31st May2013

‘Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season’ DVD Review

by Nathan Smith

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul return in their Emmy-winning roles of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. With Gus Fring dead, Walt’s transformation from a well-meaning family man to ruthless drug kingpin is nearly complete. When he begins to make a killing in the meth business, his murderous schemes are threatened by a new investigation led by his relentless brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris). Executive produced by Vince Gilligan and Mark Johnson, the fifth season charts the murderous rise of Walter White as he reaches new highs…and new lows.

breaking-bad-season-5

5×01 “Live Free or Die”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan | Directed by Michael Slovis

“I won.”

And with those words, uttered with a grotesque smugness, shows us just how far Walter White has come. Those words, so simple and yet, full of weight, tell us everything about this man. A man who has faced death on multiple occasions, almost seemingly innumerable odds stacked highly against him and yet, he always comes out on top, even with a deck stacked against him. He won, but at what cost? He’s shed so much blood to save his own hide, and he’s on top. He’s the king now. And if we had always thought that Walter White was petty before, he’s going to be a monster now.

One of the best things that Breaking Bad does is the art of the cold open. It gives you a perpetual sense of feeling lost. It’s like looking at a picture and realizing that some parts are not quite in focus. It’s a scene, that’s very brief, but seeks to be analyzed over and over again. When we first meet Walter White again, he’s just turning fifty-two. This tells us that these events are far along down the road. He’s looking quite a bit different than we remember. His hair is grown out and his beard is unshaven and scraggly. He looks haunted and alone. This is not the same Walt we remember. Something’s changed in him. He’s looking around for something, for someone. And when we realize what he’s up to, that he’s meeting a gun dealer and buying a machine gun. For what, we don’t know. Because that’s the fun of putting together a puzzle, it takes time and patience, but when you’re finished with it, it’s worth it. And that’s a fantastic opening scene, and a great mission statement for where we’re headed this season. A dark, foreboding cloud of things to come. A few noteworthy things though, I did love seeing Jim Beaver reprising his role as Lawson, the gun dealer from the early season four episode ‘Thirty-Eight Snub.’ And just where in the world is Walter White? He could be in Albuquerque but he makes mention of California and his license plate on his car reads New Hampshire, whose state motto is where the episode gets its title. See what I mean about the analytical aspects of the premiere?

The whole of the premiere singularly focused on cleaning up messes. Actually, that’s really the logline of the whole series. Walter has messes to clean up because he’s got his hands in everything. Killing Gustavo, poisoning the child and manipulating Jesse in the process, and taking down a monolithic business. There are so many parts moving in place, that it is very easy to lose track, as Walt and Jesse have seemingly done. They succeeded in stopping Gus but that’s only the smallest part of the picture. They usually plan and usually fail, but the chain reaction of Walt’s successful taking down of Gus seems to be triggered and with the success of the plan that the men pull off in the premiere shows that the times they are a-changin. The thing is, for all the planning Walt did, in masterminding all of his villainy in the finale, he let one thing slip. The camera. That rotating high definition Achilles’ heel. Walt and Jesse meet up with Mike (who’s been largely MIA since episode 10 of last season) and they begin to formulate a plan to get rid of the evidence that will bury them all. Mike tells them to cut and run. And while most people with take that advice and run, not Walter. Nope, not at all. After all, he won. Mike clues them in that Gus keeps a backup of his camera on his laptop. That Hank Schrader just picked up. See, the nice thing about Hank is when he seems like he’s five steps behind, he actually won the race. Jesse who always had the craziest plans to get out of messes offers the most logical solution. A magnet. A big old magnet. They head down to a junkyard and meet up with the old man who helped them get rid of the RV back in season three. And you know what? They use that magnet and destroy the laptop. As well as wrecking the whole evidence room in the process. It’s not exactly the quietest plan. But it gets the job done. Later, as the three amigos are getting away, the police catalog the room and uncover a picture with Gus, which shows hidden bank accounts. Uh-oh. So, while their plan goes “successful,” in the long run….it may have screwed them.

There were quiet moments that mattered in the episode as well. I love Skyler’s admission that Walt terrifies her. He should. He’s a smug psychopath you can’t help but love. And finally, the end of the episode when he “forgives” her. She nearly got him and his family killed giving money to Ted Beneke and Walt just forgives her. But, his forgiveness may mean more foreboding things for the long run. We’ll see. I like them showing how everyone is terrified of Walt’s behavior. When Saul tries to quit and walk away, Walt informs him that no, he’s not. Should you be scared of Walter?

Yes.

I liked the scene where Hank and Gomez explored the destroyed super lab. He was so close to finding it, and the way it was shot, made it very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s ’Alien.’ A great scene and it’s lit eerily. Perfect.

The thing that made me happy about the premiere was that Vince Gilligan and company decided that they would cool it off for a moment. The last few episodes of season four were all about the titanic struggle between ne’er do well Walter White and the epic villain Gus Fring. The episodes were bleeding into one another and it was a last run full of peak episodes. They wisely downplayed the suspense in this episode, because frankly everyone needed a little bit of a breather. You would tire your audience out putting them through the wringer that much. That’s not to say that the episode was not without its suspenseful moments but it wasn’t as turned up. Not that I couldn’t handle. I love the adrenaline rush that Breaking Bad affords me.

5×02 “Madrigal”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan | Directed by Michelle MacLaren

Breaking Bad is the television equivalent of demolishing a house. Some days it’s like chipping away at the foundation, other days, they use a wrecking ball. It’s a show that’s paced deliberately but is never lethargic. Each episode breezes by as fast as it started, and at the end of the episode, you’re left on the edge of your seat. You get the sense that it is wheel spinning, but it never wastes your time. Sure, Gilligan and company play their cards very close to the vest but they leak just enough morsels, to keep you coming back. If there’s a mantra that our leads should have repeating through their heads, it should be: leave no loose ends. And boy, did they leave loose ends. In their vigor, to destroy the laptop that may have had some very incriminating evidence on it, they uncovered a veritable list of people on Gus’ payroll. Eleven men. Eleven loose ends. By the end of this series, blood will be shed, the only question how much blood will be on our heroes’ hands. And as we move towards the finish line, it’s anyone’s game at this point.

