“Gliding Over All” (05.08, 2012)
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett (Previous Episodes: “Breakage,” “Over,” “Mas,” “Fly,” “Bullet Points,” “Bug,” and “End Times”)
Directed by Michelle McLaren (Previous Episodes: “4 Days Out,” “I.F.T.,” “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Thirty-Eight Snub,” “Shotgun,” “Salud,” and “Madrigal”)
We all knew this was how this half-season would end, didn’t we? It was obvious that it would be Hank discovering Walt’s identity, and as soon as the writers started playing Chekhov’s gun with the Leaves of Grass book, it was obvious what the method of discovery would be. Thankfully, rather than something ridiculous like Hank thinking that only Heisenberg would possibly read Leaves of Grass, the writers inserted an inscription from Gale that made Heisenberg’s identity clear (which does undoubtedly seem like something Gale would have done).
However, the episode went through some machinations before ending on Hank’s stunned face at the revelation.
First, Heisenberg and Todd clean up after Mike using the hydrofluoric acid again, which is treated even more matter-of-factly than the last time. The simplicity of the shooting and quickness of the description—just showing us the car, a body inside, and the same barrels that have housed bodies before—make it into a small, unimportant action, a sign of how commonplace killing has become in Heisenberg’s world. Skyler was upset about “shrugging off killing people as ‘shit happens,’” but Heisenberg has even taken it a step further: melting the dead bodies of his co-workers in hydrofluoric acid doesn’t even merit that much thought.
Then, Heisenberg makes a deal with Lydia for the names of Mike’s nine former Fring employees, and it’s the type of deal that Walter White would like but Heisenberg really doesn’t: in exchange for the names, he will allow Lydia to set up international distribution into the Czech Republic for him. She says that it will double Heisenberg’s profit and reduce his risk, but if there’s one thing we know about Heisenberg at this point, it’s that he doesn’t care about reducing risk and if there’s one thing we know about money on this show, it’s that drug sales never actually result in gaining it. This brilliant-sounding deal is one that is clearly doomed to fail just from that history, and then Lydia tells him that she was making this deal for Gus Fring when Heisenberg killed him. Suddenly, the safe-sounding-but-doomed venture becomes palatable for Heisenberg, as he now will be doing something that even the Chicken Man was never able to do, establishing an empire of a special, heretofore unknown nature.
Then, we get another patented Breaking Bad montage, though this time instead of meth cooking, it’s a balletic, carefully coordinated murder campaign that Heisenberg paid for, taking out Mike’s nine remaining guys as well as the lawyer who appeared ready to flip on him. It’s a beautiful sequence that continues Breaking Bad’s penchant for montages, but takes them in a different direction for the first time this season, and it wraps up the entire Mike storyline for the season.
The rarest of all events in Heisenberg’s life then happens, and it’s shown in Breaking Bad’s favorite method. We get a cooking montage with surely the show’s most appropriate song in history (“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells), but it’s showing a three-month period of entirely successful operation. For three months, Heisenberg cooks and deals his meth with apparently no problems, assisted by Todd in the lab and Lydia and the other dealer (whose name I never caught) on the business end. There’s an odd tension to this montage, knowing how rare it is for Heisenberg/Walter White to receive good fortune, even temporarily, on this show, but it isn’t punctuated by explosions or gunfire.
Instead, it is followed by a short sequence in which Skyler shows Heisenberg the fortune he has amassed and explains that it is more than she can launder, more than any car wash could dream of laundering. Skyler tearfully pleads for her children back, never outright saying what it is that she is asking of Heisenberg: that he get out of the meth business. Then, in a shocking scene that is a dead ringer for the scene back in season one when Walt first agreed to get treatment for his lung cancer, Heisenberg tells her, “I’m out.” She accepts his statement and appears relieved at the news, showing the exact same reaction that she did to his acceptance of treatment so many years ago.
In between, he gives Jesse the money he was owed, and we see how terrified of Heisenberg even Jesse has become, as he essentially breaks down and reveals that he has been holding a gun throughout Heisenberg’s visit—it’s a great moment for Aaron Paul. It’s also the first time we’ve seen Jesse recognize what a dangerous man Heisenberg is.
Then, we get a scene of a Skyler/Walt/Hank/Marie/Junior dinner that seems cut straight out of the time before we ever met these people. Until now, a happy dinner among them was something we imagined had to have happened with regularity before the show began but that we had never seen, but here it is. Everyone is seemingly happy, for the first time in the show’s history. Walter White even seems to be back, with Heisenberg nowhere to be seen.
And then, Hank goes to the bathroom and sees the book.
Dean Norris deserves some credit for his reaction, which beautifully told us the shock that he felt, but also the confusion. And, really, what does Hank do now? If he leaves this piece of evidence, he may never see it again. If he takes it, Walt may know. If he calls Steve about it, he’s going to be kicked out of office just like his predecessor. If he tells anyone else, they aren’t going to believe him. It’s a mix of shock and confusion that he plays absolutely perfectly, and, as the least heralded member of the Breaking Bad regular cast, we should throw some kudos to him for it.
The conclusion of this season essentially leaves us back where we started, wondering why, in about nine months, Heisenberg will be Walter White, coughing in a Denny’s, needing a machine gun in his trunk. The truth is, in eight hours, what’s changed is that Hank knows. Yeah, Mike is out of the picture now, but he was also seemingly out of it until being dragged back in at the start of the season. Instead of the continuation of the story of Heisenberg, this season has provided us with a snapshot of the future and few clues as to what will happen. That’s all there is. It was still enjoyable and it was better made than most shows could dream of, but it was frankly a lot of wheel spinning for little reward.
- There was an interesting and possibly telling shot just before Walt claimed to be “out” in this episode: we saw him getting an MRI and literally being turned 180 degrees. There are many, many possible meanings to this shot, but the most obvious is that it was a shot meaning that Walt’s cancer has returned, since it was after all a medical test and he was shown reversing course.
- Michelle MacLaren is amazing.
- I find it difficult to believe that Heisenberg is out. First of all, it would take him some work to get out—he couldn’t just say, “I’m out” and drop everything with the organization of people who depend on him. Secondly, Heisenberg would not leave his empire for anything, including the family that Walter White desperately wanted.
- I always said that the finale would be first Walt vs. Hank and then Walt vs. Jesse, but I have to admit that at this point, I don’t see how the latter could be the end. He’s going to take on Jesse somehow and needs a machine gun? That seems pretty unbelievable. It also doesn’t sound right that it’s for a final confrontation with the DEA. More likely, either the cartel is finally coming for him or there is something bigger and scarier coming related to Madrigal. The latter is probably the more likely of the two.
- It’s pretty clear that Walt is going to turn to the “disappearer” that Saul told him about last season, and with Hank’s revelation here, it seems that’s coming soon. How is he going to get to the disappearer and get out before Hank gets to him? It wouldn’t take long for Hank to put him away at this point, since (a) he’s got an incredibly strong circumstantial case already and (b) he’s Hank–he is a relentless, smart agent who will work his ass off until he has everything there is against Walter White.
- Seriously, what does Hank do right now? It seems like any choice he makes is wrong. It seems like the best thing he can do is call Gomez, which risks ending his own career.
- This half-season was still good, but it was easily the weakest Breaking Bad has ever been. Hopefully, much like the first half of the last season of The Sopranos, it’s setting up something special.