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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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Breaking Bad 5.04: Fifty-One

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. 

King Heisenberg

Gus Fring is dead and there’s a new sheriff in town, the one and only Heisenberg. But as Mike told Walt, “just because you shot Jesse James, doesn’t make you Jesse James.” This message doesn’t seem to have reached Walt however, and he’s bought into the Heisenberg myth perhaps more than anyone else.

This week’s episode began with Walter getting  his Pontiac Aztek, the same dinky used car he’s been driving since the pilot, back from the shop. Very quickly however, he decides to sell the car for a mere $50 before buying a muscle car for himself and then one to match for his son. This decision serves as an “up yours” to a number of people. The first and most important being Skyler. We all remember way back when Walt tried to buy his son’s love with a pretty new Dodge Challenger. Skyler quickly put an end to that. The Challenger was returned for something safer and more sensible and Walt was forced to get his “silent” revenge by doing donuts in a parking lot before blowing the car to pieces (which he made reference to in this episode, well the donuts anyway). Nowadays, Skyler can’t keep Walt out of her bed, or their house, let alone tell him what he can and can’t do with his money.

Secondly, Walt was telling Gustavo Fring to shove it up his very dead you know where. It’s clear that Walt is sick of the carefully maintained upstanding citizen routine that characterized Gus’s reign. Walt is in charge now and he wants to make sure everyone knows it, even his neighbors or anyone who happens to walk past his driveway.

Remember another thing Mike said about Walt, that “he’s a ticking time bomb, and I don’t want to be around for the bang.” How did this episode end again? With that new Rolex Jesse bought Walt going tick…tick…tick…

Episode 4: The Skypire strikes backs

Last week’s episode was about Walt’s cold war with Mike, the competition for head honcho in their little business venture. This week, Walt’s got a new enemy, one that’s closer and more intimate than he ever expected—Skyler. Her actions last week amounted to being uncomfortably numb, looking dazed and confused, completely unable to handle what’s going on around her. Things changed in “Fifty One” as Skyler began to fight back against her controlling, manipulative husband in what small ways she can manage.

Things began much as they did last week. Skyler sat silent at the dinner table, saying nothing about the new cars. Next, we saw her tying floss tightly around her finger, which is either foreshadowing her hanging herself, being strangled, or strangling someone. That or it’s an enormous red herring. Skyler’s last move that was in any way reminiscent of what we’ve seen from her so far this season was quietly asking Walt what he thought about sending Walter Jr. to boarding school to put him in a “new environment.” Big bad Heisenberg quickly shut that notion down.

It’s at Walt’s birthday party that Skyler changes up her plan, recognizing that she will not be able to beat Walt at his own game. If she wants to get the kids out of the house, she’s got to play into the “I’m the victim” image that her husband has created. As Walt describes (and perhaps embellishes) a story about his struggle with cancer, Skyler walks into the pool. It’s the one thing she can think of that will both give her a moment of silence, a break from Walt’s endless plays at martyrdom, and make it clear to Hank and Marie that their home is not a safe environment for the children. Wearing a bright blue skirt she slowly walks to the deep end of the family’s bright blue pool—a symbol of Walt’s product and her descent into the chaos that it creates. Skyler finally recognizes that without telling the truth, which she cannot do given her own part in the criminal empire, the fact that it’s Walt who endangers the children will never be revealed. Instead, she will have to take the blame by making her mental struggles and the uncertain state of their marriage (seemingly as a consequence of her actions) the reason the kids need to be somewhere else.

After Hank and Marie leave and the decision is made that the kids will stay with them for a while, Walt and Skyler begin the conversation that makes Walt positive that his wife is now his biggest obstacle. Stalking around the bedroom, Walt decimates each and every argument Skyler puts forward. In his mind, he’s the kingpin who beat Gustavo Fring, there’s no chance in hell that he’ll be undone by someone as devoid of “power” as Skyler. She tries to hurt herself, he’ll have her committed. She makes it look like Walt beat her, he’ll tell the police about her involvement in Ted Benake’s tax schemes. “What’s the plan,” Walt screams, before Skyler finally admits surrender. She has no plan, no power, but she “will count every minute that the kids are out of the house as a victory.” All she can do is wait. For what exactly? “For the cancer to come back.” Later, Walt returns from a cook to find Skyler chain smoking. Is she succumbing to the one vice that helps calms her nerves, or is she passively-aggressively trying to bring Walt’s cancer back? Even after everything that Walt has done, that was a cold reminder that even if no one else can stop him, his own body just might, and that his home, the one place that he’s tried to make safe no matter what, is now where his greatest enemy resides.

Keep in mind that Walt’s original justification for getting into the meth business was so that he could leave some money behind for his family. At least that’s what he claimed. I believe it’s more accurate that the ever-prideful Walt wanted his family to hold him in high esteem, to love him more than anything from beyond the grave. To accomplish his goal, he set out to buy that love. He wanted Jr. to remember his Dad as the guy who bought him an awesome muscle car. He wanted his daughter to know that he made sure her college education was paid for almost 20 years before she started filling out applications. And he wanted Skyler to be able to live comfortably for the rest of her days. When Skyler tries to take away his children and alter the way they see him, it is the one thing he cannot abide. At the end of the episode, he shows Skyler the watch Jesse bought him, and explains that the man who gave it to him had a gun to his head not too long ago, but “He changed his mind about me, Skyler, and so will you.”

