Breaking Bad Recap: Season 5.1 Finale ‘Gliding Over All’
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the water advancing,
The voyage of the soul—not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.
The final episode of Breaking Bad 2012, and of the first half of its final season, is named after the poem referenced above, by Walt Whitman, which speaks directly to the themes that have propelled the series from the beginning. What is the journey of a man’s soul through life, and on to death? Walt is a ship advancing, but toward what? He may be wondering this as he finds himself in a hotel room ordering his most vicious and distant killing yet, while staring at a painting he’s seen once before—in his hospital room as he explained his mysterious fugue state to his family, one of the first great lies in an ever-increasing chain.
It’s a self-referential moment in an episode filled with them, an episode that serves as a reminder of the journey that we’ve taken along with Walt. The decisions we’ve watched him make, the numerous choices that he’s taken to stave off death or capture. But in the end, whether it’s cancer or the Feds, something will have to take down Walter White—even something as insignificant as a memento from a departed admirer.
We begin with a fly, sitting on a lamp rubbing its legs in front of a very tired Walt. A fly like the one that drove Walt to madness in the bowels of Gus Fring’s superlab, as it came to represent the constant danger snapping at his heels. A fly that nearly led him to confess all to Jesse about his complicity in Jane’s death, and led him to pontificate about his perfect moment to die—a moment that had passed him by already.
We see the fly at the start of a scene that acts as a mean tease for the audience. Walt sits in the office of Vamanos Pest alone. Todd approaches him from behind and tells Walt “the, uh, car’s been dealt with”. That’s Mike’s body taken care of, we assume. So what is this “other thing” that Todd needs Walt’s help with? They open the trunk of the car revealing a bloody body—but not its face. “I don’t want to talk about this”, Walt says, “but it had to be done.” For a horrible moment it seems like it may be Jesse they’re getting ready to dissolve. But no. The garage door opens and Jesse walks in, wanting to talk to Walt alone about Mike. He asks him if he “got out safe” and Walt says, “he’s gone,” which, of course, he is. Jesse wants to know what they’re going to do about Mike’s guys now that the money’s stopped. Walt says “I’ll handle it,” then closes the door on Jesse. So Walt gets away with Mike’s murder as, in fact, he will get away with practically everything throughout the episode.
Walt meets with Lydia in a crowded restaurant to get the list of names from her. She refuses to give them. She feels safer being the only person who knows the list, because without it Walt has no reason to keep her alive. She also realizes that Walt has taken care of Mike, as there’s no way he would have signed off on a mass hit on them. Lydia agrees to give up the list, but finds another way to stay useful to Heisenberg’s empire. She offers him a distribution deal (one that she offered Gus Fring before “somebody” killed him) that will grow his business exponentially.
As it turns out, The Czech Republic is a burgeoning market for meth entrepreneurs, with 5% of its 10 million population using the drug (seriously???). But the average purity of the European product is a measly 60%—nothing compared to the 99.1% purity of Walt’s blue crystal. All Walt has to do is work with her and he can make more money the he can spend—quite literally, as it will turn out. He agrees, and she writes the list down on a napkin for him. They shake on the deal and Lydia tells him “We’re going to make a lot of money together,” a phrase which gives Walt pause, as it’s exactly what Tuco said to Walt at the beginning of their partnership.
With the list in hand, Waly pays a visit to Todd’s uncle with the prison connections. It turns out that those connections are with the Aryan Brotherhood (maybe not all that surprising for a kid not particularly sorry for shooting a child). As the Neo-Nazis work out their plan Walt stares at a painting on the wall of a ship coming into the coast. Todd’s uncle snaps his fingers to draw Walt’s attention, and explains that manpower’s not the problem, it’s timing. Walt has insisted that all the murders happen at the same moment—ten guys, three jails, two minutes.
“It can be done,” Todd’s uncle tells Walt, “but not the way you want it.”
“It can be done exactly how I want,” Walt answers, “The question is, are you the man to do it?”
Then we get the first of several time lapse sequences in an episode that will span several months of time. When the time lapse ends we see Walt standing in his living room checking the watch that Jesse gave him. Then, at the appointed time the murders begin, across three different prisons, just as Walt requested – accompanied by a jarringly upbeat swing number. The sequence is elegantly choreographed and brutal, as Nazi thugs apply shivs to the neck, chest, and throat of Fring’s associates. The last man – one that desperately tried to barter a deal with Hank earlier in the episode – has the good sense not to leave his cell, but it hardly matters, as he is soon set on fire. This, Walter White, is what winning looks like.
