This week’s episode (5.14) of Breaking Bad was probably the most difficult to watch episode of TV I’ve ever experienced. I mean, Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding earlier this year was pretty bad, but the betrayal and subsequent bloodbath was confined mostly to the end of the episode. In “Ozymandius,” however, brutal events came with punishing intensity and frequency. Just off the top of my head, here’s a list (in chronological order, not ordered by the intensity of emotional torture):
1. Gomie dead on the ground, riddled with bullets.
2. Walt desperately pleading with Jack to spare Hank’s life, while Hank and the entire audience knew there was no way Jack would spare him.
3. Watching Jack blow away a wounded Hank.
4. Watching the neo-nazi gang take $70 million in cash, which I’m sure they’ll use to fund plenty more horrible actions.
5. Hank and Gomie’s bullet-riddled bodies being unceremoniously dumped into an empty hole in the middle of the desert.
6. Walt identifying Jesse’s hiding place to the Nazi’s and, before they took him away to torture him, explaining his role in Jane’s death. There was so much hate and malice in Walt at that moment that I think it finally stamped out whatever tiny little bit of sympathy I may still have been harboring for him. He is an evil man.
7. Watching Marie’s triumphant confrontation with Skyler. Watching her force Skyler to agree to tell Flynn the truth was excruciating. It was even harder to see Marie speaking from her victorious, moral high ground, knowing that her victory would eventually turn to ash when she learned of Hank’s fate.
8. Seeing Flynn’s devastated reaction as Skyler told him the truth and his entire world collapsed around him.
9. The awkward yet terrifying knife fight between Skyler and Walt, ending with Flynn throwing his body in front of his mother to protect her and calling the police on his crazed father. I was certain the knife would end up in someone’s stomach. It didn’t but…
10. …watching the White family become, finally, forever broken when Walt drove off with Holly and left Skyler behind screaming in horror was almost too much to bear. As a recent first-time father, this was probably the most horrible, gut-wrenching scene of the episode for me.
11. A bruised, bloody, obviously tortured Jesse being forced to cook for sociopathic Todd, under threat of violence to his former girlfriend and her son.
12. Walt’s final phone call where he unleashed the full extend of Heisenberg’s dark, narcissistic, controlling ID, berating Skyler for being a useless “bitch” and an impediment to his plans. Yes, I know that part of his speech was an attempt to shift the blame of Skyler and the remaining family and move it onto him; I suppose this is a somewhat noble thing to do, but it doesn’t justify any of Walt’s prior evil. And I’m convinced that he really felt and thought plenty of the vitriol he spewed out over the phone.
Walt’s empire crumbled so swiftly, so spectacularly, that I think this Breaking Bad episode left me in a daze. I felt fuzzy and sick to my stomach after it was over. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by what happened; all evidence had been pointing to this result for quite some time. Maybe I’ve just been conditioned by years of TV tropes to expect that there’s always some good way out of a bad situation.
This time, there was no escape; Hank is dead, Skyler is exposed and guilty by association, Flynn’s entire worldview (and possibly his sense of self) is shattered, Marie is a widow, and while Walt may have physically escaped, the family that he supposedly wanted to protect and provide for at the beginning of this whole mess is utterly destroyed. I still have a recording of this episode on the Tivo, sitting and waiting for me when I have the courage to watch it again and see if I can pick up anything that I missed the first time around. But I’m not ready for that; not yet. Not for a while.