Not every cold open can be a flashforward of intriguing, specifically calamitous portent (not that I don’t eat those up). Some weeks you get more oblique foreshadowing, like the introduction of Dirtbike Kid in “Dead Freight” or the blood in the water in “Hermanos”. Some weeks it’s a flashback, letting us see a deceased character like Gale or Jane again. Sometimes it’s a little tone poem, establishing a particular character’s mindset. Once, if you’re very lucky, it’s a bonkers narcocorrido video whose actual existence within the show’s reality is never clarified. This week it’s the tone poem one. Jesse’s complete shut down after his Paperboy act will circle back to becoming an important plot point at the end of the hour, but the extended, silent opening just acts as a way to get us into his head space, and to give us that purdy revolving shot of him lying on the merry-go-round, going round in circles without any real progress or destination.
From there it’s off to the races, as director Michelle MacLaren (in addition to her recent work on stuff like The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones, she did last week’s premiere, last season’s finale, S4’s “Salud”, S3’s “One Minute”, and S2’s “4 Days Out”, so let’s just call her the best TV director in the world and move along) brings us back to the garage for a non-too-subtle but plenty-too-awesome shot of the guys staring each other down, fingers literally twitching like Old West gunfighters. As soon as Hank lowers the door, Walt is scrambling, and regular readers might have been able to guess, I loved that – my consistent gripe last year was that Heisenberg triumphant is less exciting than Walt scrambling. Hank makes a beeline for Skyler, while Walter decides that protecting the money is the priority.
For that, he brings in his top guys, Huell and Bill Burr (I know the character has a name, but I have a good time thinking that he’s playing a bizarro version of himself who fell on hard times after a series of bad gigs in ABQ). They, as any reasonable people would, take some time to just lounge on top of the giant pile of money and contemplate running away to Mexico together. And while I would watch that show, they eventually decide that Heisenberg is not a safe person to steal from, so I’m inclined to think they didn’t skim anything before driving it back to Saul’s, where Walt can’t even pretend to give it a real count. I wonder how much they would’ve taken had they known that his plan was to drive it out in the desert and bury it like he’s goddamn Long John Silver? I can see how something like that, if rumors got out, would go a long way toward making Heisenberg the type of urban legend whose name would get spray-painted on the walls of abandoned houses.
Before he heads out, Walt clarifies for us and Saul that he is not going to consider killing Hank as a solution. In part this is a plot necessity, as that would make for an abrupt end to the current conflict, but I also like to think that his stance is motivated in part by the knowledge that, whether he wants to admit it or not, Hank is about the only person he can rely on to look after what’s left of his family after he’s gone. Who else would be Holly’s guardian if Skyler gets busted or hit by a bus? Elliot and Gretchen? I doubt he’s going to trust Saul to maintain a trust fund until the kid turns 18. Bill and Huel maybe?
But this is not really Walt’s episode overall. If last week’s premiere was mainly about Hank’s reaction to his discovery, this week was about Skyler learning that the “monkey is in the banana patch!” That scene in the diner, where Hank is laying out his plan to move against Walt, oblivious to the length and depth of Skyler’s complicity in his crimes, is the sort of powerhouse only possible on longform TV, as we see a relationship and status quo that we have spent 5 years investing in crumble piece by agonizing piece.
Hank is obviously still reeling from his confrontation with Walt in that moment, because he essentially repeats the mistake that allowed Heisenberg to operate right under his nose for so long – he takes it as a given that a family member must be largely innocent in crimes this heinous. It’s only after she makes a scene and storms out that he decides to bring out the big, purple guns.
Betsy Brandt is probably taken the most for granted out of the entire cast, but she brings her A game for the first real dramatic material she’s gotten since early season 4. When Marie works out just how far back her sister must have known, to an interval that encompassed multiple threats and attempts on her husband’s life, well, I don’t really blame her for smacking her sister one. Though trying to snatch the baby was perhaps not so well thought out. But I think it does make sense as a heat-of-the-moment impulse to take something away from the Whites, infuriated at the prospect that they might actually be able to run out the clock and avoid answering for their crimes.
