Breaking Bad Review: “To’hajiilee” (Season 5 Episode 13)

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And it is for that reason that the final scene of “To’hajiilee” so brilliantly summarizes what Breaking Bad is all about. A series-worth of violence has begat an endless hailstorm of bullets, and all Walter White can do – all he has ever been able to do, in a sense – is to scream and scream and scream against the inescapability of the bloodshed he has wrought. Whatever ‘victories’ or ‘losses’ he had along the way were only temporary – this culmination is absolute, the ultimate symbol of the brutality he has ushered into this world, and how powerless he is to escape its ruthless orbit.

In this way, “To’hajiilee” could have been an exquisite series-ender if that was what Vince Gilligan ultimately had in mind. It would have had much more in common with The Sopranos than any other notable drama finale – sacrificing clear narrative closure in favor of pure thematic summation – but I personally like that kind of ending, and almost feel disappointed that Breaking Bad will continue for three more hours. Do not get me wrong – I am on the edge of my seat with anticipation to see what happens next, and am still hugely enthusiastic about where this series is headed.

But as someone who personally feels that an ending should prioritize a culmination of theme above literal narrative or character-based closure, “To’hajiilee” nailed things so completely for me that I feel like a lot of the pressure has been taken off the final three episodes. I want this show to end on the highest note possible, and I am confident, given the creative team’s track record, that we will witness a terrific conclusion, but if the final hours fail to reach their full potential, I doubt I will feel substantially let down, for we will have already gotten “To’hajiilee,” and “To’hajiilee” was perfect. Nearly everything I value in Breaking Bad is represented here in this one tremendous episode, and while there are certainly some interesting character resolutions still to come – all the major female characters, for instance, are about to have their worlds turned completely upside down – I feel as if everything that needs saying has, in this one episode, already been said.

Walter White committed many crimes. Walter White reached too far. And now, Walter White lies in the back of a DEA van, absolutely powerless to stop the endless hellfire raining down upon him, his brother-in-law, and his surrogate son.

If that isn’t the perfect culmination point for Breaking Bad, then I do not know what is.

Other Thoughts 

  • I paid ample praise to Michelle MacLaren for her work on this episode, but Bryan Cranston is of course equally responsible for the hour’s stirring success. I have talked before about how I felt last year’s episodes essentially stranded his performance with a total void of sympathy or humanity, but those qualities have gradually been restored to Walter White this year, at least in part, and Cranston plays Walt’s downfall here as well as I could ever expect. I love that the story allows Walt to finally realize he has gone to far, and to offer himself up to Hank willingly, and I especially love that Cranston is allowed to illustrate all this silently. He has had many wondrously effective moments over the course of this series, but I don’t know if anything quite matches the sight of Walt slumped against that rock, shedding a single tear, allowing himself time to accept the truth before moving on to the next phase of his life. Like the rest of this episode, Cranston’s work was absolute perfection.
  • And mad kudos as well, obviously, to Aaron Paul and Dean Norris for their work here. Paul tends to shine brightest when he gets to play a silent, purely emotive Jesse – and there are some great moments of that near the end – but his vocal work when he eggs Mr. White on over the phone is simply stupendous, bursting at the seams with completely honest anger and intensity even as the entire exercise is, in fact, a clever ruse. Great performances all around.
  • As far as predictions go for the cliffhanger, I believe Hank dies, while Gomez, Jesse, and (obviously) Walt live. “To’hajiilee” simply foreshadowed Hank’s death far too strongly for him to make it out of this shootout alive – one of the first rules of TV is that if a character says something like “It may be a while before I get home. I love you” to their spouse, they are not long for this world – and moreover, it would be a thematic cheat if he lives. The entire episode is about Walt being pushed to a line he refuses to transgress (killing Hank), and then having that line crossed for him (by Uncle Jack). Hank has to die for those themes to be fulfilled. I would say Gomez must die just as residual fallout, but someone has to reveal Heisenberg’s legacy to the DEA (assuming one of the two had not done so already off-screen). And there is no way Jesse dies, because there are three episodes left to go, and I cannot imagine any version of Breaking Bad’s ending that does not involve its secondary protagonist. That would not feel proper, earned, or satisfying – if the endgame is just Walt dealing with Lydia, Todd, and Uncle Jack, I, for one, would not give a damn.
  • I think it is pretty clear, at this point, that Walt’s future arsenal is for Jack and company, given the kind of firepower they show off here, and the kind of threat they are sure to be now that they clearly want Walt cooking for them.
  • Do we assume Brock recognized Mr. White from the poisoning incident? Both times he has run into the kid, Walt has looked a bit nervous around him, and Brock has been shy in ways that seem to go beyond his age. Since we saw the kid again here to underline the point, I feel like this will play a part in the series’ endgame.
  • I am guessing Walter Jr.’s joyful exclamation of “Have an A1 day!” to Saul will be the last happy moment he has on this series, given what is about to come out about his father.
  • I did not mention it earlier, but this is MacLaren’s final episode as director, and Mastras’ last Breaking Bad script. We already went through MacLaren’s resume, but Mastras is significant as being only the third person to ever pen a Breaking Bad episode, behind Vince Gilligan and one-time writer Patty Lin, and he notably wrote or co-wrote many big, game-changing episodes like this one over the life of the series, including “Crazy Handful of Nothing,” “Grilled,” “I.F.T.” (also directed by MacLaren), “Crawl Space,” and “Dead Freight.” Tonight’s episode seems like a pretty spectacular send-off for writer and director alike.

Follow author Jonathan Lack on Twitter @JonathanLack.

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