Tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad was one of the greatest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. I never want to watch it again.
(MAJOR spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode, read this review at your own peril.)
Rian Johnson’s haunting, striking, poetic, precise, perfect direction. The stone-cold emotional knockouts of Hank’s merciless murder, Walter Jr.’s devastating realization and Jesse’s “canine transformation.” The impassioned career-best performances from Bryan Cranston, Betsy Brandt, Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte. The quintessentially disarming comedic touches of Walt’s barrel roll and the unfortunately positioned bullet hole. That mesmerizing song. That poignant flashback. That dissolve. That BABY.
Never show it to me again.
Make no mistake: I want to remember every second of this episode. I want to burn it in my brain and see it in my nightmares. But I don’t ever want to see it again.
This is not a typical reaction for me, especially for something I truly loved. Normally one of my go-to determinants of whether I truly appreciated a piece of entertainment is whether I feel compelled to return to it immediately or soon afterwards. But with this episode, the experience of watching it for the first time satisfied me, and devastated me, so thoroughly that to see it again would be to subject myself to emotions that no television show has ever made me feel, and few will likely make me feel again.
It had to happen this way. When I take ten giant steps back and gaze at the mural that Vince Gilligan is currently in the home stretch of assembling, I’m nodding my head. Of course Hank had to die. Of course Walt had to tell Jesse about Jane. Of course the Nazis had to make Jesse cook again. Of course Marie had to tell Skyler, who had to tell Walt Jr. Of course Walt Jr. went through the five stages of grief. Of course Skyler grabs the knife, of course she finally sees the monster she’s been feeding for the past few months, of course Walt grabs the baby and runs. Of course, of course, of course.
That’s the brilliance of Breaking Bad. Even when it’s all out of surprises, when the show’s course is set, the compass pointing in one direction and one direction only, Breaking Bad wrings gobs of emotion from every obligatory moment. In a sense, it’s a show about inevitability: Walt set this plot in motion when he met Jesse back in the pilot. Everything from that moment has been fallout, fallout, fallout.
Poor Jesse. Chained to a pipe with nothing to do but cook meth and ruminate on his miserable state of affairs.
Poor Hank. Murdered by a neo-Nazi in the middle of the desert with his meth king of a brother-in-law standing helplessly beside him.
Poor Marie. Comforted by the possibility of things returning to normal only to have her soul ripped out from under her.
Poor Skyler. Her husband cooked meth, accumulated $80 billion, let her brother-in-law die and used her like a pawn in a chess match every step of the way.
Only two episodes of Breaking Bad left. Poor us.
*I’ll probably end up watching this episode again at some point, despite my protestations to the contrary. But I don’t want to watch it anytime soon. This is an episode that demands to be savored – to watch it again soon would be like ordering two stacks of pancakes at your favorite restaurant. One will do.
*My friend Joel aptly pointed out that Walt dug Hank’s grave in more ways than one. Nice catch!
*Seriously, can Rian Johnson direct every movie and every episode of television from now until the end of time? I know I said this about Michelle MacLaren last week, but this dude has one heck of an eye. I don’t think there was a single misplaced shot in the entire episode, and the cinematographers captured moments of ironic grandeur that perfectly complemented the many falls from grace in this episode.
*Someone making this episode smartly waited to display the credits until the beginning of the third act. They’re traditionally displayed at the beginning of the second act, but Uncle Jack shot Hank in cold blood. Priorities.
*No Lydia in this episode. I think she’ll be back. Maybe the final shot of the series will be Todd and Lydia riding off into the sunset arm-in-arm. Wouldn’t that be the creepiest thing in the history of television?
*I told Devin Mitchell about Breaking Bad during the first episode of our podcast, which I posted earlier today. Please listen!
*Next week’s episode airs during the second hour of the Emmy Awards on CBS. I love you, Neil Patrick Harris, but I think I’m going to shift to Breaking Bad at 9pm. This is a once-in-a-lifetime season of television. (Also, in a bit of poetic justice, this episode will probably clean up at next year’s Emmys.)