Breaking Bad Season Finale Review: “Gliding Over All” (Season 5, Episode 8)

“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.”

Walt Whitman, Poem 271 from Leaves of Grass

No stone is never left unturned in Breaking Bad as in this week’s episode, something that happened over two seasons ago comes back to bite Walt in the ass.

Season 5 of AMC’s meth cooking drama series Breaking Bad is now at its halfway point. This week is the mid season finale, although many of the cast are saying that it’s really just two separate seasons. Unlike last year’s explosive season finale though, Season 5’s finale chooses a far more sedate pace and tone.

There are no real fireworks here, no big antagonist to overcome, no big arguments to be had and apart from a couple of montage sequences, the overarching tone is something approaching melancholy.

Although Mike’s death is not really discussed, it still looms large in Walt’s mind. He believes that this is the tipping point where he is perhaps beginning to realise that the meth king crown may lay a little heavy.

Though he has practically manoeuvred his way to the top of the meth chain, Walt was always a character who felt like he was firmly in control of his life. Now he’s at a point where he is no longer recognisably human. He has mutated into what Gus Fring was, an emotionless blank slate of a man beset by a mind only occupied with making money. On this week’s episode though, we see him slowly regress back into the Walter White we saw when the show initially started.

Although it doesn’t initially feel like it, the episode mainly deals with Walt tying up his loose ends. He makes a business deal with Lydia which promises expansion, he indirectly disposes of all Mike’s men on the inside and he also makes enough money to run.

While all this is happening the episode feels rather mediocre, for the most part it feels aimless, lacking any direction and feeling simply like a holding pattern rather than an appropriate set up for the show’s curtain call next summer.

There are some brilliant flashes here and there, one particular highlight being the scene surrounding the disposal of the prison inmates, who can only serve to disrupt Walt’s ongoing operation now that they know Mike is gone.

It’s a two minute sequence, which directly refers to the christening climax of The Godfather, of people being murdered in prison. It is by far the most violent sequence we’ve ever seen on Breaking Bad, a collision of bloody stabbing and a throbbing soundtrack which puts us in mind of the work of Danny Boyle or Martin Scorsese, where we are invited to be both appalled and slightly thrilled by the bloodshed on screen.

Michelle MacLaren is perhaps the show’s most talented director of action and of violence and the cutting and the construction of that scene is impeccable. The blocking and filming of the multiple murders is something that not even the greatest of filmmakers can do convincingly, let alone make it have an impact.

That being said, I wasn’t as disturbed by the violence as I have been in previous episodes, which actually says something about how ruthless the show and its central character have become.

There is also a lovely cameo from Michael Bowen (a really good character actor who plays excellent slime balls) on this week’s episode. He plays Todd’s Nazi skinhead uncle who has connections with the skinheads on the inside who, for a fee, will perform a prison shanking on your desired target.

Other than that though the season finale is remarkably tame and the “bloodbath” which was reported by several of the stars has been incredibly misleading. All the roads which were leading towards Walt’s inevitable downfall have curved into a place of security. The deal he makes with Lydia at the beginning to expand the meth business further into Europe sort of becomes forgotten by the end, it becomes just another device for Walt to make even more money.

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