This season, shows a changing of the guards. Gustavo Fring is dead and that death leaves ripples throughout everyone’s lives. Look at Hank Schrader. He so doggedly pursued the man known as Heisenberg for so long, that it very nearly killed him and almost ripped a chasm in his marriage. Now, he’s focused and seeing things with clarity. He had been sniffing things out with the meth lab notes found in Gale’s apartment and that dragged him past the company Gus and onto the people really pulling the strings, Madrigal Electromotive. Madrigal Electromotive figures heavily into the episode this week, beginning with insane cold open. It started off innocently (as innocently as this show could be) enough, with a German man taste testing different dipping flavors for chicken nuggets. He’s informed that there are more men waiting for him in his office, and this time there are three of them. Those men are police officers. They seem particularly interested in a picture of Herr Schuler and Gus Fring on his wall. He avoids them and pulls a defibrillator off the wall and locks himself in the bathroom. He then takes his life, rather than be grilled by the police. It’s a strangely odd and off-putting cold open but seriously, no one does it better than Breaking Bad.

Sometimes, in long form storytelling, some characters get the short shrift. This week happened to be Walt and Jesse’s turn. Not that their storyline isn’t full of impactful material. I loved Jesse’s guilt over losing the ricin cigarette. He feels guilt over accusing Walt and nearly killing him over it. We know that’s not the case. Walt manipulated him and planted a phony ricin cigarette in the little Roomba zipping around during the serach and seize montage at the beginning of the episode. I thought that particular Roomba was killed by a meth addled tweaker last season, but like DJ Roomba before him, it’s risen like the proverbial Phoenix. Aaron Paul sold the hell out of the grief over killing Walt. And I’m sure that if we showed Walt’s face, he would barely be able to contain his smile. They also meet up with everyone’s favorite lawyer, Saul Goodman. Walt and Jesse are broke and need to start cooking again. They don’t have a lab and they destroyed the RV in an attempt to throw Hank off of their scent. And they need chemicals. They’re in neutral. I thought it was funny that Jesse called the RV, “The Crystal Ship.” It seems Pinkman-esque, no? And that final scene with Walt trying to seduce Skyler in their marital bed. She’s terrified of what her husband has become. He’s ignorant to it. And I love her wordlessness. The fear in her eyes. It’s terrifying and you cannot look away.

But this is Jonathan Banks’ episode. And he took it and ran with it. He’s been a great addition to the show since he appeared in season two and graciously promoted to regular in season three. He pulls off Emmy worthy performances in many of his episodes, including his great speech to Walt about “no more half-measures.” That was the tipping point, in my opinion. His discomfort at being propostioned by the woman from Madrigal Electromotive to kill off the eleven people on Gus’ super secret payroll, was stern and fierce. He is not a man to use his words. His face says it all. So, his anger at finding out that she’s circumvented him and Hank and Gomez trying to use his payment to ensnare him in a web he can’t escape from is well earned. Another man from the list, has taken her offer, and started to kill the other. He only made through poor, unfortunate Mister Chow before Mike cuts him down. Mike is short and brutal. This makes him effective. It makes him great. So finally, he confronts Lydia at her home. He’s ready to end her, when she asks that he not make her body disappear. She can’t take her daughter thinking she’s abandoned her. That has been the thing that’s stuck in my head. So, Mike abides and asks her if she can get methylamine. He contacts Walt and takes him up on his proposal to partner up with himself and Jesse. I love Mike as a character. He may be cold-blooded but he clearly has a heart for his granddaughter. He’s a no BS guy and that endears him to me. Breaking Bad is a show with anti-heroes, so you have to wallow in these grey areas.

All these strands are flowing together. They start to draw tighter and tighter like a noose. And sooner or later, the wrecking ball’s gonna come in. And nothing will be left in the wake.

5×03 “Hazard Pay”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan | Directed by Adam Bernstein

Walter White is Tony Montana. There, it had to be said. It begs to be screamed from the rooftops. In the beginning, Vince Gilligan had said that the true arc of the series has been Walter White’s transition from “Mister Chips to Scarface.” Although, it’s a lot more present and easier to observe in this season and the last, the true moment was back in season two. Back then, when Walter notoriously told an aspiring cook to “stay out of my territory,” that was when Heisenberg equaled Tony Montana. Full disclosure: I don’t really like the film, “Scarface.” It’s well-directed, though not De Palma’s best work. It’s well-written but it isn’t Oliver Stone’s best script. Al Pacino overacts and eats so much scenery that it’s a wonder he didn’t become obese afterwards. I’m not sure why most rappers emulate Tony Montana like he’s the greatest. He’s not. Sorry. He’s a tyrant, a monstrous force that kills his best friend in an attempt to become king of the world. Yes, I realize that that’s the trajectory our antagonist finds himself on, but he’s more empathetic than Tony Montana. So, when are rap artists going to start writing about the hurricane called Heisenberg? (Also, because it’s Mob Week on AMC, they’re playing the “Say Hello to My Little Friend” clip over and over again. So, great timing, AMC!) No, the clip from “Scarface” was fine and all, albeit a little on the nose, that scene and all the power that came from it was all from Anna Gunn. Man, she wordlessly sold the terror of what her husband has become. The fear that not only do you have a monster in the closet, it’s the fear that you have to share your home with it, your bed with it and much worse things you can only imagine.

Anna Gunn has brilliantly played Skyler’s growing fear for weeks now, as a suffering woman treading on thin ice. She’s terrified of her husband. Where the Skyler of past seasons, would’ve kicked and screamed and even called the cops on Walter, she simply let him move back in. No fuss, no muss. If he’s willing to take out Gus Fring, then he’s fearless. He’s dangerous. If she’s been treading on thin ice, this moment she’s fallen through. Marie, her sister can be a superhumanly nagging force, but that’s her persona. Her sister’s smoking and, of course she pesters her about it until that awful screaming fit of “shut up’s.” Her breakdown at the car wash screaming at Marie was painful and raw. The air in the room was so thick; it probably could have been cut with a machete. That scene coupled with the aforementioned scene above shows exactly why Anna Gunn deserved an Emmy nod. To me, power rests with showing and not doing. You don’t have to say that you’re scared; you just have to show it. And she did.

It’s funny to watch Walt play everyone in his life like he was some sort of meth-making conductor in an orchestra. He ploys Marie, ever the prodding force, to believe the lie that Skyler is just up in arms over her former lover getting irreversibly injured. Half of it is true, yes, the other being that it’s just another tangled web he finds himself navigating. It’s believed to be true, because that way that Walt spins and spins seems real and Marie knows her sister to believe it. It seems right and when Walter needs to swing for the fences, he does so with slimy precision and even slimier ease. Look at this new relationship Walt has with Jesse. It seems that most of season four was Walter versus Jesse. And now this new partnership is built on the lies and manipulation, and at the center is the fact that Walter poisoned Jesse’s girlfriend’s son, Brock. It was a rather tense scene when Andrea showed up with Brock and Walter sat with him on the couch and exchanged a glance with the little boy. It’s a brief wordless look, a knowing glance, but so many questions come out of that. Does Brock remember Walter? Did he poison him himself? I suppose they’ll come out. And I don’t have to suppose, I know, it won’t be good when it does. I did love that when the series began Walt and Jesse were like teacher and protégé. And as we move on, we see things shifting, pieces moving, and now we see a changing force. Walt and Jesse aren’t exactly equals, mind you, but they are working together to solve a common goal. To keep cooking and keep moving. They’ve found an option for their enterprise. Using a fumigation company as a front for their cooking operation. They cook inside houses and fumigate afterwards. Nobody asks questions about strange fumes and nobody wonders if an illegal operation is going on, because seeing a fumigation tent is as plain as seeing cars on the street. It’s kind of awesome and kind of smart. It’s during the first cook that Walt and Jesse, in the iconic image of them sitting on the couch; drinking beers in their lab suits and watching The Three Stooges, that they seem to have a heart-to-heart. Walt seems inherently interested in Jesse’s life. He’s always seen himself as a father to the boy. He referred to himself as his father in season two’s great episode, “Phoenix” and calling Walter Junior, ‘Jesse’ in last season’s “Salud.” So, it was nice to see Walt taking an interest in his life with Andrea and Brock. Until it dawned on me. He’s manipulating him. He pushed him into breaking it off so his dark secrets don’t get revealed. It’s selfish, it’s mean, it’s pure Walter White. He makes Jesse think it’s right, and because they are like father and son, Jesse follows him and believes the lie.

Mike was largely absent from the episode this week. He’s been running around like a chicken sans head, trying to prevent the other men on Gus’ payroll from ratting out the operation. He’s continuing to pay the hazard pay to the men because the DEA has reco’d their money. He’s become the business end of Walt and Jesse’s operation, though Walt still maintains that he still controls him. He distributes the money they collect to the appropriate parties and they move on. Seems like a business, right? But when he takes a little more money from Walt’s pile to pay his guy’s hazard pay that seems to be the end of it for Walt. But he concedes and lets him take the money. It can’t be easy for Walt to walk away, but he does. Is this a new era for him?
No. It isn’t.

And that brings me to that final scene. That scene where Walt insinuates that Gus may have killed his former associate, not to send a message, but rather because he flew to close to the sun and got killed as a result of it. Walt thinks it’s because he knew the process of the cook and Gus killed him because he wanted no one to succeed other than himself. And if Mike thinks he’s running things, then maybe he’ll be seeing a box cutter in his future. Actually, you know something about Walter White, he’s become Daniel Plainview. And I don’t know which one is scarier.

5×04 “Fifty One”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan, Sam Catlin | Directed by Rian Johnson

Man, what a difference a year makes. It seems crazy that all the events we’ve seen thus far on Breaking Bad have taken place over a single year. We began with our main protagonist, Walter White, on the wrong end of forty. He’d been diagnosed with cancer and facing financial ruin decided to partner up with his former high school student Jesse Pinkman, and officially ‘break bad.’ Now, over the course of the year, we’ve seen death and destruction and mayhem. Walter slowly slipped away from the sympathetic white-hat and literally donned a black hat to become the immortal Heisenberg. So, it’s kind of easy to see why Walter would be so happy to wake up to a morning breakfast and make a “fifty-one” with his bacon. He honestly didn’t think he’d be making it here. If it wasn’t the cancer that was going to cut him down, then it was a bullet or a box cutter. It’s also worth mentioning that in celebrating the milestone of Mister White’s birthday, that this is Breaking Bad’s 50th episode.

