Breaking Bad: The Learn’d Astronomer Still has a Lot to Learn

Warning: Do not read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad Season 5, Ep. 8 – “Gliding Over All”.

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

All my despair over Mike’s unfortunate end last week seems so absurd now. As this episode reminded us, on Breaking Bad even the dead can exact revenge on those most deserving. It wasn’t Mike this time, but perhaps he’ll get his turn as well. For now though it is soft-spoken Gale Boetticher reaching out from the grave to give Walt exactly what he’s been needing for some time; karma.

It seems fitting for someone so obsessed with his own intelligence that something as high brow as a book of Walt Whitman poetry will his downfall. That and an underestimation of his opponent, in this case Hank, who despite his loud mouth behavior and fascination with rocks (I’m sorry, minerals) is also a crack detective and wise enough to remember a long ago inscription in a lab notebook and upon that remembering, all the red flags from the past year have clicked into place. It was also oddly poetic that he had this epiphany while taking a dump.

But poetic endings seemed to be the theme of the night. With Mike dead and Jesse still out, it was up to Walt and Todd to take care of the fallout, which means it was up to Walt. He used his tired and true method, but luckily we were spared having to watch the actual indignity of such an end to such a formidable man.

The next order of business was getting rid of everyone who might lead the DEA to the current operation. Just as Walt realized (too late), he was able to get the names from Lydia, but not before she proposed a new expansion plan; selling to the Czech Republic.  Lydia only offered the option as a way of making herself indispensable once the names had been given, and while Walt joked about the preposterousness of killing her in broad daylight, after the deal was made we saw that’s exactly what he had intended. Luckily for Lydia, and probably unlucky for some future person, the ricin was returned to its hiding place to wait for the next opportune moment.

Walt turned to his new partner Todd and his shady uncle to orchestrate his mass prison murders. Walt’s ego reared its ugly head once again during the meeting, and I thought Walt had finally mouthed off to the wrong person (I know I wouldn’t talk like that to someone with knuckle tattoos), but it seems that Heisenberg’s power has reached a level where when he says “jump” even hardened criminals ask “how high?”

The montage of the hits was one of the best TV montages ever produced with clear ties to The Godfather and while many shows (and movies) have tried to emulate the power of that particular scene, this is the only thing in recent memory that even comes close. Walt watched the seconds tick away on his birthday present watch and two minutes of brutality later the king was back on top with an even bigger kingdom to look out over.

And thus we were given the best TV montage since that one that aired five minutes ago, detailing the new assembly line to the dulcet tones of the ridiculously appropriate “Crystal Blue Persuasion” ; from Walt to Lydia and Skyler to Saul everyone was profiting from the new arrangement. Everything flowed smoothly for a couple months; so smooth in fact that Marie thought it was high time the kids move back in this their family. Skyler disagreed.

She drove Walt out to a storage locker and showed him the fruits of his labor; a heaping pile of cash. He was making too much money for her to launder, or even count, so she had resorted to just hiding it away. “How much is it,” he asked. “I have no earthly idea”, was her reply.  Walt had achieved more than he had ever thought possible, more money than he could ever spend and, for the time being, safety.  If he was ever going to walk away now was the time.

He just had one more detail to see too; Jesse. He stopped by his former partner’s house unannounced, seemingly just to reminisce. You didn’t even have to see Jesse’s gun, you could tell by his reaction to Mr. White and the distance he kept from him that whatever magic spell Walt once had over him was broken. Walt saw it too. They awkwardly danced around the subject of the prison murders and settled on bitching about the clunker trailer they had started cooking their empire in. It was a brief meeting, but that wasn’t the real reason Walt was there anyway. Left on Jesse’s front porch was a duffle bag of cash and while we didn’t see him count it, I’ll guess it was somewhere around five million.

Why did Walt pay Jesse? He made it clear last week that if Jesse was out he wasn’t getting paid and Jesse made it clear that that was fine. Was he making amends? Clearing whatever is left of his conscious? Trying to win back his trust? Whatever the reason, when he returned he told Skyler he was out. And thus the king hung up his crown. (Side Note: How was he able to just walk away? There were a lot of people making a lot of money, all depending on him. I find it had to believe they all took positively to his early retirement.)

And finally, the Walt from season one had everything he had planned for; enough money to take care of him and his family for life and the possibility that that life would indeed include his family. He may have taken a slight detour, but his life was back on the track it had started on.

Of course it couldn’t last. But just how it crumbles remains a mystery. Hank has found his Heisenberg, but what will the man so bogged down by his profession that he’s longing for the days of tree tagging do with the information that his monster has always been within reach? And it looks like Skyler might be getting her wish about Walt’s cancer. Tonight he was having an MRI and we already saw Walt 52 popping a pill in the diner bathroom. One thing that is certain, if Walt is using fake IDs and arming himself, there will be no more happy endings, even if just momentary.

This is gonna be a long year.

– Devin Mainville

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