For me—and your mileage may vary—the realization came at the end of that phone call with Marie, Hank’s little victory lap, the cherry on top of the sweet desert that was slapping cuffs on Walter White and reading him his Miranda rights. On the phone with Marie, he shared the hard-fought victory. She was proud of him. He said he’d be home, but it’d be a little while. And this was when alarm bells started going off in my brain. “This conversation with Marie is too drawn out,” I jotted into my notes. “Something’s gonna go down.” Did it ever.
If the progression of events—phone call to Marie, arrival of sinister force with Hank in its sights, tightening of the viewer’s stomach—was slightly familiar, it probably wasn’t accidental; the closing of last night’s Breaking Bad, “To’hajiilee,” deliberately recalls that of “One Minute,” the heart-stopping third-season episode that culminated with Hank’s parking lot shooting. Both episodes were the work of Michelle MacLaren, and the climax wasn’t her only moment to shine last night. She’s a master at building tension with carefully manipulated pacing, and in fact, much of “To’hajiilee” is rather deliberately constructed. The first two-thirds of the episode are primarily spent threading the needle, setting up Jesse’s idea for catching Walt while following through on last week’s chilling closing line, “Todd, I think I might have another job for your uncle.”
Those two strands will come together in due course, but they’re juggled skillfully in the meantime. It’s kind of a joy to watch Hank go to work on Huell, whose appearance here—much like Skinny Pete and Badger’s in the mid-season opener—reconfirms what a reliable bench of supporting players the show’s built up by now. Walt, meanwhile, pays an oh-no-he-didn’t visit to Andrea, prompting Bryan Cranston’s best acting of the episode. Get a load of the evil happening behind the pleasantness as he thanks Andrea for calling Jesse—and, even more disturbing, that cheerful, hey-there-sport farewell to Brock. But Cranston’s not reaching for effects here; when he pays his visit to Todd, Jack, and Kenny to arrange the hit on Jesse, he insists, “Jesse is like family to me,” and he plays the line with sincerity. It’s not that he wants Jesse dead, but (the ultimate indignity) “He just… won’t listen to reason.”
“The kid is not as dumb as you think,” Saul warns Walt, and if there is a credo to this last batch of episodes, that’s it. In paying that visit to Andrea, Walt is trying to get the upper hand on Jesse, but he keeps getting outsmarted. It’s comically (and karmically) satisfying, how thoroughly things go wrong for Walt at this point—his intelligence, foresight, skill, and luck combined to make him seem unstoppable in earlier seasons, and now the poor loathsome prick can’t catch a break. His surrender to Hank is less about his brother-in-law having the drop on him as it is the culmination of his own anguish, frustration, and self-loathing at the realization that his junkie underling has gotten the better of him.
By that point, “To’hajiilee” (named after the Indian reservation near Walt’s money-burying site) is really cooking. It’s an episode full of marvelous little touches—the circularity of how “have an A1 day” “reinforces our brand,” just like the blue tint Lydia wants in Todd’s cooks; the way Todd’s cell phone has Thomas Dolby proclaiming “Science!” as Walt’s ringtone—but they’re not what everyone’s talking about today. It’s the way the episode snaps to attention when Walt gets that faked money-barrel picture, how the smooth-and-steady style becomes immediately frantic, all fast cuts and zipping camerawork, Walt and Jesse screaming at each other on the phone, the force of their acting matching the intensity of the action.
And in an interesting way, the episode seems to be leaning towards a Sergio Leone-style Mexican stand-off in the desert even before the Aryans show up; dig the staging and compositions as Walt hides behind that rock, the slow push in on his eyes. But when the gunfire erupts, it’s thrilling—not just in a bland, generic, bang-bang-exciting manner, but because (as in those final episodes of The Sopranos) this violent and unsentimental show is coming to a conclusion, and thus all bets are off. Anyone could go at this point, and that realization hangs thick in the air right though the episode’s merciless, cruel closing cut to black.