8.5

Breaking Bad Review: "Gliding Over All" (Episode 5.08)

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<i>Breaking Bad</i> Review: "Gliding Over All" (Episode 5.08)

When AMC announced that they were going to split the final 16 episodes of Breaking Bad into two parts, some worried that the condensed order of episodes for each portion would constrain the writing. But like with any season of Breaking Bad, it’s hard to truly gauge how the season will come together until the final piece of the puzzle falls into place, and you are able to step back and look at the arc in its entirety. So how did this first part of the final season fare with the mid-season finale, “Gliding Over All?”

Mostly well, but with a couple issues. Where past finales were fraught with tension, “Gliding Over All” takes a more reflective look at where Walt is going and pushes aside the intensity and build-up we often expect from a finale. The tone was somber, and it really aimed to capture Walt sitting atop his throne in a kingdom that is completely empty. He’s made it to the top, but with no one to share it with. It wasn’t all somber moments though. They had to deal with the hazard pay arc that was built up throughout the season, and here Walt orders a hit on all Gus’ men in jail. The montage was extremely brutal and graphic, but it was edited and shot really well. From multiple stabbings to an inmate literally being set on fire, visually it shows us the mayhem Walt is capable of orchestrating when it comes to survival. For all intents and purposes, it was Heisneberg’s final send-off.

The most immediate problem with “Gliding Over All” though, is the amount of time the show tries to cover to get us into position for the final part of the story where Walt is now 52 years old and seemingly on the run. Here the episode is centered on one long montage that covers over three months in time. It shows Walt cooking his meth and making a lot of money, and we see this process repeated over and over again. Walt has finally made his empire; with the help of Declan’s phoenix group and Lydia’s international connection, Walt is now covering the States and the Czech Republic. In the montage we see a soulless Walt whose drive to get this empire is slowly fading. Without anyone to really care for, and without really any kind of purpose for working towards this goal, Walt starts to realize he’s destroyed his life. What’s the point of working for something if it’s only for you?

It’s not unbelievable that Walt could eventually come to this conclusion. Keep in mind, this is a man who only a year ago was a high school chemistry teacher and a family man. And at the end of the day, what really drives Walt is a need for respect and admiration from others. He wants to be respected by people, and he’s come to realize that he always had respect from his loved ones; he just felt disrespected by the world. So it’s absolutely believable that Walt could eventually come to this epiphany. But it also slightly felt off, given the speed with which we see Walt make this transformation. The majority of this season was focused on Walt becoming more and more power-hungry and going deeper down the rabbit hole, so much so that he was willing to tear his family apart as he continued to hold his wife hostage and even to look the other way when a young child was murdered. Trying to sum up Walt’s realization that he’s fundamentally screwed up his life in half an episode, just felt unbalanced with what the rest of the season was building towards.

But there were some really excellent scenes here as a result. Skyler taking Walt out to the storage unit to show him how much money he’s amassed and asking him “when is it enough?” was an extremely fulfilling scene. Another powerful moment was when Walt visits Jesse’s house and they reminisce about cooking in the RV and running out of gas—a call back to the excellent “Four Days Out.” It was a brilliant contrast to show us how far we’ve come when Jesse drops to the floor with a sigh with relief after Walt leaves, and he throws away the gun he was packing. The fact that Jesse is so afraid of Walt now that he thought Walt had come to kill him speaks volumes of where this relationship has gone. The best scene in the episode was when Walt goes to the doctors for his MRI scan and looks into the mirror at himself with a look of disgust. It was, again, a nice call back to an earlier episode where Walt finds out he’s cancer-free and beats his fist to a pulp into the towel dispenser. All of this worked really well and helped build to Walt’s realization that he’s become a monster and has deviated so far from where he started that he can’t even recognize himself anymore. So again, all of this worked; however, it just felt like we needed more time spent on Walt getting to this place, and a regular 13- episode season would have probably fleshed this out a bit more.

