BREAKING BAD Season Finale Recap: “Face Off”

     October 9, 2011


For the past three months or so, AMC’s Breaking Bad has taken us on quite the journey, hasn’t it?  From that jaw-dropping season premiere to the jaw-destroying season finale (my jaw didn’t just hit the floor this evening:  it broke through my floorboards and burrowed into the foundation of my house), Vince Gilligan and company have delivered a slow-burn that’s kept us wondering how things would turn out for Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and the rest of our beloved Breaking Bad characters.  Headed into tonight’s season finale, we were relatively sure that at least one character would die…but opinions were mixed on who it’d be.  So, after all that speculation, who survived to see Breaking Bad’s fifth—and final—season?  Find out after the jump, folks.

breaking-bad-season-4-poster-But first:  a little gloating.

Nobody likes an “I told ya so” (just ask Nikki Finke), but…man, I didn’t just “tell ya so”, I called this one all the way down to its final shot.  Allow me to revel in the glory of that on-the-nose prediction for another moment, and then we’ll get into tonight’s recap.  Oh, it is sweet.  So sweet.  Yeah, that “confirmed tip” we got about Walt’s glasses being bugged seems to have been complete and utter horseshit, but what’re ya gonna do?  That’s “insider info” for ya.  Besides, the rest of our season finale predictions?  Pretty damn spot-on.  I think I’ll buy myself a drink or six.

But enough of that!  Let’s talk about tonight’s Breaking Bad, which—as you know if you’ve been keeping score at home—was the show’s fourth season finale.  Any Breaking Bad finale is always a bittersweet TV-watching event, isn’t it?  On the one hand, we get to see the payoff to whatever Gilligan and Co. have been building up to all season.  On the other hand, once the fireworks have gone off, we know it’ll be another year before we get new episodes.  And—as with any TV show worth watching– the better the finale, the harder that wait is gonna be.  On that note, the wait for season five is going to be excruciating.

Last week’s episode introduced a major plot point that many Breaking Bad fans spent the week arguing about:  Brock, the little poisoned boy laying in a hospital bed.  On one side of the fence, you had fans who thought that Gus found a way to sneak the ricin out of Jesse’s pocked and into Brock’s fruit punch (or whatever the hell that kid drinks). On the other side of the fence, you had the slightly-more-cynical Breaking Bad fans, the ones who believed that Walt poisoned the kid himself.  All week long, debate’s raged as to who the culprit was, and so tonight’s season finale had a few major dangling threads to tie up:  the “Walt VS. Gus” debacle and the “Who Poisoned The Kid?” mystery.

As it happens, tonight’s episode—appropriately titled “Face Off”, by the way—spent the better part of its running time wrapping up the former.  After failing to kill Gus with a car bomb at the end of last week’s episode, Walt went on a mad dash around town, trying desperately to finish Gus off as quickly as possible:  first, he hit the offices of “Better Call” Saul Goodman, only to discover that Saul wasn’t in (this, by the way, was one of the funnier scenes in tonight’s episode);  then, he headed back home to pick up some cash, only to discover that a pair of Gus’ thugs had the house under surveillance;  next, he met up with Saul and learned a very valuable piece of information, one that would prove to be just the thing he needed to bring Gus’ immaculate little life to an end.

breaking-bad-season-4-finale-image-02Upon chatting with Saul (who’d been sent there by Jesse, who was in police custody while the hospital figured out whether or not Brock had, in fact, been dosed with ricin)(as it turns out, marching into an emergency room screaming about ricin will get the Feds called on you in a New York minute), Walt learned that Gus had been visiting our good friend Cap’n Wheelchair—known to most as Hector Salamanca—and that his visits mainly involved Gus talking mad shit to the wheelchair-bound Hector.  Walt realized that the two were enemies, and that gave him quite the idea.

