TV Has Yet to Top the Horror of Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”

Fans of Vince Gilligan’s show will instantly recognize the cadence of the scene from the jump. Walter goes into persuasive essay mode when Skyler makes the heavy claim that Walt killed Hank. Walt always has one more lie in the chamber, one more plea for survival when his time is up. This time his elaborate, emotional explanations are raw and real, but why would Skyler know that? She’s had to play along with Walt’s games for five seasons now, and this time there is no turning back.

The camera closes in on the set of knives in the kitchen. Even as Walter paces back to the bedroom to pack his family’s belongings, Walter Jr. on his tail fishing for answers, Skyler stalks the weapons that are just mere meters away from her hands. The matriarch of the White family goes on the offensive, building a symbolic and literal barrier between herself, her son, and the criminal father whose immoral acts have multiplied for 60 episodes up to this point. 

When Walt approaches Skyler with a lack of sincerity, she swings at her husband with the blade, slicing into the flesh of his hand. The look of unadulterated shock on Walt’s face is where the scene turns into a Kubrickian chill ride. Not a single note of music or background sound assaults the senses as Walter and Skyler commence years of frustration pent up inside of them, fighting for the handle of the killing object with their entire might. Cranston and Gunn are beyond bombastic in these 30 seconds of madness, culminating in Walter Jr. careening into the violence when he realizes his mother is overpowered. 

For so much of the series, Walter Jr. views his father as an idol, a man he can admire for inspiration. On a dime, he’s able to flip his perception of his parents, saving the guardian who actually deserved his respect this whole time. This character development choice combines with Johnson’s decision to pan the camera slowly out from the family, coalescing into a frightening epiphany for Walter and the viewers at home: the nerdy science teacher from the pilot episode has transformed into an antagonist worthy of our shame. 

“We’re a family.” As Walter bellows these heartbreaking words, the cries of baby Holly and Skyler paint the picture of what type of household Walter has decimated. A wife, son, and infant daughter are the victims of a mass murderer, a drug dealer, and a psychopath. Especially when juxtaposed with the cold open of the episode, when Walter and Skyler are planning mundane scheduling occurrences such as what to eat for dinner and vital, life-changing moments like what to name their unborn child, this horror scene defines the fall from grace that Gilligan so desperately set out to craft. 

Walter Jr. calls the police on his father, and in a split second, Walter digs into his authentic self, kidnapping his daughter to gain leverage over Skyler one last time. When Skyler realizes what’s happened, she dashes outside and pounds on the window panes of the dilapidated truck Walter escapes in. The most menacing part of the exchange is Walt’s decision to forcibly back his way out of the driveway, ignoring the family SUV behind him. The red vehicle ends up halfway down the street, the sounds of screeching metal echoing in unison with the haunting score now being played in the background. 

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