"Breaking Bad" -- "Gliding Over All": Many Deaths I'll Sing
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"Breaking Bad" — "Gliding Over All": Many Deaths I'll Sing

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | September 3, 2012 | Comments ()


"Gliding Over All," the midway point of the final season of "Breaking Bad" and the last new episode we'll see for about a year, had the feeling of a man recalling scenes from his life in the moments shortly before his death. Part of this manifested itself in Walter's surprising jaunts down memory lane, from his chatting with Jesse about their days in the RV to the fact that, almost a year later, the paper towel holder in the hospital men's room still bears the marks of Walter's rage from the second season's "Four Days Out." (He'd spotted a white mass on his charts and had been convinced he was not long for this world. Four days later, after being stranded with Jesse in the desert, he learned that he would live. Consumed anew with grief and anger at his actions and his thin justification for them -- this was when Walt could feel such things -- he whaled on the towel dispenser.) But on a broader level, it was the series itself that seemed to be doing its share of recalling those moments and tying them together, and there was a feeling with this midseason-finale-of-sorts that the time had come to remind everyone where we'd been. Walt's obsession with a fly in his office, the oblique references to events dating back to the pilot, even the additional uses of stylistic flair like time-lapse and pop montage that have come to define the show: they all made for a very "Breaking Bad"-ish episode, as much about its own existence as anything else, as if those responsible for making the series wanted to prove to viewers/themselves just how strong their voice has become.

This makes sense. There are eight 47-minute chunks of story left (with credits), give or take a few minutes here or there, so with the story coming to its inevitable end soon, it's understandable that the show would begin, however gradually, to wrap up matters by thematically and narratively circling back to its earliest days. Longtime series writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Michelle MacLaren did fantastic work here, especially given how much stuff they had to cram into this episode, from Walt's expansion into the Czech Republic and subsequent decision to quit the meth game to the biggest chronological skip (three months) we've had in the series' main timeline to date. In an earlier season, or even just earlier in this one, the overseas play could take several episodes, but we got it in half an hour. More than any other, this episode had a feeling of "Wait a minute, we've got to start jamming ahead on this stuff." Yet it worked, which is to say, there was a balance between the things that were happening and the emotional reasons they were happening. It didn't once feel like the characters were just hustling through the motions, or that the creative team had simply decided to just start throwing more crap at the wall to see what would stick. For instance, this is a show that takes narrative details very seriously, so the decision to push the narrative ahead three months in one episode was not one made carelessly. A move like that takes Walt into new territory, gives him reason to quit, and ushers in the events of the final harrowing minutes that promise to explode the story and take it in a damning new direction.

It was that final sequence where MacLaren (who also helmed this season's stunning "Madrigal") really got to show off. On series like this one, there's nothing so unsettling as people acting as if nothing is wrong. Finn slowly pushing Molly around the pool, the adults making small talk over lunch on the patio, the total boringness of the scene: the whole thing was surreal in its normalcy, the kind of moment that makes you wait for the other shoe to drop. The energy kept things off-kilter, too, with the camera cutting from close-ups on Finn and the baby to wide shots of the two couples surrounded by so much empty space you almost thought another plane was going to drop wreckage in Walt's pool. That's another sign of how much the show and Walter have changed over the years. Such lunches used to be the safe place away from a world of crime and torture. Now they're charged with tension, while Walt's criminal dealings have never been smoother.

And then, to finally pay off Hank's investigation of Gale and "W.W." after all this time, and to have it hinge on something as stupidly overlooked as Walt's own copy of Leaves of Grass -- that was a devastating, stunning moment. You'll forgive me if I can't right now remember if Hank ever seriously suspected Walt or was just willing to latch onto any clue he could in his dogged pursuit of Heisenberg and Gus Fring, so I'm not sure if his revelation confirmed his worst fears or merely introduced them. But this moment had to happen, given how long Walt and Hank have been dancing around each other, and it couldn't have been executed more powerfully. Because again, this is the way things go. You don't die in a blaze of glory in a gunfight; you get shot by a chemistry teacher and left to die by a river. You don't outsmart your foe; you tip your hand accidentally while he's on the john. All that work, undone by laziness, arrogance, and chance.

The episode touched on so much that had come before because it's all led to this: the final push between Hank Schrader and Walter White. In the words of "Crystal Blue Persuasion," "A new day's coming, people are changing." For a show marked by so many points of no return, this feels like the biggest and most dangerous yet because it's got the potential to endanger not just Walt but everyone he knows and loves. What Hank will do with his hunch -- his knowledge -- isn't known yet, but he's a dogged investigator and damn smart. Can he catch the real Heisenberg, though? I don't know. In another nine months or so (within the show's narrative), Walt will be celebrating his 52nd birthday with scrambled eggs and assault weapons, so there are plenty of narrative turns I couldn't begin to predict. I have faith that the story's final chapters will be just as powerful as those that have come before, though. "Breaking Bad" has proven itself time and again to be one of the most adept, moving, stunning dramas on the air (to say nothing of all time), and "Gliding Over All" was like a siren call, a statement of purpose, a promise not just to take things to their logical if brutal end but to do so in a way that feels whole, and right, and of a piece with the every frame that's come before.

