Breaking Bad: Ozymandias   Rewatch 
February 4, 2015 9:42 AM - Season 5, Episode 14 - Subscribe

Everyone copes with radically changed circumstances.

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read.


"You're the smartest guy I ever met. And you're too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago."

Andy Greenwald, Grantland:
“Ozymandias” was one of the most visceral and unpleasant viewing experiences I can remember enduring. It seemed designed to counter our cultural turn toward binge-watching. It was punishment for our bottomless, self-serving hunger. It felt sick, like a purge.

No show in history has ever demonstrated the courage of its convictions like this before. No show has ever made us suffer through the flip side of our fantasy. It’s truly saying something when the brutal, point-blank slaying of a beloved cast member was only the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to experience in an hour.
Maureen Ryan, HuffPo:
This is the ugliness at the heart of this story, the heart of darkness. Everything from here on out is just filling in the blanks. But this is the terminus, the destination, the place we have been waiting to arrive at. This is the face of evil -- evil that masquerades as everything else under the sun, evil that brings on the kind of decay Shelley wrote about.
Linda Holmes, NPR:
If I'm honest, I want Breaking Bad to be over. I'm glad there are only two episodes left. The show's honesty about where greed and violence can take the lives of both the good and the not so good is unbearable, and its fairness in storytelling — its willingness to follow even the worst threads to their natural conclusions — is perfectly, rigorously heartless.
The phone call.
"This is your fault. This is what comes of your disrespect. I told you, Skyler. I warned you for a solid year. You cross me, there will be consequences."

James Poniewozik, TIME:
It’s an incredible performance of an incredible performance; where the Walt of the flashback was nervous and awkward in his lying, here Walt unleashes his crime-lord fury, allowing himself only tiny, silent sobs when he pauses. I want to say that his resentment and fury at Skyler is for show — but it’s not entirely fake, is it? It’s clearly not what he wants to say to Skyler in the moment. It’s not, ultimately, what he thinks of her or wants for her. But we’ve seen enough of him to know that it comes from a real place — that there is at least part of Walt that does rage at being misunderstood and held back and unappreciated. He draws on it now self-sacrificingly, though it kills him, but it is still there in him to be drawn on. He’s a method actor, that Walt is.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:
This scene is comprised mainly of the sorts of things that Skyler haters have been saying on message boards and in the comments sections of recaps since Breaking Bad debuted in 2008. It’s as if the show is using these same sentiments to rebut them: Walter’s voice is deeper and more monstrous, his tone more venomously cruel, than in any other exchange between him and Skyler. It takes the vicarious pleasure that some viewers take in the sight of milquetoast Walter White becoming The One Who Knocks and curdles it, makes it ugly, poisonous — as if the show is saying, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Here you go. Choke on it.”
Sean Collins, Rolling Stone:
Walt is a man transformed. If his cackling meltdown in the crawlspace near the end of Season Four marked his transition from Walt to Heisenberg, the slow dolly zoom on his face when Jack shoots Hank was the moment when even Heisenberg disappeared, replaced by something worse. Heisenberg wanted Jesse dead, but quickly and painlessly; this new thing wanted him physically and emotionally destroyed first. Heisenberg was deadly but methodical, vengeful but careful; the creature now taking Heisenberg's place lashed out wildly, inflicted suffering gratuitously. Most importantly, Heisenberg still wanted to be seen as a family man; whatever Walt is now, he gave up on having a family the moment he saw in their eyes that he'd finally gone too far.

