How the ‘Ozymandias’ Episode of Breaking Bad Showed Walter’s Ruin Through the Eyes of Others

On this third anniversary of the Breaking Bad finale, Evan “The Nerdwriter” Puschak takes a look at the excellent antepenultimate episode of the series entitled “Ozymandias“. Showrunner Vince Gilligan, writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Rian Johnson named the episode after the Percy Bysshe Shelley sonnet of the same title. The poem starts with a narrator who shares a story he heard from a traveller, who spoke about a the sculptor who interpreted his subject and created a great statue of Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. This same style of hearsay was skillfully employed within the episode. Rather than directly showing the final crumbling of Walt/Heisenberg’s empire, the episode tells the story by using the reactions of the characters around him.

The narrative of the show is its own kind of chemical reaction brought about by choices, like Walter’s choice to make crystal meth to raise money for his cancer treatment, like the first lie he’s rehearsing to tell his wife about this that lead to the horrifying consequences we’re about to witness. Director Ryan Johnson makes these things explicit in another way … Johnson has visuals. Visuals like the slow fading of past elements that show the passage of time and the disappearance of the people and the things that once were. What we see in this episode is effectively the bloody end of Heisenberg’s reign, but what’s interesting is how not bloody it is. Walley-Beckett and Johnson place the focus instead on reactions, reaction shots and so we get an episode of gazes. Quizzical gazes, angry gazes blank gazes, penetrating gazes.