Sunday night’s Breaking Bad episode, Ozymandias, was pretty unquestionably one of the best episodes in the history of the series and will likely top a lot of critics’ lists of the best TV episodes of the year. It had just about everything a fan of Breaking Bad could want from an episode three hours from the end: Unbelievable tension, major events, and multiple years-in-the-making payoffs. There’s a pretty decent chance “Ozymandias” will be better than any movie that comes out in 2013.
The episode was just brilliantly written and directed, the latter by Rian Johnson, whose films I’ve never seen the fuss about, although his Breaking Bad work has always been stellar. This series just keeps finding things to do with Western desert vistas that are more haunting than the last. And that shot of Skyler running up to the counter, when we can see a phone and a set of knives, and wonder which she will use? Brilliant.
But there was one scene that was an absolute watershed in the history of the series, even more than the death of Hank, the theft of (most of) Walter’s money, Jesse finding out the circumstances of Jane’s death or Walter Jr. finally learning the truth about his father.
I’m talking about, really, the last 20 minutes of the episode, which featured Walter White arriving at his house, trying to get Skyler and his children to go on the run with him, and then turning on them when they refuse to go along. Then, after a struggle that can only be called a domestic abuse scene, he takes his baby daughter Holly, and in a later phone call, calls Skyler a bitch who complained too much and gotten in the way of his plans.
That last scene, in effect, was creator Vince Gilligan taking the words of the “Skyler is a Bitch” brigade and putting them directly in the mouth of Walter White, a murderer, drug lord, domestic abuser and, now, an abductor of a baby. We know Gilligan’s feelings on the matter- he’s made them pretty clear over the years- and now he’s written it directly into the show.
Doing so could have been hamfisted- think David Chase answering his critics with that Columbus Day episode of The Sopranos- but it was done so well, and fit so seamlessly into the episode, that I really can’t complain.
(And yes, I realize that the operative theory is that Walt’s threats to Skyler were worded in such a way it sounds like he knew the cops were listening and was trying to get her off the hook. But he certainly sounded sincere in his menacing her two scenes before.)
I’ve been on the “Skyler is a Bitch” beat since last summer, once I noticed that a whole lot of people I knew who were catching up on the series late saw the bitchiness of Skyler as their primary takeaway from the series. This was nuts, of course; the worst things Skyler has done were having sex with Ted and being occasionally emasculating; the worst things Walt has done were murder, mayhem, drug-dealing, poisoning children and blowing up nursing homes. You don’t have to love Skyler- she’s not an angel, especially in later seasons- but hating Skyler and not hating Walter is pretty much indefensible.
Even after Sunday night:
So now we have just two more episodes, and Breaking Bad has a very good chance at becoming the first Golden Age series since The Shield to completely stick its landing. I wouldn’t bet against it, would you?