Breaking Bad 5.11 – “Confessions”

As happy as I am that Vince Gilligan has been given the opportunity to take “Breaking Bad” to its conclusion on his own terms, allowing him to end it now rather than a season or two down the road, each new episode of this final batch continues to further cement just what a tremendous, gaping hole is going to be left in my television viewing habits when the series is gone for good.

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I’m not trying to paraphrase the immortal Stiff Records slogan here—there are plenty of series beyond “Breaking Bad” that most certainly are worth a fuck—but no other show on television has ever…and I mean ever…grabbed me the collar the way this one does, making me so profoundly love and so deeply loathe its characters, often shifting between the two extremes within the same scene.

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Breaking Bad 5.10 – “Buried”

(CAVEAT: Portions of this review originally appeared in the AntennaFree.TV piece, ‘Breaking Bad’ Critics’ Thread: Secrets are Unearthed in ‘Buried’, which also features reflections from Joel Keller, Mike Moody, and Mekeisha Madden Toby, all of whom are pretty damned fine writers in their own right.)

When this week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ kicked off, the only thing that was running through my mind was a comment I read somewhere last week: “Join us next time on ‘Breaking Bad’ when Walt breaks the uncomfortable silence and asks, ‘So, Hank, you, uh, gonna open the garage door?’” Before we reached that point, though, we had a quick pre-credits look at what happened in the wake of Jesse’s free-money spree. Last week, I wrote, “It’s only a matter of time before someone identifies the car and says, ‘Let’s see if he’s got any more,’” but that’s not exactly what happened, although someone did end up following the trail back to where it began.

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I was completely convinced we were going to follow the old man on his path of picking up packets of bills until he met up with someone else who was following the money trail from the other end, at which point things would go terribly wrong…but, no, the trail instead led straight to Jesse, literally going in circles on the playground merry-go-round. It’s a great overheard shot, and knowing this show, the whole going-in-circles thing is probably meant as a metaphor, since he’s clearly wracked with guilt and has no idea what the hell he’s supposed to do. We don’t actually see what happens after the old man stumbles upon him, but he clearly ends up in police custody at some point. (I’m just hoping the old guy ends up keeping a decent amount of cash for himself.)

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Breaking Bad 5.9 – “Blood Money”

“Breaking Bad” has always had a way with an opening shot, and the first image of the series’ final eight episodes is no exception, offering a slow, gradual pull-out from a bunch of skate rats to reveal that their choice of locate is the decidedly empty and apparently long-dormant White house. Moments later, when a heavily haired Walter White pulls up, it’s clarified that we’re back in the timeline established in the early moments of the first half of Season Five, when Walt purchased some serious firepower from his now-regular weapons guy (played by Jim Beaver). And, oh, what a dark timeline it must be, based not only on Walt’s haggard look, but on the graffiti he finds when he’s forced to break into his own house. If things are destined to reach a point where the world at large has not only identified him as Heisenberg but, indeed, has had his identify spray-painted across his living room wall…well, let’s just say these are going to be the longest eight episodes viewers have seen in a very long time.

Wandering through the wreckage that once was his house, Walt manages to confirm that, despite all the carnage surrounding him, one of his hiding places has remained secure: underneath the electrical outlet. I couldn’t quite see what he retrieved – was it the vial of ricin? – but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough…much as we’ll find out exactly what the hell happened to make his poor neighbor Carol react in such a horrified fashion to the mere sight of Walt. Clearly, it’s no fun living next door to Heisenberg.

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Post-credits, it’s back into Walt’s bedroom, except we’ve flashed back to where we were when we last left “Breaking Bad.” It’s impossible to get completely inside Hank’s head, but we come pretty damned close with the help of director…Bryan Cranston? True. The man’s come a long way behind the camera, clearly learning as much as possible from the folks who’ve helmed past episodes of the series, because he nails the panic, anxiety, and horror in Hank’s gradual realization of what his brother-in-law has been doing for the past five seasons.

