I think it’s high time that we all just sit back and accept the fact that Bryan Cranston has easily earned the title of GOAT, in the television medium. For long-time readers, you will recognize that GOAT is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time,” and I’ll be damned if Bryan Cranston’s weekly Emmy-worthy performances haven’t earned him that title and then some. Well, I wouldn’t quite be willing to place Walter, the character, in the same leagues as people like Stringer Bell, Omar Little, Tyrion Lannister, or John Locke, I would definitely say that Bryan Cranston has left Idris Elba, Michael K. Williams, Peter Dinklage, and Terry O’Quinn collectively eating his dust. I just finished the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad‘s indescribably stellar fourth season and in what can only be described as one of the most tense hours in the history of television, Vince Gilligan and crew have me on the edge of my proverbial seat gnashing my teeth wishing it was Sunday so I knew how this was all going to come to a close. Anybody got a TARDIS I can borrow?
After last week’s climactic showdown and the realization of his ultimate doom, Walt is a man accepting his own incoming death. Having shipped Skylar, Walter Jr., and Holly off to Hank’s for safe-keeping by the DEA bodyguards, Walt has resigned himself to the fact that he will die. Hank realizes that the assassination attempt on his life is just a smokescreen to keep him from investigating Gus’s laundry, and so he sends Steve Gomez to the laundry who finds nothing but pushes Gus even further into preventative action mode. Jesse continues to warn Gus not to kill Walt, and Gus promises an appropriate response which equates to Gus poisoning Brock with the Ricen cigarette, Brock being the son of the girl Jesse has dated the last season and a half. Gus did this to pit Jesse and Walt against one another and there is a climactic scene at Walt’s house where Jesse nearly kills Walt believing he was responsible for Brock’s poisoning. This was all Gus’s plan however which Walt forces Jesse to realize and they concoct a scheme to finally take Gus out of the picture by rigging Gus’s car with a bomb. At the last second (and with what can only be described thus far as a Spidey-sense), Gus doesn’t enter his car and we end the episode with Walt on a rooftop wondering how he’s going to live to see tomorrow.
In a season literally chock-full of unforgettable moments and scenes (“I am the one who knocks!”, Jesse’s “problem dog” speech, the box-cutter sequence, Jesse and Walt’s fight, Walt’s mental breakdown last week, etc), the moment where Jesse has a gun to Walt’s head and Walt is begging him to shoot is making a considerable claim for the top spot on that list. Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston were both just at the top of their games with Aaron Paul channeling every ounce of desperate intensity and self-loathing that he’s perfected ever since Jane’s death while Bryan Cranston runs through a whirlpool of emotions in no time at all (which has become Cranston’s specialty). He went from cold, calculating Heisenberg to scared, remorseful Walt to some monstrous hybrid in-between and each mode was as believable as the one before and the one after. When he delivers powerful moments like this, you can’t help but get chills and the stellar writing of the sequence gave it a white-knuckle intensity that every one else simply has to envy.
I have really begun to get the distinct impression that a lot of this was written with the show possibly thinking that this season would be the last. All of the different scenarios that are in play and the way that every single storyline that the show has been building to for the last two years has rocketed toward a close can only be described as final in nature. I come into next week’s season finale and I know that in all likelihood, Jesse and/or Walt won’t die, but at the same time, the writer’s have done a phenomenal job of forcing me to suspend my disbelief and not think about the series in such a metatextual way, as they’ve ratcheted the intensity up to absolutely explosive levels. If this season finale is even remotely like last season or any of the finales before (for that matter), then we know that something major is waiting to happen. Vince Gilligan and crew have laid out a gigantic chessboard and the episode’s title “End Times” says it all. We’ve reached the endgame of the season (and the series soon enough) and it’s only a matter of time til we see who becomes king and who gets knocked off the board.
Final Score: A