After putting into action an intricate plan that involved getting Hector down to DEA headquarters, Walt tricked Gus into paying Hector another visit.  Convinced that Hector had turned informant, Gus went to Casa Tranquilo (the improbably-named old folks’ home where Hector resides…er, resided) to kill the old man once and for all.  After Gus’ henchman, Tyrus, cleared the area, Gus entered Hector’s sad little bedroom to pay him an extremely final visit.  What Gus didn’t know, however, was that Walt had strapped that car bomb to Hector’s wheelchair:  just when Gus was about to inject Hector with something very painful, Hector rang that bell one…last…time.

And:  BOOM.

The shot of Hector’s exploding bedroom was impressive, but not as impressive as what immediately followed:  after the door to the bedroom exploded out into the hall, smoke billowed from the room.  Moments later, Gus emerged, looking no worse for the wear.  We had just enough time to think, “Oh, come on!” and then…the camera panned around Gus, revealing that half of his head was missing.  The people I watched tonight’s episode with went absolutely apeshit during this shot, but I sat there in stunned silence:  I truthfully cannot recall being so utterly stunned by a TV show.  Watching that shot, I had the feeling that I was watching TV history being made.  I mean, even if you don’t like Breaking Bad, you’ve gotta admit that showing one of your lead villains with half his head blown off is a pretty groundbreaking bit of television.  Let’s hope they steal the idea for a future episode of Two and a Half Men.

breaking-bad-season-4-finale-image-01This pretty much wrapped up the “Walt VS. Gus” storyline, but there was still a little more to go:  after arriving at the lab, Walt killed the lone henchman guarding Jesse, picked up an axe, and the two got to work destroying the lab from the inside out.  Chemicals were spilled, shelves destroyed, and—in the end—they blew the whole damn thing up.  The fallout from Gus’ death will be extensive to the overall plotline of this series (Hank’s still going to have a lot of questions), and I don’t think it’d be crazy to suspect that Gus’ now-flaming laundry facility will be amongst that fallout.  The DEA’s gonna wanna know who torched (and exploded) the place, so Walt and Jesse better hope that nothing suspicious survived that explosion.

With Gus dead and the lab destroyed, Walt and Jesse met up back at the hospital.  Jesse revealed that Brock was going to be OK, after all, and further explained that the kid must’ve eaten some sort of poisonous plant growing in the ABQ area.  Apparently, a certain white plant with red berries was a favorite of local children, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to eat part of the plant and end up in the hospital with the exact same symptoms that Brock was exhibiting.  Walt put on a good show then, making it seem like this was all news to him, but for those of us that spent the week arguing the “Did he/Didn’t he” point, we already knew where this was headed.

Yes, Walt poisoned Brock.  How he got the poison into Brock is another discussion entirely (and, if we can be frank, kinda besides the point).  The bottom line here is that Walter White– former chemistry teacher, present-day meth cook, and all-around badass—has now crossed the line into “supervillain” territory.  He might’ve known that the poison he gave Brock wouldn’t kill him, and he might’ve been doing it for reasons that he could justify to himself, but that doesn’t change the fact that the hero of this series just poisoned a kid in order to trick his meth-cooking partner into murdering someone.  That, my friends, is the work of a supervillian.  Vince Gilligan’s been promising this moment from the very beginning of the series, and it appears that we’ve finally arrived at it.

There are, of course, a few lingering questions to be dealt with.  Hank’s investigation of the Heisenberg case, for instance.  Or whether or not Jesse’s going to find out that Walt poisoned Brock (our money’s on “Oh, hell yeah, he will”).  Or what plans Walt might have for he and Jesse’s meth-cooking operation.  I imagine that these are the big ideas that will power Breaking Bad’s fifth—and final—season.

It’s going to be difficult waiting for this show to come back.  But we’ll be back next year when Breaking Bad resumes.  While you’re waiting on that, feel free to sound off with your thoughts on the season finale in the comments section below:  were you as blown away by Gus’ demise as we were?  Think that “TV history” is a bit of hyperbole, or are we right on the money?  Wanna predict who’ll survive next year’s series finale early?  We wanna hear about it, so hit the box below, folks.

Man.  What a great finale that was, eh?