Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 12: “End Times”
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett and Thomas Schnauz
Directed by Vince Gilligan
As though he’s been reading Breaking Bad threads online, Walter White has had a few moments of honesty this season, even if most of them are in some way self-serving. This week, in shooing Walt Jr., Holly and Skyler out of the White house in order to make sure he’s left to face what he thinks is his imminent demise without endangering them, he has a big one: “I’ve made choices…I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else.” Of course, in the context of those choices (such as, you know, manufacturing tons of addictive chemical poison), the basic premise is more than a little shaky, but after the seasons of nastiness towards Skyler, it was nice to hear a total admission of guilt and responsibility. And yet it rings just a little truer when Jesse is forced to admit to Gus that Walt is, yes, “a dick.”
And yet he’s the dick that Jesse just can’t bring himself to sign off on whacking, and that reluctance which sets off a chain of events that was a little difficult to accept. With Gomez and his partner(s) searching the laundry upstairs (following a very funny, very elaborate ruse on Gomez’s part to gain access), Gus is quick to point out to Jesse that this intrusion is clearly Walt’s doing, and when Jesse refuses to give the go-ahead, Gus makes it clear that there will be an “appropriate response.” So far, so Gus. But then Jesse’s girlfriend’s kid, Brock, turns out to have flu-like symptoms – much like someone who’s been poisoned with, say, ricin.
There are two major possibilities here, and neither is particularly satisfying The more convoluted possibility – and the one the show seems to come down on – is that Gus is responsible for the poisoning, as part of a plan to turn Jesse against Walt and get him to do the dispatching. (The fact that JEsse makes this insanely illogical assumption is even more jarring since we’ve spent so little time with him in the last few episodes, and in that time he’s seemed to have gotten his shit together, relatively speaking.) The other, more sensible (but still very dodgy) possibility is that Jesse just slipped up and left the cigarette somewhere, making it simply a tragic, incredibly-poorly-timed accident. The former option seems laughably complicated and risky even by Gus standards, especially since it’s far more logical to assume Gus is responsible than Walt, despite Walt and Jesse’s admittedly testy relationship. It’s difficult to pass complete judgment on this plot point since it’s not clear which option Gilligan and his writers have gone with (or if there’s some other, major WTF possibility that’s gone unmentioned), but right now it feels a bit cheap, whichever way it breaks.
Still, “End Times” has some very strong moments. (This is still Breaking Bad we’re talking about here, and showrunner Gilligan takes a relatively rare crack at directing tonight.) Walt and Jesse’s confrontation, despite Jesse’s bizarre leaps in logic, is tense and sad, with the indentation of Walt’s gun on his own forehead simply the latest in his ever-accumulating collection of facial obstructions The hour gets a lot of mileage, too, from Walt’s increasing mania, which might serve as another indicator that his doctor’s visits might not be going as well as he has indicated to others. He cracks up again when he pieces together Gus’s (supposed) plan, and his mad-professor moves with the homemade cell-phone-triggered explosive device feels like a movie from Walt’s wilier days (say, Season 2). His episode-ending “standoff” with Gus is beautifully staged, too. Even more than usual, something is not quite right in Walt – and in this last run of plotting, too. Here’s hoping the doubtless-exciting finale can iron that out.