Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Negative Review: Breaking Bad S05E14 "Ozymandias" Sucks

So to forego the typical introduction bit, let's just jump right into it, in order of appearance:

1. The episode opens, and soon Gomez is shown dead. This is the same character that has been around on the show for the past 5 seasons, and this is the send-off he receives. As I understand it, the point of involving Gomez in the hunt for Walter, from Hank's perspective, was to use the guy that would work with him instead of telling the rest of the DEA – this, because Hank and Gomez are close. They have built a friendly relationship over the course of the show, and Gomez has even been involved in some weird situations with Hank throughout their careers. Anyway, Gomez isn't just some random goon Hank could have brought along with him to arrest Walter – and yet, that is precisely the way this episode treats him. The way episode 13 ends, Gomez is alive and well, but the very first shot of him in Ozymandias already has him dead; this isn't just cheap... it's also insulting. The one guy you'd expect to care (Hank) doesn't get a shot to reflect his shock/etc., and is then immediately killed so as to prevent anything like that from happening regardless. After 5 years, I don't think it's too unreasonable to ask for something a bit more meaningful.

"But wait! They were in a firefight. There wasn't time!"
> Okay, fine, perhaps, but I don't think it's necessarily too good of an idea to bring up the firefight in defense of anything, seeing as how much of a train-wreck that whole thing was. Unfortunately, that firefight took place in the previous episode and is therefore outside the jurisdiction of this post. Anyway, while it's certainly true that Gomez's death being pretty lame doesn't mean too much given that he's a tertiary character (at least by the time this season rolled around...), but it could certainly have been done better.

2. Jack, the guy who just murdered two DEA agents, lets Walter, the guy who saw him do it, walk away, scot-free. It makes no sense for Jack to do this. If anything, Jack should kill Walter because then no one can possibly come to know of anything that took place in the shootout. And yet, instead, Jack settles on a flimsy, meaningless handshake that supposedly confirms to Jack that Walter will not come after him. Yeah, yeah... great going there, Jack... this is the same guy who begged you not to kill Hank... he did it over the phone, he did it before you started shooting, while you were shooting, after you had finished shooting, and then again directly before you shot him. WELL. I wonder if this same guy, after all, will harbor any ill-will, or if said guy is ambitious enough to come after you. Consider the previous episodes – Walter has already requested of Jack to murder people, and during this very season, was operating a meth empire. To me, so far, it seems like Walter is exactly the type of guy you would not want to fuck with. And yet, Jack does everything necessary to make Walter want to kill him, and then lets him walk away. Right. But not before giving him $11 million to make sure he can buy an ICBM to use against him (apparently an M60 was enough).

"Uh, hello! Jack is afraid of Walter! What if Walter decides to get revenge against Jack after Jack kills Walter!"
> You're a fucking idiot

"Well, fine, so what if Jack has some weird sense of respect like... uh... honor amongst thieves!"
> Nope, sorry. Jack specifically says that Meth Damon is the one who respects Walter – not himself. In addition, Jack clearly doesn't care too much about Walter because he steals just about $70 million from him and then immediately proceeds to threaten him. Right. Maybe that last bit should be in the first quote-response – Jack threatened Walter. Jack is not afraid of Walter.

3. The shootout takes place in the middle of nowhere. As in, we get shots of Walter driving, for quite some time, into the middle of the desert. And yet, after the ordeal is over, Walter is able to, along with a barrel he couldn't possibly be pushing over the uneven desert terrain for more than 10 minutes, make a walk that he couldn't possibly have sustained for more than 30 minutes. And that's being generous – Walter is not in good health. Some seasons ago, smaller details such as these were paid attention to; remember "4 Days Out?" Walter kindly informs Jesse that he wouldn't survive a measly 10-20 minutes in the desert heat before he'd succumb to dehydration. I guess that doesn't apply to Walter, since being about 25 years older and having advanced cancer and having to constantly roll a heavy barrel makes it significantly easier to survive past that estimated doom-timer.

"Oh, it wasn't that far away!"
> Desert conditions. 10 minutes. I implore you to try it. Barrel optional.

3a. And while we're at it, how in fuck were any of those guys getting cell-reception out there? I'd love to get their carrier. Mind you, this isn't even a minor point – Walter, Gomez and Jesse traced Walter's call and the entire situation only got out of hand to begin with because of this. If the trace doesn't work, Hank/Gomez don't show up, the shootout doesn't happen, and the plot does not progress. Hilariously enough, the writers dug their holes even further when it was mentioned through Jesse's plan that Hank & co. did not actually just use a GPS tracker to find Walter.