• During the final scenes, I kept thinking of the closing moments of the "Slapstick" episode of "The Wire." It's when things calm down that I get really nervous.

• So much happened in this episode that it's almost easy to forget that the hour started with Walt and Todd disposing of Mike with the same chemical melt used to eliminate everyone from low-level dealers to the child Todd murdered in the desert. This was another awful milestone for Walt, so much so that he didn't even want to acknowledge it was happening. Yet he was willing to keep the murders going. He scoffed at Lydia's paranoia that he'd off her in the coffee shop, even though he had a vial of poison at the ready. What won't he do?

• The title comes from a poem in Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Text available here.

• Walt also had another Michael Corleone moment, this time ordering the mass executions of Mike's former crew spread across three prisons. This, I think, is the biggest set of killings he's orchestrated so far. It also shows just how far he's come that he doesn't have to work out the details himself, instead telling Todd's uncle to "figure it out" and simply paying for services rendered. The executions were horrifying, too, set in a gruesome montage to Nat King Cole's "Pick Yourself Up." This show does montage better than just about everyone else.

• Case in point: The fantastic sequence scored to Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crystal Blue Persuasion." It hit the standard "Breaking Bad" twofer -- lighthearted pop backing brutish criminal activity, plus lyrical commentary on said activity -- but went a step further by showing the connections between everyone united by Walter's intercontinental criminal empire. It was slickly done and wonderfully expansive.

• Fun seeing Kevin Rankin, aka Devil from "Justified," show up for a few minutes.

• The series remains relentlessly dark -- visually and morally -- in ways that are pretty rare even in the heyday of the grim-drama renaissance we've had these past few years. There's almost none of the (admittedly sporadic) comic relief there was at the beginning of the series' run, and even moments like Jesse's awkward dinner with the Whites are more about their pain than anything else. I think this is why so many people wind up remixing the show in new ways online to create humor or parody based on it. It's a chance to take a break for a moment and let off some of the emotional weight that can build up from watching the show. (Here are two darkly comic riffs based on "Curb Your Enthusiam," and one based on old Mentos ads.) A friend of mine at work said he just got into the show and has been watching several episodes at a time, like I did. He said it's amazing, but that after a few episodes, he's in dire need of a breather. "Breaking Bad" is an unforgiving show, and one that commits to the nature of crime and punishment, of cause and effect, in cold and heartbreaking ways. Its pleasures, if you can call them that, come from the sheer power of the story and the manner in which these nuanced characters do terrible things to each other while lying to themselves about what's really happening. I think that's part of what makes the show so gripping, even if the specifics aren't relatable for 99.9% of the viewing audience. We all know what it's like to tell ourselves that the rules don't apply to us, that it's OK for us to do something others label as "wrong" because we've got special circumstances. We pretend not to know what's happening, and we pretend not to cause the pain we see ourselves inflicting. Maybe we didn't set out to be this way or do these things, but we are, and we did. "Breaking Bad" is bleak, but it's also true in ways we rarely get in anything, let alone televised entertainment. Even when we want to look away, we can't, because we see ourselves and we want to know what we're going to do next.

• I'll see you next year.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

He Sees the Things That He Knows Are His: Five Things You May Not Have Heard About This Week | The Ones Who Knock S5E8 -- "Gliding Over All"

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • I think we're going to get a glimpse of what happened the last three months and just how Walt "got out" next season. It's quite possible, with his new overseas connections, that he just found a way to launder the money without Skylar and found a way to keep in the business and get his family back at the same time.

    I didn't even remember the episode of him punching the towel holder and assumed the cancer was back and that he had punched it a few minutes before.

    I was sure Walt was there to pay Jesse and I hope he gave him a lot more than the $5mil.

  • cinemaniac

    Personally I thought the "Crystal Blue Persuasion" montage was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen on TV. It was beautifully shot and edited and had such an amazing flow. I was taken aback at how great it was.

  • Simone515

    In the killing montage, did we see the Lawyer getting killed? Or just the nine inmates?

  • Weck

    Thanks for your reviews this year, DC. Great stuff.

  • DJ Shovelpants

    Am I being Captain Obvious when I say: The cancer is back?

