Holy chemistry!

The explosive season ender eliminates many of Walt's problems while creating new ones

Published October 10, 2011 3:01AM (EDT)

The following recap of "Breaking Bad" Season 4, Episode 13 contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

The last thing Gus Fring did was straighten his tie.

The seemingly indestructible drug lord bought it in a nursing home after going with his henchman Tyrus to kill his mute enemy, Hector Salamanca. The visit had been secretly engineered by Walt with the cooperation of Hector, who falsely made it seem as though he was about to become an informant for the drug enforcement agency in order to lure his enemies into range. The killing device was a bomb strapped to the undercarriage of Hector's wheelchair. In a brilliant touch, the mute Hector triggered the bomb the same way he communicated his wishes, by repeatedly hammering on a small silver bell. In an even more brilliant touch, the explosion was conveyed in long shot as its force blew the front door off Hector's room and sent debris and smoke into the hallway. When Gus stepped out of the room, I thought for a moment that he had miraculously survived the explosion -- an outcome that would not have surprised me, given Gus' past track record of surviving attempts on his life; but then the camera tracked forward and situated itself in front of Gus, revealing that half his face had been blown off. He fell out of frame, and buenas noches.

So where does that leave "Breaking Bad"? As is often the case -- on the show and in life -- an act of violence created or intensified as many problems as it solved. Jesse and the Whites no longer have to worry about Gus trying to kill them, nor do they have to worry about reprisals from the Salamanca clan, the most prominent members of which were already offed in previous episodes.

But a bombing at a nursing home will surely intensify the search for Heisenberg once the DEA realizes that the device was homemade, and therefore devised by someone with an intimate knowledge of chemistry. The law enforcement scrutiny of Walt isn't going to go away; logically Jesse should get drawn into it as well, once the DEA figures out (via witnesses and surveillance footage) that Walt was at the same hospital as Gus and Tyrus at the same time earlier that day, and that Jesse and Walt had frequent cell phone contact, and even had a conversation on a hospital hallway bench in plain view of cops who later questioned Jesse about the poisoning.

Another thing to consider (and I don't doubt that "Breaking Bad" will remember it, as it has a memory like an elephant): The episode contained a brief shot of Gus sitting at his desk watching video surveillance feeds from throughout his far-flung fast food and drug empire. The feeds were all channeled through his laptop. The two underlings who presumably would have been in charge of instantly visiting Gus' home or office in the event of an untimely demise and collecting incriminating evidence are respectively dead (Tyrus) and incapacitated (Mike). So the laptop is presumably just sitting there, where law enforcement officers are sure to find it. If they do find it, not only will they realize the extent of Gus' criminal enterprise, they may be able to access previous surveillance feeds and acquire video evidence that Walt and Jesse worked for Gus, and were in X location at Y time on Z days; this will all help immeasurably with whatever case they build against Albuquerque's dynamic duo. (The destruction of the laundry plant by Walt and Jesse doesn't necessarily eliminate the video evidence, which was likely cached on a server somewhere.)

Walt in the hospital hallways, in the parking garage planting the bomb under Gus' car, in the nursing home planting the bomb under Hector's wheelchair, on the bench in the hallway talking to Jesse, in the elevators of both buildings -- that's all going to be on video, too. How will the show account for this? Perhaps it won't; maybe it'll end up in the evidence dossier that eventually drives Walt and his family into witness protection.

Speaking of witness protection: The elimination of Gus and Tyrus should also activate the German conglomerate that we learned had been bankrolling Gus' criminal empire. Those people will not be happy about what Walt and Jesse did, and I can't imagine they aren't on deck to become the criminal antagonists of the show's fifth and final season.

The bombing will also intensify the White family's financial woes, because no matter how much Walt hated being Gus' high-priced indentured servant, the job still paid great money. Sans Gus, Walt and Jesse will have to start over as meth manufacturers, buying their own equipment, paying for another lab in which to cook it, and then either partnering with a new (and potentially equally dangerous) distributor or moving the product themselves. All of this is, to put it mildly, problematic.

And -- I saved this for last because it's a doozy -- the episode's final shot, a reveal of a flower pot in Walt's backyard with a "Lily of the Valley" tag, which confirmed that it was in fact Walt who poisoned Brock, the son of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea.

I'll accept that Walt would do something like this, despite being a father of two and a guy who has never shown any indication of being quite that ruthless before, because he's in a desperate place right now. People whose backs are against the wall are capable of much worse behavior than people who think they know them realize.

However, this twist is troublesome from a writing standpoint because it credits Walt with being the author of a criminal scheme so diabolical that it requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of viewers that's equal to, maybe greater than, any of the bomb- or bullet-related twists in prior episodes.

Why would Walt poison Brock? To get him into the hospital, so that a panicked Jesse would stand watch and eventually lure Gus to talk to him, thereby maneuvering Gus into a position where Walt could try to kill him with a car bomb? It all seems a bit far-fetched. So much of it is dependent on people doing exactly what Walt wants and expects them to do, at exactly the moment that he wants and expects them to do it. [Updated: Reader JeffTCarroll comments, "It's more believable if you consider Walt's poisoning of Brock as merely the method to get Jesse back on Walt's side. Walt didn't plan the hospital bombing until after this occurred, just as he planned everything else on the fly after that happened." I like this interpretation a lot.]

Another nettlesome aspect of this plot is that -- as far as I've been able to determine; I'm sure expert horticulturists will correct me -- lilies of the valley are only poisonous if ingested in large doses. So what did Walt do, make lilies-of-the-valley berry jam, spread it on toast with some peanut butter, and swap it out for whatever Brock was having for lunch at school that day? And would the poison have acted quickly enough to eliminate the possibility of Brock giving his mother information that would have helped her figure out what happened? "Mommy, a scary-looking bald white man told me to eat a bunch of berries, and now my tummy hurts!"

Yes, I am nitpicking. This was a great episode, expertly constructed and executed. I'm sorry to see Gus go; he was, as I've written elsewhere, one of the greatest screen gangsters of recent times, and Giancarlo Esposito was so exquisite in the role that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences really should send him an Emmy right now rather than go through the motions of having everyone vote for him.

Was this a perfect season? No, not remotely; in fact, in retrospect I think it was too long, stretching maybe nine or 10 episodes' worth of plot over 13 episodes, and indulging in some flourishes that were only acceptable if you viewed them through the prism of individual characters' apparently boundless stupidity -- for example, Skyler's impulsive decision to give her former employer nearly $700,000 to pay back taxes without consulting her husband first, a twist that set up that great finale of "Crawl Space" but also made an otherwise intelligent character look like a dope.

But all in all, the show's consistently high level of quality continued into a fourth year, which is no small accomplishment, and the plotlines changed both the characters and the series' tone in fascinating ways, tightening the screws on all the major characters and foregrounding the film noir/black comedy influence that was always present. "Breaking Bad" is a great TV series, a worthy heir to the dark dramas that preceded and influenced it. No matter how fast series creator Vince Gilligan and company turn around Season 5, the wait will still seem endless.




By Matt Zoller Seitz

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