With the opening scene, we have to say goodbye to Walt’s hideous Pontiac Aztek. God, what an uncomfortable looking car. And that car has been through the thick of it. I’m pretty sure Walter replaced the windshield at least five times in season three alone. And while it seemed like forever ago that Walt drove it into oncoming traffic to divert Hank’s growing attention away from the super lab, it’s in reality something like three weeks. I’d love to see a timeline to wrap my head around it, and I’m pretty sure the writing staff has one; they are just too prepared not to. It’s easy to see what happens to Walter when he dons the porkpie black hat. He becomes Heisenberg as easy as I slip on my pants in the morning. It’s like Freddy Krueger and the glove. Walter sheds all inhibition and lets it all out. Walter is too cheap to sell his old beloved car for less than what it’s worth, but not Heisenberg. No, he’ll sell it for fifty bucks and walk away. And let me tell you, that Bryan Cranston sells the transformation, just as Toni Collette sold her transformations into her alters on “United States of Tara.” Heisenberg has no problems buying a flashy new car for him and his son, even if Skyler forever will tsk-tsk at them. Even if we remember that just last year, they argued over whether Walter could even afford a bottle of champagne, under the guise of his gambling addiction. No, he buys the cars and pays for it on loan installments because he tries to sell it to everyone, even though he really doesn’t. Why? Because he’s the king. Aside from the music video-esque opening, it was a quiet, almost eerie episode that seemed business as usual on the facade. It was interesting to see Walt as giddy as a ten year old talking about his birthday. He mentions to Jesse as they clean up from a cook, that it’s his birthday. He wants a present from Jesse. And Heisenberg gets what he wants. Walt ignores the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around him. He sits on his throne and everyone just moves past him at the speed of light. Take the uncomfortable birthday breakfast sequence where Skyler forgets to make Walt’s bacon into the shape of a “fifty-one,” and he has to chide her into it. And take that even more uncomfortable dinner scene where the White family and Hank and Marie all sit around and Walt begins to memorialize the year and all his brushes with death. The family thinks cancer, we know otherwise.

We see that during that particular dinner that Skyler’s breaking point is going to be coming far sooner than later as she literally goes off the deep end and glides into the pool, her dress billowing out behind her and getting soaked to the nines. Walter rescues her from drowning in the pool (boy, this family does not have great scenes around their pool) and later in the cold light of day, is confronted with questions from Hank. Fortunately for Walt, Marie has never heard about loose lips and he’s easily able to cover up the “suicide attempt” as a mere stress out moment. Now, the part that really got me, and it got me good, was the scene afterwards. HonestIy, I practically thought that Anna Gunn had gotten through an entire episode without saying a word. She had occasionally muttered a couple of words but when she talked with Walt in the bedroom, oh man, she was aces. I like that Skyler still has enough vinegar in her to convince Hank and Marie that she’s not stable enough to have Walter Junior and baby Holly around. And when she owns up to the fact that she is able to still manipulate people as well as she manipulated the locksmith in season four’s “Box Cutter,” and that she will keep the kids away as long as she needs to and that she will find a way to do so, even insinuating that Walt is beating her, you start to realize that as good as her husband is … she’s pretty good too. As Walt pokes holes in all of her plans to get the kids away for as long as possible, she finally admits that she’s just waiting on the cancer to return and take him down. That’s terrifying that in one year, Skyler has gone from doting wife and mother to praying that her husband will succumb in anyway he can, and hoping that his cancer will get him before he ultimately gets her.

That’s not to say that the whole episode was all thunderclouds and rain. The most interesting arc to me has been (besides Jesse Pinkman) was Hank Schrader. His transition from oafish DEA agent to hardened DEA agent has been welcomed. I have some qualms with the timeline from Hank recovering from his PTSD and the shooting from the Cousins, but again, I leave it to the writers. They’re telling the show, not me. So, it was a nice win when he gets promoted to ASAC over his former boss, Merkert. It’s always nice to see the good guy get a win. He’s getting closer and closer to unspooling the track that will lead to Walt and Jesse, but right now he’s working it quietly and calmly. He’s making his way through Madrigal Electromotive, first in Germany, and then closer to home in Houston, Texas. It’s nice to see Hank work; because he’s so easygoing, he can work at you like a snake.

In our second visit with Lydia, she’s proven herself to be a frayed bundle of exposed nerve endings. She’s not calm and cool under pressure. Her shoes don’t match and she is clearly fearful of everything going on around her. We last met her; she was trying to get Mike to take out all the men on the bank accounts list. The men aren’t budging, however because Mike has paid them handsomely. However, Hank who has been fairly efficient in cutting down the swath of people involved the Madrigal side of things, arrests the driver of the methylamine. Another corner they’ve been painted into it seems. Mike, who sadly remains largely off-screen for the episode, sends Jesse as the new driver. The operation cannot stop. Until Lydia finds a tracking device on the bottom of the barrel. Mike and Jesse all discuss what this could mean, until they ultimately decide that Lydia planted the bug. It’s too crude, it’s too easy for them to find. My thoughts are with why she ultimately planted it, does she want out? Or is she just trying to send the men elsewhere. Either way, it puts her on Mike’s list, number one with a bullet. But Walter steps in and says no, there’s got to be a different way. Even if Mike thinks he’s got a hold on Walt, he’s trying to ultimately wrangle a bull in a china shop, and he’s just getting started. So, they leave Lydia alone for now and start to move on to more pressing matters. They cannot let the cook stop. I’m excited about what Lydia can get up to, because she can cause trouble for our boys, and that’s great drama.

I love Walt’s smugness in the final scene with Skyler. He knows that his wife wants him dead. I’m certain that’s something he can live with. So, he does what he does best. He lets her know the score. He points at his birthday gift from Jesse, an extravagant watch, and coldly lets her know that Jesse too wanted him dead. And he lets Skyler know that she’ll come to feel different soon enough. That’s bad, right?

A couple of points I wanted to discuss: I love Rian Johnson’s work in film, I’ve never seen The Brothers Bloom but I have seen Brick and I loved that film. His work is a lot more muted in this episode compared to his season three effort, “Fly.” He fits tonally in the world of Breaking Bad. I also liked Marie’s comment that it didn’t feel like a year has passed. Probably because it’s been five years, but hey, I delegate to the powers that be. And finally, Skyler’s retort to Walt that she thought he was the danger. Yes, Walt can ultimately say he isn’t the ticking time bomb Mike thinks he is, but as the last shot of the ticking watch shows us … he is.

