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 5.06: 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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