When Walt made assurances at the midway point of Season 5 that he was getting out of the meth manufacturing business, few were foolish enough to believe that he was truly finished, but when Lydia reappeared a few episodes ago to inform him that things weren’t going as well with the operation as he’d led her to believe they would, it still felt like an annoyance.
To Walt, of course, it was an annoyance, the first of what would prove to be many ripples in his otherwise smooth return to a life of normalcy, but it was an annoyance to some viewers as well….or, at least, it was to me. For all his ghastly and increasingly morally bereft actions, I kind of wanted to see Walt get away with it, y’know? Of course, the moment Hank found “Leaves of Grass,” I knew that was never going to happen, but the decision to follow the goings-on of the meth operation during its post-Walt era…well, that just felt like salt in the wound.
Still, I knew it was a means to an end, so I just took a deep breath, accepted the updates on Lydia and Todd as a necessary evil, and waited for Vince Gilligan and company to make those moments worth my while, which is exactly what they did. I never would’ve guessed they’d lead us to where this week’s episode ended, but any annoyances I may have had in the past rapidly disappeared in a hail of bullets.
Now that Todd’s stepped in as resident cook, he’s doing his best to utilize everything he learned from Walt, and damned if he hasn’t stepped up the quality of the product. Too bad it’s still not enough. 76% purity is still a long way from what Walt and Jesse were producing, and the stuff Todd’s thrown together isn’t even blue, for God’s sake. Not that Todd’s uncle and his “business associate” give a shit. They’re more concerned about making money than matching the methodology used by their predecessor. Ever the odd combination of breathtakingly coldblooded, slightly dimwitted, and unfailingly polite, Todd feels bad about the situation and apologizes to Lydia, assuring her, “I’m sure it’s only going to get better.” In response, Lydia continues to live her life like she’s a character in a movie, unabashedly flirting with him – and with Steve Perry’s “Oh, Sherrie” playing in the background, no less – in an obvious attempt to sway him into doing a better job….and Todd, being Todd, he eats it up. As she’s driving away, though, his phone rings (in another ‘80s flashback, the ringtone is Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science”), and when he answers it, we hear Walt’s voice. Suddenly, we’re caught up to where we were last week…and then the next thing you know, the episode was over.
No, seriously, that’s how fast it seemed to go by. “Breaking Bad” has never had a problem with excess, but in its final installments, it’s about as sleek as TV gets, with nary a moment wasted.
Following Jesse’s last-second realization that he had a better way to take Walt down – find out where Walt’s keeping his money, which would be all the evidence they’d need to arrest him – Hank reconvened with Gomey so that everyone could be on the same page with their new plan. It doesn’t take much more than a package of raw meat next to Jesse’s skull to convince Huell that Walt’s on a rampage, leading the big man to give up everything he knows about the whereabouts of Walt’s cash reserves. Unfortunately, what he knows isn’t much, short of the fact that Walt rented a van, drove God knows where, and when he came back, the van was dirty as hell. Despite the lack of a GPS tracker on the vehicle, Hank quickly whips up a clever plan to trick Walt into unwittingly showing them the money…and damned if it doesn’t work.
Before any of that happens, though, we witness Walt’s meeting with Todd’s uncle about his desire to pull an “Old Yeller” on Jesse, an encounter which unexpectedly finds Walt more or less being blackmailed into whipping up one more batch of meth in order to definitively teach Todd the process. He tries desperately to avoid doing it, even offering triple what they were paid for each of their earlier hits, but Todd’s uncle smirks and says that’d only be a drop in the bucket compared to the kind of dough they’d be able to make if they mastered the meth manufacturing process. Begrudgingly, Walt seals the deal with a handshake, then assures the assassins that, although he doesn’t know where Jesse is, “I know to flush him out.” Cut to Brock and his mom. Walt is just a shameless motherfucker in this encounter, lying through his teeth about Jesse using drugs again and convincing Andrea to call and leave a message for Jesse. Sadly for Walt, Jesse never hears the message, as it’s intercepted by Hank (“Nice, try, asshole”), but it doesn’t lessen what an incredibly shitty thing Walt’s done. You’d think we’d be used to it by now, but, no, it’s still cringe-worthy to see just how awful a person he’s become.
Still waiting for Jesse to emerge from hiding, Walt has a meet-up with Saul Goodman at the car wash, resulting in a pretty hilarious moment with Walt, Jr. recognizing him and being downright starstruck and Saul – clearly used to this sort of reaction – reciting his catchphrase and delivering the closing line, “Don’t drink and drive…but if you do, call me!” The conversation between Walt and Saul is decidedly less hilarious, with Saul growing increasingly convinced that Jesse’s killed Huell and Walt dismissing the suggestion out of hand. It’s right about then that he gets the photo from Jesse of the barrel of money.
Walt’s drive into the desert is almost painful to watch, filmed in such a way that you’re convinced that he’s going to wreck at any moment, but, no, he soon arrives at his destination…and would you look at this sentimental fool? Maybe I missed it before, but I had no idea that he’d buried the money in the same spot that he and Jesse had done their first cook. Any fond memories Walt may still have about that momentous occasion quickly dissipate when he realizes that he’s been had.
The final few minutes of the episode were so gripping that I just can’t do them justice in print. With Walt caged like an animal, would he have the balls to try and fight his way out, would he be a coward and pass that responsibility on to Todd’s uncle and his crew, or would he just surrender to his fate and be done with it? Even after walking out with his hands up, I knew there was no way it was going to end that easily, that Todd’s uncle was never going to let his newly acquired meth operation go down without a fight. The way it looked like the wheels in Walt’s brain were spinning, I half expected him announce that Brock and Andrea would be killed if he wasn’t allowed to escape. (I also found myself wondering if baby Holly, who he’d been holding at the car wash, might’ve been asleep in the back seat but that he’d forgotten about her in the haste to keep Jesse from burning his money. Where the hell did she go, anyway?) When Hank called Marie to tell her, “I got him, baby,” I was sure that Hank wasn’t going to make it out of the episode alive…until, moments later, I began to wonder if maybe Walt had sent someone to kill Marie. Jesus, this show inspires some dark thoughts…
I’ll give Vince Gilligan credit: that was a hell of a way to end the episode, without giving us any closure whatsoever on the gun battle. Will things start back on Sunday at the exact same moment where we left off? Either way, I’ll be watching…but, then, you probably already knew that.