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Posts Tagged ‘Walt’

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Well, after a long “mid-season” break (both for the show and for my blogging “career”), Breaking Bad is back with a vengeance.

Last night’s episode was pretty much perfect, as far as I’m concerned, from the continuation of the flash-foward from the season premiere, to the final showdown in Hank’s garage. It struck a perfect balance between slowly revealing Walt’s new post-Heisenberg life and then immediately destroying that false sense of security with Walt’s realization that Hank is onto him and their subsequent cards-on-the-table confrontation.

But before I get to that, we need to talk about Jesse. Poor Jesse never really had a heart for the whole breaking bad thing, did he? He’s a shell of himself, sitting in his depressingly empty house (except for his bitching sound system, of course), starting into the distance, numbing his pain with pot and inane Badger-Skinny Pete Star Trek fanfic. He took Walter’s sarcastic and manipulative comment about Jesse’s money being “blood money” to heart and as a consequence, the suitcases filled with $5 million eat away at his soul like a tumour eating away at his insides. He tries to have them surgically removed, telling Saul to give half to dirtbike kid’s family and the other half to Mike’s granddaughter, and he doesn’t care what kind of questions a random $2.5 million will raise. He just wants the poison out of his life so that he can start to try to heal.

Of course, Saul calls Walt for a second opinion and he immediately brings the money back to Jesse. In the conversation, Jesse reveals that he still has the ability to think critically, recognizing (as Lydia did last season) that Walt would not have killed Mike’s men if Mike was still around to do anything about it. No matter how much Walt insists that Mike is alive and perfectly capable of taking care of his own granddaughter, Jesse knows the truth. And he can also finally see beyond Walt’s blatant attempts at manipulation. “I need you to believe me,” Walt repeatedly asks, until Jesse finally gives in. “I believe you,” he says. “He’s alive.” But the tears swimming in his bloodshot eyes and the fact that he can’t even look at his former mentor when he says these words reveal the truth.

In the end, Jesse gets rid of the money the only way he can think of. Inspired by a homeless man who asks for some “spare change”, Jesse gives him a stack of bills and then drives off to the bad part of town, throwing money out of his window as he goes. With every toss, the emotion of the past year comes out until Jesse is driving with tears in his eyes and a mixture of sadness, grief, rage, and maybe just a little bit of relief on his face. I hope that this catharsis is what Jesse needs to regain some of his sharpness and clarity in the coming days and weeks. Something tells me he’s going to need it.

Meanwhile, Hank goes on an emotion-filled drive of his own, emerging from the bathroom with Leaves of Grass stowed in Marie’s bag and a sudden, visceral need to get out of the White house and away from Walt. He has an anxiety attack on the road, hitting a mailbox and getting sent to the hospital to rule out a heart attack. Once home, Hank immediately gets his old Gale Boetticher file and compares the handwriting to Walt’s book – it’s a perfect match. He spends the next week at home alone, getting the Gus Fring evidence boxes brought to his garage. I enjoyed watching Hank meticulously map out everything, make connections, and remember things in a different light. Hank is a good investigator but until now he was blinded to Walt’s true identity because of their family connections. Now he’s able to see the events of the past year or so in full clarity and it’s terrifying and enraging all at once.

Meanwhile, although Walt and Skyler seem to be largely back on the same page (they’re even dressing in complimentary cream colours), running the car wash (and maybe even planning for an empire of car washes), Walt can’t quite resist keeping some secrets. Sure, he tells Skyler who Lydia really was when she comes to the car wash to try and entice him back to hold a “training session” but he hasn’t told her that the cancer has returned. We see him receiving chemotherapy and jumping up from a family dinner to run and vomit in the toilet. It’s then that he makes the discovery that his copy of Leaves of Grass is missing. After a futile search of the bathroom and the area around the nightstand, Walt realizes the only explanation – Hank must have it, and his mysterious illness must be a direct result of his new discovery.