What makes this such a rich vein is that while the Schraders are completely in the right, and the Whites’ cannot be allowed to go unpunished just because Walt will die anyway, I still feel for Skyler in this situation. Having seen what she’s gone through every step of the way, I believe her when she says “I can’t remember the last time I was happy.” She doesn’t get to wear the porkpie hat, or rob trains, or be praised as the very best in the field of money laundering, or any of the other things that have made the endeavor seem worthwhile to Walt. She just gets a giant pile of money she can’t spend and a giant pile of fear to go with it. I can see why she thinks that the experience has been punishment enough, if she can just make it to the end, even though I know that’s not right. Walt is not just a pusher and thief, he’s a mass murderer, and if nothing else the victim’s families deserve to know that the man responsible for the killings is not walking free, enjoying the proceeds of his crimes.
What is not entirely clear is whether Skyler thinks that she has earned not just a pardon for her participation Walt’s crimes, but the right to enjoy those proceeds herself. Lying on the floor of the bathroom, he begs her not to let him “have done this for nothing,” and it’s not the first time he’s done so. She essentially parrots his closing line to Hank from last week back to him, saying that their best move is to do nothing and wait for time to expire. Does she actually intend to ever use the money? I can’t imagine she plans to give up the car wash that it purchased, but she can’t think that she could really get away with spending any of the stacks under Hank and Marie’s nose, even after Walt is gone. She has chosen to side with her husband at this crucial juncture, but I think it’s from a doomed hope that if he “wins” then her kids could be spared the trauma of his exposure, whereas if Hank wins they might avoid the worst of all possible outcomes, but it’s guaranteed that her family will be hurt in the process. I don’t think greed really factors in.
Hank’s story, meanwhile, is heading for a tragic end, as he lays out what has been clear in implication for seasons: that even in a best case scenario wherein he brings Walt to justice, he will be ending his own career in the process and facing disgrace. He lays it out for Marie, saying that his last hope of salvaging a little dignity out of the situation is that “I can be the man who caught him.”
What Hank wants, what he needs, is a choice. To feel like he has some control over how his situation resolves, even if all of the potential outcomes are dire. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Walt said as much back in the first season when it was his turn to hold the talking pillow. I don’t think that puts Hank on his level, or even the level he was on back in Season 1, it just says that men are motivated to make bad choices by the same basic impulses.
But it’s the women of Breaking Bad that currently control those men’s fates. Walt puts his future in Skyler’s hands. Hank needs Marie to get any useful info out of Skyler. Lydia is ordering up murders by the dozen in order to reorder the Southwest meth trade to her liking. It almost makes you wish they were making better decisions than their male counterparts, but then that wouldn’t make for very good TV, would it?
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of histories greatest monsters. Walt’s tutelage of Todd and enabling of Lydia lead to their murder of Declan and ten of his guys.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “Guy hit ten guys in jail within a two minute window. All’s I’m sayin’.” Absentee badassery is perhaps the most potent badassery of all.
Best Lie – Nobody’s really lying this week. But credit to Jesse for not giving the Feds a shred of anything to work with. It seems like a simple thing to just clam up completely when being questioned by the police, but practically no one actually does it.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15. No Flynn at all this week. I feel kind of bad saying it, but I’m not looking forward to the episode that focuses on his reaction to the truth about his father.
We Are Done, Professionally – It would appear that Lydia’s partnership with Declan has come to an end.
It’s The Little Things – Rolling Barrel Cam! Doomed GPS Device Cam! The shells dropping down through the fan grate in front of Lydia. Todd’s helpful, accommodating attitude toward her thirty seconds after a mass murder. “I’ll send you to Belize.” How much darker Hank’s office looks when he returns burdened by his new knowledge. “It’s not filthy, it’s just, it’s dimly lit.”