Ah, that pesky fly.
It’s last appearance—I realize the possibility of it being the same fly is extremely remote, but for metaphorical purposes, it’s the same one—in Season 3′s “Fly” surrounded Walt’s, and then Jesse’s, attempts to swat out the source of contamination. Jesse was frightened by Walt’s obsession with the tiny insect, but he helped him nonetheless. The tension that emanated in this bottle episode came mostly from the flirtation with a tragic secret—that Walt watched Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, die by choking on her own vomit. If revealed, it would destroy their operation, and the pupil would certainly be hellbent on avenging her.
Since then, Walt has accrued more secrets, more betrayals. There’s the knowledge that Walt was the culprit in Brock’s poisoning, and most recently there’s the matter of the rash shot to the gut that did in Mike, Jesse’s other father figure. So while these horrific details are concealed from Jesse still, and the fly buzzes around headquarters with complete disregard for Walt’s stare, Walt doesn’t seem bothered by it’s presence. He’s willing to share his space with that insect. His indifference toward the bug serves as a meter for his wicked descent.
Whereas before he was guilt-ridden, converting his incessant shame into an obsession with a clean laboratory, now he is worry-free. He’s almost freed of restrictions, with at that point only “the nine” and their lawyer standing between him and unchecked prosperity. As soon as he squashed them, there would be no more pests to exterminate—come to think of it, the Vamonos Pest front is incredibly apropos. And yet, we never see the evidence that the fly wasn’t allowed free reign after the series of stabbings. Hank was able to stumble upon another contaminant, another secret, another obsessing man—Gale.
Way back in season three as well, Gale had bestowed upon Walt his copy of “Leaves of Grass,” a prominent collection of Walt Whitman’s poetry. The significance? In a season four episode, “Bullet Points,” where Hank was sharing evidence from Gale’s murder with Walt, in Gale’s journal there was written a dedication to W.W—his perfect silence. The “silence” bit is from a Walt Whiman poem called “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer,” a poem that elsewhere in the journal he had written out next to a sketch of the bearded poet. Hank was satisfied with this connection, scoffing at Walt being a brainiac. But his knowledge of literature didn’t save him when Hank searched for bathroom reading at the end of the episode. He picked up the collection and read an inscription on the first page. A dedication:
To my other favorite
It’s an honour
working with you.
Cue the “dun dun DUNS” and Hank’s nose rising from the spine of the book, stunned. And so it begins. But not till next summer. The final eight episodes will be the long-anicipated face-off between family members. the law-enforcing Hank, and the rule-bending Walt. Is there any other ending that would sufficed? To be honest, I didn’t see it coming and I thought I knew these characters pretty damn well. What I didn’t count on was that the breakneck pacing of this half-season had its seeds planted in encounters from season three. Who would have thought that Gale reciting W.W to another W.W would be the roots of demise for the egomaniac. It wasn’t pride at all that will cause Walt’s empire—even as it’s winding down—to crumble. It’s a nerdy chemist’s undying adoration. Even though Jesse had tightened that loose end with a close-range shot to the head. But like the chemistry teacher of over 15 months ago, Walt kept his memento from an appreciative pupil, a gift bestowed upon his genius by someone who idolized it. After being so meticulous about who he kept close, and controlling all the elements in his life like he does in his cook, he let one geek’s affection undo him.
In true Chekovian tribute, in “Hazard Pay,” Gilligan and the gang focused our attention on the “Leaves of Grass” book as Walt unpacked. He smirked and chuckled, like he’d forgotten about that man his confidant had murdered in the name of self-preservation. Then, in tonight’s first act, as Walt cleansed himself in the shower, the camera panned to the book sitting atop the toilet. I assumed it was another literary allusion, but it was yet another slap in the face—you paying attention?
And we’ve only addressed the importance of the last two seconds. There was a lot more to drool over in this episode. Besides the impeccable plotting and shadows of the past, there were TWO masterful montages—both set to ironically peppy songs. Let’s tackle this sequentially though.
As Walt gazes upon the ominous fly, Todd enters the headquarters to inform Walt that the car has been dealt with. Todd’s anxious to deal with another disposal—Mike’s body. After we get a quick glimpse of his mangled, blood-stained corpse, Walt says, “I don’t want to talk about this. It had to be done.” Is that a twinge of guilt, or further evidence of his numbness to the bloodshed? Jesse comes in unannounced. Todd nonchalantly shuts the trunk as Jesse inquires about Mike’s departure. Did he get away safely? Walt slyly replies, “He’s gone.” then Jesse moves on to his anxieties about Mike’s guys that will surely squeal without his “legacy costs.” He wonders, “What are we gonna do?” Feeling rejected, Walt responds, “We, who’s we? I’m the only vote left and I’ll handle it.” He shuts the garage door on Jesse as Aaron Paul does his best “feeling betrayed” face.
