Throughout the past five seasons of “Breaking Bad,” Walter White has done some terrible things, all in the name of protecting his family. Even as his meth empire endangered his family and he grew further apart from his wife and children, Walt always insisted to himself that he only did what was necessary to keep that family together. In this Sunday’s “Ozymandias,” however, that family has fallen apart completely. As in Shelley’s poem, nothing beside remains.
In “Ozymandias,” Walt is at his most desperate – desperate to save Hank, desperate to kill Jesse, desperate to cling to some semblance of family. Ultimately, he fails at everything he sets out to do. Hank is dead. His family wants nothing to do with him. And while he thinks Jesse is dead, Todd has him locked up as a meth slave. In the end, things are bad enough that Walt is forced to adopt a new identity. So much for the great Heisenberg. So much for Walter White.
After the thrill ride of last week’s cat-and-mouse game, “Ozymandias” takes a somewhat slower approach, but the end result is just as horrifying. When Todd’s Uncle Jack and the neo-Nazis killed Hank and Gomez (and stole $70 million of Walt’s $80 million haul), Walt must have realized that his days in Albuquerque were over. It’s time for him to call on Saul’s man, who can provide his family with a new identity. Finally, Walt must think, his family can be safe and away from all of this madness.
As Walt returns home, however, he finds that Skyler and Marie have told Walt Jr. all about his crimes, and they quickly piece together that he must have killed Hank. Suddenly, no one is on his side anymore. Panicked, Walt looks around and realizes that Skyler and his son are lost to him forever. Hank's death crossed a line Skyler couldn't forgive, and the shock of his father's true identity has broken Walt Jr. Despite Walt’s pleading insistence that “We’re a family,” it’s clear that those bonds have been severed forever.
In one of Walter’s most horrifying moments throughout the series, he looks around at his broken family and decides that even if it’s too late to win Skyler and Walt Jr. back on his side, he can still salvage some small part of his family. Shaking and desperate, he takes Holly out of her crib and runs. At this point, Walt seems to have no plan in mind, running entirely on impulse in a last-chance bid to keep some small part of his family around.
Finally, though, near the episode's end, Walt comes to his senses and starts to realize that he is the reason everything has fallen apart. As he changes Holly's diaper alone in a truck stop bathroom (with a duct tape bandage on his wound, like a crazy person), she begins to cry for her mother, and a look of realization forms on Walt’s face. He’s sold his soul to provide for this child, but even she doesn’t want him. Every step Walt has taken throughout the series has only driven his family further apart, and he knows they’re better off without him.
This leads to Walt’s goodbye phone call with Sklyer, one of the most complex bits of acting in the history of “Breaking Bad.” Surely, Walt knows that Skyler has police listening in to their conversation, and he engineers his speech in a way that absolves her and the kids of any crimes. It’s a last-ditch effort to protect his wife and children, and an acknowledgement that his absence will serve them better than his presence ever did. But when he calls Skyler a bitch and berates her for not following the plan, it’s clear that he means those words on some level as well. Even as everything around him falls apart, Walt can’t seem to understand that this is all his fault. He might never learn. In the end, Walt drives off alone. He’s $11 million richer than he was at the series’ outset, but he’s lost his family, the one thing he hoped to hold together with his crimes.
But there’s more to “Ozymandias” than the fallout between Walt and his immediate family. Two more of “Breaking Bad’s” major players have been taken off the table, one permanently and one temporarily. Let’s start with Hank.
At his core, Hank Schrader is a man of integrity, and his death illustrates just how wide the divide between Walt and his brother-in-law truly runs. Many times throughout “Breaking Bad,” Walt has been in Hank’s position, helpless at the mercy of a man with a gun. Every time, Walt begged, schemed or pleaded, did everything he could think of to save his life. Walt has to live at any cost, because he believes in very little outside of himself. We’ve seen him speak disdainfully of the law, religion, morality and just about everything else that won’t immediately benefit him. Walt has to beg for his life, has to survive, because for him, there’s nothing in the world worth dying for.
But not Hank. Hank refuses to beg, refuses to make a deal with Jack in exchange for anything, because he believes there are things more important than his own survival. Hank believes in the law, in his wife, in honor. In his last moments, not only does he refuse to give in, but he lets Jack know exactly where his allegiances lie: “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself.”
As we saw in season three’s excellent “One Minute,” Hank is a man with the utmost respect not only for the law itself, but for the prevailing sense of justice behind the legal system. After he snaps and beats Jesse Pinkman bloody for threatening his family, Hank is fully prepared to accept the consequences, because he knows a good cop should be better than that.
Everyone has an idealized version of themselves in their mind. Walt’s perfect version of himself is likely the role he’s been playing for all this time: powerful, wealthy and fully in control of a seemingly perfect family. Hank is different, though. He wants to be a good cop. He wants to stop the “bad guys” from hurting innocents. He wants to be a good husband to Marie. And I imagine he wants to brew a few kegs of delicious Schraderbrau on the side. Throughout the series, Hank desperately wanted to be that better man, and in his final moments, he was.
Finally, we’re left with Jesse. Poor, poor Jesse. In “Ozymandias,” Jesse goes through some of the worst moments any “Breaking Bad” character has ever experienced.
Shockingly, Jesse finally learns that Walt let Jane die of a heroin overdose. He almost let this slip once before, in season three's "Fly" (interestingly enough, also directed by "Ozymandias" director Rian Johnson), but the reasons are wildly different. In "Fly," he nearly tells Jesse about Jane out of guilt. In "Ozymandias," it's out of spite. Walt seems to blame Jesse for Hank's death, ignoring the fact that it was his crimes that led everyone to the desert in the first place.
As if the shock of knowing that Jesse’s former mentor effectively killed the love of his life out of inaction wasn’t enough, he’s beaten, held captive and forced into slavery for Todd’s meth crew. The neo-Nazis even have a photo of Angela and Brock, reminding him that they’ll suffer if he ever makes an attempt to escape or sabotage a cook.
Make no mistake, despite all of the damage Walt has done to his family, selling Jesse into slavery is by far the darkest thing Walter White has ever done. Earlier in the season, plenty of fans and critics were predicting that Walt will come back from exile to save Jesse from the neo-Nazis, but it’s clear now that no such thing will happen. If Walt and Jesse ever do meet face-to-face again, it’s likely that Jesse will put a bullet in his brain. And Walt will deserve it.