Monday, June 14, 2010

"Breaking Bad" season finale recap: "Full Measure"

A spoiler-laden recap of the bleakly brilliant (or is that brilliantly bleak?) finale of AMC "Breaking Bad" below, so don't click through if you don't want to know.

Jesus, Walt. What have you done?
Last night's finale episode raised many questions (Did Jesse really kill Gale? If so, will Gus really let Walt get away with this? Will Walt and Jesse's relationship survive this latest horror?), but the biggest question was the simplest one.
Walt -- what have you done?
Throughout the course of the season, we've seen Walter White (Bryan Cranston, whose work this season seems to scream for an Emmy hat-trick) try to reform, scared somewhat straight by the collapse of his marriage and the plane crash he indirectly caused at the end of season two. He tried to get out of selling, but was pulled back in by Gus. He tried to rebuild his marriage but his wife only seems disgusted and frightened by him (that is, when she's not angling to profit from his new career).
His re-absorption into the world of drug manufacturing has led him to become more ruthless throughout the course of the season until, in the last two episodes, he fully transformed into a stone-cold killer. Unlike his murder of the drug dealers in season one (which, arguably, were self-defense), or his murder by inaction of Jane (an impulsive act of cruelty) or even the plane crash (how could he know Jane's dad was an air traffic controller?), his murder of the drug dealers in last week's episode, "Half Measures," was calmly planned and icily executed. His decision to kill Gale was even more bloodless. To paraphrase "Jackie Brown's" Ordell Robbie, Walt realized this was a clear cut case of him, or Gale. And you best believe it wasn't going to be Walt.
Walt, whether he believes it or not, is a stone-cold criminal. And, oddly, Jesse has become this duo's voice of reason, begging Walt to turn himself in to the DEA and become a protected witness. But Walt won't do it. Why? Pride, most likely. After going from a milquetoast chemistry teacher to a badass drug lord, he doesn't want to go back.
So he decides to kill Gale. The only problem is, the night of the planned murder, he's ambushed by Mike, Gus's P.I./assassin. Thus, it's Jesse who has to kill Gale. Jesse, who isn't emotionally prepared for this task. Jesse, who weeps as he levels the gun at Gale. Jesse, who pulled the trigger, but may or may not have hit his target (my guess is yes, but "Breaking Bad" does like to pitch curve balls at the audience).
Not only has Walt condemned an innocent man, he's made Jesse shoulder the weight of the crime. Granted, it was the only way Walt could think of to save his own life. But it's possibly the most reprehensible thing Walt has done to date.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on the season three finale, "Full Measure."
* The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Skyler moving into their home. We see that, even then Walt was ambitious, scoffing at the idea of a "starter home." But, as was typical of that period of his life, he eventually gave up on his ambition and did what Skyler wanted.
* The showdown between Gus and Walt in the desert was unbelievably tense, from Mike's assertion that he could kill Walt from a distance if need be, to Gus and Walt's terse discussion of Tomas's murder. Cranston, Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito were all stellar in this scene. However, when Mike flashed his lights, all I could think of was that scene in "The Hangover" when Zach Galifianakis tells Bradley Cooper to flash his lights so Mr. Chow knows their meeting is on. Kinda ruined the drama a little.
* This episode was actually a great showcase for Banks who, after being used sparingly for much of the season, got some meaty material in the season's home stretch. His shootout at the office was almost wordless and totally riveting. I've liked Banks ever since his work on "Wiseguy," and the role of the practical, but vicious, Mike fits him like a glove.
* Also some nice moments for Bob Odenkirk as Saul, who is really starting to tire of his troublesome clients. But at least he has his Nescafe.
* For a second, I thought Walt really was going to turn on Jesse. I should have known better. Walt is not only loyal to Jesse (for now, at least), he's smart enough to know that he probably couldn't save his life by turning his partner in. But his blubbering was very convincing. Maybe this is just more evidence that Walt is becoming a calculated criminal. He's as capable of manipulation as the men he works for, and he isn't afraid to let them know it.
* And, lastly, kudos to "Breaking Bad" for being the only show that can fit both a shootout and an extended sequence in which a man sings to his plants into the same episode.

No comments: