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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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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Breaking Bad 4.12 – No More Prolonging the Inevitable

To call last week’s episode of “Breaking Bad” intense is to undercut the utterly traumatizing effect it had on the show’s regular viewership. This week attempts to start off with a similar level of tension, showing a pair of vehicles pulling up outside the White house without immediately identifying them. Within seconds, however, we confirm that what we’re witnessing is the arrival of the DEA agents who’ve come to put Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr. into protective custody.

Wait, scratch that: Walt’s not going.

“All that matters is that the rest of you are safe,” Walt tells Skyler. “And that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” Ever the naïve one, she can’t quite grasp that being under the watchful eye of the DEA isn’t enough to keep everyone protected, but Walt knows better, just as he knows that he and his family are only being included in the DEA’s protective of Hank because Marie has demanded it.

“There’s got to be another way,” sobs Skyler.

“There isn’t,” Walt says, matter-of-factly. “There was. But now there isn’t.”

And so Walt steps outside and calls Hank, playing his brother-in-law like a fiddle with the suggestion that Marie has a history of overreacting, and assures him that somebody’s got to keep the car wash up and running. Hank isn’t thrilled, but he doesn’t sound suspicious, even when Walt’s voice cracks with emotion as he tells him to keep his head down. The look on Walt’s face as he says goodbye to his infant daughter is heartbreaking, if only because we know that, in his mind, he believes this could well be the last time he ever sees her…but, y’know, you can’t really blame the guy for thinking that, can ya?

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Breaking Bad 4.9 – Eye of the Tiger

Oh, man, not another intense-violence warning! Which of Gus’s friends, acquaintances, and/or employees is getting killed this week?

I don’t mean that as a spoiler. Indeed, when I wrote that sentence, I didn’t know whether I was being facetious or not. I was just playing the odds, baby…and when the first thing we saw this week after the aforementioned warning was a broken pair of glasses and droplets of blood falling onto a hardwood floor and the toe of a shoe, you’ll forgive me if I felt relatively confident that those odds were in my favor. As it turned out, I was right: someone in Gus’s camp did bite the dust. It just wasn’t anyone we particularly cared about. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hank is positively giddy at the thought of heading over to Los Pollos Hermanos to pick up the tracking device and see where Gus has been driving for the past week…so giddy, in fact, that he’s crooning Survivor’s signature hit pretty much all the way to the restaurant. Walt, however, is more than a little bit antsy about being on the premises, refusing even to step inside the establishment, telling Hank, “We’ll grab something from the drive-thru.” When they get back to the house and check the device’s history, however, Hank is pissed at the “chicken-slinging son of a bitch,” dismissing Walt’s suggestion that maybe he might be innocent, declaring, “A guy this clean’s got to be dirty.”

Leaving Hank’s house, Walt runs into Gus’s right-hand man and makes the remarkably ballsy decision to call the cops on him right in front of him. Anyone think this is going to come back to bite Walt in the ass? Yeah, me, too. Then when Walt pulls up outside the SuperLab and gets into conversation with Jesse, he endeavors to make small talk, smoking cigarettes and talking “Ice Road Truckers,” though it’s clear the only thing he really wants to know is the status of Operation Fringdown. “Don’t you have enough cancer already?” snaps Jesse. “Look, I said I’d do it. I’ll do it.” “What does it matter?” asks Walt. “We’re both dead men, anyway.”

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Breaking Bad 4.8 – Sangre por Sangre

The fact that this week’s episode presented us with the same pre-game warning as the season premiere – “This program contains intense violence which may be unsuitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” – should’ve served as a tip-off for just about everyone that there was no way we’d make it to the closing credits without getting some sort of “holy shit” moment, but, holy shit, what a moment. Hell, even without the violence, this was an intense episode all around.

We begin the proceedings with a flashback to Episode 3.8, which took place in the wake of the Cousins’ attack on Hank. What we didn’t see at the time, however, was Gus’s visit to see the Cousins’ uncle, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, and tell him of their fate, saying, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector.” And then we get a shot of the viscous red substance in question, floating through a swimming pool. If you’re like me, you were already thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be good,” and if so, then surely you weren’t disappointed by episode’s end.

Hey, what do you know? “Breaking Bad” finally takes time to acknowledge that Walt is still being treated for cancer. This scene really underlined how much he’s changed since his initial diagnosis, however. So Walt’s living his life as if he’s in charge, huh? Yeah, he talks big, instantly dismissing the fears and concerns of the poor bastard who’s sharing the waiting area with him, but the second we see him back in his usual environment, he looks completely lost and mostly hopeless…which is, at least momentarily, a look he shares with Gus when the latter gets a phone call to pop ’round the ABQ police department. With Walt, though, I have to wonder if he got a report on a cancer that he wasn’t expected. But we’ll get back to that.

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