Walt’s problems may be solved, but Hank’s are just beginning. He’s grasping at straws and inconsolable as every potential source leading to Heisenberg is shanked, shived, and immolated out of existence. He returns home after his horrible day to find Walt playing with Holly. Walt offers to leave, but Hank pours him a drink and asks him to stay. He tells Walt a story about a summer job he had in his college years, marking trees that were to be cut down by the city. He hated the job, he says, but wishes in retrospect that he’d appreciated it more. “Tagging trees is a lot better than chasing monsters,” he says.
Walt deflects, remarking on the advantages of being outdoors, “I used to love going camping.” A complicated expression plays on his face, not quite remorse (Walt’s never really cared much for Hank), but, again, weariness. That weariness is all over his face during the montage that follows, set to the song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and The Shondells (a song that I cannot believe had not been used yet on Breaking Bad). The song sets a quiet, tender tone for a sequence that charts the expansion of Walt’s empire. We watch as Walt and Todd cook and drop the product in a barrel that Todd delivers to a connection in the desert. He brings it to Lydia, and she ships it out, then brings the payments to Walt in the restaurant. Then, we assume, it ends up in the hands of swinging Czech brothers hungry for meth.
The montage ends in the same room in which it began, only this time it’s Skyler and Marie we see playing with Holly, who’s just beginning to walk. Marie wonders if it’s time now for the kids to go back home with Walt and Skyler, afraid that they’re just “enabling” her by letting them stay. Skyler comes home and finds Walt sitting in the backyard in the neon blue glow of the swimming pool. “Take a drive with me,” she asks, and takes Walt to a storage locker filled with a giant stack of cash. Money that she had no place to store at the car wash, money she hasn’t even been able to launder or even count properly it’s come in so fast.
“There’s more money here than we can spend in ten lifetimes,” she tells him, and asks, “how big does this pile have to be?”
And maybe, finally, the pile is big enough for Walt. He visits Jesse (who stashes a gun in his belt just in case, as you would when “the one who knocks” knocks on your door unexpected and uninvited) and waxes nostalgic about the old days in the piece-of-junk RV meth lab. They recount all of the ways it let them down. Jesse wonders, “We had money, why did we keep it? Why did we have to have the world’s shittiest RV?”
“Inertia,” Walt offers.
“Yeah, yeah, inertia…” Jesse responds, followed by a brilliant pause that makes it clear that Jesse has no idea what “inertia” means. Walt sees this and instead of calling his old partner out for his ignorance smiles to himself, a moment of genuine affection for the boy.
On his way out the door Walt says, “I left you something.” Jesse walks out to his porch and finds two duffel bags filled with cash, his cut of the business. The money that Walt said he would never get.
Taking care of Jesse’s cut is Walt’s last action in the drug trade. He approaches Skyler in the kitchen as she’s doing dishes and tells her, “I’m out.” She scans his face for a sign that he’s lying. He pauses, not sure what to say after all this time. There’s nothing to say, but maybe an apology his pride won’t allow, as he walks away.
More time passes. Holly gets a bit older. The family gathers by the pool for a meal together. Flynn and Holly play in the background as the adults talk over each other in the foreground. Nothing of import is happening, which makes the scene all the more tense (this series has taught us to expect something horrible in the quiet moments). We hold our breath, waiting for the corpse of Gus Fring to slowly emerge from the pool and fire a rocket launcher at Holly, or for a pink teddy bear to descend at freefall speed and crush Flynn’s skull. But no. Hank goes to the bathroom in the master bedroom (rather presumptuous, that, Hank), and shuffles for a good read. We scream at Vince Gilligan, why are you showing this to us when everyone that we love is in the process of being murdered outside? Hank considers a few magazines, then settles on the last thing we’d expect him to read—a book of poetry, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Hank flips to the front page and finds an inscription:
To my own favorite W.W.
It’s an honor working with you.
We flash to Hank and Walt investigating Gale Boetticher’s lightning bolt notebook. “Who’s W.W.?” Hanks asks. “Woodrow Wilson, Willy Wonka?” He pauses and looks at Walt.
Walt chuckles and puts his hands in the air. “You got me.”
Maybe Walt kept the book, in spite of all the other evidence he’s disposed of (including several bodies), because he was so proud of Gale’s fawning admiration. Maybe Gale was so unimportant to Walt that he simply forgot he had it. Whatever the reason, Hank’s face at the end leaves no doubt that he understands what has happened—what has been right in front of him all along.
Season Five, Episode Eight
‘Gliding Over All’: A+