We have increased levels of Heisenbergifrication! Breaking Bad slammed the door shut on its fantastic fourth season with “Face Off,” a gorgeous finale written and directed by creator Vince Gilligan, or as I like to call him, the savior of television. While everything went according to Walt’s plan, it delivered something I never expected from a season finale of Breaking Bad: 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 stuck a car bomb onto Hector’s wheelchair and let the old cartel member get his revenge by blowing Gus and Tyrus to smithereens. The Bingo games were getting boring for Hector anyway. A round of applause for Giancarlo Esposito, who acted the crap out of Gus and deserves every accolade he receives for his season-long performance. This season would not be as fantastic as it was without the perfect nemesis that was Gus Fring. I put Gus Fring right up there with The Wire‘s Stringer Bell on the top of my list of favorite bad guys who I didn’t mind rooting for.
Season 4 was arguably the season of Gus, but Season 5 has to be about Walter and his continuing evolution into Heisenberg. To do that, Gus had to go. I’m sure there were people who wanted Gus to make it to next season, but not me. I love 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 final scene. The episode’s most revealing scene was the final image: a close-up of Walt’s potted Lily of the Valley plant, the same poison responsible for Brock’s situation and the same plant Walt’s gun pointed to while he was asking for a sign in the previous episode. The final reveal of the plant did more than just tell us that Walter concocted the plan, it showed us the lengths Walter is willing to go now. Putting kids in danger? It’s a step closer to being the Man in the Hat and Sunglasses and really opens things up nicely for Breaking Bad‘s final season when Walt becomes Heisenberg as a full-time gig.
When “Face Off” ended, there was no existential discussion to be had like there was after Season 2 ended in a plane crash over Walt’s head. There was no cliffhanger like Jesse’s trigger pull in Season 3’s finale. For the most part “Face Off” was surprisingly blunt and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. And you know what? It’s kind of refreshing. Jesse and Walt torched the old lab, Gus is no longer on their trail, heck, even the kid made it out alive with nothing more than the same 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 poison? How did Gus previously know to not go in his car. I don’t know, I don’t know, and I guess Jesse’s demeanor spooked him enough? I’m not sure it matters, Breaking Bad has always been open to speculative theories, 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 with “Face Off” was the atmosphere of the episode. It was like In-n-Out Burger for the senses. And when everything came together, it created moments that sent hearts jumping out of people’s chests. The slow deliberate pacing and sound, whether it’s the sizzling score or silence, was 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 sad. 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 meth next?” Heck, with Gus and the cartel out of the way, I’d tap into Saul’s rolodex and own 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 realsie 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? Is he coming back from his Mexican vacation 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 after Walt asked her to? How awesome would that have been?
– Despite Gus getting half his being blown off and it being overall awesome, I think there were several other episodes this season that outshone it. I’d be very interested in to hear from people who didn’t like the finale, if any of you are out there.
– This has been a lot of fun covering the show this season and reading all your comments. It’s really late, so I’m incapable of any emotional outpouring, but I just wanted to say thanks and I hope we you’ll be back next season. I’ll be right here!
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom