After a five season-long victory streak, Walter White finally lost. The former kingpin of Albuquerque stood alone in the desert, betrayed by his former partner, handcuffed by his brother-in-law and totally defeated in Sunday’s “To’hajiilee." Throughout “Breaking Bad,” Walt has been able to scrape his way out of dozens of losing scenarios, but in the end, he fell victim to Hank and Jesse’s trap and was laid low in the desert.
For Hank and Jesse, this is the greatest victory imaginable. Hank has almost single-handedly brought down one of the worst criminals the Southwest has ever known. Jesse has finally gotten revenge on the former mentor that screwed him over time and time again. In the end, though, their shared victory was just too perfect to last. After all, it'd be boring if the last three episodes of “Breaking Bad” only covered Walt’s trial and appeals process.
Instead, we get a shootout with some white supremacists. In one of the tensest scenes the show has filmed, Todd, his Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood arrive on scene, ostensibly to save Walt and murder Jesse. In reality, Todd and his companions (before, I had taken to calling this band of lunatics the meth Nazis, but now that the neo-Nazis are out in full force, it feels a bit wrong to patronize them like that), stand poised to wipe out all three of the show’s male leads in one fell swoop.
Frustratingly, “To’hajiilee” ends without resolving the firefight, cutting to black during on the the most nerve-racking moments the show has done. At the risk of being too open here, I’ll admit that I screamed out loud at the television when Vince Gilligan’s name flashed onscreen. It was rough enough that I briefly considered taking up smoking just to kill the stress and anxiety of those final moments. Still, all that tension might be worth it if we catch just a little bit more screen time with Supercop agent Hank Schrader and Gomez before their possible demise next week.
Given their superior numbers and firepower, it seems almost inevitable that the neo-Nazis will overpower Hank and Gomez, even if they don’t have to actually kill them to make that happen. The worst part is that Hank was almost impossibly close to a real victory, but out of some misplaced sense of pride and accomplishment, he takes his time lingering in the desert to call Marie in an all-too-sentimental moment that assuredly spells out his doom. He could have left before the neo-Nazis showed up, but the one-man army had to take the time to bask in his victory. Like Walt, Hank’s single-minded devotion can make him proud, and there’s an old saying about pride going before the fall. It’s just too bad it’s such a long fall for Hank.
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While Hank loses the encounter in the end, that doesn’t make it a win for Walt, either. We don’t know how the gunfight will end, but we do know that Walt will be around after the dust clears, and I suspect the neo-Nazis will as well. It may be a fool’s errand to speculate too much here, but if things play out the way I imagine them, Walt may be headed for some kind of forced servitude at the neo-Nazis’ hands. Prison might actually be a more palatable option here.
But we can’t just talk about the ending of “To’hajiilee,” because the other 76 percent of the episode is just as good. Jesse and Walt’s relationship has always been one of the most significant pieces of “Breaking Bad,” and “To’hajiilee” offers a thrilling inversion of their relationship. Walt has always been the mentor, clearly in charge of Jesse. He was the mentor and the manipulator, pulling Jesse along to wherever he required. Finally, though, those tables have turned.
Throughout the show, we’ve seen Jesse Pinkman learn from Walter White. He learned to apply himself. And yeah, he also learned how to cook meth and murder people. Not all lessons are positive. Most importantly, though, Jesse learned to manipulate. In “To’hajiilee,” Jesse knows exactly what to say to lure Walt right into his trap, leading to a stunning phone call full of righteous fury on Jesse’s part and desperate pleading on Walt’s. Heisenberg has finally been out-Heisenberged.
It’s been clear for a while that money and survival are the only two things that really matter to Walter White. “To’hajiilee” drives both of those points home, but it also reveals that they may be more tied together than we thought. Walt teams up with a band of neo-Nazis to murder Jesse out of self-preservation. He even shamelessly visits Brock and Andrea all in an effort to smoke out Jesse. As he unflinchingly stares down the child he poisoned, Walt seems to have no remorse for his crimes.
In fact, as he races to meet Jesse out in the New Mexico desert (at the To’hajiilee Indian Reservation for which the episode is named), he tries over and over to explain that he did everything for a good reason. That there was nothing wrong with what he did because the right people survived. That he did it all for his family, for Jesse. But Walt also seems to inadvertently betray exactly why he sticks to such a utilitarian ethical viewpoint: his money.
As long as Walt has his money, he can convince himself that he’s in the right. All those buried dollar bills are millions of tiny reminders that Walt was smart enough, driven enough and ruthless enough to provide for his family no matter the cost. But if you take that away, as Jesse threatened to in “To’hajiilee,” Walt is just a criminal who sold his soul for nothing in return. Walt doesn’t fear many things, but he certainly fears the knowledge that he’s a monster, and going after that fear was a truly impressive move on Jesse’s part.
Outside of the main plot, we get plenty of smaller, amazing moments as well. Huell, apparently, breaks easier than any criminal we’ve seen on the show. Todd is uncomfortably focused on his new boss Lydia. Saul has been pushed so far that he can no longer laugh at his own smarmy jokes. It's almost too much to fit into this space. With everything that happened in this week’s episode, “To’hajiilee” may go down as one of the best episodes of “Breaking Bad.”
Oh, and we also found out that Todd uses Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” as a ringtone when he’s cooking meth. So, yeah, this was a good one.