In the end, the first part to Breaking Bad’s final run was a set of really great episodes, with pacing that felt a bit disconnected from the whole narrative at times, and the finale didn’t completely succeed in being able to rein this in. But individually, they were still great episodes with a lot of fantastic moments. It focused heavily on Walt completely corrupting his soul, as he was willing to do whatever needed to be done to get his empire, even if it meant destroying everyone that he loved. But the end tries to move forward too much, and as a result the conclusion feels a bit too forced. Where there should have been unnerving tension, there was instead a casual feel of resolution. What should have been an extremely emotional epiphany for Walt felt a bit sedated. After the corrosion of his soul, and the corrosion of all those that loved him, it just feels too neat to wrap it up in such a quick manner. Seeing Skyler happy with Walt again, and the family enjoying dinner was a great moment. Due to past expectations, and a familiarity with the show’s writing style, I almost expected someone to get killed the entire scene. A sense of doom lingered, as Skyler’s fears of someone “knocking on the door” could finally come to fruition. Instead the scene was just that—Walt finally getting back his family. And it just felt undercut by the fact that they had been through so much, and within 20 minutes we are led to believe all wounds are mostly healed. Granted, in Breaking Bad’s timeline three months have gone by. But this again goes back to the issue of the show having to cover too much time in a given season, and some of these deeper moments suffer a bit in the impact they should have had.

And just as Walt is finally ready to call it quits, Hank finds out that Walt is Heisenberg. Despite all of Walt’s irresponsible moves and risks in the past, it’s keeping Gale’s Walt Whitman book that is signed to him that is what ends up getting him caught. Reading in the bathroom no less, Hank finds the book and sees Gale’s writing addressed to Walt. And despite this being a game-changer that we’ve all been looking forward to, it felt a little contrived to have Hank find out through Walt being so sloppy as to keep a book of a murdered victim in such an open area. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if Walt hadn’t shown in the past that he’s methodical about destroying evidence. Hell, Walt knew specifically that Hank had seen Gale write to him before in a journal. It just struck me as a bit odd, but given everything Walt has gone through, maybe it’s just something that slipped his mind over time. Regardless, it’s an incredibly powerful way to end this part of the season, and it leaves us wondering where they will go next. Hank is not going to let this go, and everything about Walt’s story will fall apart. We also have to consider that Walt supposedly just walked away from business arrangements where a lot of criminals were making money, and that could go horribly wrong for him. We can already see a bunch of threads being built up that could lead to Walt’s ultimate downfall and result in him being on the run.

But here is the catch. Just like it’s hard to fully gauge how a season will play out until the end, we also have to consider that the next half of this season is airing in 2013 and will be a direct continuation of this season’s plotline. There are motivations we might not know about entirely. For example, let’s say it’s revealed that Walt found out he had cancer again in tonight’s doctor scene. That would certainly make more sense with Walt’s quick decisions to get out. Or what if the Walt Whitman book was actually given to Walt by Gretchen, and his untimely downfall is a freak coincidence? Wouldn’t be so far-fetched, given we had never seen Gale actually give Walt the book. And Gretchen’s maiden name is Black. This could, of course, also just be the excuse Walt uses to defend having the book in the next part of the series. But it’s still something to think about. And so, this finale in many ways was approached just like the middle of a regular season. It’s then unfair to entirely judge this, as we don’t know the other side of the story. And perhaps when the show is finally over and all 16 episodes are out, the pacing and how the story is laid down will be far more fulfilling. But focusing just on what we have now, the finale was enjoyable, albeit a bit of a come-down from the intense departure of Mike. And ultimately, it needed a little more time to deliver on some of the more emotional moments. Still, Breaking Bad knows how to set things up, and if anything was discovered this week, it’s that we are absolutely ready for the Walt vs. Hank plotline to finally happen. The ultimate irony is that Walt might actually be out of the game by the time Hank finally gets around to it. Given that this is a show about consequences, and Walt has yet to ever answer for them, it only seems fitting that he gets pulled back in right when he thinks he can walk away without any repercussions.