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Well, that's quite the cliffhanger. The newest episode of Breaking Bad, “To’hajiilee,” lags bit in the onset from a pacing perspective, but the slow start gives way to a cliffhanger that could be the show's most game changing pay-off to date. While the last twenty or so minutes of the episode are white-knuckle, edge of your seat suspense, the action that slowly leads to that point provides us with an interesting look into the psyche of Walter White.
One of the things that makes Walt such an interesting character is how amazingly indestructible he becomes when he is embodying Heisenberg. Walter White, cancer stricken high school chemistry teacher fades to the background and a no-nonsense calculating mastermind emerges. So much of the series has been spent watching Heisenberg wreak havoc on those who dare to cross him that it is jarring to see regular old Walter White return and make crucial errors that Heisenberg would never make.
Throughout the early portion of the episode, Walter White is constantly peeking through the Heisenberg façade. While speaking with Uncle Jack, Walter White bleeds though Heisenberg's tense negotiations. Walt is quick to defend Jesse's character as Unble Jack tries to make sense of the kill order. Walt insists that Jesse isn’t a rat (even though we know he is) and is practically family (even though we know Walt won’t kill Hank because he is family). Heisenberg’s practicality wars with Walt’s desire to protect those he cares about. In the end, Heisenberg wins, as we all know he will, and Jesse is on the chopping block - that is, assuming Walt can find him.
Heisenberg is in full control as Walt convinces Andrea to call Jesse and draw him out. Only someone with Heisenberg’s ice cold nerves could interact with little Brock after poisoning him a few seasons ago. But Walter White again pops out when he tells Uncle Jack that Jesse is not to be killed where “the woman and the boy” can see, intending to spare Brock having to be involved further in this twisted world.
The episode’s most jarring switch between Walter White and Heisenberg comes during the high intensity final section of the episode. All it takes is a staged photo of the buried money to make Heisenberg drop everything and speed off into the desert. Heisenberg's "no one can touch me" hubris is on full display as he lists off his various murders to Jesse (and, presumably, to Hank and Gomez) over the phone. As he tells Jesse, Heisenberg thinks so little of Jesse that this carelessness in speech doesn’t even phase him. After all, Heisenberg killed those people because Jesse screwed up so many times. He had to do it to save Jesse from himself - another lie told in an effort to rationalize these desperate actions for the small piece of humanity that lives within the shell of Walter White. Unfortunately for Walt, it looks like Jesse has learned a thing or two over the course of their relationship.
Realizing Jesse has trapped him, Heisenberg is quick to give up his location to Uncle Jack, not caring that there are clearly two other people with Jesse at the money site (and that he just gave his Nazi buddies the location of his money - Heisenberg is invlnerable, after all). However, Walter White again returns once Walt sees that Hank and Gomez have accompanied Jesse to the money site. Unwilling to see Hank become collateral damage, Walt tearfully calls off the hit. But Walter makes a crucial mistake that Heisenberg likely wouldn’t have made: he underestimates Uncle Jack.
The second Walt calls off the hit, it becomes painfully apparent that he believes Jack will take him at his word. Had he taken a few moments to really assess the situation, he would have seen that this belief was a grave miscalculation. These men need Walt to fix their cook. The last thing they are willing to do is risk something happening to him. Heisenberg would have seen that, and come up with some reason for them not to show. Instead, Walt simply hangs up the phone, making it seem as if he’s in a precarious position. It is then that we know Uncle Jack and his calvary, like Chekhov’s gun, are going to go off by the end of the episode.
Heisenberg’s final appearance in the episode comes after Walter White has managed to get himself cuffed and read his rights by Hank. Turning on Jesse and accusing him of being a coward, it appears that this will be the final hurrah for Walt’s tough talking alter-ego. Or so we believe, until Jack and company roll in and the fight of Hank and Gomez’s life begins.
Now, were this the series’ penultimate episode, I would certainly believe that the arrest might go off without a hitch. In fact, this would be a pretty satisfying ending, with Walt getting his comeuppance and Hank finally catching his White Whale. But we know that Walt still needs to head off to New Hampshire in these final episodes, only to return with fire power and ricin for revenge. The Walt we have seen in the flashforward is Heisenberg once more, calculating and cold, without a hint of Walter White left within him. Perhaps this is the moment that finally kills the last of the humanity in Walt. I guess we’ll find out when the dust settles next week.
-- This episode goes from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. The front half, while an excellent showcase for Bryan Cranston, is bogged down by several plans that don’t come to fruition, making it feel almost plodding at times. Walt’s attempts to lure Jesse out don’t appear as if they will matter going forward, as it looks like Walt will have Jesse right where he wants him. Similarly, Hank’s plan to snatch Huell and make him talk does lead them to the money site, but it takes a few starts and stops to get there.
-- It's great to see Huell get some significant screen time. And I’m happy to see that Saul immediately notices he's missing, prompting a stop at the car wash for answers. I am worried that poor Huell will be stuck at the "safe house" indefinitely now. Maybe that's where the proposed Saul spin-off will start from?
-- This week’s costume color watch finds Walt in a white jacket, which is a color I never thought I’d see him wear during the series. Walt and Skyler have adopted a much lighter color palette in these final episodes, but this is the first time I recall Walt in white.
-- Watching Walt scream at Jack to stop is harrowing - the actions of a desperate man who has finally started to see that his actions will have deadly repercussions on those he loves.
-- Poor Hank and Gomie. I cannot imagine them making it out of this alive. After all, Hank does tell Marie, “It may be awhile until I get home,” which pretty much signs his death certificate.
-- If Uncle Jack kills Hank, I don’t think even Heisenberg can let that slide. Jack is told not to come, but disobeys, and then kills Walt’s family. I’m betting the M-60 is for him and his crew. As for the ricin, Lydia or Todd.
-- It looks like Todd might have a bit of a crush on Lydia, which is equal parts sweet and terrifying, considering what he is capable of.
-- Speaking of Lydia, she’s sure under a lot of pressure to deliver her product. If Walt doesn’t off her, I’m worried the Czech mob just might.