Breaking Bad Season 4 Finale Review: Who Won?
Following last week's episode of Breaking Bad, which included Walt's panicked plea to Skyler - "I've made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices." - I wrote that Heisenberg was dead.
And it's true. Walter White is no longer a man trying to look and act the part of a ruthless, well-reasoned, cold-hearted drug dealer. The fourth season finale of what is making its case to be the greatest show in television history made it clear: Heisenberg really is gone. Gus Fring 2.0 is in his place.
Walt truly is the Man Who Knocks now.
Overall, "Face Off" told a very simple story. It was the story of Walt actually coming up with, and following through with, a careful, intelligent, winning plan.
Throughout four seasons, viewers had seen this chemistry teacher go from an average, no-confident Joe to a ego-maniacal loose canon. He wanted to be tough, he wanted to be the man in charge and he thought the world revolved around his every action. But a lot of that was a farce, as emphasized over these final few heart-pounding episodes, as Jesse rose up the drug operation ranks and Walt grew more and more ostracized.
But that all changed with one explosion. The key ingredient in Walt's evolution has now been added. Walt executed a plan as thought out and diabolical as any Gus could come up with.
It involved putting his neighbor's life at risk. It involved nearly killing an innocent child. And it led to a moment where Walt could finally exhale, look over his town and declare: I won.
Before Walt arrived in the winner's circle, of course, a death as gruesome as any in televised memory gave an entirely different meaning to the title of the finale. No, Gus and Walt didn't really face off here. The former simply lost half of his head.
Vince Gilligan and company didn't even attempt to make Gus' murder a surprise. The death march for this fascinating character began the moment he left his car outside the retirement home, as music played, we zeroed in on his face and it was clear what was about to go down. The goal here wasn't to shock, but first to honor such an engrossing, well-portrayed villain and also to emphasize the rise of Walt as his replacement.
Again, this was a straightforward episode (with one major exception: it skipped over a great deal of Walt's plan - having Saul's bodyguard life Jesse's Ricin cigarette, never revealing how Walt slipped the berries to Brock - something that could understandably bother many viewers who felt this was an example of manipulative, misleading storytelling). It took its time to arrive at that parking garage roof, literally spelling out multiple scenes with Hector to build tension like it often does so well, but the aim of this season was to finally anoint Walt as a winner. In a Charlie Sheen-like sense of the word, of course.
Walt doesn't care about the money, he doesn't care about his family (do you really think his next stop is Hank's house... or to wherever he'll construct a super lab of his own?) and he almost doesn't care that he was nearly a child killer. Walt did seem legitimately relieved Brock will survive, but the fact that he took the step with that deadly flower is all we need to know. (Bravo, meanwhile, to the readers who pointed out from last week's conclusion that Walt was behind Brock's poisoning, especially those who referred to the scene where his gun landed away from his on the terrace, aiming straight at a plant.)
Despite everything, meanwhile, Jesse is as much Walt's student as ever. He still refers to him as "Mr. White," he asked to make sure Gus had to go. I don't know what Walt has in mind next, exactly, but I don't doubt that Jesse will follow him into it.
Breaking Bad is undoubtedly the best show on television. Is it the best ever? Where will it go from here? Will Walt organize a New Mexico cartel of his own? We have awhile to wait and awhile to debate, but does any of that matter right now? I'd prefer to savor the incredible season that just passed - from the acting to the camera work to the storytelling - than begin to worry about the final 16 episodes. Just truly amazing stuff all around.
What did everyone else think?