Lydia fidgets with her tea as Walt, dressed in full Heisenberg garb, saunters into a cafe. He’s after the names, and she’s focused on appearances, asking he order something. Undeterred, Walt continues the conversation, insisting on a list. Lydia says it’s safely locked away in her mind. She’s weary about becoming another loose end once her utility runs out. She’s deduced Mike is “no longer a factor” because he wouldn’t go for this plan. So in order to ensure her usefulness, she proposes an avenue to expand Walt’s enterprise exponentially. She has a solid business relationship with some shippers in the Czech Republic. There, 5% of the general population is addicted to meth and they’re only dealing with roughly 60% purity. Heisenberg’s crank will blow their hair back. Skeptical, he asks why Gus Fring never signed off on this proposal. She says he did. They were in the final stages when “someone” killed him. She adds, “You don’t think Gus Fring built his distribution network by himself?” They discuss particulars, she gets 30%, and they shake on it.
As she walks out, an almost disappointed Walt reveals the ricin under his hat. Eventually, he’s got to deploy that WMD. It was the first of many close calls, instances where death was averted. But the episode’s title sings a different tune—an embracing of death as part of the soul’s journey. Yet another winky-wink from the writers, “Gliding Over All” is another Whitman poem:
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul–not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.
After re-taping the ricin to the switchplate behind his nightstand—what is Gilligan saving it for?—he calls Todd to set up a meeting with his uncle, the prison-connected one. Turns out his uncle associates with, and is himself, a skinhead, adorned with tattooed swastikas. Yet another illustration of how far Walt’s fallen, the sort of people he’s willing to associate with. And in a dingy room, the uncle and his cohorts (one who is played by Kevin Rankin, who is reuniting with Jesse Plemons, his fellow “Friday Night Lights” alum) plan out how they can execute 10 murders in three separate jails, in the span of two minutes. Walt admires a print on the motel room (I presume) wall. He’s ponders aloud about whether it came from a warehouse. Is this a foreshadowing of his discontent with assembly line work?
At any rate, the uncle suggests they can kill all ten targets (“the nine” including the lawyer) easily, just not as requested. In his commanding Heisenberg mode, Walt is convinced it can be done. They’ll just have to do what he’s paying them to, figure it out. Cut to Walt standing by his window, glaring at his watch and setting his timer. What ensues is, by my standards, the most horrifying sequence the show has ever pulled off. Each furious stab sounded like scissors poking holes in a gift-wrapped box, not the ripping of flesh. And the twisted artistry of setting the pools of blood, the helpless screams of the victims, and the calculated slaughter to the cheerful crooning of Nat King Cole’s “Pick Yourself Up” was unforgettable (Nat King Cole pun, tee hee). It’s worth noting too that Dennis the laundry guy, the most prolific squealer, was burned alive. Did Walt request he be brutally dealt with, or was that an improvisation of the white supremacists? Either way, it was ice cold, and I got my sick thrills.
The jail killings are discussed on the news as Walt plays with Holly. Hank comes home from work shaken. Every single person who could have led him to Heisenberg has been eliminated. He pours out the brown liquor and vents to Walt. There’s a grave uneasiness about this scene, as silence shrouds much of it, and you’re waiting for someone to slip. But the cover remains, Hank still doesn’t see that the monster who has exhausted him all these months is partaking of his booze. Hank reminisces about a summer job he had tagging trees to be cut down. Every day he would go back and hike the same trail to pick up where he left off. Despite its own grueling and systematic nature, he should have enjoyed it more. “Tagging trees is better than hunting monsters.” Walt can see the toll his empire takes on his family and his community, and he just chugs along, nothing derailing his train. All he can say to console his brother-in-law is, “I used to love to go camping.”
Then, in a gorgeously accomplished cut, Walt goes from sitting on Hank’s couch to him sitting his Hazmat suit on a nameless couch in his someone’s home, where his mobile meth lab is stashed that week. It’s the kickoff of another supremely edited montage. The perfect musical accompaniment washes over it, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. What follows is an accelerated, triumphant documenting of the mechanism that is Heisenberg’s empire—and all the monotony and routine involved in maintaining it. There’s the cook, Lydia marking the barrels for delivery, the counting of the cash, the weighing of the meth, Walt transporting his cut to the car wash in between crates of soda, money drops to Saul, and Lydia pushing a straw bag to Walt a cafe. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
We watch the well-oiled machine flawlessly carry out its tasks, but among all the startling, impressive imagery, the most sobering depiction is of Walt’s exhaustion and boredom. He’s antsy sitting on the throne. He doesn’t want to carry out a king’s duties, he just wanted to prove he was worthy. Concluding with the popping up of tented homes on what looks like a Monopoly kind of housing development, the montage finishes with a sense of completeness. Walt has conquered his territory without a body count, and with only an unparalleled consistency of craft. And that’s precisely the problem. There are no problems. The Houdini of seasons past is going unchallenged. There’s no trap he needs to escape except the one he created for himself.
