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  • Writer's picturecasey

Breaking Bad episode 4.13 "Face Off"

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

I keep wanting to say I’m not obsessed with this show, but I watched the last three seasons in a matter of days. I honestly was going to write about something else this week but had to switch gears because I literally can’t stop thinking about Breaking Bad. There’s just nothing else like it. You could say it’s Ozark meets The Wire, but Walter White is no Marty Byrde, and it trades The Wire’s gritty hyperrealism for grandiose schemes that somehow never fall prey to plot holes. The season four finale was, in my opinion, when this show fully came into itself and embraced that it could go completely off the rails and we would all just hang on and enjoy the ride.

This episode sprints through the starting line, so here’s what you need to know to jump right in: all camaraderie has completely dissolved between Walt and Gus, and Walt is now in the midst of a wild Hail Mary attempt to save his own life. Hank has been marked for death, Walt has been fired and presumes his own murder isn’t far behind, and, somewhat out of nowhere, little Brock appears to have been poisoned by Jesse’s now-lost ricin cigarette. Walt fears death awaits him at every turn, but it was none other than Jesse who confronted him at his house, accusing him at gunpoint of poisoning Brock out of anger towards Jesse. Walt talked him down from this theory (admittedly, it didn’t make a lot of sense and you could practically see Jesse’s head spinning out of control), and convinced him of the slightly more believable, though still ludicrous, idea that Gus must have poisoned Brock to frame Walt in order to obtain Jesse’s permission to kill him.

So the inexplicably loyal partners are back together with a common enemy- though Gus hasn’t been acting like the evil villain Walt is painting him as. Jesse refused to leave the hospital where Brock laid ill out of both genuine guilt and concern and the added benefit of drawing Gus out into the open. Yet, Gus merely offered his condolences and assured Jesse that he needn’t worry about going back to work. On his way out, just short of the moment of truth, Gus felt something amiss in the air and walked away from his car and the bomb Walt had planted underneath it.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in "Face Off". Image courtesy of IMDb.

And that’s where we’re at! Walt had a plan, but it was foiled, so he’s thinking on his feet again. Jesse, meanwhile, is brought in for questioning re: the very specific and suspicious tip he gave the doctors about ricin. Walt is on his own now, racking his brain for a new route to Gus. Saul mentions something that connects some dots for Walter: Gus and Hector don’t work together after all; they’re enemies. This obviously sparks an idea for Walt, but we truly are along for the ride as nothing clues us in to what he’s up to or offers any insight into the yet-unsolved ricin mystery.

Walt pays Hector Salamanca a visit, and the two have a cryptic conversation that results in Hector demanding to speak to the DEA. What is going on? Hector? Talk to the DEA? The same guy who shit himself instead of turning in the people who tried to kill his nephew? If there’s one thing we know about Hector, it’s that he can talk if he wants to, but he never talks to cops. So when, after all that work of getting him and his translating nurse situated, he spouts nothing but expletives at Hank, I was able to let out a breath. Shit has completely hit the fan, but these characters are still themselves. They still have rules, values, and boundaries that only get firmer the crazier things get. Kids are a no-no for Jesse, cops are a dealbreaker for Hector, and Walt could not possibly stand to see himself outsmarted.

But it turns out that Walt’s masterplan didn’t involve Hector telling the DEA anything at all- Gus just needed to think that he did. Which he does, and promptly marches down to the nursing home to kill Hector himself, despite a henchman offering to do the job for him (another day we’ll talk about Breaking Bad and the male ego). The henchman searches the room for threats and declares it clear for Gus- not seeing Walt in the convenient corner he’d scoped out for himself. Gus is moments away from killing Hector when he starts ringing his bell and contorting his face in a way that tells a story that Gus understands too late. Then Walt triggers the bomb secured to Hector’s wheelchair.

Mark Margolis in "Face Off". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Occasionally this show ventures briefly beyond the crazy and into the outlandish. Remember the plane crash that left deadly debris and human remains literally falling from the sky into people’s yards? Yeah, that was a little nutty, but sometimes you have to say, “That would never happen, but aren’t I having fun?” Gus stepping out of Hector’s room and neatly buttoning his coat with half a face is one of those times. Especially in an episode titled “Face Off”. In an episode this intense of a show where anything goes, I was ready for a spectacle, and they delivered.

Giancarlo Esposito in "Face Off". Image courtesy of IMDb.

But wait- there’s more. The cops questioning Jesse suddenly declare that he’s free to go… because there wasn’t any ricin found in Brock’s system after all. At this point I was actually yelling at my TV, “BUT WHERE DID THE RICIN GO THEN?!?!” It’ll be another season before Jesse thinks seriously about that question, and there was so much going on in that moment that I was honestly a little proud for thinking of it myself. But Walt’s not immediately plaguing himself with that question is his big giveaway, the man who leaves nothing unforeseen.

Jesse reunites with Walt and tells him it was in fact some flower called Lily of the Valley- something kids just stumble upon and eat sometimes, unrelated to anything at all. This leads Jesse far enough to wonder if maybe Gus didn’t need to die after all (did he actually ever do Jesse wrong even once?), but Walt assures him this revelation doesn’t make Gus’ death any less necessary.

Why not, though? Walt is lucky for the chaos that let him get away with not entirely making sense here. To give him and this show a whole lot of credit, though, I think any gaps in Walt’s quick-thinking theory are, if not intentional, conscious on Walt’s part. I think he knew it didn’t all make sense, and he was really making a gamble with everything he had. He factored in the momentum and confusion of the situation and utilized it to keep Jesse’s head spinning like a top. For a guy who made more than one fatal mistake throughout the series, he is flawless in this episode.

I suspected Walt of poisoning Brock at this point- he’s gone off the deep end by now, and who else would’ve even done it- but there are still a lot of questions. Was Brock’s illness actually random? What if Walt just had the spontaneous thought to utilize the situation and steal the ricin back after the fact? Either way, how did he do that? If he did poison him, when did he even see him? And what is Lily of the Valley?

This episode moves so lightning fast that I don’t need to see all these questions answered in full to believe that it’s possible. I was sold a long time ago on the fact that Walt could pull off pretty much anything. I just needed to see something to assure me I wasn’t the only one clinging to this question now that the action is over. In a closing shot that left me in that satisfied daze of a really good episode of TV, we close in on a pot of Lily of the Valley by the pool.

I love an episode you have to think about on your own time, and this one is already over by the time you realize the scope of what this means. The extent to which Walt was playing with chance. He didn’t know Brock would survive the poisoning. He didn’t know how long it would take Jesse to think about the ricin. But he did know that Gus had always been looking out for Jesse, and he was the one who needed to win him back.

I’m sure if I sat here for another five minutes I could keep going, because the truth is I think I love Breaking Bad. I will be watching El Camino and Better Call Saul as fast as I possibly can, but in the meantime, I would love to hear some thoughts about the White family in the comments.

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Wow, this episode was a LOT, and the way you tied it all together was masterful. The end of this episode is when I started to have some doubts about continuing to toot for Walt.

Also, I love the fact that you remind us of this: Yeah, that was a little nutty, but sometimes you have to say, “That would never happen, but aren’t I having fun?”

Cannot WAIT for you to review Better Call Saul!


No this is not about the White Family. To describe the last three seasons the way you have,my take on it is that you must have writting the original script yourself.....wg

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