Look at Walt's eyes, his facial expressions, his body language, when he's giving that harangue. He only starts choking up just before he brings up Hank's death, taking "credit" for the murder that sent him over the edge in the first place. His contempt for Skyler, his rage at her perceived insubordination, his fury at not having spent his entire life being treated like the king of kings – that's all very real. That's the emotional landscape of a man who'd steal his own child, who'd give his blessing to the torture of a poor sap he once thought of as a son.
Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker, on the Bad Fan:
On one level, that speech was just what it looked like: Walt venting every toxic feeling he’d ever had about his wife. On another level, it was the opposite: it was Walt pretending to be an abusive husband, as a gift to Skyler. It was an apology to her, as well as an attempt to get her off the hook legally, to honor Holly saying “Mama.” Walt’s language was pretty much a PowerPoint presentation of abuser behavior, designed to make Skyler’s case in court proceedings. And yet it still had the sting of catharsis, letting Walt say what he felt: that Skyler is a whiner, a nag, a drag, responsible for anything that happened to her.

At the fan-response level, though, the scene also had two sides. There was the part that was directed at the Bad Fan who hates Skyler, and who has written entire posts on Reddit indistinguishable from what Walt said, and who now got his own language shoved back in his face, labelled “abuser-talk.” And there was the part that was designed to sucker the Prissy Progressive Fan (me) who was all too eager to see Skyler as a pure victim, not merely of abusive Walt, but also of the Bad Fan. Vince Gilligan, you cunning bastard, I am confused and delighted. In one way, this scene was “Breaking Bad” having it both ways; in another way, it was the best kind of text, evading the simple read, as emotionally labile as I felt an hour after watching it.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, on the impulse to "Whitewash" Walt:
These sorts of viewers insist that Walt's tears near the end somehow cancel out the unnervingly sincere hatred in his voice as he ranted and raved—that he was just a master showman putting on an act when he spewed venom at Skyler, using phrases that could have been copied verbatim from the countless "Skyler is a bitch" threads in comments sections and on message boards. Also that Walt was just putting on an act when he said Hank got what was coming to him. Because Hank is family, you see, and Walter would never hurt his family! That's a bridge too far for him, you see. He did it all for his family in the first place, you see. He said so! You see?

It would be disturbing if it weren't so sad. Where does this impulse to Whitewash come from? I think we know: We like Walter. We root for Walter. We think of ourselves as good people. We can't root for a bad person. Therefore, if we root for him, he must be good. Or good at heart. Otherwise we're bad for rooting for him.

There is no Team Walt, really, unless you're a sociopath, or somebody who's unreasonably attached to the sorts of frustrated little boy Alpha Male fantasies that got Walter in trouble in the first place.
Director Rian Johnson interviewed at Rolling Stone (prior to the episode airing); at The Hollywood Reporter.

Writer Moira Walley-Beckett interviewed at Entertainment Weekly; and a pair of broader and deeper interviews at Kessler University and at The Believer. "We’d just let the sky tell our story."

Johnson and Walley-Beckett interviewed together at EW and at Vulture, touching again on the phone call:
Walley-Beckett: I personally feel like it wasn’t open to interpretation. I would hope that people got that it was an absolute ploy on Walt’s part.
Johnson: So much of her reaction to the call is about not just what she’s going through inside, but about how she plays it, how she plays along with the lie, or doesn’t. That was really important. Then Bryan’s side was a much different challenge. The complexity of it, playing one thing while feeling another, that’s always interesting to watch.
Ozymandias won Emmys for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Moira Walley-Beckett); Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Bryan Cranston); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Anna Gunn).
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
This episode is one of the few times that a TV show has upset me to the point of not being sure that I ever wanted to watch it again. Just such a series of absolute gut punches as Walt descends to incredible depths and becomes the dark, horrible villain that was the final destination of his road. Took me a while to come around to watch the final two episodes.
posted by nubs at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


The phone call had to be one of the most misunderstood plot aspects since the infamous camera shift during Jesse's assassination of Gail. (Of course Walt is aware that there are police listening in, from the very moment Skylar telegraphs it to him with "No police." (and quickly following) "Where are you?" Yep. There are police.)

There's a real slight-of-hand going on here from the writers, too - parroting and mocking the criticisms of Skylar from online. At least, that's what I like to think. And he's playing a role to the hilt to strengthen her case with the feds. AND there's a frisson of pleasure hearing Walt chew her out, even if you only agree with some of what he says (or, even, none of what he says). Kind of a complicated scene that pulls together all your conflicting feelings about the Skylar/Walt relationship. Brilliant stuff.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:31 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


[I meant to say, part of the power of that scene is that he *never* speaks that way to Skylar, so we know (or have an inkling) upon first viewing that he is playing the role to the hilt for the feds.]
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2015


he *never* speaks that way to Skylar

Not quite this way. But I think there are hints of it in the One Who Knocks speech (the hissed "who do you think you are talking to?") and in the bedroom argument in Fifty-One (the sneering "what is your next move?" and the angry "you want to take me on? you want to take away my children?"). There have been moments when Walt -- or Walt-as-Heisenberg -- has shown contempt for Skyler.

For me that's what makes the writing of that call so clever and so poisonous: Walt's putting on a hugely exaggerated performance, but he's drawing that performance from the worst aspects of himself.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


It always felt to me like this pair of episodes really were the finale: all Walt's plates finally stop spinning, everything is broken. The remaining two episodes feel like more of a coda, and in a way they undermine this moment by giving Walt more of a traditionally tied-in-a-bow triumphant ending.

Incidentally: I'm using the AMC episode-summary sentences for the above-the-fold descriptions on these posts, and it amuses me how they've become briefer and vaguer as we got towards this moment. They were very careful about giving nothing away in these.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:32 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The phone call had to be one of the most misunderstood plot aspects since the infamous camera shift during Jesse's assassination of Gail.

I will fully admit it took me a longish way through the phone call (I guess about when he choked back a sob?) before I realized he was playing to the police, because yes on the one hand it's outlandish how cruel he's being to her... but on the other, he is a cruel and outlandish creature and it wasn't all that far off the mark from what he thought (though may not have so explicitly said) at points prior.
posted by psoas at 12:02 PM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


The remaining two episodes feel like more of a coda, and in a way they undermine this moment by giving Walt more of a traditionally tied-in-a-bow triumphant ending.

That, yes, too. As honest as the show was in so many other regards, the fact that he essentially got to go out in the way he wanted to sent all my outrage-o-meters to full tilt.
posted by psoas at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The remaining two episodes feel like more of a coda, and in a way they undermine this moment by giving Walt more of a traditionally tied-in-a-bow triumphant ending.

Yeah, I have mixed feelings about the last two episodes. I don't mind seeing Walt in exile, and part of me was hoping that he would end there - alone, in a cabin in the snowy woods, with his barrel of money.
posted by nubs at 1:09 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Up to this episode, despite all evidence to the contrary, Walter still thought of himself as a good person who had to do bad things. That phone call is where he starts to see himself as a bad person who is trying to do good things, but his only tools are lies and half-truths. They're just lies and half-truths that are more accurate than the crap he's been slinging in the past. It might be the first time he actually helped his family since he first began to cook meth, of course he wouldn't have needed to if he hadn't. Nothing he could ever do would ever make up for all the harm he caused.

That's why I don't even really see the ending as triumphant. After all his actions in Felina, the best he could offer was maybe making things somewhat less horrible for his family than they were at the end of this episode. Best case scenario, if everything he planned actually worked out, Skyler, Walt Jr., and Jesse will still have pretty awful, traumatized lives.
posted by Green With You at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fuck you, Breaking Bad, for making me love Hank and then taking him away from me.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Hank, I was watching The Cell recently and I'll be damned if Dean Norris isn't in it -- and he looks almost exactly the same.

It's been 15 years now!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Ozymandias" and "Granite State" are the best episodes of this show, and two of the best episodes of any show. But that ending...the more I think about it, the more it makes me mad. It presumes for one thing that the story we're following is Walt's story. It is, but by this point I wanted to see how Skyler and Marie and Flynn dealt with what came next; I always thought what Breaking Bad really needed was something like Six Feet Under's last few episodes (which I won't spoil, but those who've seen it know what I'm talking about, I think). As it stands, I guess I could have lived with the finale being the end if Hugo from season one had run in and kicked the dying Walt in the junk.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:48 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Thanks, Hugo."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:26 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like it that they had the scene in this episode with Walt coming home in a panic, packing bags again, just like in Crawl Space. That Grantland article is very clever, with its metaphor of Walt's imaginary sacred line that is family, and the physical manifestation of that line in this episode. I kind of feel like Walt can only ever be truly surprised when he discovers that he has tricked himself somehow, and here it's like he's finally realizing all at once that this family thing was just lip service. Sorry if that's obvious.

