In the history of television, certain episodes stand out for their exceptional storytelling, character development, and emotional impact. One such episode is Ozymandias from the critically acclaimed American television drama series Breaking Bad. Airing on September 15, 2013, this episode is often considered a masterpiece and is widely regarded as one of the greatest in television history. Notably, Ozymandias pays homage to Percy Shelley’s thought-provoking poem of the same name, published in 1818.
I met a traveller from an antique land,Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,Tell that its sculptor well those passions readWhich yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;And on the pedestal, these words appear:My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.”
1. The Themes of Power, Hubris, and Decay:
Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias explores the transient nature of power, hubris, and the eventual decay that befalls all leaders and empires, no matter how mighty they once were. These themes are skillfully incorporated into the fabric of Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias episode, providing a poignant parallel to the downfall of the show’s protagonist, Walter White.
2. Symbolizing Walter White’s Downfall:
Throughout the series, Walter White evolves from a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher into a ruthless drug lord, building an empire of methamphetamine production. In Ozymandias, the consequences of Walter’s choices catch up with him, and his empire crumbles. The episode’s title itself hints at this downfall, as it directly references Shelley’s poem, which portrays a once-great ruler reduced to ruins.
3. The Promotional Short: Bryan Cranston’s Reading:
To further emphasize the connection between Breaking Bad and Shelley’s poem, the series released a promotional short in which actor Bryan Cranston, who brilliantly portrays Walter White, reads the entirety of Ozymandias. This short not only highlights the literary inspiration behind the episode but also showcases Cranston’s talent as a performer.
4. Emotional Intensity and Plot Twists:
Ozymandias is a rollercoaster of emotions, delivering numerous shocking plot twists that leave viewers reeling. It explores the repercussions of Walter’s actions on his family, including his wife Skyler, son Walter Jr., and brother-in-law Hank. The episode’s emotional intensity is elevated by stellar performances from the cast, immersing audiences in a chilling and gripping narrative.
5. Critical and Cultural Acclaim:
Upon its release, Ozymandias received widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed it as a masterpiece of television storytelling, praising its writing, direction, and performances. The episode’s impact on popular culture was significant, with fans and critics alike hailing it as a defining moment in Breaking Bad and a remarkable achievement in television history.
Ten years since its launch, Breaking Bad remains a groundbreaking series, and its episode Ozymandias stands as a shining example of its excellence. By paying homage to Percy Shelley’s powerful poem, the episode effectively captures the themes of power, hubris, and the eventual decay of leaders and empires. As viewers witness Walter White’s empire crumble, Ozymandias leaves an indelible mark on television history, securing its place among the greatest episodes ever aired.