'Breaking Bad' recap: Apocalypse, now
Ambiguity has always been one of “Breaking Bad’s” secret weapons. The show never tells the audience more than it absolutely needs to know, and that increases the sense of mystery and excitement surrounding much of what happens. But as we head into next week’s finale, we’ve got one of the biggest mysteries the show’s ever tossed our way: Who poisoned Brock (if, indeed, Brock was even poisoned)? And everything that happens next week hinges on the answer to this particular question, I assume, so let’s take a look at our suspects.
Walter White: The assumption Jesse leaps to when he realizes the cigarette hiding the ricin Walter gave Jesse to use to kill Gus earlier this season is missing is that Walter—the only other person who knew about that cigarette—has taken the ricin and poisoned Brock in an act of petty revenge. In a riveting, absolutely stellar scene, one that we’ve been building to all season, Jesse confronts Walter in the empty White house (the other Whites are under DEA protection over at Hank and Marie’s), taking Walter’s own gun and holding him at gunpoint. Jesse presses the gun against Walter’s forehead so forcefully it leaves an imprint of the barrel, but Walter convinces him, ultimately, that he wouldn’t have done it, couldn’t have poisoned a child. Instead, Walter suggests that someone else did it, someone a lot more comfortable using children as pawns, namely…
Gustavo Fring: The scenario Walter lays out actually makes so much sense that I’m not sure I trust it. (“Breaking Bad” is rarely known for going with the simplest explanation.) Gus couldn’t kill Walter without Jesse’s permission (since Jesse would stop the cook, otherwise). If Jesse believes that Walter poisoned Brock—as he does when he storms over to the White house—then, well, he’ll be more than happy to pull the trigger himself, clearing up Gus’ biggest problem. My only qualm with this scenario, the thing that keeps me from believing it’s true, is Walter’s notion that Gus must have known about the ricin because he somehow overheard the two talking about it on the cameras he has planted everywhere. Walter’s always been very careful about what can and can’t be overheard by the cameras, and the show has also been careful to let us know where all of the cameras are all season long. I just don’t buy that Gus poisoned Brock with ricin (if, indeed, Brock was poisoned at all). No, my theory is very simple.
Brock poisoned himself: Kids are always playing around where they’re not supposed to play around. If Brock found Jesse’s cigarettes, don’t you think he’d pull out the one that was turned around differently from all of the others? Don’t you think he might play around with it and either try to smoke it or break it open and find the strange pill inside? Might he not try to eat that pill? It strikes me as a very “Breaking Bad” type of scenario to have Jesse turn against Gus because of random chance, because of a kid playing around where he shouldn’t have been and finding something that everyone else interprets as something far beyond what it actually is because of the scenario they find themselves in. I can’t say I’d be surprised if the show implicates either Gus or Walter next week, but, honestly, I think it was all a big accident, one that could have deadly implications for either of the other two men.
The rest of “End Times” was a deeply apocalyptic episode of this show (fitting, given that title). What it reminded me of—don’t laugh—were those episodes of “Big Love” where everything came to a head all at once, and the characters became convinced that God had turned His favor away from them. Now, obviously, the characters in “Breaking Bad” don’t belong to an obscure religious sect, and they’re not constantly talking about God’s will for them, but in this episode, it’s obvious that they feel the end of days has finally arrived, that the apocalypse has come to claim all of them. When Skyler and Walt Jr., are over at Hank and Marie’s house, the episode really takes on that end of the world type feel, the sense that all of these people are hunkered down, just waiting for the end to come. When Skyler steps out onto the deck, it’s easy to expect someone will take a shot at her from just over the hill.
The only person not waiting for the end to come—heck, even Saul is clearing out his office and heading for the hills—is Gus, even as it seems like the vultures might be circling him as well. Hank convinces his former partner, Steve, to drop in on the laundry Walt wouldn’t bring him to last week, the laundry that hides the super-lab. And as Steve pokes around (and doesn’t find anything), he takes more than enough pictures, pictures that you have to imagine an eagle-eyed Hank will spot something in. (Down below the laundry, Jesse and Tyrus wait, sitting silently, hoping the DEA leaves soon enough.) And Walter knows the only way he makes it out of this alive is to eliminate Gus, which is why he lures Gus to the hospital (by having Jesse act so broken-up about what’s happened to Brock as to shut down the cook) and plants a bomb beneath his car.
If I have an issue with this episode, it stems from the final moment, when Gus stands, looking out over the buildings by the hospital, deciding not to get in his car, apparently having figured out that Walter is out there somewhere. I know Gus is paranoid, and I get that something Jesse did may have tipped him off, but this still seems a little too convenient, a little too much like something done just to keep both Gus and Walter alive until we get to next week’s episode. Still, it’s a minor problem with an episode that’s mostly a thrilling game between two incredibly smart players, an episode that sets up what’s sure to be an explosive—perhaps literally—finale.
— Todd VanDerWerff
Photo: Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, left) and Tyrus (Ray Campbell) play it extremely cautiously, knowing Walter is out there, waiting to kill them. Photo credit: AMC