Monday, October 10, 2011

"Breaking Bad" Review: "Face Off" (****)

"I won."

If you were to go on record calling "Breaking Bad" an average hour of television each week, I'd be more than just tempted to inflict minor bodily harm upon you. Perhaps not at the beginning of the show, but "Breaking Bad" has become so much more cinematic in scope and execution. Too many people put the credit towards the writers, but that's not what has me coming back week after week, though it is a huge factor I must say. What brings me back to the show is the aesthetic creativity of the show, with its wild camera rigging, delicious mood lighting, and unmatched sense of composition. And I must make a heartfelt plea to Vince Gilligan and his team to try to get Lynne Ramsay to direct an episode of the show before they close up shop. I'd be set for life after that. MAKE IT HAPPEN!

As for last night's finale, I can say it's not what I was necessarily expecting. I had a gut feeling that Gus' vice grip on Walt would remain to the end of the series, but it seems Vince Gilligan had greater plans. I for one think this is a fantastic way to end the penultimate season of the show, because we're going to go for a while without these characters. Remember how unbearable that last break between seasons was, with the fates of Walt, Jesse, and Gale all lingering in the wind? This finale managed to cap off not only this season, but an entire saga of the show. And I am going to be indulging in quite a few spoilers before I'm done, so I'll give you guys a SPOILER ALERT, just so you remain cautious from here on out.

Alright. You still here? Good. In that case, poor Tyrus! We... pretty much entirely knew ye, ye dumb grunt. He had... no real potential. He was the disposable henchy of the season, and Gus has disposed of so many. Oh! That's right! Gus! He died too. I had a deep pit in my gut that Vince was going to keep the man alive for the duration, but instead gave the man as proper a sendoff as you can give a villain. This season gave Giancarlo Esposito such delicious material to work off of, a history that explained so much of why Gus is the way he is, and an ending that was truly fitting given his arc.

In the hours leading up to "Face Off", I got to thinking about what could possibly happen. I got the feeling that Hector Salamanca would play a factor in the endgame, seeing as he didn't feel quite finished where he left off at "Crawl Space". And the fact of the matter is that it's just so perfect that that is what would finish off Gus. His lust for vengeance being just so nearly satisfied, and the opportunity to finally finish his plot against those who killed his former partner. There was so much purpose in his stride towards Casa Tranquila, aided so much by the score in the background.

And in that entire sequence, which feels just so short, yet just so perfect, you can see so many emotions between Hector and Gus. Hector's mad look of hatred as he rings that bell. Gus' minor shock and emotion at Hector looking at him, and his final reaction when he realizes what's about to happen. And then it goes off, and I absolutely love those violent and contained explosions in this show. What caps it off so wonderfully is what comes after, with Gus walking calmly out of the wreckage, and me sitting there wondering what the hell just happened. And in one brilliant fantastical flourish, Gus straightens his tie as the camera pans over to reveal that glaring gap in his skull.

Sure, it's far from realistic, but leave that shit to your average television crowd. Like I said, this is a truly cinematic series, and one of the few out there. That strange and impossible bit of action is what makes this show so creative and, as said before, brilliant. And that's a solid 10 minutes before the conclusion. The episode also makes a point of building suspense where it's not even needed, but is much appreciated. Jesse is brought in for questioning by the ABQ police regarding the ricin poisoning he claims is why Brock is dying, and he's kept outside the madness for most of it. That is, until he's released, cause it wasn't the ricin.

But before we can figure out what's going on there, Jesse is picked up by Gus' men and dragged to forcibly to work at the lab. It's no longer a matter of employment. Gus has got a slave down there now. Or, that is to say, he had one, before he died. Oh yeah. Gus died. And then Walt shows up, kills Gus' remaining henchmen, and Jesse's shocked reaction says so much of what he thought of their chances. He was so sure he was going to die down there, and then Walt comes around the corner and announces that he just killed the devil himself.

And then came the most humanely gratifying moment of the episode, which was Walt and Jesse's ransacking of the lab, dumping of the chemicals, and burning of the superlab entirely. That set that's been with us for a solid two seasons is finally put to bed, and then exploded. It was such a everything-in-its-right-place sort of moment. Even though this show surely will not end on a happy note, Walt and Jesse are given something of a happy ending at the end of the day. It's the last time we'll have that sense of victory, especially with how this season ends.

Throughout the entire season, Walt has seen that change in who he is. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win, and he doesn't really care about anyone else. He keeps reminding himself to care about his family, Jesse, and he almost believes that he does. At the same time, he has become the master manipulator. There is no way he would have come out of this season alive if Walt hadn't taken that underhanded move. It brings us back to Mike's "Half Measures" speech from last season. There's no more of that in Walt. He's all full measures now. I guess that's what he'll be preaching when Mike comes back around to punch him in the face.

So what can we expect for next season? Well, I suppose we can expect Vince and his team to go out with a bang, throwing their best ideas out there to create the best ending they possibly can. What have they got to lose at this point? There's the minor question of how it will be structured. Will it be one long 16 episode season, two 8 episode miniseasons, or a 13 episode season with a 3 episode series finale? Personally, I kind of like that last one, but I think they've got more to gain from the first. Vince and his team are sure to get as much time as they can out of each episode. But we can expect Walt's lies to come back to him. We can expect a lot of death going on. But ultimately, we don't know what to expect. Isn't that why we love "Breaking Bad"?

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