As Hank and Marie drive away from the White house, Walt, Skyler, Junior, and Holly look like the perfect little family, don’t they? But then, the whole “appearances can be deceiving” has been Walt’s stock and trade since the beginning of his meth-making operation, and one could argue that the same premise applies to Hank as well. He started out as a loudmouth blowhard who seemed more like a former high school quarterback who kept his ego intact when he entered the work force, but we’ve seen several different sides of the guy now, and it’s never been more evident than it is in this episode that he’s a great goddamned detective. It’s hard to say that he’s applying Occam’s razor here, since the idea of Walt being the mastermind behind a major meth operation is the simplest explanation, but it’s a thing of both beauty and sadness to watch him work out everything that Walt’s been responsible for. It’s clear that he still doesn’t fully accept it ‘til the very end of the episode, but when that chilling exchange in the garage takes place…

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Breaking Bad 5.08: Gliding Over All

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. 

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

There’s a ridiculous amount to discuss from “Gliding Over All,” the midseason finale of “Breaking Bad,” but for now we’ve just got to cut to it. What’s it? The chase. The ending. The cliffhanger. The biggest revelation by a fictional character since “Einhorn is Finkle.” That’s right, Walter White is Heisenberg, and Hank finally knows it, only Walt doesn’t know Hank knows. What else?

It was the single biggest Chekov’s Gun in a show full of seemingly nothing but. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link, or reread the quote up top. In any half decent piece of narrative art, there is no wasted space. When it comes to a show like “Breaking Bad,” that means not a single element is simply thrown in. Not a scene, not a line of dialogue, not a single shot, not a single piece of character background. When it comes to “Breaking Bad” specifically, that means the country’s best meth cook wasn’t going to not be found out by his DEA agent brother in-law. There was never not going to be a final confrontation between the two.

In case you missed any part of it, let’s recap: Just prior to the ending, Walt has more money than he knows what to do with and is finally out of the meth business. The family’s having a nice barbecue when Hank decides to drop a deuce. Once on the porcelain throne, he absentmindedly reaches back for some reading material to find a collection of Walt Whitman poems. Boring. Except that Walt was given this particular collection by one Gale Boetticher, his former partner, a man whose obsession with him bordered on religious.

You see, after he was killed, Hank was given Gale’s file to look over. What he found was enough to convince him that Gale was Heisenberg, a notion Walt helped back up with some insightful chemistry knowledge in the fourth episode of season four, “Bullet Points” (if you’ve got Netflix Instant, click this link and skip to the 20:50 mark). There was just one problem, the notebook included a dedication to “W.W.,” and for the life of him, Hank could not discern who it referred to. “Who do you figure that is,” Hank asks Walt, “Woodrow Wilson? Willy Wonka?” before jokingly adding, “Walter White?” Walt flipped the pages and found a spot where Gale had written down a poem, and told Hank that its author, Walt Whitman, was his W.W.

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Breaking Bad 5.07: Say My Name

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. 

Classic Coke

In my post for last week’s episode, “Buyout,” I concocted a theory that Walt’s plan (“everybody wins”) would have something to do with creating some kind of fake or ersatz meth. It was based on a few small clues: Hank’s comparison of Miracle Whip and mayonnaise, a news report about a kelp-based caviar knock-off, and Jesse’s comment about “truth in advertising, yo.” Well, it turns out I was part right, which is pretty good for a show as unpredictable as “Breaking Bad.”

See, it wasn’t Walt making the knock-off, it was Declan, the big-time meth dealer the guys met with. Declan and his crew have been aping Walt’s product for some time. They switched to a P2P cook and even started using blue food coloring to make their customers think they had the real deal. But in reality, they were only getting a product that was 70 percent pure, nothing compared to Walter’s 99.1 percent. “It’s grade school tee-ball versus the New York Yankees,” Walt explains, “yours is some tepid off-brand cola. What I’m making is classic Coke.” Incredulous, Declan replies that all he has to do is kill Walt right there, and poof, no more competition, no more Coke. It’s only Walt asking if he “really wants to live in a world without Coca-cola” that stops him. Originally, Declan wanted to buy all that methylamine to put Heisenberg out of business. Instead, he ended up buying major stock.

