For Walt, Jesse, and poor Brock, the "End Times" are nigh.
Credit: Gregory Peters/AMC

All we can say is, whoa.

Is it safe to say that we all held our breath through that entire episode, which gets our vote for The Most Knuckle-Whitening of the Season So Far? We don’t have enough air left in our lungs to blow a single smoke ring from a ricin cigarette. (Though after watching that excruciatingly intense showdown between Walt and Jesse, a cigarette is exactly what we need.) Everything we’ve been waiting for, everything we’ve been worried about, it’s all happening—and fast. The laundromat? Searched. The DEA? Closing in. Jesse? Ready to kill. Walt? Prepared to die. As Walt tells Skyler, “No more prolonging the inevitable.”

One of the best things about Breaking Bad has always been that even when you know what’s coming (and very often you don’t), there’s a strange thrill in watching what happens when people run out of choices. And right now, even Saul knows that the days of easy money and endless supplies of gold-plated legal scale cuff links are numbered. “They’re here,” Saul tells Jesse. “The End Times, kid. End Times.”

“End Times” is also the name of the episode, and the religious allusion can’t be accidental. In the Bible, the end times divided the world into those who chose to follow God, and those who got left behind to suffer forever. For Jesse, it’s time to choose sides: follow the command of the Almighty Gus, or deal with the “appropriate response.” How fitting that when Gus and Jesse finally have their big you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me talk inside the hospital, they’re standing in the chapel, where a large crucifix hangs just beyond Jesse’s head.

For Walt, the end times mean he’s finally approaching judgment day. When Skyler asks him how long it will be until he’s safe, his silence says probably the next bank holiday after never. “I have lived under the threat of death for a year now,” he tells her. “Because of that, I’ve made choices. Listen to me. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else. And those consequences, they’re coming.”

But Walt’s not really the only one suffering those consequences. As Marie says, “We’re all in danger here.” And judging by Walt’s expression when he kisses Baby Holly goodbye, he knows it. Sitting by the pool, playing spin-the-gun, he’s just delving deeper and deeper into his guilt. (Visually, the scene is a callback to The Sopranos, which always showed Tony sitting by the pool, thinking about the “family” of ducks that once swam there, worrying that his own family will leave him as well.) Walt’s punishing himself for putting everyone at risk: Hank, Skyler, Walt Jr., maybe even Saul. “After all,” quips Saul, “what am I but family?”

And what happens to family during these End Times? The son ends up atoning for the sins of the father. That’s true for Jesse, who believes he’s paying for protecting Walt. And it might be true for Brock, who’s the closest thing to a son that Jesse’s ever had.

NEXT: “Put a bullet in my head right now. DO IT!”

The moment that Jesse crumples up an entire pack of cigarettes beneath that big red EMERGENCY sign, it’s clear that we’re approaching a big red EMERGENCY moment. But that wrenching scene where Jesse cries while pressing his gun so hard into Walt’s forehead that it leaves a mark? That’s a whole new level of hard to watch.

Moment by moment, you can see Walt’s will to live flickering on and off. He’s near-suicidal (“Everything, it’s all coming to an end.. I don’t know when or how, all I know is it’s going to happen”), then desperate (“Jesse, I have no idea who these people are!”), then defiant (“I’ve been waiting, waiting all day, waiting for Gus to send one of his men to kill me, and it’s you!”), then exhilarated (“Think about it! It’s brilliant!”), then near-suicidal again (“Put a bullet in my head right now. DO IT!”). And with every quick-change emotion, Jesse’s moral pendulum is swinging back and forth: DO IT! don’t do it. DO IT! don’t do it.

Did Gus actually poison Brock? According to at least one Breaking Bad fan, the chemistry holds up. (A few hours after exposure to ricin, the victim gets flu-like symptoms. Death usually occurs 36-48 hours after exposure, but “it is not necessarily fatal, even though it is unlikely medical staff would identify the underlying cause.” Still, that’s for a grown man. We have no idea how this much poison would affect a small child, but we suspect Brock’s odds aren’t good.) And Walt’s logic is sound, too. Tyrus had access to Jesse’s locker. Gus has killed a child before—one in Andrea’s family, no less. And as Walt tells Jesse, “The one thing he needed to finally get rid of me is your consent, and now he’s got it.”

There’s a sad cosmic joke in there somewhere: if cancer doesn’t kill Walt, one cigarette might do the job. Walt has spent so much time this season proving that he’s invincible, irreplaceable, the all-powerful “one who knocks,” that it’s devastating to realize that the world can now carry on without him. He’s lost the job that once made him essential. Someone else is cooking the blue crystal that he invented. His wife gave his money to the man who made him a cuckold. And now, the ultimate indignity: Gus is using Walt’s own ricin against him.

Of course, maybe this is all a coincidence. Brock could’ve stolen Jesse’s cigarette on his own. Or he could’ve gotten very sick for other reasons. (With the nurses kicking Jesse out of the hospital room, we’re not sure how much he knows for certain about Brock’s illness.) If that’s the case, then there’s still a ricin cigarette out there somewhere. And knowing that Skyler’s smoking again—and bumming cigarettes from bodyguards who may or may not have secret connections with Gus—we’re starting to worry about what’s going to happen to her.

Clearly, it’s going to take more than a poison cigarette to defeat a mastermind like Gus, whose sixth sense is borderline supernatural. And last week, we weren’t sure if Walt had it in him. At the end of “Crawl Space,” he was just waiting to die, lying in a makeshift grave beneath his house, laughing at the gods. But after his near-death experience with Jesse, it’s like he’s been resurrected. Now, it’s just like Walt says. Everything, it’s all coming to an end. But that everything might include Gus.

What was it that made Gus turn away from his explosive-rigged car? Was it just a feeling? Or have his many surveillance cameras, bugs, and GPS devices somehow revealed that Walt would be there? (Jesse telling Walt, over the phone, that “I think I got his attention” might have been a clue.) Either way, Walt will get another chance to take down his boss. And for the first time in forever, it looks like Jesse will help him. Just because it’s the End Times doesn’t mean it’s the end of them.

NEXT: a few final questions for you readers

Okay, readers, your comments last week were especially thoughtful. Keep ’em coming.

Some questions for you:

Why do you think Gus turned away from his car?

When they’re talking in the hospital’s chapel, Gus tells Jesse that he can help Brock. “I am on the board of this hospital,” he says. “I can recommend doctors, get the best treatment.” Is he threatening Jesse, letting him know that, if he doesn’t return to the lab tomorrow, Gus can decide whether or not Brock survives? Or is he just offering his services in order to get Jesse back more quickly?

Place your bets on any and all surprise deaths that might happen in the finale: Gus? Jesse? Skyler? Walt Jr.? (Many of you readers were right the last time we discussed this question: you chose Ted as the next to go.)

Will we ever see Mike again?

What did you think of this week’s episode? And how do you think the season will end?


Episode Recaps

Breaking Bad

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.

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