5×04 “Dead Freight”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan, George Mastras | Directed by George Mastras

I love a good heist movie. It’s all the planning and thinking, going back and forth, until finally that magic moment when the stars align and they either pull it off successfully … or they get dead. Most plans that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman come up with usually fail and they fail big. Look at Tuco. He captured them and they tried to poison him with ricin to no avail. Practically every time they tried to swim, they sank magnificently. However, it seems as if once Walter took out the smartest guy in the room, his plans started working. Look at the magnet scheme from the season premiere. Aside from the slight misstep of revealing Gus’ hidden bank accounts and very nearly getting caught, it pulled through. So, when they decided to steal methylmine from a moving freight train, it seemed as if the plan was ludicrous, but in the world of Breaking Bad, nothing is really ever what it seems.

It was interesting to see Walter show up at Hank’s office and have seemingly, or at least what looked like, a breakdown. Any normal person would be breaking down under these circumstances, but not our boy Heisenberg. It’s all machinations. Walter is always planning a heist in his head, even if the precious cargo is bug planting. He knows Hank all too well to know that if there’s one thing Hank is uncomfortable with, it’s uncomfortable situations. What a great breathless scene, Walt narrowly avoiding getting caught planting that bug in Hank’s picture. What we learn of this bug, is that they needed to check out Lydia’s story about the GPS’s being planted on the barrels of methylmine. Turns out she’s right, so our boys need to move onto a Plan B. You always have a Plan B. She mentions that a tanker that passes through Albequerque just so happens to have a tanker of the precious fluid the boys need to cook. And that subsequently leads to a great, suspenseful heist scene, that could have been easily orchestrated by DePalma himself. Just a
great scene, I had to watch it twice to soak it all in.  And, I loved the return of Bill Burr’s character. Yes, he’s inept, as we saw in last season’s “Crawl Space,” but here he did a good job of distracting the train engineers and raking the suspense higher.

I also think that Lydia who is a squirrely character by nature proves that just because she is as volatile, at least mentally, as walter she also proves to be quite the adversary as she is the one who at least concocts the heist and provides the route, and so forth. However, Mike’s sage line, “Everyone acts like Meryl Streep when you’ve got a gun to their head,” is advice that Jesse should heed. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

I wanted to briefly mention the scenes of Walter’s home life. It seems as everything can go to ashes around Walter at any given moment.

His son is moping around, and he’s being called Flynn again, which as we know means he’s upset with his father. And maybe he has a right to be. Walter Junior and baby Holly are being used by their parents in a game of chess. Yes, it makes sense for them to be out of the home that Heisenberg resides in, but Skyler and Walter don’t understand the toil this will ultimately have on the children. Even as Skyler mentions that she’s a hostage in her own home, she’s plotting with Walter to continue down the path, so long as the children stay away and stay safe. Yes, Walt Junior will be mopey and unhappy but clearly Hank and Marie love having them there, and are great surrogate parents. Even funnier that Hank mentions that he purchased “Heat” on Blu-Ray. A great heist film and at least Walt Junior would absent-mindedly know what his father is up to on the side. Just a thought. My initial thoughts is that, this may be the last time Walt Junior and Holly see their parents alive. Will this be the last time? Ominous, I know but that’s the feeling you should have.

Now, I wanted to talk about the opening and closing moments of the episode. When I first saw the cold open of the episode, I scratched my head. It’s a kid on a dirt bike riding through the desert. He picks up a tarantula in a jar, and moves along. Boom, that’s it. Until the end of the episode. After the train heist goes successfully, with a few minor hiccups, we see the kid again. He’s seen Walt, Jesse and the young man, Todd from Vamanos Pests. The kid waves and Walt and Jesse return the wave. Then, Todd returns the wave, and then shoots the child dead. That is stunning. A sharp punch to the gut that Breaking Bad does so well. It reminds me of the shocking end to season three’s, “Half-Measures.” Sigh, so very good. It’s especially exciting to see where we go from here, factoring in the fact that Jesse does not like child killers and what this means for our boys in ABQ.

5×06 “Buyout”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan, Gennifer Hutchison | Directed by Colin Bucksey

I previously discussed very briefly that Vince Gilligan mentioned that the log line of the series was taking Walter White from Mister Chips to Scarface. While I cannot deny that this is a plain and simple truth, I think that in the midst of this slow-burn transition, Walter White is slowly gliding past another phase: The Daniel Plainview phase. I was instantly reminded of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 classic film, “There Will Be Blood.” Of course, that was a film about an oilman driven by greed and slowly goes insane because he doesn’t want anyone to succeed. He was a creature who learned to stop crawling about in the muck and rise up. The thing about Walter White is, he’s become adept at hiding the monster. But that doesn’t mean that the greed hasn’t and won’t continue to bring out the evil. Because no one but Walter can succeed
and I mean, no one.

The thing about Walter is, he’s driven largely by the money as most anyone in his situation would ultimately be. After all, the cancer is what drove him to “break bad” from the get-go and once that evil cancer went into remission, the dye was cast and the damage had already been done. So, why not continue the inevitable descent into madness? After all, if you’re going to destroy all humanity, why not be rich. You can buy your outer facade at any cost. So, when Mike and Jesse approach him about the idea of selling all the methylmine that they poached to a competitor, he says no. It’s his. He risked his neck for it, why should anyone else reap those fruitful benefits? When he looked at Jesse, and asked if his competition should be the one coming out on top, that’s when it hit me. He wants no one to win whatsoever. He never cares about how he wins, whether he manipulates family or friends.  He used his old friend, Elliot and his wife Gretchen as a front for his rehabilitation when he first began his chemotherapy. He doesn’t worry about the emotional toll that this life takes on those around him. He needs to win.