> It's exactly how it works.

4. Marie informs Skyler that Hank has arrested Walter. Due to a plot contrivance, Skyler decides to believe Marie, who incidentally is the person most likely to try to lie to her. Perhaps there's some theme going about where characters who have displayed cold, calculated loyalty decide to turn on their superiors absent a second thought (Hello, Huell!). Never mind the fact that Marie, from Skyler's perspective, is probably lying – just consider how stupid it is of Skyler to not even try to confirm any of what Marie says before caving in and agreeing to do the one thing she vowed to never do: reveal Walter's secret to Flynn.

"Skyler was under stress! You even said she caved!"
> It's contrived that Skyler would cave here, of all places. Marie is the least-threatening thing Skyler has to worry about given recent events, and she could have easily had any one of her car service professionals throw Marie out without so much as an "A1 day" greeting. Skyler is the same woman who, an episode ago, had to the cool to suggest having a hit taken out on Jesse; now she can't even handle her deranged sister's tantrums. Besides, wasn't the whole point of that fake confession from two episodes ago to get Walter out of exactly this situation? I guess Skyler forgot about that part, too.

4a. And here's another thing – okay, so Skyler believes Marie. But why should that mean that Skyler should let Marie manipulate her into telling Flynn? Where's the evidence? Where's the proof? Up until that point in the show, Flynn was in absolute love with his dad, and as far as the show has shown, has only a distant relationship with Marie. Even if Skyler had called Marie's bluff and it had turned out that Marie did try to tell Flynn about Walter, would Flynn even be likely to believe her? The word "gradual" isn't even in the ballpark – Flynn has no idea about Walter, and Marie, in her current state, is not exactly in a position to make a convincing argument... never mind that Skyler could simply step in and bring up Marie's history of kleptomania and otherwise erratic behavior to shake her credibility further. The point here is that the pacing is off – everything crashes down in too short of a timeframe to be believable.

"That's the point! Everything is falling apart! Flynn has to find out!"
> This isn't a counter-argument. Instead, this is further motivation for the writers to want to get Flynn to find out as quickly as possible, which doesn't necessarily translate to effective writing.

5. Walter says the least effective thing to say to Skyler when he comes back home trying to get everyone to leave with him. Ironically, this episode even opens with a scene showcasing master-manipulator Walter feeding Skyler his excuses. Yes, of course, given recent events, Skyler is less likely to believe Walter, but something along the lines of "I was just shot at by white supremacists and I think they want to kill us" would probably make her get in the car first and ask questions later. It would be even easier if Walter had mentioned Holly – and yet, he doesn't play the Holly card until afterwards when he decides to kidnap her. In doing this, Walter must know that Holly is certainly a way to get to Skyler... and yet, his desperate case to get Skyler and co. with him in the car was absent this line of arguments, entirely.

"Walter is also under pressure!"
> Oh God, just shut up already. This wouldn't have even been something difficult to come up with. It would actually have been the truth, anyway.

5a. Skyler assumes Walter has killed Hank. Disregarding the ridiculousness of the Marie shenanigans, consider this: Marie told Skyler that Hank has Walter "dead to rights" and "in handcuffs." Extending this scenario, it's not unreasonable to assume further that Walter must therefore already be in booking, or already in county jail, which Marie is even kind enough to point out. So supposing this is the case, how could Walter have possibly killed Hank? Walter's being at the house does not in any way imply Hank is dead, so conveniently enough, in accordance with the previous complaint, Walter says what needs to be said in order to make Skyler ask about it.

> This is only an item because Walter was too conveniently stupid to come up with a good excuse, so I have no rebuttal to issue.

6. Flynn, the same guy who, a few scenes ago, told Skyler that she is "as bad as [Walter]," is now ready to call the cops on dad after seeing mom try to stab him with a knife. Note that specifically during Walter/Skyler's struggle, Flynn interjects and says "stop you guys," which by denotation is not indicative of specifying a side. Yet, moments later, Flynn has completely aligned with Skyler, even though that by all accounts, Skyler was the one who cut Walter, and Walter was the one pleading for the knife to be put away.

"Flynn was in shock!"
> Fine. I don't really care. Who does care about Flynn, anyway? Not me. Not you either, hopefully. Flynn, who only ever saw Walter in a positive light, had only about 10 seconds to react before something else more interesting happened. And it didn't even happen over the breakfast table. For shame.

...for shame...


