Ozymandias (Breaking Bad)

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"Ozymandias"
Breaking Bad episode
Breaking Bad Ozymandias.jpg
Walter lies in anguish, in a manner said to have a resemblance to the line "half-sunk shattered visage" from Percy Shelley's Ozymandias and to Gus' reaction to his partner Max's death.[1][a]
Episode no.Season 5
Episode 14
Directed byRian Johnson
Written byMoira Walley-Beckett
Featured music"Take My True Love by the Hand" by The Limeliters
Cinematography byMichael Slovis
Editing bySkip Macdonald
Original air dateSeptember 15, 2013 (2013-09-15)
Running time47 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"To'hajiilee"
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"Granite State"
Breaking Bad (season 5)
List of Breaking Bad episodes

"Ozymandias" is the fourteenth episode of the fifth season of the American television drama series Breaking Bad, and the 60th episode of the series. Written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson, it aired on AMC in the United States and Canada on September 15, 2013. The episode's narrative concludes the previous episode's cliffhanger and sees the death of Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada).

Beckett and Johnson had previously worked together on the season 3 episode "Fly" and had a friendly working relationship that lasted throughout the production. Beckett was allowed greater creative freedom than she had experienced before. Due to the intensity of the episode's storyline, the production was emotionally difficult for those involved.

The episode was subject to much analysis following its release. Focus was given to the episode's parallels to its namesake, Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias", its depiction of redemption, and Walt's (Bryan Cranston) rage-filled phone call to Skyler (Anna Gunn).

"Ozymandias" has been acclaimed since its initial airing. Considered one of the finest episodes of Breaking Bad and of television, critics praised the episode's season-long payoff, writing, and direction. At the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, Walley-Beckett won Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for her screenplay; Cranston and Gunn won Lead Actor and Supporting Actress, respectively, for their performances in the episode.

Plot[edit]

In a flashback set during the pilot, Walt and Jesse conduct their first meth cook. Walt calls a pregnant Skyler with an excuse for not being home, and she suggests the name Holly for their baby. In the present, Hank is wounded following the shootout with Jack's brotherhood, and Gomez is dead, but Jack and his gang are unscathed.[b] Jack prepares to kill Hank and Walt begs Jack to spare him, offering his entire $80 million fortune in exchange. Hank understands Jack is going to kill him anyway and accepts his death as Walt collapses to the ground in despair.

The gang unearths and takes six of Walt's money barrels; at Todd's request, they leave the seventh for Walt. The gang buries Hank and Gomez in place of the barrels. Walt identifies Jesse's hiding place and demands Jack carry out the hit Walt previously requested. Todd suggests taking Jesse captive because he might be useful later. Walt spitefully reveals to Jesse that he allowed Jane to die.[c] The gang detains Jesse in a cell, then forces him to cook meth.

After his car runs out of gas because of a bullet hole in the fuel tank, Walt rolls his money barrel through the desert until he reaches a house and purchases the owner's truck. At the car wash, Marie informs Skyler that Hank has arrested Walt. She demands that Skyler relinquish all copies of the false confession video implicating Hank and tell Walt Jr. the truth. Skyler tells Walt Jr. about Walt's drug business, and he tells her she is as bad as Walt for going along. Arriving home, Walt frantically tries to get Skyler and Walt Jr. to leave with him. Walt's refusal to confirm whether Hank is dead causes an altercation and Walt Jr. contacts the police. Walt abducts Holly and flees.

Marie and the police arrive at the White home. The police tap the home phone and attempt to trace it when Walt calls. Walt berates Skyler, falsely claiming he built up his drug business alone because of her unwillingness to help. Walt confirms Hank's death and says he will not surrender because he has unfinished business. He leaves Holly at a fire station with her home address written on a note. The next morning, Walt meets Saul's new-identity contact, who drives away with Walt and Walt's money barrel.