For instance, look at Jesse. He slowly started his slide towards oblivion when he killed Gail Boetticher at the behest of his friend and mentor, Mister White. And Walt has slowly manipulated him over and over again, even when innumerable odds are stacked against him. That and a gun to his head. And now, in the wake of this dead child, he’s ready to close the doors and walk away. He sees how Walter can easily just whistle while he works and ignore the fact that they disposed of a little boy mere hours earlier. This is not the life he wants, hell, no one wants. He’s not mentally strong enough at this point, he’s getting there but he hasn’t crossed that threshold. That’s the funny thing about Breaking Bad for me. So, much is made of Walter’s transition from white hat to literal black hat that we don’t focus on the outstanding character transition for our Mister Pinkman.

And what of Mike Ehrtrautman? He’s just a man on the back end of his life, trying to make the best of this bad situation. He uses this money to provide for the future, for his granddaughter. He wants nothing more than to walk away. He’s older and far away, and five million dollars seems like a grand old idea for a going away present. Like Jesse, the toll has a different effect on Mike. It’s not that he has a problem with wetwork, after all he was frothing at the mouth to give Lydia a new nostril to breathe out of. He’s tired of the attention. He’s getting trailed over and over again and wants nothing more of it. So, this easy payday seems appropriate for him. He gets the DEA off of his back for 24 hours and he sells his stuff. Simple enough. Except the people Mike wants to sell to want Walt’s blue meth gone. Mike knows that Walt won’t budge. He’s never budged before, he’s the immovable object. And you know that an immovable, volatile object like Walter in the mix, things are never going to end simple. Even when he screws up Mike’s plan to sell the meth, there’s always a Plan B. Also, a funny aside in a pretty tight episode. In Mike’s meeting with the DEA, Hank notes that Saul Goodman’s seersucker suit was purchased at clown college.  Truth be told, it looked like The Joker’s suit in Tim Burton’s “Batman.”

The opening of the episode focused largely, as it should have, on the disposal of that unfortunate little boy. I knew that if Todd were lucky, a black eye was all he was going to be getting out of a scuffle with Jesse. Yes, Jesse wants to avenge this child that he never met, but it has to be handled in a manner befitting a not-so legitimate business. It was actually a little strange to see the meeting go down, like a manager scolding a delivery boy for not getting there in 30 minutes or less. Mike’s approach is a little closer to what Jesse had in mind. It’s odd to think but Todd may have some strange connections to some very powerful people, so out of fear they keep him in the loop when they would love nothing more than to sever ties. Todd seems almost childlike when he looks over the tarantula in the jar, like he doesn’t understand the full weight of what he had done, or may have happened to him had the vote in the room gone south.

One last thing, Skyler was not so present in the episode but that’s because focus has to be put elsewhere. That’s not to say that her machinations aren’t still wheeling about around everyone in her life. She’s barely holding it together, and rightfully so, when loose lips Marie blurts out that the marital strife has to do with her affair. Lots of mileage gotten out of her I.F.T. declaration. This ultimately leads to the standard awkward White family dinner. Although, is this the first time that Jesse and Skyler have spoken since she found out about the meth cooking? Either way, the dinner goes south and after Skyler skulks away, Walter still endlessly reaches for sympathy from Jesse even as he stares down the face of a man he’s manipulated time and time again.

But before that dinner, Walt explains to Jesse, the real reason why he won’t buy out. Two words, Gray Matter. That was a throwback to season one, to the Gretchen and Elliot days. Walt was the victim of a buyout before, that time it was five grand and not the five million, he’s being offered now. I understand the concept behind Walter’s thinking, but when you’re offered an eject button out of a plane that’s clearly ready to kamikaze, wouldn’t you take the money and run? Not when you’re Walter White. “Everybody wins.”

5×07 “Say My Name”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan, Thomas Schnauz  | Directed by Thomas Schnauz

Around the middle of this week’s fantastic episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White sums it up best when he tells Jesse that they’re heading straight to hell. They’ve made a series of fatal decisions over the course of the year they’ve been in cahoots and honestly, they’re not the better for it. For Jesse, his tipping point was the death of that poor kid. He saw just how easy Walter could turn on a dime, and he wants no part of this life anymore. So when Mike offered him his way out, he took it. And Jesse, who has slavishly devoted everything to Mister White, deserves an out. Everything in his life has been burned and crushed and who’s to say anyone should stay in his way.

Except the immovable object known as Walter White.

You see Walter can tell anyone any single thing he wants and it sticks. He can stare down a man surrounded by armed guards and tell him exactly how things are going to go. Because he’s the now immortal Heisenberg, the man who single handedly took down Gustavo Fring. He’s the one to be feared. So, ultimately when you turn your biggest competitor into a distributor, you get cockier and cockier. He’s able to control everything in his business. Sure Mike’s going to go on his merry way, but Jesse is the variable he needs to go on. They work on their cook together, they make beautiful music, if you will.

So, when Jesse tries to take his cut and walk away, Walter doesn’t let him. And he becomes mean-spirited about it too. He goes for the jugular. Walter kicks while everyone is down, and he’s stopped caring about hiding who he is. Hell, he doesn’t even attempt to mask his face while dealing with the
other czar. In fact, he wants him to know just who he is. His true colors shows just how torn up he is over that poor child’s death when he employs Todd, the murderer of said child. He dismisses Skyler when she asks what for and why they were hiding the methylmine in the car wash. Frankly, he uses her for excuses to manipulate others at this point. That’s where they stand. Although, I think somewhere down the line, Jesse and Skyler will bond in their mutual hurt in the wake of Walter White’s hurricane.

