Of the many joys I derive from Breaking Bad, the writers’ unwillingness to go for the happy ending is among my favorites. In the show, as in real life, decisions have consequences, genies cannot be put back into bottles and once plans are put in motion, there is no pop music montage or Hollywood ending that makes the bad things go away. And so it was that in the final ten pulse-pounding minutes of To’Hajiilee a stark, frozen in time scene morphed into a Sergio Leone Western featuring two outmanned DEA agents and a nest of neo-Nazi vipers with assault rifles, shotguns and pistols.
If there is an Achilles heel common to all characters on Breaking Bad, it is their failure to leave well enough alone. Of course, the deeper the hole gets dug, the less good options become. Once you’ve clipped chemistry equipment from the school lab and bought the Winnebago, you might as well cook the meth. If a rival dealer knows your identity, killing him makes sense. Having an affair with your boss may allow you to cuckold your husband, but when you know your paramour is a shady businessman, don’t be surprised when you have to pay off his income tax debt just when your husband wants to use that money to go into the Saul Goodman Witness Protection Program.
And so, as Breaking Bad careens toward a conclusion, Walt discovers that Jesse isn’t so dumb after all, that Hank simply will. not. give. up. and that having a reputation as a merciless killer will cause a weaker link to crack. It was not just that Jesse knew Walt’s weak spot (the money he curiously called his childrens’ “birthright”) but that in goading Walt into giving up the location of his buried treasure, also got a full confession out of him. Huell may be a bodyguard one level removed from Heisenberg, but he’s not the first small time con Agent Schrader has conned into flipping on a higher up. Walt thought he knew a way to go to Jesse, but without knowing Hank beat him to the punch, Andrea’s voice mail is harmlessly deleted.
Of course, Walt would not have found himself alone and cornered in the dusty environs of a desolate Indian reservation had he treated Jesse a little more like the son he claimed him to be and less like an annoying and doltish sidekick or did not have the arrogance to leave a Gale Boetticher inscribed copy of Leaves of Grass out in the open. And when that heart-skips-a-beat moment arrives when Walt lays down his gun and is handcuffed and put in the back of an SUV for transport, we all learn that once you call in neo-Nazis with dollar signs in their eyes, they don’t particularly care that you have had a change of heart.
The direction and cinematography as Uncle Jack’s convoy kicks up a cloud of dust towards a denouement we just begin to process is pitch perfect, the consequences for Hank and Gomez immediate and in all likelihood, fatal. A show whose body count has included everyone from the arch villain (Gus Fring) to an innocent child (Drew Sharp) would be untrue to itself if Hank and “Gomey” somehow survived the fusillade of bullets directed at them. And this is to Vince Gilligan’s everlasting credit. For Hank had his own chances to leave well enough alone, to accept that Walt was “retired” and heading for an early grave, to be ok with the idea that he solved the crime but the criminal got away, to not cleave his family in two, to permit his wife, her sister and his niece and nephew the opportunity to have a future unsullied by the taint of what Walt did. But in deciding to pursue someone whose inner core he could not truly know, Hank likely signed his own death warrant.