This is a review for 12 and 13.
As always, spoilers follow...
In taking a look at the one-two punch of Rabid Dog and To'hajiilee (episodes 12 and 13 respectively of Breaking Bad's final season), one thing is obvious -- with so few episodes left and so much story to wrap up, each moment of every episode is precious time and not a second can be wasted. Unfortunately, in the case of Rabid Dog, a bit of it seemed as if it was.
Over the course of this final batch, Marie's hatred of Walt has made her an infinitely more interesting character. In this episode, however, there is a scene between Marie and her therapist that just seems to exist to remind us of that hatred. Nothing that we aren't already aware of and it seems unnecessary. What most of us are dying to know is how her relationship with Skyler will end up, but unfortunately, no revelations in that department.
Also, a bit of a stretch, would have to be Walt's worst, most unbelievable lie yet of the entire series - his explanation of why he and the house smell like gas. Obviously, we don't expect Skyler to believe it, but apparently it works just fine for Walter, Jr. He's smarter than that, and it just felt a bit too rushed in the writing.
It's certainly not all bad (although, it would be hard to argue that this was the weakest episode yet of Season 5.2) - we begin with an incredibly tense opening scene where Walt discovers Saul's car outside of his home and goes in, gun in hand, to investigate Jesse's actions from the end of last week. It was also quite clever the way that we have now seen the "Jesse pouring gas all over Walt's home" scene multiple times, but each time we get a bit more information. Perhaps best of all - the teaming of Hank and Jesse to fight a common foe. These two have an obvious history of hatred between them, but it turns out that there is someone out there that they want to bring down even more. It's interesting to see that, while they are both working together, they are obviously each working FOR their own end results (Hank in particular does not seem too concerned with the danger that he could be putting Jesse into).
Lastly, on the negative side, we had the almost-confrontation between Walt and Jesse in the park. Jesse was understandably hesitant to meet, but his reason for turning away again seemed a bit rushed. This did, however, lead to a couple of great phone calls to end the episode - first from Jesse to Walt, and then Walt to Todd.
These phone calls set the stage for what would have to be the best episode yet of the season (and perhaps of the show's entire run) - To'hajiilee. We start with another cold open involving Todd, his uncle, and his uncle's neo-nazi gang. Lydia pops in to inform them that the meth that Todd has been cooking is just not good enough ("Where's the blue?"). In a nice touch, there also seems to be a bit of an obsession coming from Todd regarding Lydia. But, then again, Todd is just an odd bird, so we'll just have to see where that leads.
We get a very strong first half of the episode as Walt enlists Todd and crew to kill Jesse, but fails in his attempt to smoke Jesse out of hiding (he also is unaware the Jesse is currently working with Hank). The tables are then turned, however, as Hank and Jesse ARE successful in getting Walt to not only show himself, but also reveal the basic location of the seven barrels full of money he had hiding.
It's when they all meet up in the desert that we get the TRUE meat of the episode. Walt reveals where his priorities are at when he speeds through traffic when learning that his money could be in danger. We get an excellent scene (another great phone call) as we watch Walt, in desperation, plead with Jesse not to destroy the cash (that Walt is unaware is not actually in any danger). In an interesting, and very effective, choice, we only see Walt's side of the phone call. We can certainly hear Jesse, but we never get to see him.
When Walt arrives in the desert, he begins to realize that he's been had. As he witnesses a car pull up, he assumes that it's Jesse and whoever has been brought along to kill him, so he places a call to the neo-nazis to hurry and do the deed they've been hired to do (the price - Walt will cook one more batch of meth to help Todd perfect his craft). When he sees that Jesse is accompanied by Hank (and Gomez), he immediately calls the hit off. Everything that Walt has done that had lead to this moment has been about family, so that seems to be the one line that he still will not cross. Despite the hatred between the two, he decides NOT to put Hank's life in danger, at his own expense.
It was great to see Hank 'get his man' as he finally puts Walt in cuffs and into the back of his truck. Obviously, we know that this cannot end like this, but it felt like a perfect 'classic western' moment. He even takes the time out to give Marie a call and let her know that he has finally captured Walt 'dead to rights.' It certainly seems as if Walt could be done for.
While this could be a great ending to the episode, leaving us to wonder how he'll get out of it next week, a quick glance at your watch would reveal that we still have some running time left. ALSO, when Walt calls off the hit with Todd and his gang, the crew of Breaking Bad fail to give us the cutback shot of the gang putting their weapons away. We saw them preparing (gathering guns, strapping on bullet proof vests), but wisely, despite Walt's orders, it would appear that they are going to show up anyway. When they arrive at the desert and a shootout begins, there is no doubt that Hank and Gomez are outgunned and underprepared, but the quick blackout ensures that we'll have to wait until next week to find out if they are able to survive (my guess would be that we have to wait one week AND five minutes, as, if our past history with the show has taught us anything, it's that when we are left with a cliffhanger, the next episode will almost surely begin with an unrelated cold open, meaning we won't see a resolution until AFTER the opening credits and commercial break).
Probably the greatest moment of the episode (and one of the greatest in the entire run) would have to be Walt in the back of Hank's car. When he first sees Todd's gang pulling up, he is screaming for Hank as he knows that bad news is coming (and, family comes first). Then, when guns are pointed, he is screaming at the gang to not do what it is they are about to do. Alas, the screaming is to no avail, but as the bullets begin to fly and Walt lies, handcuffed, on the floorboard of Hank's truck, we get what would have to be the biggest vision yet of Walt's world crumbling around him. Everything that happens is a direct result of his actions, and he is well aware of this. He is also well aware that he is completely helpless to stop any of it. Amazing acting on the part of Bryan Cranston!
Also interesting to note during this scene - we see Jesse attempting to escape from the back of Gomez's car once the standoff begins, but after the bullets start flying, we never get to see him again. During the shootout, we are given glimpses of Walt, Hank, Gomez, Todd, and the gang, but we never see Jesse. Has he been hit? Did he escape? I truly believe that it was no accident that we don't see (let's face it - everything about this show is meticulously planned) and I can't wait until next week to find out.
Please excuse me while I attempt to sleep for one week and five minutes.
Episode 13 -- Grade: A+
Cast:- Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons, Steven Michael Quezada, Matt Jones, Charles Baker
Review by Jason Howard, Special to Influx Magazine