If you are not completely caught up and up to date with Breaking Bad, do not proceed… I am about to spoil the hell out of the episode. You have been warned…
“If you don’t know who I am, maybe your best course of action is to tread lightly.”
With those words, Walter White has put into motion the final act of Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece, Breaking Bad. After months of waiting to find out how Hank would react to the discovery of who Heisenberg really is, we get his reaction… and what is most surprising to me, thanks to the show’s usual slow build and tension mounting style, is that the confrontation between the two men has happened so quickly. With only seven more episodes left in the series, this Greek tragedy is coming to a close… and the pieces are now in place for what will probably be an incredible final ride.
Before I dig into the episode, I have a few things to mention… for starters, I am a total Johnny-come-lately to Breaking Bad. I didn’t watch it when it first aired due to having two small children in the house and the difficulty in being able to follow a show of this magnitude and adult subject matter without kicking them out of the living room. This problem has eased as the kids have gotten a bit older, but I have had one hell of a backlog of great television that I am slowly getting caught up on thanks to Netflix and iTunes. As the first half of season 5 was underway, I was catching myself up on this remarkable entertainment so that I was able to watch the last two episodes of that first half live. Now that I am caught up and have been waiting with bated breath for the conclusion… I’ve decided to review the last eight episodes.
Now… for those of you who feel like I dropped the ball on reviewing Game of Thrones… you are 100% correct, I completely abandoned my efforts to review that show. Largely because I couldn’t figure out how to write about a show that complicated and convoluted on a weekly basis… but also because of the fact that I have read the novels… that fact made it very difficult to not be very prejudiced in my reviews by assigning more or less importance to specific events based on my foreknowledge of what was to come. There is no joy in speculating about what may or may not happen when I already know. Plus, I was terrified I would spoil the Red Wedding. That is not the case with Breaking Bad… so, with that in mind…
In the fifth season premiere, we got a glimpse of Walt on his 52nd. birthday… alone, gaunt, fully bearded, and purchasing a car with a very large piece of artillery in the trunk. In the mid-season premiere, we find the same future Walt approaching his home… run-down, fenced-in, tagged, and blighted. What has happened to Walt in the last six or eight months? And who trashed the interior, leaving behind a scrawled, spray-painted message of “Heisenberg”? And why is Walt going back to the ricin he hid behind the outlet faceplate?
As with every opening sequence to each season, we probably won’t discover the significance of any of this until the end, or at the very least, very close to the end… but the tease is tantalizing, and a wonderful bridge the first half of this season. What it doesn’t answer though is the cliffhanger we were left with beforehand… how will Hank react?
Fortunately, the next scene brings us right back to the moment Hank finds Gale’s message to Walt in the copy of Leaves of Grass that Walt has foolishly left in his bathroom… but does so with a painfully slow and tension building zoom in on the bathroom door. We know who is in there… and we know what he is doing… and as Hank exits the bathroom with a look of abject shock and horror on his face, we know that the game of cat and mouse is over, and everything seems to be crashing in on Hank all at once… the years of searching, the crippling injury, the failures in El Paso, and how utterly manipulated he has been by his very own brother-in-law. The panic attack he endures on the way home manages to convey the ridiculous amount of emotional turmoil he must have been going through, and allows Hank the opportunity to hunker down at home and put the pieces together.
Normally, this would be an indication that the game would continue for the remainder of the season until the final, or penultimate, episode… Hank being set-up as Walter’s nemesis for the season, but this time we get that confrontation… and between Walt asking Hank about the tracker found on his car and the simple act of closing the garage door, the first meeting of the DEA and Heisenberg commenced.
Unlike the aforementioned Game of Thrones, which required a full two episodes just to get us caught up on where and what everyone was up to, Breaking Bad doesn’t suffer from the same huge laundry list of characters and locations (thanks to all of the deaths throughout the series, the cast list always grows and shrinks). Therefore, we are able to catch up with everyone in one episode and never have it feel like an episode that detracts from the overall story.
Jesse, dealing with the guilt of his previous escapades with Walt is a complete mess. He’s taken Walt’s throwaway comment about “blood money” to heart and decides to give away his $5M to both Mike’s granddaughter as well as to the family of the young boy Todd killed. After sitting through a very stoned, and very funny discussion about Badger’s unwritten Star Trek screenplay (a pie eating competition on the Enterprise?), Jesse ups and leaves Badger and Skinny Pete to their ramblings and enlists the help of Saul to distribute the cash.
Unable to convince Saul that this would be a good idea (because seriously, that would be a very bad idea), Walt pays Jesse a visit after not having seen him in what I’m assuming to be about a month since Walt decided to leave the meth cooking business. This is where we get to see Walter’s hubris and incredible manipulative skills are still very much at play. Although Jesse suspects that Walt killed Mike, and we as the audience knows that he did, Walt still manages to plead with Jesse that he has to believe that he didn’t commit this particular murder… that Mike is still alive and well and is completely capable of taking care of his own granddaughter, knowing full well that he is not. Walt (and really by extension, the always amazing Bryan Cranston) is such a master of lies that I almost believed him at one point… and although I don’t really believe that Jesse bought into his lies, he keeps the money… until a bit later when he decides to give it away Robin Hood meets the paperboy style and chucks $10K bundles to each house in a run down neighborhood and a homeless guy. Imagine the surprise those folks will have when they wake up the next morning (although, the bundle that went into the sewer was a bit sad, and indicative of just how much Jesse hates his ill gotten fortune).
Before Walt discovers that Hank is on to him, we see how he is dealing with life post-meth-cook… and he seems to be delving into the car wash business, delving into a new project, because ultimately… that’s what Walt does, it’s what Walt needs… a project to keep himself occupied… even if that means maximizing profits via air fresheners. But he has an idea… buy another car wash in order to launder the money more quickly, and it’s in this idea that we see the spark of joy that Skyler has for the “business” as well. She bears with him as he goes on about the air fresheners, but she lights up when talking about another car wash… and when Lydia shows up to ask Walter to return to the operation because the meth is dipping below 68% purity, Skyler steps up and shows us, and hopefully Lydia, that she is not to be fucked with and doesn’t want to see her harassing Walt or herself ever again. It was a lovely scene for Skyler… and the always shell-shocked look on Lydia’s face was priceless.
I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a Skyler fan, but that scene was fantastic. Do you think perhaps Lydia has something to do with the condition of the White’s home? Could she be behind the graffiti on the wall? I don’t think that is the last we will see of her.
Finally, what was hinted about in that cold open to season 5 when we first saw the 52 year old bearded Walt with a cough is finally confirmed… Walt’s cancer has returned. Although he is keeping this a secret from his family, we see him getting his chemotherapy and the accompanying illness that follows… and it is during his vomiting that he realizes that the copy of Leaves of Grass is missing.
So, as the game began, so shall the game end. It was the onset of his cancer that began Walter White’s descent into his own personal hell… he believed he managed to beat the cancer, and he believed that he managed to get out of the meth business… in one fell swoop, we see the return of both.
Have an A-1 day,
Cornelius J. Blahg