Walt’s suspicions are confirmed when he checks his car and finds a GPS device like the one he helped Hank place on Gus’ car another lifetime ago. The next day, he shows up at Hank’s house, his fake-nice-guy smile plastered on his face. In true Breaking Bad fashion, there is no dragging out of the cat-and-mouse game, though. Walt shows Hank the GPS, Hank shuts the garage door behind him, and it’s on. I cheered when Hank punched Walt right in his lying face. The anger and betrayal written on Hank’s face were matched by glimpses of Heisenberg behind Walt’s facade. Admitting no guilt, Walt asked what could be gained by prosecuting a man who’s dying of cancer and who would never see the inside of a jail cell as a result. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to believe Walt or if he’s just saying anything to try to get Hank to drop it. In the end, though, it’s clear that Walt will not go down without a fight. After Hank tells Walt that he doesn’t know him anymore, Walt replies, with the perfect mixture of aggression and regret, “If you don’t know who I am, maybe your best course of action is to tread lightly.” Bryan Cranston plays that moment to perfection. Here’s a man who’s killed more people than I care to count, but there’s something different about realizing that your relative, someone you’ve known for over twenty years, knows the truth. If it was anyone else, Heisenberg would have killed him and had Todd get the barrels ready. But because it’s Hank, it’s not that easy. There will be no way to get out of this cleanly. Both men are going to have to tread lightly and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Of course, we already know to an extent what will happen. Thanks to the cold open, we know that within the year, everyone will know that Walt was Heisenberg. Their abandoned house had it spray painted on the inside, and Walt’s former neighbour reacted with terror when she saw him leaving the house after retrieving the ricin from behind the outlet. Armed with the ricin and a machine gun in the trunk, it’s clear that Walt has returned with only violence on his mind. The question is, who will be in his path?

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This entire season has been about Walt consolidating his power and taking control of his “empire.” In this episode, Walt finally attains the kind of autonomy he could never have dreamed of. With Mike out of the picture (another victim of the tub and acid trick) and Jesse still in retirement, Walt is the only vote left. Walt has the absolute power to order the simultaneous hit of Mike’s 9 guys (plus the flipping lawyer) and he has the power to decide whether to take Lydia up on her Czech Republic offer or to put the ricin in her coffee. Walt’s two decisions result in two of the most visually stunning montages that this show has ever depicted. The prison killings and the global expansion of the Heisenberg empire were both juxtaposed onto light-hearted music (with “Crystal Blue Persuasion” being the quintessential meth-cooking song that I expect show creator Vince Gilligan has been saving up for a long time). Both demonstrated how efficient Walt could be while working on his own. However, hidden within the montage of the crystal going out and the money rolling in was a shot of Walt in an MRI machine. No matter how effectively Walt can control his empire, he can’t control the cancer.

Of course, the real surprise about Walt’s success is how little happiness it brings him. He’s got more money than he’s ever dreamed, more success, more adulation (of course, this adulation is limited to drug dealers, so maybe it’s not enough anymore), and more security, but he still doesn’t have his family. Post-montage, Marie reveals it’s been 3 months since the kids came to live with them, Skyler seems happier now, and so maybe it’s time for the kids to come home. In response, Skyler takes Walt to a storage unit where she’s hiding the giant mound of un-launderable money. It’s coming in so quickly that she’s stopped counting it. Now she just piles it up, keeps it dry, and sprays it so the silver fish don’t wreck it. It’s more than they can spend in 10 lifetimes, she tells Walt. When will it be enough?

Jesse asked Walt the same question a couple of episodes ago, reminding him that when he started, he only wanted to make $737 000. At that point, Walt wouldn’t listen but now, for some reason, he apparently does. Perhaps the cancer forced his hand. Perhaps, as suggested here, now that he’s the boss and things are running smoothly, he’s bored. It’s not fun anymore, and what’s the point in making a ton of money if you’re not having fun and if you don’t even have a family to go home to? For whatever reason, Walt comes home and tells Skyler he’s out. I don’t think that Declan or the Czech buyers would just let their supply leave with no replacement, so I suspect that Todd is remaining on as sole cook, keeping Heisenberg’s pure blue meth on the streets as part of Walt’s legacy. He might have gotten out, but the empire he built lives on. Maybe. We’ll have to wait for next season to find out for sure.

One thing that is certain is that nothing is ever as clean-cut as it seems. Jesse got out before Walt did, and he spends his days getting high and falling asleep on his couch with a lit cigarette between his fingers. Walt goes to visit him and Jesse senses danger lurking below the surface. He gets his gun and opens the door with fear and caution. What does Walt want with him now? It turns out, Walt just wants to reminisce. They talk about their old days in the RV, back when they were a team, figuring things out as they went. Jesse asks why they kept that junky RV after they had enough money to buy a new one, and Walt replies, “intertia.” It’s perhaps an explanation about why it took him so long to get out. Sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing what you’re doing than to try to figure out how to stop. As the awkward exchange fades away, Walt tells Jesse that he left him something on the porch. Still unconvinced of Walt’s innocent intentions, Jesse approaches the bags with trepidation. He clearly worries that he’ll get blown up like Gus, but instead he finds the $5 million that he’s owed. He throws the gun across the room and puts his head in his hands. Jesse may have gotten out, but the shadow of Walt and the horrors they committed together still hangs over Jesse. He may have gotten out, but he isn’t free.

