There are spoilers in here, obviously.
We have increased levels of Heisenbergification! Tonight, Breaking Bad slammed the door shut on its fantastic fourth season with "Face Off," a gorgeous finale written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan—or as I like to call him, the savior of television. Everything went according to Walt's plan, and the episode delivered something I never expected from a Breaking Bad season finale: a sense of peace!
Walter White defeated Gus Fring. He won. The game is over. The chemistry teacher who landed in a life of crime slapped a car bomb onto Hector's wheelchair and let the old cartel member get his revenge by blowing Gus and Tyrus to smithereens. (He was probably getting bored with Bingo anyway.) A hearty round of applause goes to Giancarlo Esposito, who acted the crap out of Gus and deserves every accolade he receives for his performance. Season 4 would not have been as awesome as it was without Gus Fring. In fact, Gus tops my list, along with The Wire's Stringer Bell, of favorite bad guys I didn't mind rooting for.
Season 4 was arguably the season of Gus, but Season 5 has to be about Walter White and his continued transformation into Heisenberg... which means Gus had to go. I'm sure there are people who wanted to see Gus make it to next season, but not me. I loved the character, but I'm glad Walt blew his right side off. And I'm especially glad that Tyrus is out of the picture. That guy was useless. The shot of Gus walking out of Hector's room, still prim and proper, was a stunner. It was almost cartoonish.
But seeing Gus' half-blown-off face (oh, "Face Off," now I get it) wasn't the episode's final or most revealing scene. That honor goes to the concluding close-up of Walt's potted Lily of the Valley plant, the source of the poison responsible for Brock's situation and the same plant Walt's gun pointed toward when he was asking for a sign in "End Times." The lingering shot of the plant did more than reveal that Walter concocted the plan, it showed us the lengths to which Walter is willing to go now. Putting innocent kids in danger? He's one step closer to being the Man in the Hat and Sunglasses, and that opens things up nicely for Breaking Bad's final season.
When "Face Off" ended, there was no existential discussion to be had, like there was at the end of Season 2 when a plane crashed over Walt's head. There was no cliffhanger, like there was at the end of Season 3 when Jesse pulled the trigger on Gale. For the most part, "Face Off" was surprisingly blunt and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. And you know what? It was kind of nice. Jesse and Walt torched the old lab, Gus is no longer a threat—heck, even the kid made it out alive, with presumably nothing more than the same disgusting feeling you get after putting down a burrito and a half. All in all, it was a rare good day for our guys. And I think they deserve it after what they went through in Season 4.
Still, several questions remain. What happened to the Ricin cigarette? How did Walter poison Brock with the not-as-bad-as-Ricin Lily of the Valley poison? How did Gus know not to get in his car? I don't know, I don't know, and I guess Jesse's demeanor spooked him just enough? I'm not sure it matters, as Breaking Bad has always been open to speculation, and that's a large part of the fun that comes from watching. If you've got a theory and it works, go with it.
One of the things that stood out about "Face Off" was its atmosphere. It was like In-n-Out Burger (or ABQ's Whataburger) for the senses. And when everything came together, it created moments that had my heart jumping out my chest. The slow, deliberate pacing and sound, whether it was the sizzling score or silence, produced a blueprint for others to copy for generations to come. Breaking Bad will have an influence on television and film long after it goes dark next year.
Now we're left to ponder Walt and Jesse's future. I loved the simplicity of their final scene together, and how little needed to be said. But what did that final conversation and handshake mean? Was it "goodbye?" Was it "let's take a break until we figure out where we're going to cook next?" I mean, with Gus and the cartel out of the way, I'd tap into Saul's Rolodex and take over the meth market in the Southwest. Are we going to get a new bad guy next season, or will Walt take that role? And why do I get the sense that Season 5 will be about Jesse versus Walter with Hank sniffing around for realsies this time? What's going to happen when Jesse finds out Walter mildly poisoned Brock? And let his girlfriend Jane die? An awesome final Season of Breaking Bad, that's what.
– How will Mike respond to Walter killing Gus? Will he return from his Mexican vacation with guns blazing, or will he be asking Walter for a job?
– This episode had it all: some great dark comedy, intense suspense, and fantastic direction. But the one thing that stands out to me is Dave Porter's incredible score and soundtrack.
– Was anyone else secretly hoping Walt's neighbor would get shot when she went into the house to check it out at Walt's request? How awesome would that have been?
– Despite Gus getting half his body blown off and the episode being awesome overall, I think there were several episodes this season that outshone "Face Off." I'd be very interested to hear from people who didn't like the finale, if there are any of you out there.
– It's been a lot of fun covering the show this season and reading all your comments. It's really late/really early, so I'm incapable of any emotional outpouring, but I just wanted to say thanks and I hope you'll be back next season. I'll be here!