Did it feel like this episode contained everything you never wanted to see happen but sort of knew had to happen?

Season 5, Episode 14’s episode of Breaking Bad Ozymandias was gut-wrenching and terrible and awesome—in the mouth-agape-in-total-shock kind of awesome—and heart-rending and depressing and nerve-wracking and utterly hellish. I’m fairly certain that these cliché ewords don’t even do justice to properly describing the emotional toll this episode takes on a long-time Breaking Bad viewer.

A friend called it the “most painful hour of TV ever.” That does it justice. Almost.

Breaking Bad Ozymandias


Breaking Bad Ozymandias

The first time Walter White is ever on screen, he’s barely clothed, a scene meant to make us sympathize with his innocence. In this episode, Walter’s come full circle, though we’re no longer sympathetic:1 he’s finally been stripped bare and all the world knows full well the terrible might of Walter Hartwell White. We see one of the reasons the writers chose this episode’s title:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

Now, onto ten moments you might have missed, even though you likely didn’t, because I’m fairly certain every viewer’s eye was glued to their screens for the entirety of the episode.

1. Is Jesse’s throwaway line from the cold open meaningful? I missed what he said the first time, so I had to rewind and listen to it again. As past Walter White explains “exothermic reaction” to Jesse, Jesse mumbles, “Put me into a coma why don’t you.” It could be nothing, or it could be a scary hint. After all, Hank’s parting words to Marie in the previous episode tipped the writers’ hands regarding his demise in this episode. (See point #8 in 10 Moments You Might Have Missed in Breaking Bad’s ‘To’hajiilee.)

2. Walter still thinks money can solve all of his problems. He tries to buy off Uncle Jack so that he won’t kill Hank. For a moment, I thought this was going to happen—that Jack would accept the cash—which made me wonder if Walter was going to give all of his 80 million to Jack. But that would have been too redemptive an act for Walter.

3. Here’s a moment I missed: I don’t get why Walter admits to Jane’s death after Jesse’s dragged out from beneath the car. Any clues here? Is it just vengeful hatred? Is Walter so angered by Hank’s death (which he apparently can’t see his own complicity in) that he feels the need to make Jesse suffer even more? I thought this was a strange moment, but it may be a setup for the final showdown between Walter and Jesse … as if Jesse didn’t have enough reasons to want to kill Walt.

4. There was much reflection going on in this episode, as in actual reflections. From Walter not being able to look at himself in the truck’s rearview mirror after Uncle Jack’s crew leaves To’hajiilee to the last scene of the episode as Walter’s face reflects in the sideview mirror of the Escape-to-Alaska van, Breaking Bad loves a good mirrored image. It hearkens back to the cold open in “Blood Money” where Walter sees his reflection in shattered glass at his condemned home. It also speaks to part of the fourth line of Ozymandias, “a shattered visage lies.” (Is that lies as in “remains sitting” or lies as in “forgoes telling the truth?”)

5. That epic, whistling, old-school song playing as Walter rolls his barrel of money through the desert is, properly, “Times A-Gettin’ Hard” by Eddy Arnold.

I’m not sure Eddy wrote the song. It seems to be an old folk song.

The lyrics are killer for this episode and Breaking Bad as a whole. I’m willing to bet the writers have held this gem back for just the right occasion:

Time’s a gettin’ hard boys, money’s gettin’ scarce
Times don’t get no better boys, gonna leave this place
Take my true love by her hand, lead her through the town
Say goodbye to everyone, goodbye to everyone
Had a joy a year ago, had a little home
Now I’ve got no place to go, guess I’ll have to roam
Take my true love by her hand, lead her through the town
Say goodbye to everyone, goodbye to everyone
Every wind that blows boys, every wind that blows
Carries me to some new place, heaven only knows
Take my true love by her hand, lead her through the town
Say goodbye to everyone, goodbye to everyone

If it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear throughout the history of Breaking Bad, the lyrics key us in to who Walter White’s “true love” really is.

Also, eagle-eyed viewer Clayton Underwood alerted me that I missed Walter rolling his barrel o’ cash past his pants from the pilot episode. How could I have missed such an epic callback? (For what it’s worth, I’m typically typing furiously while watching these episodes, so I’m grateful when the Internets alert me to what I might have missed.)

6. This episode could have been called “Walter’s True Confessions (Really).” (a much lamer title than “Ozymandias,” but stick with me.) It’s within this episode that, apparently, every last morsel of truth spills from Walter’s mouth. To Jesse, he admits to essentially killing Jane. Marie forces Skyler to tell Walt Jr. the whole ugly truth about his father. Walter cops to building his empire by his own might while cops listen to his call to Skyler. There’s no controlling the ramifications of these confessions.

7. When Marie confronts Skyler in Skyler’s office at the A1 Car Wash, Skyler wears all white while Marie wears all black. (Really, it’s likely dark purple, but it’s still a highly contrasting color.) For Marie, this could signify that she’s in mourning (even though she doesn’t know it at that time), or that she’s bringing news of impending doom to Skyler. For Skyler, it could signify a certain measure of penitence, or a way to show her relative innocence in regards to Walter White’s duplicitous life.

On the whole, it’s yet another yin-yang color palette that shows two characters at war with each other. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Skyler and Marie wearing similar colors in future episodes as a way of showing that they may be moving back toward each other, i.e. that their relationship may still be salvageable.

8. The quick cut to baby Holly all swaddled in pink in Skyler’s car, plus the ding-ding-ding of the car due to Flynn’s dangerous unbuckling ways—recall Hector Salamanca’s insistent bell-ringing and the elevator ring before Gus’s explosive exit—instantly alerted me that the epic moment of impending doom was finally upon us. (Yes, I use those words a lot for this show because this show is filled with moments that require those two specific words).

Once the knife came out, did you fear that something even more unspeakable than what happened was actually going to happen? Ever since I read about the color coding of the series and how Holly’s always seen in pink—remember what happened to the pink bear in Season 2?—I’ve feared for her safety. Well, those fears have now been realized, and it’s even more terrifying than I could have imagined.

9. Four main characters drop to their knees at different points in this episode, each a grief-stricken response to a catastrophic event. Walter falls to his knees (then keels over on his side) after Uncle Jack shoots Hank. Jesse falls to his knees as Jack’s gang takes him away (if I recall correctly), Marie falls to her knees when she learns of her husband’s death. Finally, Skyler falls to her knees in the middle of the street as Walter rides off after kidnapping his own child, Holly. These visuals, among many interpretations, could again refer to part of the episode’s titular poem: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.”

10. Baby Holly in the fire engine had a napkin with the White’s home address written on it. While we can hope and pray that this means she’s safe, I fear that may not be the case. If there’s anything that Breaking Bad’s writers are good at—and they’re good at many, many things—it’s purposefully upsetting and resetting our expectations.

How in the world is this madness going to end? How do you want it to end?

Until then, pray for Holly and Walt Jr. and Marie and Skyler and Jesse.

Check out the rest of this series: 80 Moments You Might Have Missed in the Last Season of Breaking Bad.