Production[edit]

Dean Norris made his final on-screen appearance in Breaking Bad in "Ozymandias"

The episode was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson—self-described "partners in crime".[3] As the writers are chosen in advance of the plot points being formed, Walley-Beckett's appointment was, in her own words, "luck of the draw".[4] She requested to work with Johnson because of their experiences together working on the third-season episode "Fly".[5] The two worked together throughout the production with them overseeing the final cut, a first for Walley-Beckett.[4][6] Ultimately, Johnson said that the episode was Walley-Beckett's, who found herself deeply proud of the episode.[4][7] Series creator Vince Gilligan was also enamored, thinking of it as the show's best.[8] It aired on AMC in the United States and Canada on September 15, 2013.[9]

This episode marks the final appearance of Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). Hank's death was shot in a minimal amount of takes, due in part to the limited time the crew had and the inconvenient weather present.[4] Although the writers discussed many options for his death, it was agreed, from the start of talks, that his death would be dignified and honorable; Hank was originally supposed to die at the end of the previous episode, but it was moved to "Ozymandias" for better pacing.[6][8] To preserve the drama of Hank's death, the show's producers secured special permission from Hollywood guilds to delay showing the opening credits until 19 minutes into the episode.[10] Norris had requested that his final moment be towards neither the gang nor Walt.[11]

The opening flashback scene was the last scene to be shot for the entire series. The crew waited to film the episode to allow for Cranston's and Paul's hair to grow in so they would look like they did before Walt began shaving his head and Jesse began wearing his hair short. Although it was filmed months after the rest of the episode, Johnson was able to return to direct the scene.[5][8]

The shot depicting Walt's reaction to Hank's death was, according to Beckett, Johnson's invention. To emphasize the physical impact, he requested that puzzle pieces be placed on the ground, covered in dirt; the pieces were controlled by a trigger and disassembled upon the moment Walt landed, thus emulating the effect of "shattering the earth".[12] The ground shots of Hank and Jesse required a special crane rig and "periscope lens".[11] For the following shot of Walt rolling the barrel, Johnson wanted to emulate the stature of a dung beetle. To do so he got the "longest possible lens" they could afford and sent "the B-camera crew out in a truck way the hell out".[13] Jesse's torture was left off-screen due to the script excluding it and Johnson feeling that it would be unfair to the audience to manipulate their emotional investment in Jesse's character.[14]

Betsy Brandt said that during production she avoided reading Hank's death, as she found it too emotional. Brandt noted that seven years after airing, she had not seen the episode.[15] Co-executive producer, Melissa Bernstein described reading the script as an "intense experience".[13] Anna Gunn recalled that during the scene of Holly's kidnapping there were what "seemed like" a hundred onlookers. This coupled with the shooting running late and the erratic weather of the day lead to her feeling under pressure and seeking support from Johnson. In 2014, she named it the hardest scene she filmed but also one of the "richest".[16]

Walley-Beckett said that Walt's preceding confrontation was "extremely complicated" to write, due to the character's differing objectives, the scene's "operatic" nature and the multiple "crescendos and decrescendos".[17] Johnson—who had it all "mapped out"[4]—saw the scene as the hardest to film, noting that the line "I tried to save him" underwent multiple takes until Bryan Cranston commented that Walt should be, instead of bumbling, exasperated.[17] Cranston and Gunn both performed the stunts themselves, barring two shots.[4]

Analysis[edit]

The University of Colorado Boulder's Amanda Knopf noted that the shootout aligns with the conventional Western trope of improbable success in a gunfight and is an example of Walt's moral code and belief that dying in this manner would restore his masculinity and heroism.[18] Walt is throughout the episode emasculated, in various ways.[19] She also notes that, within the series, the desert is visually unique in that despite the destruction and loss taking place it remains "unchanged".[18]

The lyrics to "Take My True Love by the Hand" by The Limeliters references and foreshadows Walt's isolation from his family; emphasized by Holly's first words being "Mama".[20]

Parallels to Percy Shelley's Ozymandias[edit]

Ramesses II—the basis for Shelley's Ozymandias[21]—whose poetic downfall is paralleled in Walt's.