Look at Hank Schrader. Yes, he doesn’t know the bigger picture. He doesn’t know that Walter has bugged his office and has had the inside scoop all this time. He only feels the tenuous shockwaves of Walter’s wrath. He’s risen through the ranks gunning for the ghost called Heisenberg. So, after his dogged pursuit of Mike Ehrmantraut gets nipped in it’s bud, he feels let down. I mean, this is the case that brought him from the brink of mental and physical ruin. He will not give up. Period. And like most characters on Breaking Bad, he found himself painted into a corner. And like most characters, he found a way out.

So, think back to the episode, “Hazard Pay,” earlier in the season if you will. Our fierce Mike, wanting to prevent unnecessary bloodletting ( I know, there’s a twist) began to give legacy pay to his men so
they don’t turn on the operation. It seemed foolproof enough but as we’ve know all our lives, man plans and God laughs. Mike’s plan to take five million and leave it to his granddaughter and use the legacy pay to keep the men silent would’ve worked. Until you neuter the dogged DEA agent. And God bless him, I loved Gomez’s shit eating grin as he catches Mike’s lawyer depositing the dirty money in the safety deposit boxes. I swallowed my heart the first of many times at the part. This puts Mike on the run. He had planned ahead so much that he never thought about a chink in the link. And in many ways, the scene in the park as Mike heartwrenchingly ditches his granddaughter to run for his freedom. It reminded me of Robert De Niro fleeing at the end of “Heat.”

And then there’s the last scene. Oh man, what a stunner of an ending. I had started to formulate my thoughts as the episode went on. I kept thinking that it felt off. We were sticking with Mike too much, we were digging into his life away from the hell of Walter. It felt like we were saying goodbye to him. He was cleaning up the messes one last time and moving on. And as he ran from the police and needed his “go-bag,” I started to feel uneasy. This is normal, as such. Walter brings the bag to Mike and as soon Walter began to beg for the name of the nine men, those nine loose ends, my brain began to rattle. As Mike began to chew him out, for everything, for all the endless hell that Walter has put him through, it started to click. Mike wasn’t going to leave. Walter opened that bag, and knew that gun was there. I knew that gun was going to kill Mike. As Mike got into his car to drive away, I knew in my bones that stupid, stubborn Walt would not let this pass. He’s the immovable object after all. And he shoots Mike. Mike who warned that Walter was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, suffered the wrath and Walter? Baby, he blew sky high. It hurts even more so, when Walter admits after the fact that he could’ve just gotten the names of the men from the equally erratic Lydia. But, it’s all dust in the wind to Heisenberg. He’s got nine loose ends to take care of.

I have a feeling that Vince Gilligan is playing an everything must go mentality because two weeks ago, he let longtime writer George Mastras take the reign off the great heist episode, “Dead Freight,” and
in this episode he let another talented staff writer Thomas Schnauz take directorial reins. And he did damn good, frankly.

I’m very sad to see Jonathan Banks go, but he got the role of his lifetime in these four seasons. He got a death scene with much gravitas. It was calming and eerie. As for famous last words, “Shut the fuck up, Walter and let me die in peace.” You don’t get better than that, ladies and gents. Goodbye, Mike.

5×08 “Gliding Over All”

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte | Written by Vince Gilligan, Moira Walley-Beckett | Directed by Michelle MacLaren

I want you to think back if you will, back to the time when Al Capone reigned in terror. He committed a litany of crimes and he literally seemed like a towering spectacle of a man that could not be taken down. Except that it didn’t work that way. They took Capone down for tax evasion. I mean, the man was literally an untouchable and they got him for something as penny ante as taxes. That’s the thing with criminal masterminds. They can have organizations that run tight as a drum, and yet they always forget that one last little detail, that little chink in the armor that cause them to fall on their sword. It causes them to fail.

For instance, take a look at our dearly departed Gustavo Fring. His organization was a tightly oiled machine. Except for the security camera he had set up in his super lab. You know the one that detailed and clearly showed the faces of the two men under his employment and making his highly illegal product. He had all of the footage recorded on his laptop. So, even when Walter and Jesse and Mike destroy the laptop with their big time magnet, they succeeded in giving the cops more rope to hang the trio of men with, by revealing Gus’ bank accounts. And remember Mike who was so caught up in keeping his nine associates in prison paid off, lest they tell the story of the great meth enterprise of Gus Fring. Yes, it appeared that Mike would pay them off with is getaway money last week until the DEA found a way to box him in and get him taken down. He failed because he wanted to protect his men, and instead created a paper trail that led to his demise.

So, now we find Walter in the midst of trying to clean up Mike’s mess. The men in prison are just ready to squeal to Hank and Walter needs to act fast. It is funny to see Walter meet with Lydia, because for all intents and purposes, she’s like him. She’s frazzled and erratic, a ticking time bomb just like Walt. Yes, it is smart to think that Walter would maybe kill her when he had the list, and it’s apparent he at least wanted to; hello Ricin vial. She manages to find her way into Walter’s heart by speaking in a language he knows best: Money. She offers diversification of the business and this is a good thing to Walter. I love the last little part when Lydia, endlessly explaining herself as she’s want to do, gets cut off by Walter. “Learn to take a yes,” he says. Fantastic. She ultimately gives him the list and they begin their partnership.

