But as he unintentionally foreshadowed in his "flying too close to the sun" speech to Jesse, the only way for Walt to go after all that victory was down.
As unthinkable as this seemed only last week, he is finally convinced - by a failsafe combination of Mike's sobering, needless demise and an incomprehensibly massive pile of money - to get out of the meth game while he still can. Walt's out, but it's too little too late and the scales have already begun to turn against him. Hank is onto him, the people he loves are afraid of him, and we know that in nine months' time he'll be holed up in a diner on his birthday with only a false identity and a machine gun for company.
This has been a callback-heavy season and this episode was packed to bursting with them, but what felt distinctive here was how plainly they all established the schism between what Walt was, and what he's become.
The hospital's paper towel dispenser hasn't been replaced since an enraged Walt smashed it in following his unexpectedly good diagnosis in 'Four Days Out', and he gazes at it again following what we can only assume is bad news. The poolside has always been a touchstone for White-Schrader family gatherings, and their calm-before-the-storm celebrations recalled not only this season's fraught birthday party, but the early episode in which Hank and Marie learn about Walt's cancer.
The fly in 'Fly' was a manifestation of Walt's unacknowledged guilt about Jane, and here he watches one buzz around the office right before he covers up the death of another person Jesse cared for. And that sad, scary final conversation between Walt and Jesse was punctuated only by both reminiscing about their comparatively innocent days in the RV, when they had each other's backs and neither would have dreamed of aiming a gun anywhere near the other.
It's this scene, played as ever with shrewd emotional nuance by Cranston and Paul, that emphasises more than any other just how much Walt has lost. Fittingly for a season that saw him cooking up batches of meth in other people's homes and storing literal poison in his own bedroom, these episodes have been in large part about the corruption and decimation of family.
We're a long way past believing Walt when he says that he does what he does for his family, but there's nonetheless a tragic irony in the reality that what he's actually done is destroy it. Skyler's feelings towards him have vacillated between fear and disgust all season, and now his adopted family, Jesse - who has in Walt's mind been the one person who has stayed loyal to him no matter what - is going the same way.
And that's not to mention Hank. It was obvious from the very first shot of the family assembled happily beside the pool that something huge and terrible was nigh (after all, when has anything good ever happened around the Whites' swimming pool?), and it makes absolute sense to end this half-season on Hank's long-awaited lightbulb moment. Breaking Bad has in the past tended to end its finale on a consequence, not a cliffhanger - the plane crash, Gale's death - but this is a genuine, breathless jaw-dropper, and that ten-month wait is suddenly looking very, very long indeed.
Two musical montages within ten minutes of one another felt as though it bordered on over-indulgence, particularly in a season that's been saturated with them, but both were so meticulously mesmerising that it's very, very hard to find real fault with the decision. The sequence of all ten inmates being offed within minutes of one another has the edge, in part because its focus is so much more defined and visually cohesive, but the later time lapse business montage does have the inspired use of 'Blue Crystal Persuasion' on its side. How is it possible that that song has existed for five seasons without being used before?
For all this episode's callbacks and reminiscences, the most significant backwards shift was in Walt himself, and it started at the climax of last week - for whatever reason, the moment when Walt shot Mike was also the moment when Heisenberg died. His sudden, tremulous apology to Mike was pure Walter White, and a Walter White for that matter who we haven't seen since 'Crawl Space' at the very latest. That return to vulnerability and even humility only continued here, and culminated in Walt's scenes with Skyler and Jesse, whose attitudes have almost directly swapped.
Jesse, gun clutched in his trembling hand, expects Heisenberg, and when he gets Mr White instead the blend of confusion and fear and relief seems, somehow, to hurt even more. And Skyler, who all season has rejected the monster her husband has become, now seems willing to take him back if it means recovering some semblance of what her life was before.
Heisenberg may yet make a reappearance next season, but the man celebrating his 52nd birthday alone in the diner is definitely not him, and at this point it makes sense for Walt to revert at least partially to his former self. Half a season of a consistently victorious, egomaniacal anti-hero has worked well as an exercise in slow-build downfall, but having a protagonist be so wilfully sure of himself does make for a gaping vacuum where your internal conflict should be. It's much more interesting, going into the final stretch of episodes, if we're watching a man who has returned to himself enough to rail against his own tragic fate.
- For the spoiler-inclined among you, Bryan Cranston dropped some very interesting hints about what might be going on with Walt in the premiere's flash forward diner sequence in a recent interview with Rolling Stone.
- On a not unrelated note, there is no way Walt could have got out of the business so cleanly and simply. Right? As much as was crammed into that three-month (give or take) montage, it's hard to believe Vince Gilligan will let him off that easy, particularly given the recent introduction of Declan.
- It was beyond satisfying to see Lydia finally step up and be the competent businesswoman we're led to believe she is, and Laura Fraser's distinctive staccato delivery even paid off in her big scene with Walt. She was tense, edgy but ultimately in control, and the scene cut a nice contrast - Stevia and all - to her first ever scene with Mike, where she was anything but. And it's interesting that she figured out almost immediately that Walt had killed Mike, not least because of the potential for her to spill the beans to Jesse in future.
- If you had a volume of poetry given to you by a former criminal colleague who you subsequently murdered, complete with a touching and heartfelt inscription, would you keep it around as light bathroom reading? Really?
- The complete text of the Walt Whitman poem from which this episode takes its title is below, and brings to mind the question: exactly how many deaths has Walter White sung at this point? We'll leave you with that thought to ponder: it's ten in this episode alone.
Gliding o'er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul - not life alone,
Death, many deaths I'll sing.