October 10th, 2011
11:36 AM ET
Wow. Season 4 of “Breaking Bad” is in the books.
This run, more than the others, favored finesse over fireworks. The meticulous structure led to a gradual swell of tension that crept up like flood waters. By the end of last night’s episode, the water was up to chin level. And in a matter of minutes, it all receded. Sweet relief.
In fact, I began typing “for once, they didn’t end the season on a bleak note.” Of course I typed too soon, for after flood waters recede, there’s always a path of destruction left behind. Last night was no different, as the final shot revealed the utter obliteration of Walt’s moral compass.
Going into “Face Off,” we knew Walt had no qualms about wasting a few unsavory characters in order to protect himself and his inner circle. We knew he had no problem watching as others perished (Jane) or took the fall (school janitor) in the wake of his actions. And last night we learned he was fine with actively, DELIBERATELY endangering innocent people.
First, he manipulated his neighbor into serving as his mine canary, and even seemed to take pleasure in the spectacle - joyfully muttering “there ya go” as the old woman unwittingly checked his house for booby traps and hitmen. I half-expected him to be twirling a mustache.
Next, in the closing moments of the episode, we learned Walt poisoned a child, a dastardly move straight out of Gus’ playbook. Walt has traversed so far down the moral valley that “good” and “bad” no longer serve as apt descriptors. His badness is now ingrained and intent is the only distinguishing factor: He is either evil (if he poisoned Brock with the intent to kill him), or just really, really sinister (if he poisoned Brock in order to incapacitate him).
In addition to Walt’s moral decay, the season closer served up a juicy, open-ended plot change. For Plan B of Operation Pollo Muerto, Walt approached Tio Hector, the Cartel rival who shared Walt’s hatred of Gus. Hector agreed to go on a suicide mission to kill Gus.
To lure the kingpin, Hector visited the D.E.A. offices, after which Gus would be forced to silence him. Always one to do his own bidding, Gus insisted he kill Hector himself, playing right into Walt’s hand.
“Breaking Bad” is a modern western - it’s about vendettas and machismo and quick trigger fingers and survival in the desert - and that’s why the next scene was so beautiful. As acoustic guitar arpeggios and a piano’s minor chords echoed eerily, Gus was a cowboy walking to his final shootout. Only instead of tumbleweeds, we saw groomed hedges; instead of a saloon, the stage was the surreal setting of a nursing home.
Since each season has ended with a death (Season 1: Tuco’s lackey; season 2: dozens of airplane passengers; season 3: Gale), we knew someone wouldn’t make it out alive. And so, minutes after smirking at the thought of killing Hector, Hector smirked at Gus and ignited the bomb. Somewhere along the way, we were even tricked into rooting for that crusty old bastard.
But wait! Gus emerged from the rubble apparently unscathed and, ever the fastidious one, adjusted his tie. However, the camera revealed his mangled and raw Harvey Dent treatment before he collapsed. There are plenty of bad special effects on television (*cough “Terra Nova” cough*), but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, it may have been more convincing than the “Dark Knight” scene that inspired it.
With Gus dead, Walt headed to the lab and was the one who knocked (or, rather, buzzed in through the service elevator). After vanquishing two more henchmen, Walt and Jesse incinerated the underground meth superlab. *Tear*
During the episode’s denouement, we learned that little Brock survived the poison scare, which wasn’t caused by ricin after all but by lily of the valley berries. And just like that, “Breaking Bad” was sunshine and handshakes and new beginnings.
But then that final shot revealed a lily of the valley plant in Walt’s backyard, the very plant he stopped and stared at last week. “Breaking Bad,” please don’t ever change.
So, do you guys think the finale delivered? How did this season compare to the others?
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