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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ultimate "Face Off" on Breaking Bad

     The season finale of AMC's Breaking Bad, "Face Off," finds Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) plotting to kill Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). They get a lucky break when they find Tio Hector (Mark Margolis) more than willing to cooperate, even volunteering as a suicide bomber. Tio manages to blow up Gus, and Walt rescues Jesse from Gus's men. Together, Walt and Jesse burn down the lab. What Jesse doesn't know, though, is that Walt is the one who poisons Brock (Ian Posada).

     Is it truly necessary to see Gus post-explosion? His ruined face is an extremely memorable, gruesome moment that will not soon be forgotten. Breaking Bad frequently delivers on shock, but this one might just be a haunting nightmare not easily shaken away. His manner of death gives the episode's title a double meaning.

     With "Face Off," Breaking Bad presents a whole new Walt. Slowly, over four seasons, Walt gets deeper and deeper into the criminal world. This year, it seems like Walt is trying very hard to be the bad ass kingpin. Sure, he's afraid for his life, and those of his family. But he's also pretty willing to embrace the tactics needed to survive as such a man. From sending a helpless neighbor woman into his house, which he correctly suspects is being watched, to poisoning an innocent little boy, Walt demonstrates a lack of basic human compassion. Plus, when it's all over, his response is "I won." Call me crazy, but what goes down doesn't seem like a win for anyone.

     Is this change irreversible? That much is unclear. Walt is quick to sacrifice whoever needs sacrificed for the sake of his family, or possibly just out of self-preservation. Walt begins to look like Gus, who kills to make a point, and kidnaps Jesse to get him back to cooking meth. If Walt is rapidly turning into what Gus is, and Gus certainly never shows any signs of reverting back to a decent human being, than it might be too late for the former chemistry teacher. In fact, realizing what Walt is doing, his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), even looks scared of him as they speak on the phone.

     If Jesse ever finds out that Walt is the one that makes Brock sick, and considering this is television, he likely will, there will be a show down to the death between the partners. While Walt grows less and less in touch with his decent side, Jesse develops in the opposite direction. The youth is a hardened druggie when Walt begins working with him. They seem to develop a friendship as Jesse cares more about life, and even finds love. He turns into someone who would like to be a contributing, productive member of society. Yet, Walt doesn't care much about Jesse, either, even though he rescues him, since Walt is willing to risk the life of someone Jesse loves to manipulate him. As things stand now, fans will be rooting for Jesse to kill Walt once and for all, to stop Walt before he becomes does something even worse than he's already done.

     But there are still sixteen hours of Breaking Bad left before the series comes to a close forever. The writers will not allow such a shown down to be the only plot for that long. Though Walt burns Gus's lab, his new personality probably will not keep him out of the drug business for long. Will he include Jesse when he tries to become the next big boss in the area, as he surely will, or will Walt cut Jesse out now? Kingpins do not have partners. Jesse and Walt's family, on the other hand, would be happy living calm, peaceful lives from here on out. Too bad Walt's actions will bring them more trouble.

     Also, Mike (Jonathan Banks) sits out the entire showdown, still recovering from injuries. This is probably the only reason that Walt is able to succeed in taking out Gus. Would Mike be willing to work for Walt? Or might he seek revenge for Gus's murder?

Breaking Bad will return to AMC next year for a final,16-episode fifth season.

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     Please click here for streaming episodes, Blu-ray, and DVDs of Breaking Bad.

Article first published as TV Review: Breaking Bad - "Face Off" on Blogcritics.

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