Breaking Bad Recap: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair [Updated]

Breaking Bad Season 5 RecapThere are two very good reasons AMC chose to promote Breaking Bad by having Bryan Cranston recite Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”

First, the verse chronicles the way that all empires, no matter how grand, inevitably crumble into dust and nothingness. (Cautionary tale, Walt?)

Second, if you’re going to hype the final episodes of a well-crafted drama, you might as well do it by highlighting the title of an episode that is arguably one of the best in TV history.

As Breaking Bad hurtles toward its finale – can you believe there are just two episodes left?! – let’s review the major developments that took place in “Ozymandias.”

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EVERYTHING FADES | The episode begins not in the middle of the shoot-out that ended last week’s installment, but with a flashback to the events around the pilot. “The reaction has begun,” a nearly nude Walt tells an insolent Jesse as the meth starts to percolate in their RV, which is parked in the desert. Walt steps outside in tighty whities, trades his lab apron for his green shirt and then steps away to call Skyler.

As he walks, he practices the lie he’ll tell to explain his late return. Remember when the falsehoods didn’t trip so easily off his tongue? Preggo Skyler picks up and they have a loving, lighthearted discussion as they plan pizza for dinner and some “family time” the following weekend. They’re cute as they talk about maybe naming the baby Holly. (Jesse being an idiot in the background is pretty great, too.)

Walt fades away, as does Jesse and the RV, but the landscape remains as we return to the aftermath of the shootout. All of Uncle Jack’s gang is fine, but Gomez is dead and Hank is shot in the leg. Hank makes a valiant attempt to belly-crawl for his colleague’s weapon, but Uncle Jack gets to it first. Upon learning that Hank is DEA, Uncle Jack prepares to finish Hank off, but Walt pops up from his backseat hiding place and starts hollering for Jack to stop. He outs Hank as his brother-in-law and offers Jack and his gang all of the money in the barrels, desperately pleading with Hank to “promise us you’ll let this go.” Absolutely no one present thinks that’s going to happen, least of all Hank, who earns his way into the badass section of the great beyond when he tells Jack exactly what he can do with himself. Then Schrader turns his attention to his brother-in-law: “You’re the smartest guy I ever met, and you’re too stupid to see: He made up his mind 10 minutes ago. Do what you’re gonna d—” but he’s cut off by Uncle Jack killing him (and me sobbing).

PARTING SHOT | Walt collapses, ugly crying, as Uncle Jack realizes that the coordinates Walt gave him are probably where the money is buried. The crew finds the cash easily enough, digs it all up and drag Hank and Gomez into the hole left behind. Throughout, Walt’s lying like a carp on the sand. Todd uncuffs him, saying “I’m sorry for your loss” (I’ve said it before, but the kid scares the bejesus out of me), and Jack levels his conditions: He’ll leave Walt a barrel of money and his car in exchange for Walt talking off and never coming back. But first, Walt wants Jesse dead. “If you can find him, we’ll kill him,” Jack says jovially. “Found him,” Walt says flatly, directing their attention to a hole under the car in which Jesse had been sitting.

The gang drags Jesse out, kicking and crying, but Todd stops the execution: They should find out what Pinkman told the DEA, he reasons, then they can kill him. As the goons take Jesse to their car, Walt has one more thing to say to his former protégé, and it’s been seasons in the making: “I watched Jane die. I was there, and I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her, but I didn’t.” The thrill in Walt’s voice, the destruction on Jesse’s face… it’s all a lot to deal with in a scene that’s already been really hard to handle. (I think it says something that I looked at the clock at this point, thinking that 10 minutes had passed, and the episode was nearly half over.)

COOKING LESSONS | When we later see Jesse, he’s being kept in a cell adjacent to Lydia’s cook site. Todd has done a number on his face; one of Jesse’s eyes is swollen shut, he’s covered in bruises (and acting like a rib is broken), and he makes it clear that he’s already coughed up the location of the tape he made for the DEA. But Todd has another use for the sobbing, cowering former drug dealer. He brings Jesse into the lab and attaches him to an overhead leash like Rover in the sideyard, then allows Jesse to see a photo of Brock and Andrea before giving a simple, menacing command: “Let’s cook.” In this hour of sorrow, is it completely ridiculous of me to hope that Jesse will get out alive?

SLASH AND BURN | Marie forces Skyler to admit everything about Walt and the meth business to Flynn. Naturally, the teen doesn’t believe his mom… until they get home and Walt is there, scrambling to pack their lives into a couple of suitcases. Flynn peppers his dad with questions, but Skyler (looking like a sickening realization is settling over her) has only one: If Hank had Walt in custody, where is Hank now?

Walt tries to distract them with talk of a new life. “You killed him. You killed Hank,” Skyler says, causing an even bigger family freakout than was previously taking place (and that’s saying something). Though I have often hated Skyler, I will love her forever for grabbing a knife from the butcher block, getting between Flynn and his dad and ordering Walt out of the house. When he won’t leave, she slashes his hand, leading to a wrestling match for the weapon. “What the hell is wrong with you? We’re a family!” Walt cries, smearing blood all over his wife’s sweater as they tussle, and I laugh in part because it’s funny and in part because ohmyGodSkyler’sgoingtotakethisknifeinthegutatsomepointsoonisn’tshe? and I’m grasping at whatever break in the tension I can find. Flynn jumps his dad from behind, separating his parents, and calls 911. So Walter grabs Holly, backs his vehicle into Skyler so hard they both reverse out of the driveway, and takes off with Holly’s mom screaming in the rearview mirror.

MEA CULPA | Walt gets cleaned up and changes Holly in a public bathroom; when she starts calling for her mama, tears fill his eyes. He phones home not long after. Marie and the cops are there, though Skyler lies to Walt that she’s alone. He rips into her with a litany of how stupid she is and how she never had any clue about anything he did and… Oh wait, he totally knows that the cops are recording this. Though he’s giving Skyler what she needs to absolve herself of guilt in his meth business, he very much means it when he says “You never believed in me,” and I don’t think it takes him much thought to do an airheaded impression of her. “I built this. Me alone. Nobody else!” he growls, adding, “Toe the line or you will wind up just like Hank.” Marie falls apart as she realizes her husband is dead, and on the other end of the line, tears stream down Walt’s cheeks as he informs Skyler that he can’t come home because “I’ve still got things left to do.”

He hangs up, then leaves Holly at an Albuquerque fire station with her home address pinned to her chest. The next day, Saul’s guy pulls up in that minivan Jesse didn’t get into a few episodes ago, and Walt climbs inside.

As of last week, more of you thought Walt would be dead by the end of the series – but the “Walt survives” faction is growing steadily. Where do you fall? Based on this week’s episode, vote in our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts on the episode!