’s instruction to never address Walter or Jesse directly), he’s been groomed as an inevitable victim. And he seems so guileless in this particular episode when he’s asking about the water tank and Walter’s saying, “No one can know about this. No one.” And it’s him, the shooter, we’ve been led to see as the eventual loose end they’ll probably have to kill.
7. The trap is set. We’ve completely forgotten about the kid, but his sudden appearance as a Random Plot Twist is believable, and earned, because of the leisurely opening scene. We like the kid because he’s brave and independent, two characteristics that also explain why a boy that age would sit there, unafraid, watching a bunch train robbers in action. We’re too tired to predict, in the span of ten seconds, what might happen. But even with several minutes, we would never expect the sweet, naive character — who takes the time to smile and wave — to draw a gun and blow the kid away. Which of course he does because he’s actually, we now understand, a dutiful member of the team and one who’s willing to follow orders, without question or hesitation, and is acting on Walter’s “No one can know” instruction from fifteen minutes ago. Jesse yet again delivers the perfect expression of shock when it happens, acting out the very emotion we the viewers are experiencing. And quick as that, the whole episode is as evil and bleak as anything this season, and we’re reminded for the hundredth time that we’re actively rooting for murderers and drug lords and we’re going to watch this series to the bitter end, however dark it gets, because the darkness always feels earned instead of gimmicky, and they’re still able to knock our wind out and make us ponder it all after 50+ episodes when the show is somehow picking up steam instead of petering out.