Heading into this week’s mid-season finale, we wondered how “Breaking Bad” might try to top last week’s devastating “Say My Name,” which saw fan favorite Mike Ehrmantraut murdered at the hands of the show’s (once) protagonist Walt. Actor Dean Norris slyly teased that this week’s episode would contain an “Oh, shit” moment and fans heads began to spin wondering just how they might top themselves this time. Well, it wasn’t another major death (though there were a record number of deaths) but instead the very beginning of the endgame that the series has been working towards since the pilot: Hank’s realization that his brother-in-law is the same man he’s been hunting down unsuccessfully for over a year. The episode’s title, “Gliding Over All,” is taken from a Walt Whitman poem whose final line reads “Deaths, many deaths I’ll sing.” Oh shit, indeed.
Last week we weren’t sure how Walt would possibly dispatch of Mike and his car before the authorities could find him but it turned out to be no problem at all. With Todd’s help, Walt is able to dispose of body and vehicle without breaking a sweat, it’s practically routine for them now. Much of the episode is punctuated by silence. Walt sits contemplatively and stares into space. Is he feeling any sort of regret for the things he has done or simply continuing to think a few steps ahead whatever still lay in front of him? Creator Vince Gilligan says, “I think Walt is reaping what he has sowed and the wind, so to speak, has gone out of Walt’s sails here. When Walt killed Mike, even he on some level was surprised by his actions. He’s crossed a bridge too far. And he no longer has Jesse and that hits Walt harder than he thinks.” When Jesse shows up, nearly interrupting the dirty work being done to his former friend, Walt ushers him away in a scene that’s played out several times during the series already. Once again, the pair are “broken up” as it were, the tenuous union built on lies had sustained them this half-season is once again severed, perhaps for good.
Walt meets with Lydia to get the names of Mike’s guys in jail. She in turn offers him what appears to be the devil’s deal: Ship to the Czech Republic to start making some real money. During the meeting, Walt seems at a distance with Lydia even though her deal seems like it should appeal to the megalomaniac in Walt. As she leaves we see that he’d brought the ricin capsule and was fully prepared to poison her. His demeanor was simply the result of him re-shifting the plan in his head as her offer rolled across the table. To get the ball rolling quickly, Walt meets with Todd’s connections, some neo-Nazi skinheads and presents them with their impossible mission. “Figure it out. It’s what I’m paying you for,” he bellows.
“Pick Yourself Up” by Nat King Cole begins to play and we enter one of the most bravura sequences in the history of the show as Gus’ 10 former employees are dispatched through truly brutal and shocking violence: stabbings, burnings and head-smashings in a two minute orgy of violence. Director Michelle McClaren says she took inspiration from “The Godfather” for this sequence which would even make Gaspar Noe flinch. Unforgettable. On the other side of this mayhem is Walt with his stopwatch and Hank who’s about to get the worst news of his professional career. Hank is beaten. In a quietly devastating moment, he tells Walt about a summer job concluding sullenly that “Chasing trees is a lot better than chasing monsters.” Our heart breaks for him.