I was unable to post last week because of being sick, and, honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to put together an intelligible piece anyway. The fact is, last Sunday’s episode, episode fourteen, was absolutely brutal. It was simultaneously the most magnificent hour of television I’ve ever watched, and the most horrible. It was, in the words of my friend Matt, like “experiencing your world collapsing around you, captured on film.” It was virtually unwatchable at times.
Of course, the most heartbreaking event of the series to date occurred early on last week. Hank was murdered. In that moment, in the desert, as the shot rang out, it was like the show ceased to be a show. It became somehow tangible, palpable. It was real. And it was horrifying. The sheer genius of Vince Gilligan and his team is the way in which they have built these characters painstakingly over the course of five seasons, so that now we feel we really know them, down to the subtleties of their character and emotion. To lose Hank was to lose someone we know, love, and respect. To lose him that way was to experience the very darkness that is lurking out there in the world we live in everyday.
The clouds, of course, have been gathering all season. And now Walter White’s perfect storm is underway. I haven’t written about God all that much in these reviews, but if there was ever a time to do so, it’s now. Where is God in all of this darkness and mayhem? To be sure, Gilligan’s narrative is not theological in nature, but one must wonder in a universe as brutally real as his whether there may be an unseen Answer, a divine Comfort, leaving breadcrumbs to be found by us viewers. These days, there isn’t much – except, perhaps, for two glimmers coming from two of those characters that we have grown to love so much. And coming in the form of that divinely human attribute: dignity.
Last week, when Hank knew he was caught, that it was over, even as Walter spun his mad scientist tires trying to get his brother out of the trap he himself had set, Hank put his dignity on display. He was not a perfect character, not by any stretch. And even his choices in the episodes leading up to that fateful moment were not exactly dignified. Hank had selfish reasons for staying off the clock and detaining Jesse in his home and going on a rogue manhunt for his brother in law. He wanted to save face, keep his job, hold onto his pride. Pride is not the same as dignity. But when the moment came for Hank to face the music, gun to his head, a beautiful clarity and courage emerged. The words to his captor sounded like raw justice in the face of sheer evil: “My name is ASAC Schrader. And you can go f–k yourself.”
Tonight, we saw the second appearance of this divine dignity, and it may have been the brightest moment in the entire series thus far. Walter, now in New Hampshire, in hiding, is desperate to move some of his money to his family, lest it all be for naught. They have rejected his invitation to escape and start over. They have been plunged into the abyss of pain in the wake of the great Revelation of Walter’s dark secrets. And they find themselves severely hamstrung financially, with wrecked reputations in the community. Walter Jr. especially has been steamrolled by the truth surrounding his father’s life. Everything he knew and loved and trusted was a lie.
Still, Jr. stays on the phone at his school even as the caller reveals himself to be his father.
Walt is pleading, crying, so happy to speak to his son, but at the end of his rope, dying. He wants to send $100,000, but he’ll send it to Jr.’s friend so that Skyler doesn’t know. Jr. can get the money to the family. He didn’t mean for any of this to happen. What they are saying about him in the media isn’t true. What he did he did for his family.
As viewers, we are almost fooled by this sad sincerity.
But not Walter Jr.
“You want to send money? You killed Uncle Hank!” he cries. “You killed him! What you did to Mom…you asshole! You killed Uncle Hank! I don’t want anything from you…Why are you still alive? Why don’t you just die already, just die!”
The dignity coursing through the CP-afflicted body of this young man is a brilliant shot of lightning in this dark storm of destruction.
There is so much to say, but so little time. Jesse is in the crucible of judgment, experiencing the worst kind of hell imaginable. He is paying for his sins, and the sins of his mentor, several times over. Tonight, he lost another huge chunk of his own humanity, even as the man who led him by the hand down this very path remains at large.
At this point, my only remaining hope is that these two, mentor and student, may, in fact, cross paths one more time. And, perhaps there, find a moment of redemption, even if it is only the realization of Jr.’s prophetic word: Just die.
But, in the words of St. Augustine: Not yet.
How about you? What did you think of episode 15? And what are your predictions about how it is all going to end? I’d love to hear your perspective!