SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Monday following a new episode of “Breaking Bad.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.
The Cold Open
The cold open for “Dead Freight,” the latest episode of “Breaking Bad,” was a strange one at first glance. It showed a young boy riding a dirt bike through the desert before stopping to scoop a tarantula into a glass jar. Then bam! All of a sudden, well, that was it. At first glance. It was a surprising and seemingly dull way to begin an episode that had been the subject of a great deal of hype, including Aaron Paul (who plays Jesse) tweeting that “On tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad shit gets crazy.”
Of course, by now we all know that “dull” opening set up the first real “whoa” moment of the show’s fifth and final season, but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s consider that just before cutting to the title sequence, a train whistle could be heard in the background, foreshadowing the arrival of the episode’s all-important locomotive. Not to mention that the scene included point of view shots of the dirt bike’s handlebars, later echoed by similar shots of the oncoming train just prior to the robbery (like the one seen above). That’s just damn good directing. And how crazy is it that “Breaking Bad” has so warped my mind that as soon as I saw that innocent child I was positive he would die or be the victim of some horrible fate? I know I’m not alone in that.
Say What You Will Mike, Walt (and Jesse) Might Just be Jesse James
When the commercial break ended, the first scene of the episode showed Walt strolling into DEA headquarters, ostensibly to discuss his marital troubles with Hank. Of course, the truth is that the man we knew as Walter White (you know, this guy) is all but dead. The criminal mastermind Heisenberg is now occupying his body, and it was he who took a page out of Gus Fring’s playbook by walking into the office of the very man hell-bent on finding him out.
Mike may not be giving Heisenberg enough credit. Walt knew that if he shed a few fake tears, Hank would duck out to avoid the perceived awkwardness of a man displaying outward emotion. As soon as he’s out of the room, Walt’s pushing wires into Hank’s computer. Then, in another moment of foreshadowing, he’s still struggling to plant a bug behind a photograph as Hank’s walking through the doorway, completing the task just in time to make it look as if he’s studying the picture—a symbol of Hank’s “perfect” marriage—and yearning for better days with his own wife. Heisenberg is a man who refuses to let the unforeseen hiccups of reality disturb his perfectly thought out plans, whether that means planting the bug in the nick of time or refusing to stop the train robbery before he gets exactly the 1,000 gallons he set out to obtain. Ah yes, the 1,000 gallons of methylamine, that whole train robbery thing, let’s talk about that.
We’ve heard the name Jesse James thrown around more than a few times this season. So when our favorite meth-making trio make the decision to rob a train, it’s almost expected. Almost. I mean, of course that’s what Heisenberg would do. After all, he fancies himself quite the criminal mastermind. He’s Don Vito, Jesse James, and a Nobel-level chemist all wrapped into one. He’s invincible, or so he thinks. Last week, he made it clear that nothing would stop the train that is their production and distribution of methamphetamine, and this week, we found out that meant not even literally stopping a train.
But this time, it’s one Jesse Pinkman who perfects the plan for the Great Train Robbery of the 21st century. Jesse might be the only one who’s thinking clearly at this point, and he’s the closest thing to a moral center “Breaking Bad” has left. He’s got more cash than he knows what to do with, while Mike needs the money to keep flowing so he can pay off his “guys” and maybe even have a few dollars left for his beloved granddaughter. And Walt, as we find out in the promo for next week’s episode, is “in the empire business.”
Mike insists that there are only two kind of heists: “those where the guys get away with it, and those that leave witnesses.” Not wanting to kill two innocent men, he suggests switching back to cooking with pseudophedrine. Walt shuts that plan, and though he doesn’t come out and say it, we already know he isn’t afraid to sacrifice a life or seven. It’s Jesse who finds a way for them to have their cake and eat it too.
The plan is this: take just one of the 24 thousand gallons of methylamine in the train’s tank and replace it with a slightly smaller amount of water (because it’s heavier). No one at the train depot will be any the wiser, because the weight will be the same. When the folks at Madrigal do eventually notice the chemical is diluted by 4 percent, they’ll blame their Chinese suppliers. The prospect of the train having been robbed will never even cross their minds. As Todd points out “you guys thought of everything.”
It all goes almost perfectly. There’s just one problem that couldn’t possibly have been planned for, a nice man with a pick-up truck rolling up and offering to bump the truck they’ve got blocking the tracks out of the way. As mentioned, Walt refuses to let something as fickle as reality interfere with his plans, so Jesse ends up lying below the tracks as the train passes overhead, and Todd is forced to jump off as it moves. It’s all very close, but the team pulls it off and Jesse lets out a triumphant “yeah, bitch.”
Everything’s perfect. That is, until the Chekov’s Gun that is the boy from the cold open reappears, and Todd well, Todd follows orders. Recall what Jesse said when he explained the plan, “Boosting methylamine from a train is like a major rap. The point is no one other than us can ever know that this robbery went down. Nobody. You got it?” Todd responds in the affirmative, and when Walt asks if he’s sure, Todd responds “Yes sir.” And let’s not forget Mike’s orders when the insect guys first got involved in the meth game, speak only when spoken to and say only “yes sir” or ” no sir.” It seems Todd’s something of an upstart. He’s the guy who noticed and shut off the nanny cam the first time Walt and Jesse cooked inside a fumigated house. When that kid showed up, he probably thought he’d get a pat on the back for his quick thinking. That won’t be the case.
Children have always been Jesse’s biggest weak spot. He freaked out when Gus had kids involved in street level dealing. He freaked out when he figured out that Walt poisoned Brock, although Walt convinced him otherwise, because “everybody sounds like Meryl Streep with a gun to their head.” And now, Todd’s gone and shot an innocent child who just so happened to witness the gang celebrating a successful robbery. Oh, and it’s no coincidence that innocent child bore a striking resemblance to Jesse’s younger brother.
Since Mike decided he wanted in on the new enterprise, he and Walt have been at odds. That whole time, Jesse’s been caught in the middle, trying (and usually succeeding) to get his two father figures to coexist. Now they’ve got blood on their hands—a child’s blood. Next week, Walt and Mike will keep arguing, they’ll all try to figure out what to do about Todd (and the body), and Jesse’s likely to have another one of his breakdowns, which is unfortunate given that up to this point he’s been the most composed member of the team. As Aaron Paul says in the “Inside the Episode” clip below, “next episode, shit hits the fan.”
I can’t wait.
Watch the cast and crew go inside “Dead Freight” below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.