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.

  

Breaking Bad 5.06: Buyout

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 Aftermath: Bikes, Bodies, and Hydrofluoric Acid

Alright, we’ve got to talk about the cold open, again. Everything about it was fantastic: the near complete lack of dialogue paired with that ominous music, the methodical way Walter, Todd, and Mike, go about decomposing the bike (and the body), all of it. But that’s not really what I want to discuss.

Rather, let’s think about what it says about the quality of the show and the way it has shaped the thinking of its viewers that we don’t need dialogue explaining what’s going on. This week’s “Story Sync” tells us that the young boy’s body is the fifth dissolved in hydrofluoric acid thus far. The first time Walt and Jesse did it, after Walt strangled Krazy-8 way back in the first season, they spent nearly a whole episode weighing their options and ultimately completing their task. At that point, killing and disposing of a human being was still something of a big deal for Walter, and as a result, the viewer. Now, not so much. The guys weren’t so adept at the task back then either, recall Jesse making the mistake of putting aside the plastic bins because he had a perfectly good bathtub. We all know how that ended.

Now, in much the same way the gang (minus Jesse) efficiently and meticulously go about the process of permanent evidence disposal, almost as if it’s routine, we watch them fully expecting and understanding their actions. There is no need for explanation. The fact is at this point, it is routine. That is just what they have to do. They know it, so we know it. They have no qualms with it, so neither do we.

Moving on. When Todd attempts to justify his actions, he says, “It was him or us, and I chose us.” The line was eerily and intentionally reminiscent of what Walt said to justify killing Gale: “When it comes down to you and me versus him… it’s gonna be him.”

Walter, Mike, and Jesse then vote on what to do with Todd. For perhaps the first time ever, Walt and Mike agree on something, and it’s Jesse who’s left out in the cold. It’s decided that the man who will now be forever known as “Ricky Hitler” will be kept close, because they don’t want to pour acid over yet another body nor pay him off and hope he keeps everything to himself. That’s probably a good decision given that when Todd gets in his car, we see he’s held onto a creepy souvenir.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the significance of showing Todd looking at the tarantula in the jar. My first thought was it was meant to show that despite his seemingly nonchalant attitude, Todd really does feel sorry for killing the boy. Perhaps that is part of it, but a show like “Breaking Bad” doesn’t waste a single moment of screen time, and Todd already voiced what I believed to be genuine regret (not necessarily for the murder itself, but for being put in that unfortunate but necessary position). Then it hit me. In a missing person investigation, one of the first things the authorities will do is collect the boy’s prints (likely from his home), so they have something to work with. The old jar o’ spider has the victim’s prints as well as Todd’s, and maybe even another member of the crew as well. That’s my guess anyway. There’s a reason for using a method of complete destruction of any and all evidence. But this time it wasn’t allmthe evidence, and that’s got to have some kind of significance later on.

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Breaking Bad 5.05: Dead Freight

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.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Breaking Bad” is about to do some more bad-breaking

If you’ve frequented any pop-culture website or picked up an entertainment-themed publication at any point in the past week or so, it’s highly unlikely that you’re ignorant of the impending return of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” I’m not saying you’re necessarily a fan, but you’d be hard pressed to be unaware of the fact that the show’s coming back, since every TV critic and their brother wants to make sure they get in a story or three about the fact that this is the last season of the show…except it really isn’t, now that they’ve decided to split the 16-episode final season into two eight-episode seasons instead. But, hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, a story’s a story’s, whether it’s 100% accurate or not, am I right?

Regrettably, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be blogging each and every episode of this season I have over the course of the past couple of years, but that’s not to say that I won’t still be offering up the occasional piece about the show. I mean, after all, I meant it when I said – repeatedly – that it’s the best show on television, so I’m rarely without something to say about it. Indeed, having been fortunate enough to check out a screener of the Season 5 premiere, I thought I’d devote this week’s column to desperately avoiding saying too much about what goes on while still giving you as many reasons as possible to make you want to tune in.

But first, AMC’s official look at what’s ahead:

Now that you’ve watched that, prepare yourself for a list of 20 things that you probably won’t want to read if you want to go into the episode being as surprised as possible. Trust me, though: although arguably all 20 things qualify as spoilers on some level, I really haven’t told you much of anything…which you’ll realize after you’ve watched the Season 5 premiere on Sunday night. Once you have, I hope you’ll check back in. I’m curious to know what you think.

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