At Hank and Marie’s, Holly is walking toward Junior. It’s cute…moving on…Marie remarks on Sky smiling, seeing it as an improvement of her condition. She mentions too that she and Hank have been thinking. It’s been three months—so now nine months away from the flash forward of the season premiere—maybe it’s about time to bring the kids home. Marie’s worried that they are enabling by keeping the kids. Sky still seems petrified of the idea since Walt is bringing in more dirty money than ever. She heads home, and wanders outside to where Walt is staring at the pool. Searching for purpose? She looks down at him, and beckons him, “Take a drive with me.”
She takes him to a storage facility and opens up one of the units. There’s a sheet draped over what looks like a huge box. But underneath there’s a pile of bills, bills, bills. Even with her superior accounting skills, she lost count. There’s just so damn much of it. Each bill is a gram, so she tried weighing it. Only issue is the bills are of various denominations. She comments that there is too much money to spend for ten lifetimes, and she couldn’t launder it all with 100 car washes. “I want my kids backs…How much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?” Basically, is it time for Walt to hang up his gas mask and enjoy the fruits of his labor?
Next frame, we see Walt on the slab for an MRI with a dazed look on his face. We aren’t told what the resut is after the test, so you can’t rule out cancer as another motivator for him trying to slip out the game. As he dries his hands he looks into the dented towel dispenser, remembering the stresses that he’s endured to get to this point. Walt decides to drop in on Jesse who is sinking into his couch, burning himself with a cigarette as he drifts off. He looks out the window when the doorbell rings. He seems frightened. He’s out of view for a bit, then he answers the door. After inviting his old mentor in, he expresses being a bit fumed about how the prison killings were handled, but utilitarian Walt insists it was justified. Jesse makes it blatantly clear he isn’t coming back, and Walt knows.
Instead, he rambles on about seeing a Bounder, a close resemblance to the RV they shared. They recall how risky it was to drive, anticipating it could crap out at any moment. Jesse is confused, looking back, at why they kept the piece of junk when they had money to replace it. Walt replies, “Inertia.” They couldn’t be stopped. But now that Walt, the unstoppable force, has met the immovable thriving meth market, he’s finally ready to settle down and rest on his earnings. After swapping memories, they part. Walt says he has left something for him. It’s two duffle bags full of money. He’s finally paying him the buyout money he was owed. But I wondered about why he seemed so skittish opening the bag. And when he comes back inside, he falls to the floor, panting in panic. He pulls a gun out from his back and shoves it across the floor. Was he legitimately considering that his longtime partner was there to end him? I know I was concerned the bag contained Mike’s cadaver. Hey, we never saw it fizzle in a barrel of hydrofluoric acid.
Walt returns home and tells Sky it’s over. She seems relieved, yet cautious. What did Walt just have to do to remove himself from the equation? And truthfully, he did nothing. He was the one dictating the variables at this point. So, he’s free to slip out undetected. And despite how every fan knew that the series was far from over, the last scene smelled of a resolution, an undeserved happy ending. Until karma had to drop a deuce. So as the whole family relishes in the sunny day, Junior pushing Holly in a car, reapplying sunscreen, the adults discussed frivolities like Hank brewing again, and Marie taking prenatal vitamins to make her hair glossier. The whole time you’re wondering how and when the reckoning will come. Will Junior carelessly drop Holly in the pool? Will a loose end Walt hadn’t considered bust through the fence guns blazing? Would Walt in his relaxed state mention something incriminating? But come to think of it, the only thing more poetic in this episode than the allusion to Walt Whitman is that Hank’s “A-ha” moment came on the crapper.
Seeds planted in “Sunset” of Season 3, and roots that took hold in Season 4′s “Bullet Points” flourished in tonight’s finale. Hank saw the G.B and immediately remembered that notebook, and an address to W.W in his notes. How much he has figured out and how many dots he’s connected is immaterial. All that matters is that look of recognition mixed with fury mixed with horror that froze his face before the credits. The blend of emotions has to be just as toxic as anything Walt’s ever cooked up. How will the hero—and by ending with the emphasis of Hank’s discovery, there’s no question he has become the show’s heart—proceed? Does he subtly question Walt on the patio? Does he stake out his own family member? Regardless, he doesn’t let this go. He was so pained when he thought he let the most threatening monster in the Southwest slip through his fingers, you know that no matter who he is, he’s gonna catch the S.O.B. But how conflicted will he be? And is Hank who “Mr. Lambert of New Hampshire” was running from? Or does Jesse make a few discoveries of his own?
In the absence of new episodes, there is a lot to process. Was Walt ultimately just a thrill-seeker? Was the maintenance of an empire too tedious or did he see this his window of opportunity to make his swift, silent exit closing? Will Skyler cave if Hank comes to her with what he knows? The list goes on and on. And the intricate, gradual evolution of Mr. White to Heisenberg does not necessarily stop once the blue meth is no longer flowing. He’s got tracks in the desert to cover up, and an animal is it’s most dangerous when cornered. Is anyone out of bounds on his path to self-destruction?