Watch the cast and crew go inside “Fifty One” below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.



Breaking Bad 5.03: Hazard Pay

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. 

Walter White or Heisenberg?

The transformation is nearly complete. The artist formerly known as Walter White is almost pure Heisenberg, although the sympathetic family man we (along with his family and friends) once knew and loved is still in there, popping up now and again to, say, be fascinated by machinery and tell an anecdote about the summer he spent working in a box factory. Then poof, he’s gone as soon as he appeared, and we find that the only reason he was hearkening back to days gone by was to explain why such a location will not be a suitable for his meth lab.

This juxtaposition of (what’s left of) Walter White and his super villain alter ego Heisenberg is one of the major themes of the final season, but it played an especially large role in “Hazard Pay.” At any given moment, the viewer can and should be questioning just which “aspect” of the man is speaking and acting. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, and sometimes, as in the above example, you can be positive it’s Walter White, only to discover it was just the opposite.

“Hazard Pay” was chock full of such moments. Was that a man casually enjoying “Scarface” with his son, or a “real” ultra-violent drug kingpin idolizing a fictional one? Was the guy sitting on the couch with Brock awkward because of remorse or was he silently confirming that poisoning that very child was simply doing what needed to be done? Can it be both?

In those instances, maybe. But the best and most important Whitenberg contrast came during his (their?) post-cook beer with Jesse, while discussing love and honesty in relationships. At first it was a quietly beautiful moment of genuine discourse: the friend and father figure offering advice to his business partner while acknowledging that the choice was ultimately his own and treating him as an equal, perhaps for the first time. But by the time the commercial break rolled around I found it was something else entirely: Heisenberg subtly manipulating Jesse to ditch Andrea and Brock—the only loose ends remaining from the Gustavo Fring saga.

Jesse realizes this too, although it takes him a bit longer. After the money squabbles have run their course, Walt asks Jesse if he’s OK. Given their earlier conversation, Jesse believes Walt’s asking how he chose to deal with the Andrea situation, and says he’s broken it off with her, although he will continue to support she and Brock financially. Walt brushes this away, because in his mind, of course Jesse broke it off, that’s what he had intended, so that’s what’s occurred. Just a few days earlier, Jesse was honestly considering marrying this woman.

Instead, Walt is referring to the money. Seemingly out of the blue, he brings up Victor, the man whose throat Gus slit  just to send a message. Only he’s thinking that might not have been the whole story. Maybe Victor, who decided to begin the cook himself when Walt and Jesse wouldn’t, “flew too close to the sun, and got his throat cut.” It’s hard to know just what Walt’s really talking about, but I’ve got a guess: maybe Walt feels Mike is flying too close to him, the sun, and that sometime soon he’s going to get his throat cut, and Walt will take over the business end too. In this analogy, Walt is the sun, and the universe quite literally revolves around him.

Killing Gus has given the ever-prideful Walt a surge of confidence. He feels as though he’s untouchable and that everyone answers to him. When Mike asks if they should take a vote on the tented-house plan, he responds “Why?” as in, “Why? I made the decision and that’s all there is to it.” Mike’s noticed this and tries to set him straight with, “Just because you killed Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James.” Clearly, Walt’s not so sure that’s the case.

Skyler’s Breakdown

As she said, Skyler is afraid of her husband. Her murderous, drug-cooking, sociopath husband, and rightfully so. Indeed, Walter has abused her sexually, and now he’s moved back into the house without so much as asking her opinion on the matter. All she got to do was stand in horror and mumble questions about whether he thinks that’s the right decision. Just a few more notches in the Walt thinking he’s the invincible boss count. Why should there be a vote on where to cook? He’s decided. Why should there be a discussion about whether he should move back in? He’s decided.

Walt’s unannounced return is the last straw for Skyler. She’s visibly shaken, but can’t discuss these things with Walt, so it all comes out on Marie instead. When Marie demands to know the cause of her sister’s breakdown, Walt makes himself the victim, the cuckold, the honest, sympathetic man who’s still trying to put things back together despite his wife’s infidelity. That’s Heisenberg talking, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s Heisenberg who stops to chomp on an apple before checking up on Skyler. Then, when she finally emerges from her room to find him playing the good guy with their son and watching Tony Montana go up in smoke, it’s all her fears realized. Heisenberg is sitting there with their daughter in his lap and their son at his side, perfect father that he is, and asks Skyler to join them. After all, they’ve got popcorn. He’s doing his best Walt impression, but that’s the bad guy. She knows it, he knows it, and ultimately, we know it. It’s getting harder and harder to root for Walt, for those of us who still are (to some degree) anyway, and I’m wondering how much longer we can keep this up.

A few extra bits:

-It’s more than a bit ironic that it’s Walter’s genius idea to cook in houses being fumigated for pests. This is the same man (sort of) who once refused to cook because of a single fly in an otherwise immaculate laboratory.

-Walter notes that “everyone dies at the end” of “Scarface.” In that film, there’s a big shootout as the result of one arrogant drug kingpin’s rising too power way too fast. Probably just a coincidence Walt was buying that M60 in the first scene of the season, right?

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.