The episode title refers to the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which recounts the crumbling legacy of a once-proud king.[22][23] Bryan Cranston recited the entire poem in a 2013 trailer for the series.[24][25] Walley-Beckett had wanted to use the poem for a long time and thus introduced it to showrunner Vince Gilligan.[13]

Although, the episode makes no explicit references to the poem,[26] Austin Gill of Xavier University felt that by this episode's point in Walt's progression he had embodied the "tyrannical aspirations of invincibility and arrogance" of the poem's king, whose downfall is paralleled in Walt's.[20] Douglas Eric Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan said that Walt's reaction to Hank's death indicates that he has become the “colossal wreck” of the poem—the British Empire, which Shelly alluded to.[1]

Further parallels are seen in both the episode and poem concluding with their protagonists left with little to show for their actions and how the "concept of hubris and being punished for grandiose projects that serve an individual’s egotism are central aspects of each work".[20][1] Walt's pant-less appearance in the flashback echoes the line "Two vast and trunk-less legs of stone".[18] By evoking the poem, Rasmussen said, the show is critiquing Walt's empire, his "empty desires" and neoliberalism—which he sees Walt embodying.[1] Gill said that the episode—and by extension, the show—uses the poem to "underscore and warn of the ramifications of vanity" and "sustain cultural life and power".[20]

Redemption[edit]

Donna Bowman of The A.V. Club said the episode portrayed "Walt at his most human [and] most deluded... Hank [is] transformed by his pursuit of Heisenberg into the lawman he always wanted to be". She concluded that Holly's kidnapping was the final straw for his humanity.[9] Alberto Nahum García Martínez et al. provided a reading which said that Walt's actions before and, particularly, after "Ozymandias" indicate moral redemption with the intention of the audience once again supporting Walt; In a review for Slate, published the same day as the episode, Matthew Yglesias speculated this to be the writers' goal.[27][28]

When asked if the writers were trying to get the audience to support Walt, Walley-Beckett responded opaquely, noting that "moral ambiguity is a cornerstone of the series" and that they always "tried to legitimately confound expectations and put people in the moral position of rooting for somebody who’s become a cancer to himself and everyone around them".[6] Cranston said that the episode "[twisted] the allegiance, testing the audience" and that many people told him, following Walt disclosing his involvement in Jane's death, that they lost faith in Walt.[13]

Phone call[edit]

It's the hypnotic magic of this show that anybody would sit around parsing the [morals] of Walt's behavior in making that phone call in the same episode in which he sent Jesse off to be tortured and murdered.[29]

Linda Holmes

The most analyzed and immediately discussed aspect of the episode was the phone call between Walt and Skyler—some viewers felt Walter's rage was false in an attempt to aid Skyler in avoiding prosecution; other's saw his anger as genuine.[29][30] Walley-Beckett "personally [felt] like it wasn’t open to interpretation" and hoped that audiences would view it as a ploy and thus sympathize with Skyler, who Johnson framed in a deliberately intimate manner.[4] She did see some of Walt's words as true.[3] In an article for IndieWire, one week after the episode's airing, Sam Adams said that "most everyone agrees that Walt’s call to Skyler was...[him] trying to exonerate her".[30]

The University of British Columbia's Brandon Taylor said that the episode's critique of Walt is, by proxy, a critique of the audience for having, beforehand, derived pleasure from witnessing his actions.[19] Drusilla Moorhouse, an online contributor to The Today Show's website, viewed the call as selfless and said it "rewrote the history of [Skyler's] complicity".[31]

Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture said that "The controversy over Walter’s phone call is really about the relationship between viewers and television...It’s about the discomfort that ensues when an episode or scene or moment forces us to take a hard look at why we watch a show, what we truly get out of it, and what that says about us".[32] The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum said that the episode "trolled" her—"the Prissy Progressive Fan"—and the "bad fans"—those who watch the show for a power fantasy. According to Nussbaum, the episode sought to critique the respective fans' views of Skyler as either "pure victim" or "bitch".[33]

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Photo of a man speaking into a microphone
Photo of a woman speaking into a microphone
Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn received acclaim[34] and won Primetime Emmy Awards for their performances in "Ozymandias".

