TV Review: Breaking Bad S05E13, To’hajiilee

A western standoff and a blank screen, is what creator Vince Gilligan has left us to deal with in the series’ most explosive episode yet

Sharin Bhatti September 11, 2022
  • Direction
  • Acting
  • Screenplay
  • Music

Breaking Bad

Since HBO’s fantasy network sausage, “Game Of Thrones’” Season Three’s gruesome episode “Red Wedding” destroyed hopes of  TV viewers worldwide, we have been on edge while watching “Breaking Bad’s” final season. The constant question plaguing us is if Vince Gilligan will pull a George RR Martin on us. Drawing too many parallels between unrelated shows might sound a bit outlandish, but the lesson Gilligan is perhaps trying to teach us is that once you’ve broken bad, there is no coming back. Very classic mafia role play. Almost sort of karma-recalling pragmatic poetry.

This is the episode, where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) comes undone. His Heisenberg grip of terror is slipping, from the moment he colludes with his former gang-hires - Jack (Michael Bowen) and his neo-Nazi, white supremacist brothers who conducted multiple two-minute prison murders in Season Four. This time it’s a more personal hit. “Quick, painless and no fear,” as White orders the hit on Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Then the manner of fishing him out for Jack and the visit to Brock’s place (whom he tried to kill in the previous season, launching Jesse’s unflinching wrath upon him). And the price he has to pay for all of this, one last cook to teach Todd to get the purity level of meth higher. The ghosts of Walt’s past are coming back to haunt him and he’s quick to realize, there’s only so far you can get before being pulled back into the New Mexico desert. The place where it all started and now is close to an end.

Everything Walter has done so far - with his transformation to the ultimate bad guy, killing drug lords, disposing bodies, cooking the meth, blowing up Gus Fring, shooting Mike, murdering witnesses, poisoning Brock - has been for family. The family that is beyond Skyler (Anna Gunn),  Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and baby Holly. There’s Jesse, for whose protection, Walt’s gone above and beyond in the murky world of meth cooking. Even Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt), despite their unforgiving and righteous justice seeking - they’re Walt’s family. Little does he know, in one deal-sealing handshake with Jack, he’s signed their death sentences.

The betrayal and the anguish come together in the episode’s final scene, where Jesse and Hank draw Walt to the remote co-ordinates where he’s buried his seven barrels of meth money. It’s sentimental for Walt, it’s where he and Jesse first cooked in the RV seasons ago. And ironic, because here’s where he first eluded arrest and this is where Hank reads him his Miranda rights while arresting him. A single tear runs down Walt’s cheek in burning rage as he looks Jesse straight in the eye while going down to his knees with his hands laced behind his head. Jesse, you fool. The DEA will be called to come dig up the barrels and take Heisenberg downtown. Hank, the hero has won the day and for his final victory lap calls Marie. “Baby, I got him, dead to rights.” and then “I love you…”

For anyone who has seen and read enough drama. A term of endearment as “I love you…” is like a final goodbye. It’s a writer’s trick that comes as a final warning that things are about to go awry. And sure enough, the trucks come charging in. Jack and his army of mercenaries loaded with enough ammunition to take down a third world island nation, come to settle a defeated Walt’s score. Walt, who’s handcuffed and sitting in the back of Hank’s truck is helplessly yelling out to Hank to warn him of the pressing danger while nodding pleadingly with Jack, “No.” But Walt is no longer in control, he’s now in the backseat and even though he’s surrendered, the battle has become bigger than him. In these final moments, he’s wishing he’d never called Jack.

It’s a modern western standoff between pistol-bearing Hank and shotgun-aiming Gomez on one side and Jack’s men armed with P90s and Mini Uzis on the other side. A few warning screams later, fire is set free on both sides with rising dust, echoing gun-shoots puncturing holes in Hank’s truck that’s carrying Heisenberg, unflinching eyes on both sides and the screen goes blank amidst the blazing guns.

Gilligan has not only giving us a warning sign of what the final three episodes might be like. He’s preparing us for the inevitable if we can stomach the eventuality of the show. But he’s also in these final moments of “To’hajiilee” offered a befitting tribute to a western. Hank’s John Wayne fights Jack’s Old Man Clanton with the perpetrator of all it all, Walt, caught between two blood-thirty, dueling folk.

When the screen goes blank a final time in three weeks from now on “Breaking Bad,” we are wondering if Walt will lose it all - his family, his home and his barrels of meth money. The ricin vial he steals from his dilapidated home in the flash-forward is for himself or “does something as silly as lung cancer” finally get him down? The demon after all is within. Tell us what you think.