The same shadow lurks on the penultimate scene around the pool, where the Whites and the Schraders make small talk while Walt Jr. pushes Holly around the pool. There’s nothing to suggest that this is anything other than the idyllic family afternoon that it appears to be, but getting out can’t be as easy as Walt made it seem. It turns out, though, that the danger wasn’t coming from the outside but was, like Walt’s cancer, originating from within. Hank uses Walt’s bathroom and stumbles upon the copy of Leaves of Grass that Gale gave to him. Seeing the inscription to his “other favorite W.W.”, Hank immediately flashes back to an earlier conversation, where he found a similar inscription in Gale’s notebooks and pondered with Walt over who that could be referring to. Back then, Walt was able to brush it off with a joking “you got me,” but this time, the look on Hank’s face says it all. All of the inconsistencies in Walt’s behaviour over the past year are coming into sharp focus as Hank sits on the toilet in Walt’s master bathroom. We have to wait for next season to find out exactly what he does with this newfound realization.

I don’t know why I bother making predictions, because this show is so good at twisting everything around, but here goes. Hank might now know that Walt is Heisenberg, but there isn’t one shred of evidence to prove it. The book might connect him to Gale, but I don’t know that it would be admissible in court and it certainly doesn’t prove that they were cooking meth together. Still, like other criminals before him, Walt made one small fatal mistake. He was so concerned with the big picture – with orchestrating the killing of witnesses, with disposing of bodies, with establishing international drug rings, with finding the perfect hiding space for the ever-present vial of ricin – that he overlooked the innocuous book. I’m also not entirely convinced that Walt even know that inscription was in there – the pages seem stuck together and it’s possible he never read it. Also, the book moved from a pride of place on his nightstand to the back of his toilet under some magazines. The Walt who brought that book from the condo to his home was at the height of his pride and his arrogance. That Walt kept the book as a trophy. A little reminder of the man who got in the way of him and his rightful place as the only genius meth cook in town. The new Walt, who has enough money and who just wants to spend time with his family, might have forgotten all about it. He might no longer see it as a trophy but as just an old book that he got in another lifetime. Whatever the reason it was kept, the fact is that Hank knows that the monster he’s been chasing has been under his nose this whole time.

I’m not totally convinced that Hank immediately arrests Walt. First, theres the aforementioned lack of evidence. Second, Hank’s boss got fired for not realizing Gus’ involvement, it’s impossible to imagine that Hank wouldn’t get the same treatment once it comes out that his brother-in-law is Heisenberg. Third, Hank and Marie have directly benefitted from Walt’s drug money, since Walt paid for Hank’s physical therapy. Would people really believe that no one else knew what was going on? Fourth, will Hank be willing to blow up his entire family and put both Walt and Skyler (his money launderer) behind bars for good?

All of these questions (and about a million more) will have to wait until next season, which might as well be an eternity away. One thing’s for sure, while this season was about Walt’s rise to power, next season will be about his spectacular fall. The question is, how many people will he take down with him?

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The question of this episode is: How can Walt be at once so brilliant and so blindingly short-sighted?

First, it’s Walt who has the ability to see the genius potential in Vamanos Pest as a front for setting up his meth labs.  It calls back to their original set up in the Crystal Ship, but its sophistication shows how far they’ve come in less than a year. The scene where Walt and Jesse cook in the empty house was perfection – it’s simple and poetic, just two partners and the chemistry. It’s a nice reprieve, as everything outside of the chemistry is becoming more and more complicated.

Mike picks up right where he left off last week, trying to ensure the continued loyalty and silence of “his guys.” Posing as a paralegal, he visits one of his guys in prison and tells him that, no matter what, he will continue to receive his hazard pay. Gus’ death was nothing more than a hiccup. He’s got a new thing going now and it’ll be business as usual. In his meetings with Walt, Jesse, and Saul, Mike makes it clear that he thinks he is the one who is running the show. He tells Walt and Jesse that they are in charge of the chemistry and he is in charge of the business. It’s a plan that plays on the strengths of each member of the team, but, of course, it’s also a plan that egotistical Walt can’t handle. Saul recognizes this and asks him if he’s okay with Mike’s plan. Walt replies, “He handles the business, I handle him.” It’s shocking that someone smart enough to see the potential in the pest control front can be so stupid as to think that there isn’t more to running a high-volume meth operation than having a couple of cooks. He thinks he’s the centre of everything, conveniently forgetting how expendable he was to Gus.