  1. Thank you for this! It makes me incredibly irrationally angry when I hear people say stuff like "Ozymandias is the best episode of television ever". To me, it's the worst episode of the entire series by far, and it's the moment where I officially stopped being able to take the show seriously at all. There's no way in HELL that Walter would be stupid enough to tell Jack where the money was, and even less of a chance that Jack would even consider letting Walt live once he did. The fact that professional critics are unbothered by that and let it pass without comment drives me insane. Why does basic continuity of characters just not matter to people? Yeah, let's spend 5.5 seasons hammering the point home of what a ruthless, cold, calculated, drug kingpin Walt is only for him to act like an irrational little girl in a life and death situation doing the one thing guaranteed to get both him and Hank killed, and then let's have the ruthless, murdering Nazi let him go for no reason so he can come back to kill him later. Like it's way worse than the Bond villains explaining their plans and then leaving James alone in the slow death situation with no guards. Just beyond horrible. I really want to know what show the people were watching who thought this was good in any way.

  2. Thanks for giving a negative review to this steaming pile that destroyed any last vestige of respect I had for the writers of Breaking Bad. In this episode especially (and also in the episodes leading up to it), every single character had to act in ways that made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER given what kind of person they were and what they knew. The characters were jerked around on strings by a puppetmaster--nothing they did felt organic, real or convincing.

    And the purpose of all of this manipulation? To create the most vicious, brutal, ugly possible ending for everyone involved. And to rub the audience's faces in it--not once, not twice, but continuously, over and over, for the length of the episode.

    Truly a nadir of storytelling. The fact that this manipulative drek was treated as a masterpiece just shows that people will swallow whatever they're fed.

    Again, thanks for airing a contrary view.

  3. Had to say a few more things:

    The writers had a chance (throughout the run of the show) to craft a nuanced look at a set of characters in a particular and unusual set of circumstances. Instead they went for caricatures. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the character of Walt, who ends the shows as a cartoon supervillain, evil beyond any measure (I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd had him rape his infant daughter on camera just to show how truly evil he was). Yet we're supposed to believe that one moment he's weeping for poor Hank and the next he's asking a group of thugs to torture and then murder his surrogate son? Utterly ridiculous. There was no honesty to the portrayal of the characters, no internal logic that was remotely credible. This isn't "depth", it's just ludicrous contradiction.

    Consider the level of subtlety here: the key actors driving the plot were a group of white supremacist meth-dealing slave-holding torturing mass-murdering NEO-NAZIS. And it was even more ridiculous in the show than it looks in print, if that's possible. This is the level of narrative craft that the writers brought to the end of this multi-year odyssey.

    So many characters remained little more than sketches, like Walt Jr and Marie. Skyler had become completely absurd, thanks to the writers' determination to have an episode where everyone *except* Walt coldly called for someone to be murdered. Jesse, the character on the show with the most promise, had become little more than an emotional sponge; their idea of "depth" with him was to have him crying uncontrollably or staring vacantly into space, then moments later leaping into action to take revenge on Walt, with no gradations of feeling in between. The relationship between Walt and Jesse, which showed such promise for having nuance and complexity, was rendered in crayon right until the bitter end.

    Even the most basic elements of the storytelling were handled in unbelievable ways in order to push the narrative to the desired conclusion. Hank, who was a remarkably intuitive and insightful law officer, was somehow unable to figure out that while they lost Walt on the phone he might have called in his white supremacist meth-dealing slave-holding torturing mass-murdering neo-Nazi friends as backup. Then, AS HE SAW THE CARS DRIVING UP, he made no move either to get in the car and leave or even to get behind cover. Why? Because the writers wanted to have him and Gomez slaughtered and sacrifice Jesse, and that required Hank to act like a complete idiot.

    So instead of something with depth and subtlety and nuance, what they offered us was a clownish, cartoonish violation of every bit of promise the series had ever shown. They took six seasons of work and shredded it to say, see how daringly we journey right into the heart of evil (complete with white supremacist meth-dealing slave-holding torturing mass-murdering neo-Nazis)? See how edgy and dark and uncompromising we are? But instead it was like watching a child throw a tantrum and break all his toys to teach his parents he means business. They took a giant dump on their entire audience, shattering any pretense of respect for character, narrative integrity or emotional veracity in the process.

    And the saddest part is that rather than calling it out for the shallow and manipulative pseudo-art it was, and the final ruination of a show with great promise, the audience and the critics gave them veritable tongue baths of praise. Sorry folks, but this wasn't art, it wasn't deep, and it wasn't honest. It was one of the greatest failures to realize potential, and one of the worst betrayals of a story, that I've ever seen.

    So: thanks again for taking the contrary view. Yours is literally the only negative review I've seen of this offensively absurd episode, and it does you credit.