One of the things I love about this final season of Breaking Bad is that they’re recentering the story where it needs to be: in the emotion. I’ve noticed a discernible uptick in the amount of graphic violence on TV that is often unearned. You flinch because violence is scary, not necessarily because you’re particularly invested in the outcome of this particular encounter. The thrills come more from wondering how gross and sudden it’s going to be. But this episode showed how much none of that is necessary, if you care about the characters. I’m not just against gratuitous violence, even, but this episode really drew attention to how much it didn’t show, and somehow it was just as terrifying for all that. We don’t see Gomez die. We only hear the gunshot that kills Hank. We don’t see Jesse get beat up. The fight over the knife is absolutely terrifying, but no one gets too badly hurt (physically). The emotional investment in the characters was such that even just knowing that violence is happening to them is exponentially worse than watching some show get a rise out of you by graphically torturing some character you don’t care about.
In addition, the tension of this entire episode was rooted in actual plot and character development. Just when I thought the Hank death was being drawn out for no other purpose but to get your heart rate up, you realize that no, what’s really going on here is two things: 1) Walt is getting a full picture of what it must be like to be a man who has higher ideals than just getting what he wants all the time. 2) It sets the final plot in motion, by getting the money into the hands of the neo-Nazis.
On the first tip, I think seeing Hank choose death over pathetically begging for his life when he knows that he’s probably going to die anyway set Walt up for his eventual choice to finally, finally take some fucking responsibility instead of trying to come up with even more schemes that always have more consequences. Sure, the lesson of owning up to reality like a grown ass adult doesn’t sink in right away—Walt still tries a last ditch attempt to get his family to go along with him—but Hank’s dignity and sense of personal responsibility that he demonstrated at the end comes out in Walt at the end of the episode. There’s a fan theory that Walt “absorbs” some essence of every person he kills or has gotten killed. What he got from Hank was this ability to finally suck it up and let go of the illusion that there’s always some way out in the end. This realization allows him, after taking the baby, to own the fact that he has to basically confess to everything—even to stuff he didn’t do, like kill Hank!—over the phone to Skylar so that she looks like an innocent to the police. Doing this is such a break from everything Walt has done in the past. Like Hank giving up the illusion that some pathetic begging and scheming will save his life, Walt is giving up the illusion that he can scheme his way out of this one. The only thing left to do is not drag his family down with him.
Too bad Hank had to die before Walt finally, finally, finally made a for-real sacrifice, instead of all the pretend ones he’s made in the past.
As for schemers, I have some hope that Jesse will get out of this one. We’ll see.
What do you think Walt meant when he said he had other things left to do?