I watched the “End Times” episode from Breaking Bad twice, just to make sure it really did make the stretch I thought it made the first time I watched.
And what’s confounding is whether they had to stretch at all. The logical elongation in question is, of course, the series of events that inadvertently (and too conveniently) got Walt and Jesse back on the same page, just when it looked like an epic, rage-filled meltdown from Jesse would put a bullet or four into Walt.
So let’s backtrack.
But first – yes, I enjoyed the white-knuckle ride of “End Times” even when it ended up being mostly a bridge (I think it’s unfair to say “filler”) to the season finale. It’s a testament to the writing that, knowing what we all do about the future of Breaking Bad (16 more episodes after this season ends), I wasn’t entirely sure if Vince Gilligan and company wouldn’t have Jesse pull the trigger and at least wound Walt, which explains the aforementioned white knuckles.
Now, as for the plot twist in question: We are to believe that Gus, not being given the green light from Jesse to kill Walt, decides to implement “an appropriate response” in the form of having Tyrus, or someone else, take the ricin out of Jesse’s cigarette pack and then go over to Andrea’s house, Jesse’s ex, and dose Brock, her son.
The net effect being that Jesse would immediately assume Walt did it, then kill him. Now, already that’s a stretch. But what does Gus really gain from this? He has everything he needs in Jesse. Why put that in jeopardy? Why risk having Jesse (via Walt) deduce the master plan and then turn, in rage, back on Gus?
The answer is that Walt is a liability or a threat. But is he really? Walt may be freaked out and unstable, but he hasn’t proven to be a very good assassin. And it’s not like he’s going to turn in Gus, given his pretty important link to the whole operation.
It doesn’t really add up, which happens all the time in television, just less so on great television series. Even when it does appear, a certain amount of slack must be given to the storytelling. I’m a firm believer in this. Because if we don’t let storytellers craft fiction – by holding them strictly to the laws of probability and realism – we’d get a lot of dry stories. Besides, I’m also a firm believer in the truth is stranger than fiction adage. And people do dumb, unbelievable things all the time.
Which is why I have zero problem with Gus sensing something was wrong in the parking garage and never going near his car (though, it’s a Volvo, it could probably survive one of Walt’s rigged explosives). To me, that was plausible.
But the Brock-ricin storyline as it appears now put a crimp in the episode for me, as it joined in my very slight disappointment that this episode was just an excellent little 60 minute pause in the action.
Part of my disappointment in the storyline is that it didn’t have to happen. And before I explain why, first this: The episode will work (wonderfully, by the way), in hindsight if Gilligan and the writers have tricked us and Brock is sick from something else and not the ricin, which prompted Jesse to reveal the poison plot to Gus, which would explain why he gets that worried feeling back in the carport. Of course, by that logic, we have to assume that Jesse somehow misplaced the ricin cigarette or it fell out or something. Because if Tyrus already knew about/took the ricin, that means Gus was already aware of the plot about the poison and probably wouldn’t have come out of hiding and gone to the hospital (even if, to extend this further, he just wanted Jesse to admit it or give him a tell).
(What would be really disastrous -- and I hope you're not thinking this, and I'm really hoping the writers didn't choose this route -- is if someohow Walt dosed Brock. I get the whole Mr. Chips to Scarface thing, but Walt isn't there yet. It would be so far out of character as to be a near deal-breaker. So, no, I don't by *any* of that Walt gave Brock the ricin nonsense.)
Now, let’s assume that it plays out exactly as indicated in “End Times” – Gus had someone dose the kid to piss off Jesse to kill Walt. What that would indicate, other than one very big stretch, is the writers felt obligated to address the ricin in some completely unexpected way. But I think even Chekhov would have given them a pass if they just addressed it as a failure, a plot gone wrong. And yet, weren’t there other plot alternatives?
Maybe Gus confronts Jesse with the ricin, makes him prove his loyalty by offing Walt (or trying to, or refusing to, etc. etc.). Maybe the ricin takes out someone else – Mike or Tyrus. What if Gus used the poison on killed Walter Jr.?
The point is, by introducing the ricin and, perhaps a greater problem – re-introducing Andrea and Brock – the writers felt compelled to wrap up loose ends.
The question is, why? In the service of the plot? Well, look what happens when you don’t get it quite right – people obsess about it. Either it had to be handled better, or it had to be ignored. Hell, David Chase ignored countless plot elements on The Sopranos and nobody is sitting around pissing on his reputation.
Breaking Bad doesn’t always need to wrap things up in a bow or get too O. Henry clever about things. The series is better than that.
There. I got it off my chest. Fine episode, even if I knew it was just setting up the finale. Wish they hadn’t made the ricin twist. And, having said all that, I have complete faith that the finale will deliver. We nitpick because we care. And Breaking Bad continues to have one of the finest writing staffs in all of television.
“I have lived under the threat of death for a year now. And because of that, I’ve made choices…I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices, no one else. And those consequences, they’re coming.”
I loved that. It perfectly set up that ever more rare moment when we get to see Walt’s nearly forgotten tenderness. The nearly dialog-free scene with the baby, saying goodbye, and realizing prior to that how little of the danger Skyler knows about. Just wonderful all around.
Walt by the pool again. Good times! Spins the gun and it points at him – two times (no cuts).
Directed by Vince Gilligan. And done well, too.
“There will be an appropriate response.” (Yeah, we’ll see about that).
“Lock the door, frisky.” – Saul.
“Well, they’re here. The end times, kid.” – Saul to Jesse.
Man, that is one Purple Haze at Marie’s house.
Did you notice that Skyler asked for a cigarette right before the cigarette/ricin scene?
Lastly: Can’t wait until next week.