This review contains spoilers.
4.12 End Times
End Times was a curious episode of Breaking Bad. As perfectly written, directed, and performed as always, but I couldn’t shake the fact that there was something oddly unsatisfying about it. This is not to say that it was a bad episode. It was just as intense and packed with incident as any of the stellar episodes preceding it. I think the problem may have been that Breaking Bad has entered unfamiliar territory for the show thus far, by presenting us with a genuine whodunit mystery. And admittedly, it’s a doozy. Who poisoned Brock, Jesse’s for-all-intents-and-purposes adopted son? Was it Gus? Was it Walt? Was it (inadvertently) Poor Jesse? Was it an accident?
End Times does an incredibly skilful job of making all these solutions seem possible, yet all of them feel unlikely. This is the one of the problems I have with the episode – I feel like the writers need to have an incredible get out to leave me satisfied, because it is an extremely convoluted scenario, even for Breaking Bad. While the things that happen on the show are often outlandish and unlikely, there are rarely moments on the show where I find myself outright having to suspend my disbelief, and there were a few of these in End Times.
But it feels too early to write off these moments as ‘corny’ or ‘unrealistic’, because we don’t have all of the information yet. In this way End Times feels much more like the first part of a two-part episode, rather than an episode that can be viewed and assessed in isolation.
Another reason I’m not sure about throwing this late riddle at us is because it’s invariably going to dominate the discussion of the episode. Usually, there’s so much to dig into in terms of character development, or set-pieces to chew over. There was that here too, but I felt that ultimately the episode was primarily engineered (particularly in its second half) to set up this little conundrum, layering the narrative with little clues and red herrings. As such, it was a frustrating episode.
Is that just an incredibly convoluted way of saying that I almost physically can’t wait for the finale? Probably.
Since we’re all here, let’s analyse some theories as to who did it. I know it’s what you all want anyway.
Gus: This is actually the explanation that would satisfy me the least, because the leaps of logic that Jesse would be required to take to blame Gus would be too convoluted and risky to rely on for him, I feel.
Also, Gus’s ‘spider sense’ when approaching the bomb (which has received some criticism online) makes a lot more sense if he had only just learned of the poisoning from Jesse, and realised on the walk back to his car that something was up. Otherwise, he really did just sniff out a car bomb.
On the flip side, Gus has previous when it comes to harming children or at least threatening to, with Brock’s cousins in series three being unlucky casualties. He also threatened to kill Walt’s infant daughter in only the previous episode. Also, his message to Jesse – “there will be an appropriate response” -looks more ominous, and while poisoning Brock might seem a rash and even inexplicable plan to get his way, let’s not forget he began this season by cutting his own henchman’s throat with a box cutter, just to prove a point.
It was an accident/he wasn’t poisoned, it would be very Breaking Bad for the final end game to be initiated by a complete misunderstanding, and would certainly reflect how insanely paranoid and claustrophobic the main players have all become.
Chaos has always reigned in Breaking Bad – the plane crash, Ted’s tumble, to name two instances – so this might be an appropriate explanation. However – how would Brock have been able to access the cigarettes? Didn’t Jesse say that he switched them into a new pack when he left in the morning?
Walt: I’ve watched End Times twice, and the second time around I finished convinced Walt was behind Brock’s poisoning. A lot of people won’t entertain this idea, even though a lot of evidence points towards Walt (certainly au fait with poisoning, needed to get Jesse on his side, completely out of options). The reason they won’t entertain it is for this reason: as bad as he has become, Walt would never poison a child.
I’d say you were right a few episodes ago, but I think Walt’s breakdown in the crawl space in Crawl Space might have represented a paradigm shift for him. Gus’ threatening of his infant daughter may have actually tipped him off that he’s been making half measures all along, and needed to stoop to the depths that Gus was/is willing to sink to in order to get ahead.
It would be an incredibly daring thing to do – how many shows can you name where the protagonist tries to kill a kid? – but the show has proven itself to be the bravest and most daring on television time and time again. Vince Gilligan has also stated that the purpose of Breaking Bad is to show the journey that a decent person takes into becoming a monster – a set of circumstances that lead a good guy to ‘break bad’. Poisoning a child could just be one more step on the road to hell for Walt, and I think writing him off because you assume he would never do anything that wrong would be a mistake. I mean, just look at Hank. All that detective work, and his man is literally right next to him. Smiling at him.
The shakedown that Jesse encountered when visiting Saul’s office was extremely suspicious, although that could easily have been a deliberate red herring. Another indicator of Walt’s guilt would be purely a narrative-based one: we don’t see him for the bulk of the episode. What’s he up to? Again though, this could just be the writers screwing with us. And the argument that this was too complicated a scheme for Gus also holds true for Walt, although I think to a slightly lesser extent.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this mystery, and you have to admire the way the writers has set up this almighty house of cards. The problem is now, that they absolutely have to nail the resolution in the finale in a way that will be satisfying to all of us who have invested so thoroughly into this show.
I maintain that this fourth season of Breaking Bad has been extraordinary, a contender for the best season of one of the greatest shows of all time, and I do not want to see them stumble over the finish line. I know that they won’t, but this maddeningly poised poisoning plot has made me nervous.
And I really, really, really didn’t need to be any more nervous about the finale.