Indeed, the only person he’s focused on besides himself is Jesse. Expertly playing the part of a concerned father/partner, he asks Jesse about his relationship with Andrea and Brock. He plays on Jesse’s guilt, suggesting that he needs to come completely clean with her about everything (“Even Gale?” Jesse wonders) if he wants to have a real relationship. Secrets build barriers, Walt warns him. Earlier, when Andrea and Brock interrupted Jesse and Walt’s strategy session, Walt shared a meaningful (and subtly terrifying) glance with young “shy” Brock. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Did Brock recognize him (we’re still not sure exactly how Brock came to ingest the Lily of the Valley)? Was Walt annoyed that he was still alive? Was Walt worried that his relationship with Jesse might not be centre stage if he gets further involved with Brock and Andrea? By the end of the episode, we find out that Walt’s manipulations worked – Jesse broke up with Andrea rather than admit the full extent of the things he’s done since getting involved with Walt. By now, though, Walt doesn’t care anymore. He’s done playing the father and is only concerned with one thing – money.

The Money (capital-M) becomes a problem for Walt in a brilliant scene where Mike stacks up the bills in three equal shares and then begins subtracting the expenses. As the piles become smaller and smaller, Walt becomes more and more agitated. This isn’t the way he envisioned being a king would be. He finally snaps when Mike begins to subtract the “hazard pay” from all three. Why should he have to pay Gus’ guys, Walt argues. He killed Gus, therefore they’re out of luck. Mike’s counter argument is simply, “it’s what you do.” I’m a little torn on this one. On the one hand, yes. It is what you do, and paying these guys to keep silent while they endure police pressure and even serve out prison sentences, will have a positive impact on Walt. If they start talking and Mike goes down, it’s only a matter of time before Walt goes down too. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure it is fair for Jesse and Walt to be paying for Mike’s “guys.” Last week, when Mike spared Lydia and agreed to join Walt, I kind of thought the “hazard pay” was going to come out of his share alone. So, as surprised as I am to say this, I might actually agree with Walt that it’s a tad unfair. In any case, Walt ends up reluctantly allowing the purging of his funds to continue (after Jesse first offers to let them take it all out of his share), and walks out griping to Jesse that they’re making less per week than they were with Gus. Jesse is now the voice of reason, reminding him that the haul might be smaller, but it’s a bigger cut. He’s imploring him to calm down and look at the big picture, something Walt is becoming increasingly unable to do.

Meanwhile, outside of the meth world, Skyler is more and more on edge. Marie comes to the carwash and begins picking at every little thing, from the way the guys are washing the cars to Skyler’s reluctance to plan a 51st birthday party for Walt. In one of the only times I’ve ever been cheering for Skyler, she has a breakdown and yells at her meddling sister to SHUT UP already. Anna Gunn delivers her lines so forcefully and terrifyingly that it’s clearly about more than just Marie. Skyler desperately wishes for everyone to shut up, go away, and for her problems to just disappear. She retreats into her bedroom, into her depression, and into silence. The outburst follows her (mostly) silent acceptance of Walt’s return from the condo. She manages to ask him if he thinks moving back in is a good idea. He replies with a confident yes, and that’s that. After he breakdown, Walt comes home to find Skyler once again hibernating in the bedroom, and Marie in his living room, refusing to leave until she has an explanation about what has Skyler so on edge. In yet another brilliant display of manipulation, Walt gets his payback for Skyler’s gambling story. He tells Marie his version of the truth – Skyler’s upset because she was having an affair with Ted Beneke and he’s just had a terrible accident that left him paralyzed. Marie immediately backs off, presumably going home to puzzle over the new information that her sister isn’t who she thought she was.

Finally, there were two instances that heavily foreshadowed the violence to come. First, there was Walt watching Scarface with Walt Jr. and Holly, delighting in the killings, and laughing “everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” Indeed they do, Walt. Additionally, for the first time this season, the final scene wasn’t between Walt and Skyler, but Walt and Jesse. Walt muses about Gus’ killing of Victor, wondering if it wasn’t so much to give him a warning as it was because Victor was Icarus, taking too many liberties and flying too close to sun. It’s clear that Walt is beginning to consider Mike to be more of a problem than he’s worth. He’s trying to take too much of Heisenberg’s power. Walt would be smart to not let his ego convince him to take out the one who’s keeping all the balls in the air, but, as is clear from this episode, Walt’s genius is undone by his own short-sightedness. He can’t see the dangers that are all around him.

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