Bryan Cranston and Bob Odenkirk
Casa Tranquila, my eye! (Or, rather, Gus's eye.)
No such thing as a tranquil house, or nursing home, or meth super-lab, in Breaking Bad's brilliant and literally on-fire season finale Sunday night. Capping a season of unrelieved nail-biting tension, as partners-in-crime Walt White and Jesse Pinkman squirmed and schemed under the icy supervision of murderous drug kingpin Gus Fring, this episode — written and directed by Vince Gilligan with a superior blend of suspense and pitch-black humor — is a textbook example of how to provide resolution for a spectacular season while leaving us anxiously wondering "what next?"
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There were many times when Walt looked like the most hapless of masterminds: scrambling frantically to retrieve the unexploded device from under Gus's car ("Did you just bring a bomb into a hospital?" sputtered a panicked Jesse) or kicking in Saul's glass-plated door to get his assistant's attention. (Loved her retort: "How is that news, exactly, the two of you being in danger after doing something idiotic?") Front doors are not much use for Walt in this episode. He hides in bathrooms and outside windows, forever risking his cover being blown as we sweat it out with him. He even sneaks into his own house, coldly using an elderly neighbor as bait to flush out the goons hiding in wait, and scurries out of a side vent. It may look like bumbling, but by now, we should know better.
The turning point comes when Walt is made aware of Gus's visits to his old cartel nemesis Hector "Tio" Salamanca, who resides in the amusingly named Casa Tranquila. The-enemy-of-my-enemy is Walt's way out of this fix. Genius. And the wheels turn magnificently as Walt rings the old crook's bell by offering him one last opportunity for revenge. Hector's roundabout way of getting Gus's attention is canny and hilarious: summoning the DEA and Hank (who's more than happy to escape his domestic prison, where Marie continues to fret over the smokescreen death threat), and with the excruciating method of spelling out letters with the help of a nurse, Hector delivers one last "F-U" to the feds while rousing Gus's suspicions.
Giancarlo Esposito gets one more indelible moment to show us Gus's calm, deadly resolve, muttering, "I do this" as he heads to Casa Tranquila for a showdown with the old man. Just the sound of Gus scraping a chair across the floor to confront Hector made me jump, the tension is that palpable. Preparing a death injection for Hector while chiding him ("What kind of man talks to the DEA? No man, no man at all"), Gus demands Hector once and for all look him in the eye. And when he does, the glare finally puts the fear of God into Gus.
Hector dings his annoying bell one last time, setting off the bomb at last. Thar she blows, and my heart can barely take it. The death scene that follows is incredible, because it's so very in character. Gus walks out of the blasted room, looking none the worse for wear as he straightens his tie, in the fastidious manner we've come to know and fear. Could he have emerged unscathed yet again? But then we see Gus's less camera-ready side, the other half of his face blown off — the episode is titled "Face Off," after all — showing us a ghoulishly empty eye socket, as he collapses dead in the hallway.
Walt's next stop upon hearing the news on his car radio: the super-lab, where a kidnapped Jesse is cooking up a new batch under a new goon's armed watch. Walt has now reverted to full Heisenberg super-criminal mode, shooting Jesse's captor point blank then turning to his sidekick to reveal: "Gus is dead. We've got work to do." Goodbye, lab, as they take axes to barrels full of chemicals and prepare the conflagration. Shedding their hazmat suits for the last time, they emerge into the laundry, and because they're not really bad guys, they activate a fire alarm so the laundry employees can get out before things get too hot.
And still, the fat lady hasn't finished singing. There's a lovely exchange between Walt and Skyler, and Bryan Cranston's steely look of triumph is something to behold as he tells his wife, "It's over. We're safe." And most memorably, "I won."
This is truly Walt's victory, and all Walt's doing, as we learn in the clever coda, when a tearfully relieved Jesse (Aaron Paul, excellent throughout) reveals it wasn't Ricin but lily of the valley that put young Brock in the hospital, setting in motion the events that took Gus down at last. Doesn't Jesse realize he's talking to Mr. White the master chemist, who knows a thing or two about natural poisons? We're a step ahead of the poor schnook as Jesse is assured by Walt that "Gus had to go." (We know, but we'll miss Esposito anyway.) They part with a handshake, reconciled at last.
Let's just hope Jesse never discovers the lily-of-the-valley planter conveniently located poolside in Walt's back yard. A wonderful closing shot for an amazing season.
When next we visit this world, presumably sometime next year — with AMC, it's impossible to know — the endgame will be upon Walt, Jesse and the rest of this Albuquerque outfit. Only 16 more chapters to go, and this is one addiction that's truly going to be hard to kick.
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