If last week’s episode was a slow and steady build to a furious climax, this week’s confounded that expectation by coming to its emotional and visceral head before the penultimate act break. As they ride home from the car wash, Flynn’s point-blank accusation sums up much of the complexity and difficulty of his mother: “If all this is true, and you knew about it, then you’re as bad as him.” That’s the key question when it comes to Skylar—and the one still rattling around in her head, moments later, when she finally draws a line. In the living room, as the dirty, panicked Walt insists “I need both of you to trust me” (brass fucking balls on this guy), a choice is put to her, a bare, stark choice: take the money and go, or stay and finally break away.
Director Rian Johnson (who helmed Looper, Brick, and two other episodes) carefully frames the scene’s key shot, a close-up of the counter, where Skylar surprisingly doesn’t go for their handy cordless phone, but for a giant goddamn knife. The eruption of violence that follows is real, and messy, and scary—and Walt is nearly as surprised as we are. “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” he explodes. “WE’RE A FAMILY.” But they’re not, not anymore. And that’s the last indignity for him, the ultimate loss—because the preservation of his precious family was what this was all for, once upon a time, back in that RV. And that’s probably why he’s willing to add “kidnapper” to his CV. It’s one more desperate stab at control, and in this moment of abandonment, she’s the one member of that all-important family who cannot reject him.
The episode’s final dialogue scene finds Walt at his most blatantly monstrous yet, roaring cruelties over the phone at Skylar, warning her to “toe the line or you will wind up just like Hank,” calling her a “stupid bitch” who was “never grateful for anything I did for this family.” The whole thing may be an act for the eavesdropping police, but his voice never falters—and Cranston chooses, remarkably, to play the scene in tears. Even Walt, it seems, can’t believe what he’s become, and as we survey the wreckage of this man, barking threats at his wife, it’s worth noting that the episode’s title, “Ozymandias,” is shared by this sonnet by Percy Blysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.