There was a lot of good stuff in the Ozymandias FPP, but I especially appreciated kryptondog's breakdown of how Holly showed Walt that he'd failed. Pater Aletheias' version was much more generous and surely also true.

Between the acting and the makeup and the prosthetics, Cranston looked so beat up by the end of this series, just aggrieved and unhealthy. When I saw the surprise Breaking Bad Super Bowl ad this weekend, my first thought was "whoa, Walt looks great!"
posted by heatvision at 4:24 AM on February 5, 2015


"Ozymandias" and "Granite State" are the best episodes of this show, and two of the best episodes of any show. But that ending...the more I think about it, the more it makes me mad. It presumes for one thing that the story we're following is Walt's story. It is, but by this point I wanted to see how Skyler and Marie and Flynn dealt with what came next; I always thought what Breaking Bad really needed was something like Six Feet Under's last few episodes (which I won't spoil, but those who've seen it know what I'm talking about, I think).

I'm with you on that. There's a theory, which I'll mention when we get to it, that the final episode is a dream sequence. It actually works remarkably well given the way Walt behaves in the last episode.

This is a terrific episode. So many astonishing moments:

-Hanks' death (which I had misremembered as happening in the previous episode) is I think the moment when Walt kind of knows that he is done. All of his wheedling so far has been about protecting about his family, and finally a member of his family pays for it.
-Walt is really a snarling spitting version of himself in this episode. Witness his attitude to Jesse, not only revealing him for a horrible death, but twisting the knife about Jane
-That knife fight. Jesus that is scary. We have just seen Hank be killed, is it going to get even worse? Then the abduction of Holly, which actually helps bring Walt to something approaching a human being.

That phone call? I think it's fair that he is playing it up to try to diminish Skyler's responsibility, but I think he is also saying what is on his mind. It's both a way to save Skyler and attack her at the same time.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:17 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was slow to pick up on what he was doing in the phone call, too--at first all I heard was this outrageous, spiteful, contemptuous abuse; it was only when they showed him sobbing silently that I realized that he was playing it up for the feds. But I can't believe it was all for show--Walt has become a much better liar over the course of the show but (as We had a deal, Kyle says) Walt has shown contempt for Skyler a few times before.

There are a few places the series could have ended and I would have been content with it, if a little surprised by the audacity: the end of Season Four, the end of Crawl Space, and the end of this episode. I'm a bit conflicted about Felina--to a certain extent it reminds me of the psychologist's explanation at the end of Psycho, or the Stranger's monologue at the end of The Big Lebowski: yes, it's there, but you get the sense that it's not terribly necessary, that the movie proper ended five minutes earlier.

On another note entirely, I love the attention to details in this episode, in particular that the knife which Skyler pulls from the block and uses on Walt is the same one which Walt returns to the block after he was up all night waiting for Tuco.
posted by johnofjack at 6:45 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I can't believe it was all for show--Walt has become a much better liar over the course of the show but (as We had a deal, Kyle says) Walt has shown contempt for Skyler a few times before.

That's what makes it an awesome scene: the contempt is real and it is an act for the Feds. It's an act based on very real feelings, which makes it believable, even when it is clear to the viewing audience that it is an act.
posted by nubs at 11:32 AM on February 7, 2015


The Fall of the Meth King: An Oral History of the Best ‘Breaking Bad’ Episode Ever -- Inside the making of “Ozymandias,” the harrowing, violent end to the reign of Walter White (Alan Siegel for The Ringer, Aug. 1, 2018)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


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