"There's got to be another way." --Skyler
I can't believe I'm saying this, but a part of me is relieved the season ends next week, because I cannot take this anymore. This show is simply too intense for my peace of mind and general mental health. I've been saying for years that watching Breaking Bad was giving me heart palpitations, but I never really meant it. Not literally. But tonight... Wow.
As soon as Jesse finished that phone call, I knew that Brock was in trouble. As soon as Andrea confirmed that Brock was sick, I knew it was the ricin. And as soon as Jesse discovered the missing cigarette, I knew that he would be paying Walt a visit. And it's no surprise I knew all this, since the seeds for each of those events have been systematically planted by the writers throughout the entire season. Like Walt, my first thought was that Brock found the cigarette in Jesse's pockets and somehow ingested the contents of the tiny vial, as curious kids are wont to do sometimes. Not again, I thought. Hasn't Jesse -- not to mention Andrea -- been through enough? I shuddered at the version of his future that flashed before my eyes: heart-wrenching images of him plummeting back into emotional instability with the added element of rage -- at himself, for being negligent with the deadly substance; at Gus, for not making it easier to use up the poison on its intended target; at Walt, for bringing it into Jesse's house in the first place -- and that ever-present guilt he had just barely been able to reduce to a manageable degree. When Jesse turned up at the White residence, I was sure he merely intended to question his estranged partner about Brock's chances for survival. I even went along with the evident psychological distress that would drive him to pull a gun on Walt. What I did not anticipate was the unbearably dread-filled showdown that followed. Suddenly, Jesse was talking ricin cigarette timelines and conspiracy theories involving Walt plotting to kill Brock out of spite. Whoa, Jesse, what? "Why in God's name would I poison a child?" Walt asks, all perplexity and rational science teacher. Jesse: "To get back at me! because I'm helping Gus! And this is your way of ripping my heart out before you're dead and gone!" ...Yeah, OK, Jesse is obviously insane with grief, he is grasping at straws, etc. (Also, Aaron Paul is single-handedly selling this scene.) But then Walt concocts a theory that is just as far-fetched: "Who do you know who is OK with using children?" Umm, seriously, show, what?
The scene was terrifying in scope and execution, from the beating heart soundtrack that punctuated it to the gun barrel imprint Jesse left on Walt’s forehead, but as well-acted and believable as Jesse’s paranoia and Walt’s hysteria were, something about the explanation they settled on rang false to me. If Jesse’s timeline of events and Walt’s reading of the situation can be trusted, it would have been pretty difficult, even for Gus, to gain access to Brock long enough to poison him, and pretty ballsy to do so just in hopes that Jesse would react in one of several possible ways. And even if I can believe that Gus would resort to such measures, this plot device just seems a little too soapy for a show like Breaking Bad, which has always remained rooted in realism even at its most serendipitous/chance-encounteriest. The poison plot as a whole was a curveball, to be sure, but if it just had to be done, I would have been able to live with random tragedy a whole lot easier than with implausibility, even if Brock being poisoned by accident/negligence would have been by far the cruelest twist of fate (ahem, the writing team) ever to befall Jesse Pinkman. (I want the show to stay perfect slightly more than I want Jesse to be OK.) But here’s hoping Vince Gilligan and Co. anticipated and planned for this reaction and deliberately withheld the truth for the moment. After all, we still don’t actually know how Brock ingested that ricin -- if it was ricin -- or if he was even poisoned at all.
But logistics aside, "End Times" definitely brought it on the suspense front, and it may be the most emotionally charged episode to date. At least that's what it felt like as I white-knuckled my way through the latter half of the episode, especially the frantic scenes with Jesse at the hospital, which were almost unbearably effective. Jesse's arc has been chipping away at my emotions this entire season, but tonight he destroyed me like he did those damn cigarettes, and I had no doubt that he would have stayed by Brock's figurative bedside, murder plot or no murder plot. And even though I resent all the ways in which worrying about this fictional goddamn junkie has taken over my life, it sure is nice to have the guys back together, as united in their singular goal as they haven't been since the season premiere. Also nice: Walt remembering he is a chemist! I don't pretend to understand what he was concocting in his witch's cauldron, but that other thing seemed like such a nice little car bomb. If only Gus didn't have a sixth sense about imminent danger. Or something. Next week, I fully expect ten kinds of shit to hit the fan. Sunday cannot come soon enough.
- Another super-tense final scene this week, and I don't just mean the parking structure/roof; I think I visibly flinched along with Jesse when Gus touched his shoulder in that sinister little chapel. "You will start a new batch when you are ready to return. Next week."
- Gus to Jesse: "Is there anything I can do? I am on the board of this hospital..." Is there anything in the greater Albuquerque metro area this guy doesn't have his hands in?
- If I'm not mistaken, this week was the first time Jesse has been inside Walt's house. Also, the first time we've seen Holly crying. If that's not an omen, then I don't know what is. End times, indeed.
- This episode was so heavy, that even Saul sexually harassing his receptionist came as a bit of a welcome distraction.
- Does anyone else think Hank will come closer to implicating Fring next week? That scene with Gomie at the carwash was super fun, but there's no way this show would waste that many minutes of screen time so close to the end of the season on an entirely fruitless excursion. Gus is going down.
- I'm sorry, I just can't get past this Brock thing; first of all, his symptoms didn't sound like the ricin symptoms Walt described earlier in the season. Secondly, Walt also said that it takes about 24-36 hours after ingestion for someone to get sick. Brock is a child, but still. Could he just have a really bad flu? Maybe Gus poisoned him with something non-fatal just to manipulate Jesse but not actually kill a(nother) kid? Could Walt have actually done it to manipulate Jesse back on his side? But then, where is the lucky cig? "Huell" doesn't exactly seem too adept at sleight of hand. What is happening? It's entirely possible I may lose my ever-loving mind weighing all the different scenarios. Most of all, I really don't want to look back on this episode a year from now and remember it as the moment Breaking Bad jumped the shark.