Even if the episode had not included the arrest of Walter White and everything that followed, simply getting to watch that glorious war of wits between Walt and Hank unfold would have been plenty of pay-off for one week. The episode’s first three acts were specifically structured, in fact, to end with Jesse, Walt, and Hank, respectively, having a mental breakthrough, only for the fruits of their mental gymnastics to be revealed after the commercial break. And in watching Hank and Gomez trick Huell into giving them information, Walt manipulate Andrea into drawing Jesse out, and finally, Hank and Jesse using Walt’s barrels of money at the ultimate trump card, we witnessed three master gamesman at work. All three of these characters have, of course, been far less capable at various points in the series – Hank, for instance, couldn’t have even come close to coolly and collectedly tricking Huell the way he does here at the start of the season – but at this point in the story, each has nothing left to lose, and a growing share of vendettas to settle. Seeing the ensuing mind games unfold, each played out from afar but with expert precision, was a rather brilliant bit of narrative culmination in its own right.
But from the instant Walt sees that faked picture of his money barrel, “To’hajiilee” kicks into the highest gear possible to flawlessly deliver what may be the single most important moment in the history of the series thus far: the arrest and downfall of Walter Hartwell White.
George Mastras’ writing was absolutely impeccable throughout, particularly noticeable, to my mind, for its minimalism, covering large swaths of narrative and thematic territory without an overabundance of dialogue, leaving ample space for the show’s greatest and most significant director, Michelle MacLaren, to do her thing. I spoke about MacLaren’s legacy of stylistic contributions to this series at length in my review of “Buried,” the second episode of this season and her most recent directorial outing, and in that piece noted that her third season episode “One Minute” – best remembered for Hank’s shootout with the cousins, but a landmark also for Jesse’s hospital-bed speech about hurting Hank and countless other absolutely tremendous sequences – stood as the series’ single best hour. That probably still remains true, if only for the fact that “One Minute” can boast what is likely the all-time greatest televised action scene, but for me, “To’hajiilee” is an awful close second, and a lot of what made this episode land with the impact it did comes down to the way MacLaren stages and directs the hour’s second half.
After all, no sequence could possibly be more imperative to the legacy of Breaking Bad than the arrest of Walter White (other than his hypothetical death, I suppose), and that MacLaren built that scene and everything leading up to it in a way that maximized and enhanced every single emotion on display – whether felt by the characters, the audience, or both – surely puts “To’hajiilee” in the highest of television tiers. The structure of Mastras’ script is masterful, with Jesse egging Walt on until he incriminates himself spectacularly –“I ran over those gangbangers! I killed Emilio and Crazy 8!” – calling Uncle Jack when he fears his life is in danger, and then finally giving himself up when he realizes murdering Hank is the line he will not transgress, but it is the way in which MacLaren allows each of those steps in the narrative to breathe that allows them to hit as hard as they do.
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