All this is directly related to another revelation from last week’s episode, that Walt’s motivations are not quite so noble as they once were. He is no longer the guy who got a bad rap his whole life, up to and including getting lung cancer, struggling to obtain some sort of safety net for his family ($737,000 to be exact). That is, assuming he ever was. Nowadays it’s about being Heisenberg, “the best meth cook in America.” It’s about the “empire business,” and proving to everyone that looked down at him that he really is superior.

This notion was given further credence when Jesse showed up to get his share of the money. Prior to that point, Walt had simply brushed Jesse aside each time he brought up that he, like Mike, would be getting out of the meth business. When it comes down to it, and Jesse (finally) sticks to his guns, Walt is entirely unable to understand why he would want to quit. “Being the best at something is a rare thing,” Walt says, “You don’t just toss something like that away.” But Jesse doesn’t care about being the best, or all the money he stands to make. He even walks away from the $5 million he’s owed, and still it simply does not register with Walt that anyone could not care about the things that motivate him. Heisenberg is always calm and collected because things always go his way. For him, “it’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal.“ He’s an emotionless meth-making machine. But as Jesse turns his back, Heisenberg’s robotic calm evaporates, only instead of printing error messages and beeping “does not compute,” he screams “If you leave you get nothing! [You lose! Good day sir!]”

When Todd becomes Walt’s new cooking partner, it’s clear that all is not well in the Kingdom of Heisenberg. However, Todd’s willingness to learn (studying his notes during a break) and refusing to discuss his cut of the money until he’s earned it pleases Walt. At the very least he’s got someone with similar ambitions, and who’s already proven that he will do whatever is necessary to succeed (like, you know, shooting an innocent child). “I don’t need you to be Antoine Lavoisier,” Walt says, “What I do need is your full attention. Listen and apply yourself.” Of course, Todd was never going to get a reference to an 18th century scientist (“the father of modern chemistry”), which just goes to show that Walt’s words weren’t meant to reassure anyone but himself.

The End of Ehrmantraut

I’ll say it again, this entire season (and series) has been about the transformation of mild-mannered Walter White into criminal mastermind Heisenberg. There’s just one problem with this scenario though: the first episode of the season showed what appeared to be a subdued Walter returning from exile in New Hampshire to buy an M60 in a Denny’s. Heisenberg’s little “say my name” tirade was his apex, his ”high-water mark.” Killing Mike was the first move in the opposite direction, “the place where the wave broke and rolled back.”

When Walt tells Jesse that no one else needs to get hurt because they are now in control of their business, Jesse responds with “You keep saying that and it’s bullshit every time.” And how correct he was. Almost directly after letting those words drip out of his mouth, Walter up and kills Mike essentially for hurting his feelings. Walter has left more than a couple bodies in his wake as he rose to the top, but this is the first one that was entirely without purpose. Walt’s decision to kill Mike was made based on pure emotion, the exact pride and ego Mike had just finished scolding him about.

Just after firing the killing shot, Walt had a look on his face that we haven’t seen in a while. It was one of fear, of surprise. It represented a lack of understanding. For the first time in a while, things didn’t go exactly according to Heisenberg’s plans. After working so hard for so long to be “in control,” he couldn’t even control himself. Walt follows Mike down to the river, and immediately recognizes that the whole thing could have been avoided, as he could have gotten the names of Mike’s “guys” from Lydia. Mike responds, “shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.” A badass ending for a badass character.

The fact is Walt can still get the names from Lydia, and he will, based on the sneak peek into next week’s episode, the last of the summer. To save himself, Walt needs to do something about the guys in jail, and I’d be willing to bet Todd’s “prison connections” are going to come back into play.

Watch the cast and crew go inside “Say My Name” below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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