    I mean, it's back, right? He goes in for a CT Scan and we don't hear a thing about the results. And I'm thinking that if it IS back, Walt has decided not to treat it anymore, hence the long hair in the the opening episode of the season.

    What's funny in a dark way is that like Mike's death, the whole prison massacre could've been avoided. As Skyler said: "We have more money than we could spend in 10 lifetimes." They could've paid those poor, ventilated stiffs and never noticed a dent in their pile o' cash.

    Great 1/2 season. Friggin' summer 2013 can't get here soon enough.

  • JQ

    The prison massacres (4 prisons) could absolutely not have been avoided. 10 guys with knowledge of Fring's operation posed too much of a risk, and paying them would have exposed Walt - the lawyer dropping their hush money was caught by the DEA after all. The fact that Walt wanted all 10 killed in the space of two minutes implies that he knew the DEA was attempting to turn them. Walt's desire to completely control his situation and anyone involved meant there was no other option. Remember his reaction when Mike divvied up the money from the first ventilated house meth?

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Totally with you on the CT scan. I kept waiting for the results to be revealed, but we're left hanging. I think the cancer is back. Funny that when Walt goes into remission, he punches the bathroom towel dispenser, and when it comes back, he gazes calmly into the mirror. I always thought Walt had a death wish and that was part of the reason he punched the towel dispenser. Is his wish fulfilled and he is finally at peace knowing cancer will take him out?

  • vdub

    Whoa there. Finn and Molly? Try Flynn and Holly.

  • selucius

    Did anyone else notice the lighting on Walt's face when he told Skyler has was out? Only half of it was visible, aka Gus Fring when he got his face blown off. They've used that effect on Walter a couple of times this season.

  • junierizzle

    Is it just me or was there someone watching Walter and Lydia at the restaurant?

  • Renton

    I wondered about this. It looked like a silhouette was there from one cut. Also, earlier on in the season Hank was looking at a covert photograph of her and Mike. That might be due to the Mike trail, but it was quite clearly focused on her...

  • aroorda

    I thought two scenes were well done, the scene with Jesse and the scene on the toilet. The scene with Jesse was tense because you're not sure why Walt is there. Like Jesse, we're wondering just what Walt is doing there, and like Jesse we're hoping it doesn't devolve into gunplay (Jesse breathing a sigh of relief and uncocking his gun at the end was when I finally relaxed.)

    As soon as Hank walked into the house on his own though I was convinced he was going to find something, would it be the ricin? The book? A pile of money? Then he found the book and I for one can't wait to see how Hank plays this. Does he flip out? Does he play it slow and go back to the office, planning a long play against Walt? I disagree with the "nothing happened" statement said elsewhere in the thread. A ton happened.

    Walt went international. Then he got out of the game. He's got a whole shit load of cash. He paid Jesse what he's due. He killed 10 people in prison at once. We jumped forward three months. In a lot of ways it felt, like the review said, almost TOO full of plot. I can't wait for the final 8 episodes, to see Walt's final descent. He's already pretty damn low in terms of the base-ness of his actions, what will happen when, like he's been afraid of this entire season, his family is taken from him for good?

  • Flynn not Finn

  • Romeo Cranberry

    i need some help here, can someone please explain to me what was written in the book that allowed hank to figure out that walt might be heisenberg? i don't have dvr so i couldn't rewind the episode and i can't for the life of me figure out what about the book enabled hank to make the connection.

  • prairiegirl

    You could also tell it was the same handwriting used in Gayle's notebook.

  • junierizzle

    The book was a gift from Gayle. When Hank searched Gayle's apartment he found his notebook that referred to someone named W.W. AKA Walter White. The book in the bathroom read to W.W. from G.B.

  • flo

    It went vaguely along the lines of 'To the other W.W., it's been great working with you, from G.B'. I'm sure word-for-word writing of it or screenshot will be available soon though!

  • TheAggroCraig

    They've been pretty vague when it comes to Hank's suspicions, but I've always thought he didn't want to believe his own eyes. Come on, Walt? My chemistry teacher milquetoast brother-in-law? No way. But now? Hank KNOWS. He might not have the concrete evidence he needs (yet), but he knows. I hope the next episode begins with him strolling back out to the pool like nothing's wrong.

    As an aside, I have a friend who is very upset about Breaking Bad and claims to have given up the show. "Nothing happens until the last 10 seconds and even then it's some bullshit cliffhanger ratings-grab." I don't even know how to respond. I guess some people just don't want to know.

  • Devil Child

    "Nothing happens until the last 10 seconds and even then it's some bullshit cliffhanger ratings-grab."

    That's the single stupidest sentence ever written about a show, this side of any defense for reality television.

