Breaking Down 'Breaking Bad' - "Ozymandias"


(AMC)1. The prologue of "Ozymandias" takes us back to the beginning. Walt's in his tighty whities and Jesse doesn't think twice about smoking in a meth lab. Ah, how far we've come! While this little prologue reminds us how cyclical Breaking Bad is (apt considering this episode was directed by Looper genius Rian Johnson), what it's really doing is showing us Walter White the liar. Still human in the prologue, he makes a phone call to Skyler and actually rehearses what he's going to say. He tells her he has to work late and thus, the precedent is set. Whether by blatant rationalization or outright disrespect, Walt is no longer the husband Skyler married. He has become a monster, a liar, a Heisenberg, whether he knows it yet or not. Johnson also deserves a hat tip for his brilliant dissolve from prologue to the present day shootout in the exact same spot of desert.





2. "Hey, try rolling it morons! It’s a barrel! It rolls!" Walt seems to have somehow heard Hank's pithy commentary from "Seven Thirty-Seven" in season 2 when he and Jesse were stealing Methylamine. He rolls his barrel of cash through the hellish desert like Sisyphus in Hades. "Ozymandias" doesn't have the comedic relief of past episodes this season, but Walt's desert odyssey does feature one fantastic insertion: his lost pants from the pilot. Amazing.



3. Johnson's fingerprints are all over this episode, from his point of view shots to his use of soft focus to a Noah Segan (Brick, Looper) cameo as the firefighter who finds Holly. Johnson is a master filmmaker and his two previous Breaking Bad episodes ("Fly," "Fifty-One") are two of the most symbolic. One of his siganture touches is using props to convey messages between scenes. In "Ozymandias," the prologue features Skyler in the kitchen on her phone with a knife block in the foreground. It's an innocuous detail until later on when we see the shot framed the same way in a much different context. (I also thought Skyler was dead once she pulled that knife, she or Flynn would fall on it for sure, but nope.)









5. For Jesse, "Ozymandias" isn't his finest hour. Walt fingers him hiding underneath the Chrysler. He, obviously, blames Jesse for Hank's death and hands him over to the Nazis. He also ties the final loose end between them, explaining his role in Jane's death. Now in Todd's hands, Jesse's imprisoned and beaten, forced to show the quiet psychopath how to create the blue crystal. As heartbreaking as it is seeing Jesse's face turned to pulp yet again, the scene's most effective shot is of Jesse looking at a picture of Andrea and Brock. It's Todd's not-so-subtle motivational tool and Johnson frames the shot powerfully, with the devil in heavy soft focus behind Jesse.





5. The most brilliant detail of "Ozymandias," however, is the phone call between Skyler and Walt. With the cops listening in, Walt berates his wife, telling her "This is what comes from your disrespect… you stupid bitch." A little harsh, no? Well, yes. Walt's supposedly in Heisenberg mode, but this is a man who's been one step ahead the entire series. Do you think for one second he didn't know the police would be at his house? Flynn was on the phone with them when he ran out the door with Holly. The phone call and the abusive way he attacks Skyler is meant to do one thing: protect her. Skyler realizes this and plays along, apologizing to Walt before he hangs up.



*And what should we make of this shot, framed knowingly by Johnson? Is Walt's fate a bullet to the forehead? Breaking Bad loves to foreshadow death, but we can only speculate.



**Johnson also frames Walt mourning Hank the exact same way director Johan Renck framed Gus Fring (after his own brother's death) in season four's "Hermanos." Once again, Walt's trajectory mirrors Fring's. It's also a distinct corollary to the episode's namesake. “…Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies…”



Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.
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