Image credit: Gregory Peters/AMC
SMOKING KILLS (AND WALT DOES, TOO): After the ricin cigarette nearly gets him murdered, Walt (Bryan Cranston) plots his revenge
For Walt, Jesse, and poor Brock, the "End Times" are nigh.| Published Oct 3, 2011
All we can say is, whoa.
Is it safe to say that we all held our breath through that entire episode, which gets our vote for The Most Knuckle-Whitening of the Season So Far? We don't have enough air left in our lungs to blow a single smoke ring from a ricin cigarette. (Though after watching that excruciatingly intense showdown between Walt and Jesse, a cigarette is exactly what we need.) Everything we've been waiting for, everything we've been worried about, it's all happening—and fast. The laundromat? Searched. The DEA? Closing in. Jesse? Ready to kill. Walt? Prepared to die. As Walt tells Skyler, "No more prolonging the inevitable.”
One of the best things about Breaking Bad has always been that even when you know what's coming (and very often you don't), there's a strange thrill in watching what happens when people run out of choices. And right now, even Saul knows that the days of easy money and endless supplies of gold-plated legal scale cuff links are numbered. "They're here," Saul tells Jesse. "The End Times, kid. End Times."
"End Times" is also the name of the episode, and the religious allusion can't be accidental. In the Bible, the end times divided the world into those who chose to follow God, and those who got left behind to suffer forever. For Jesse, it's time to choose sides: follow the command of the Almighty Gus, or deal with the "appropriate response." How fitting that when Gus and Jesse finally have their big you're-either-with-me-or-against-me talk inside the hospital, they're standing in the chapel, where a large crucifix hangs just beyond Jesse's head.
For Walt, the end times mean he's finally approaching judgment day. When Skyler asks him how long it will be until he's safe, his silence says probably the next bank holiday after never. "I have lived under the threat of death for a year now," he tells her. "Because of that, I've made choices. Listen to me. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else. And those consequences, they're coming."
But Walt's not really the only one suffering those consequences. As Marie says, "We're all in danger here." And judging by Walt's expression when he kisses Baby Holly goodbye, he knows it. Sitting by the pool, playing spin-the-gun, he's just delving deeper and deeper into his guilt. (Visually, the scene is a callback to The Sopranos, which always showed Tony sitting by the pool, thinking about the "family" of ducks that once swam there, worrying that his own family will leave him as well.) Walt's punishing himself for putting everyone at risk: Hank, Skyler, Walt Jr., maybe even Saul. "After all," quips Saul, "what am I but family?"
And what happens to family during these End Times? The son ends up atoning for the sins of the father. That's true for Jesse, who believes he's paying for protecting Walt. And it might be true for Brock, who's the closest thing to a son that Jesse's ever had.
NEXT: "Put a bullet in my head right now. DO IT!"