  • Clitty Magoo

    Uh... Is no one going to mention that mother fucking murder montage? And that thing was not nearly as scary as the family poolside meal.

    I was confused by the plastic vial that looked very ricin-esque. Is Lydia down for the count?

    This episode was the best kind of proverbial drop kick to the face.

  • Steph

    That ricin is either a huge Chekov's gun or a huge red herring. It's been brought up four times now and not used, my guess is it'll be the end of a main character next year.

  • prairiegirl

    Agree - perhaps Hank?

  • TheAggroCraig

    I think we were meant to believe that Walt was prepared to poison Lydia if he felt he needed to. A man has to be prepared, right?

  • sean

    First, that was more than a little Michael Corleone moment. That was an homage to the first Godfather movie's christening scene, where Michael whacks all his enemies all at once.

    Next, why would anyone have thought something bad was going to happen to Jessie when Walt came to visit? Walt had become a monster...but he has limits. The fucked up father/son dynamic is strong there. Walt really does care for Jessie. Sure, he uses and manipulates him, but he does care. In his own weird way.

    Further, was anyone surprised that nothing...explosive, major,whatever....happened? I expected something else. Some reason why Walt has been living on the other side of the country. And buying belt-fed machine guns.

    Last, am I the only one who watches the show a second time just to look at it? The cinematography is amazing. I catch so much the second time around?

  • Mrs. Julien

    I only just realised that they were all by the pool and their world was full of light again, and that the dawning began when Walt was timing the murders (which was as harrowing a 2 minutes as I've ever seen on TV).

    Nice touch that Holly has been with Hank and Marie long enough that she is wearing purple. I was actually surprised when Marie said she thought it was time for the kids to go home. She might just be 13% less crazy than she used to be, although I've noticed that on TV only the cray-cray go to see therapists and they aren't really any help to them. As though it's weak to need the help and it doesn't help anyway.

    I'm starting to think that Walt is going to survive and his birthday on the lam is indicative of it, but from whom? None of his evil co-horts currently knows his real name, but it wouldn't be hard to track him down and silence, or coerce him into further work. Did Walt kill loose end Todd as Heisenberg exited the stage? Or perhaps hand the reins to him? But that would make Walt a target to get rid of competition, wouldn't it?

    Doesn't Saul know how to transfer money to offshore bank accounts? I mean, really, the cash hoard was a wonderful thematic visual representation, but Skylar is smart enough to hide the money better than that.

    Do you suppose Walt gave Jesse more than the 5 million he was owed?

  • MurderBot

    Poor ol' Hank. His whole family is tied up in this mess. Exposing Walt means catastrophe for everyone. He's got a real dilemma on his hands.

    One thing did bother me though. Walt seemed remarkably at ease about extricating himself from his whole criminal arrangement. Could he not forsee any potential difficulties arising from his decision?

    Walt's established himself as an essential cog in this whole meth machine, and all the violent people he's crawled in bed with seem sufficiently happy with the large sums of money he promised rolling in on the regular, but does he really think that after a scant few months he can dust his hands and say "I quit" and everyone will be fine with that?!

    Surely Todd is nowhere near ready to replace him and keep the money train chugging along!

  • junierizzle

    Well he is top dog now. If he wants to quit he probably can.

  • BL Zee Bubb

    Perhaps he was lying to Skylar?

  • TheFatling

    This. I think Walt is absolutely lying to Skyler. There was something calculated about his pronouncement to her, whether it's simply that the business has stabilized and violence is no longer a requirement/threat, or that he's handling some inner conflict triggered by the pile of money in that storage unit. I can't quite fathom what it might be, but he's still got Heisenberg's hair and goatee.

    Also, I'm very curious to see how Hank's investigation plays out. He doesn't have a search warrant, and it's hard to see how he could get one without explaining about the book. My money has him putting the screws to his old nemesis Jesse Pinkman.

  • sean

    Hank has a huge problem. Even when he can prove that Walt is Heisenberg, what can he do? He has personally benefited from that drug money. Of course...he loves having the kids with him. One way to get the kids there forever is to put the parents in jail.

  • Kip Hackman

    They did say it had been 3 months, which seems like enough time for Todd to learn what to do considering his diligent note-taking and gung-ho attitude. Just the answer I came up with when I had a similar thought.

  • Dball00

    Did anyone else think the bag that Jesse was about to unzip had Mike's body in it...or was that just me?

  • junierizzle

    Na. I always new it was the money. The whole time I was thinking "Walt better pay, Jesse.

  • Ted Zancha

    Yes, yes a thousand times yes. I was holding my breath through the whole Jesse/ Walt reunion.

  • Kip Hackman

    I was actually afraid it was going to be the kid Walt poisoned last season. The music was so intense it had me assuming the worst.

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