"Ozymandias" received "universal critical acclaim"[35] and is widely considered the show's best episode and one of the best episodes in TV history.[36][37][38] Multiple publications named it the best episode of 2013; of the decade, by some.[d][e] TV Guide picked "Ozymandias" as the best television episode of the 21st century.[48] "Ozymandias" frequently tops polls of the best Breaking Bad episodes.[49][50][f] The episode, watched by 6.4 million viewers—the then most for an episode[56]—is revered among fans; as of 2021, it is rated 10/10 on IMDB with over 135,000 votes.[3][57][g]

Tom Mendelsohn of The Independent praised how the episode paid off the season's build-up.[58] Seth Amitin of IGN echoed similar sentiments.[59] The Los Angeles Times' Todd Vandwerff described it as "rich" and gave particular praise to how it made Skyler's arc as a victim to willing accomplice "worth it", which he felt was before a fault of the season.[60] IndieWire's Kevin Jagernauth complimented how the episode delivered on each member of the White family's arcs.[61] Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post commended how it actualized the consequences of Walt's actions, in what she saw as a visceral manner.[62] Tyler Hersko, in an article for IndieWire, applaued how it was a "culmination" of the show to that point.[34]

Some reviewers found it hard to watch. Ryan, although calling the episode "perfectly realized," said it left her feeling sick and made her cry.[62] Tim Surette of TV.com called the episode "terrific and awful to watch; a powerful piece of television that transcended fiction".[63] Linda Holmes, in a positive review of the episode, expressed relief that the show was ending, as she began to find "the show's honesty about greed and violence...unbearable".[29]

Walley-Beckett's script and Johnson's direction were described by Vanderwerff as "beautiful" and "exquisite", respectively.[60] Regular contributor to Paste, Ross Bonaime found Johnson's direction immersive, a sentiment echoed by Bowman.[9][53] Jagernauth was grateful that Johnson "[served] the script by keeping the stylization at a minimum and letting the emotional scenes carry through with the power that was clearly on the page".[61] Dustin Rowles called Johnson, in a 2014 article for Uproxx, the best working director in television directly because of his work on "Ozymandias".[64]

Alex Berenson of Esquire provided limited criticism regarding Todd's request to spare Walt and his delay—noting the latter to be "heavy-handed and unsubtle" but acknowledging that it did work within the story.[65] Vanderwerff called Jesse's survival "improbable".[60] Yglesias found Walt revealing his entire fortune and his eventual new life to be out of character decisions; the gang's imprisonment of Jesse to continue selling meth and lack of in-fighting also perplexed him.[28]

Accolades[edit]

At the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, Moira Walley-Beckett received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for writing this episode.[66] Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn both submitted this episode for consideration after being nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, with each winning their categories, as well.[67]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Johnson has said that allusions to Max's death may have been deliberate on Walley-Beckett's part, but not his.[2]
  2. ^ As depicted in "To'hajiilee".
  3. ^ As depicted in "Phoenix".
  4. ^ Year-end lists include those by Digital Spy,[39] Entertainment Weekly,[40] IndieWire,[41] Time,[42] and Vulture.[43]
  5. ^ Salon and USA Today named it as one of the best TV episodes of the decade;[44][45] Variety 4th; The Ringer 10th.[46][47]
  6. ^ Such as those by Complex,[51] IGN,[52] IndieWire,[34] Paste,[53] The Ringer,[54] Upporx[36] and Vulture[55]
  7. ^ "Ozymandias" and Attack on Titan's "Hero" and "Assault" are the only episodes to be rated accordingly; before 2021 "Ozymandias" was the only one.[57]

References[edit]

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