I don’t know what Walter sees in Todd. He seems a little mentally off and that can be dangerous for Walter. He’s loyal, dumb and dangerous. That’s a scary cocktail. I’m not sure of his game yet, but as he mentioned a while back, he has big connections and Walter wants to utilize them to get exactly what he needs. The scene where he meets Todd’s uncle was a great, lurid little scene straight out of Pulp Fiction. Usually, you never see the other side of the whole “plotting to kill people in prison thing,” but this was a nice deviation. Plus, you get great character actor Michael Bowen looking very sinister as Todd’s uncle, and Kevin Rankin, who played ‘Devil’ over on the other great Southern fried western “Justified,” as his compadre. I like that during the whole scene as Todd’s uncle and his men discuss exactly how the killings will go down, Walt is fixated by some art on the wall of the motel. He seems distracted this episode. Whether it was in the cold open where he was distracted by a fly (another fly) or by the painting that he looks at, looks through in the motel meeting with Todd and the skin heads, something is distracting him. Perhaps the MRI, he got during this episode, has something to do with that.

That meeting led to one of the most violent and cruel montages that I’ve seen on Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched Oz, but I imagine the systematic murders of all the prisoners was something akin to that HBO show. It was a tough scene to watch. It reminded me of something else though as I watched it. The murder montage was reminiscent of The X-Files, which is where most Breaking Bad alums cut their teeth including the episode director, Michelle McLaren and series creator Vince Gilligan. Usually on The X-Files, they would have a scene of disturbing violence and they would counterbalance that with a music cue that was happy and cheerful. It really disturbed me. So, job well done.

There was a bit of a time jump in this episode. As the business moves on thanks to Lydia’s savy, we see the business exponentially grow as promised and that while Todd may be dumb as rocks, he and Walt make great co-workers. We see this happen in another montage, and that leaps up as ahead three months into the future. It’s a risky gamble because montages on Breaking Bad usually just follow a cook in progress. It was a Scorsese-esque montage that shows just how many players can take part in a criminal enterprise. It’s very interesting to see crazy Lydia keep up on her word, as Walter sends out barrelfuls of meth and brings back mountains of cash.

Skyler keeps steadfast on her promise to continue laundering Walt’s money. She still regularly visits her children and she gets dismissed by Walter Junior so he can talk with his friends. You see she misses her children, even given her situation. She wants normalcy. So, with casual prodding from Marie, she sets out to take her children back, to take her life back. She asks Walter to take a drive with her. They end up at a storage depot. This is where she’s been storing all the money Walt has earned over the last three months. She can’t launder it because it’s too large, she can’t even weight it, because the amount is too large. She doesn’t even know how much is there. And this is where she places the ultimate question on Walter. How much is enough? It’s true that he’s been pestered, nearly killed and boxed in all his life. He’s climbed a mountain of enterprise in the time it would take a man to live and die. So, when you reached the heights, when’s the time to come down?

Aaron Paul’s Jesse didn’t have a whole lot to do in this episode, but he still made an impact in his two brief scenes. First, he gets cut down to size by Walter when he shows up in the middle of the disposal of Mike’s corpse. Walter’s still burning from Jesse leaving the business, and Jesse still cares deeply about what happens to Walt, even if he said those malicious things only last week. Walter coldly dismisses him, but then at the end of the episode, he shows up at Jesse’s house, and talks with him. It was interesting that Walter didn’t show up to manipulate, chastise or bully. He showed up to talk, to reminisce. They’ve been through a lot over these four seasons, a year in the show timeline. Regardless, of whatever monsterousness Walter is showing, he’s still a good guy. It’s just buried deep enough that no one knows. Even as they wax nostalgic about the good times, Jesse stays guarded. But, as we see, Walter’s not hiding a motive. He’s giving Jesse his buyout money, so that Jesse walks away free. And as Jesse tosses away a gun, after he drags his money inside, we see that even if he and Walt disagree every now and again, they still think alike. Walt’s just a little more subtle.

And let’s look at Hank. Even as last week, his bosses were telling him to stop pursuing the Fring case, he got more ferocious about it. He got rid of Mike, and he was fast approaching the nine men in prison to see who would tattle about the fallen empire of Gus Fring. Until Walt intervenes and assassinates them. Then, he feels despondent and broken again. He slogs into his home and pours himself and Walt a whiskey. He starts rhapsodizing about the past job he worked as a lumber tagger. It was a never-ending job, but he never chased monsters. Hank is so strong willed, that it was sad to see that he was ready to give up. Just as Walter was ready to throw in the towel, it seems like Skyler and Hank’s speech had gotten through to him somehow, he just waltzes in and tells Skyler bluntly that he’s done. So, they have another pool party, one that ends way better than the one that Walt had in “Fifty-One.” Everybody’s back and smiling, Walter’s richer than he ever dreamed and Skyler seems at peace. Hank is jovial on the outside even as he contemplates a future of uncertainty. You sit there on the edge of your seat. Something had to happen. It seemed like such a clean getaway. It was a clean getaway.

Until Walt Whitman and “Leaves of Grass” interfered. There goes the ballgame.

In last season’s “Bullet Points”, Hank jokingly mentions Walter’s name as he goes through Gale Boetticher’s notes and sees the infamous W.W to whom the notes are dedicated to. Walter feigned guilt at that moment. Until Hank in search of bathroom reading found a copy of Leaves of Grass, and the dedication from G.B to W.W. That’s not good. And then, it all clicks. Hank’s been looking all over for the answer and doesn’t realize that he’s been looking right at the man he’s been searching for all along. The person inadvertently responsible for his near death. It’s a sharp, dark turn that’s been coming for a long time now. And it left me breathless.

So, Gliding Over All, wasn’t an episode full of jump out of your seat, shouting at the ceiling moments. However, they were moments that were earned. They were deep character moments, moments that felt necessary within the show. All the pieces on the chess board have been moved into place thus far, and in the upcoming eight episodes (the last eight episodes, forever!) the game is going to begin….

_____

Special features on the DVD and Blu-ray include “Chicks ‘N’ Guns” – a scene created and produced exclusively for the home entertainment release; cast & crew commentaries on every episode; deleted scenes; outtakes and three all-new featurettes.

Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season is released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 3rd.

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