To’haliijee, the Navajo reservation upon which the empire began in the Fleetwood Bounder in Season 1, now lines up the beginning of its end–and the end is coming by way of inversion. In last night’s episode, we watch a painted redux of the old westerns, of the outlaw rounded up in the landscape where he made his fortune, justice served by his embittered sidekick, and the marshall who’s gone to all lengths to get him. But after the capture, it all turns inside-out, and a new cowboy’s in town, and suddenly the weathered captor’s in the crossfire, and the original cowboy—Walter White—sits handcuffed, watching the universe (of his own making) shift without him. As Donna Bowman wrote, “Mice turn into cats”—we watch as wish fulfillment takes everything but the wish away.
“To’haliijee” serves us a more complex picture of Walt than we’ve seen him in the past few episodes, particularly in his position with loyalty. Jesse’s threat, that he will destroy Walt where “he really lives”, had several people wondering where exactly that was. If not his home, his family, the whole impetus for cooking methamphetamine to begin with, where else could it be? Ironically, while gasoline soaks through the floor joists of his home, Walt pleading with Skyler that there’s no need to stay in a hotel, it turns out “home” is seven barrels of cash in a relatively unfindable hole in the middle of the desert. As hoped, Walt scurries to the desert much more quickly than he scurries to protect his home—what does this say about “family first”?—but he never believes that previous loyalties could cross him. In this category, Walt is a man of inner-delusions, a man who stands by loyalty (“this is not rat patrol!”), but is not loyal; who feels entitled to loyalty on principle, but has never earned it.
This puts him in the middle of his predecessor and successor, Gus Fring, the Quiet Emperor, who played by the rules and paid consistently and loyally, and Todd (and Uncle Jack), who lack any principle but good pay. They are hitmen, fettered to nothing but the highest price; they will study under Walt and ignore orders when they have a chance at the pot. Walt believes he is a Gus, but no doubt he needs a Todd to handle what’s left of his conscience. Gus always took care of the messy business on his own—he had no problems shedding blood—Walter cannot kill Jesse. Todd and Uncle Jack may make a damning circumstance easy to clean up, but it indebts Walter to a new boss in a new lab. He does not know it until they arrive, but the surrender and standoff at To’haliijee shear Walt from the lie of his costless rise to power. Here, finally, with his brother-in-law and his sidekick standing together against him, “he is awake”.
Sort of. Cranston’s (amazing) slow walk to his handcuffs captures a character too complicated and undefined for one-dimensional surrender here. While Walter has given up, dropped the gun without recourse, offered no plea or excuse or threat, all he does offer is a spitting “Coward” to Jesse, a perfect glimpse into his incomprehension. To Walt there is no correlation between Jesse’s defecting and Walt’s plan to kill Jesse—there is only some meandering sense of justice that he can only see his side of. I believe we call this self-justification, and I believe we’ve talked about its blinding capabilities.
As Todd and the redneck cavalry descend upon the desert, guns blazing despite Walt’s orders, two things happen: first, we see that the world Walt has constructed always instigates new takers, new emperors willing to eschew a moral code for the sake of that power. And quickly, without remorse. Second, correct me if I’m mistaken, but do you sense real remorse for Hank’s entrapment here? In this moment of surrender, it seems that clarity follows, and not only is Walt silent in his capture, but he is vocal in defense of Hank at the shots ring out. Of course, it is too late. He is handcuffed and must endure what will come.
Certainly someone will go down, and by the sound of Hank’s telephone call with Marie, I wouldn’t be surprised if next week was his end. But, who knows? It looks like Jesse was getting out of the car, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made some foolish, Gospel move into the firestorm.