Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BREAKING BAD 5.11 - "CONFESSIONS"

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Even racist mass murderers respect the badassery of Hal Needham.  That was my big takeaway from the cold open this week.  I’m sure that Todd’s message will return as a factor somehow, but otherwise the scene seems primarily there to remind us of what we know about the train robbery and make explicit a plot point that didn’t really need explanation.  It’s not a bad scene, and it does reinforce Todd’s imminent failure as a chemist (the better to spur the Nazis into forcing Jesse to cook for them) but I doubt anyone would have been confused if they just showed up in Albuquerque next week.  Still, it does serve as the first of several recaps of earlier events in the series, wherein the teller whitewashes out their own culpability.  Todd simply omits the child-killing coda to his tale of outlaw derring-do.  Saul insists that he wouldn’t have gone along with the poisoning plan if he had known Walt’s full intentions.  And Walt, well, we’ll get into that more later, but his retelling manages not just to skirt the blame, but shift it to an entirely innocent party.  So I suppose the opening is interesting, but it still pales in comparison to each and every fraught, purposeful scene to come in the shortest goddamn hour of the week.  Plus, I wondered why they wouldn’t have that scene take place in the same diner where Walt stops to pick up the M-60.  I guess just because Arizona and New Hampshire lie on opposite sides of ABQ.

Anyhow, a TV series being able to draw to a close on its own terms is a relatively new phenomenon, but at such a time it becomes important to refocus in on what the show has always been about.  “Confessions” serves as a reminder of the Big Picture ideas that Breaking Bad has been explored since its inception:  masculinity, honesty, and the financial desperation of the supposed “middle class”.

Walt has long passed the point where he can justify his actions based on desperation or just trying to provide for his family (as a man does, according to Gus Fring).  That doesn’t jive with proclamations about being in the Empire Business, and besides he’s collected the $737,000 he calculated he needed to secure his family’s future back in the S2 premiere about 50 times over by now.  He has so much money, burying it in the desert seems like the most practical way of handling it.  No, Walt continues to do what he does because he wants to feel like a man, like he’s the one in charge of his fate, even if it is to be horrible.  He wants to be the one who knocks, regardless of whether the guy on the other side of the door did anything to deserve what comes next.

And even if they make objectively awesome karaoke decisions
And even if they make objectively awesome karaoke decisions
Hank has different ideas.  He tells Walt that the only way out of this mess is to “Step up, be A MAN, and admit what you’ve done.”  One of the subtler arcs of the show has been the steady reversal of Hank and Walt’s positions, vis a vis masculinity, as the series has gone on.  In the first season, Hank was a swaggering alpha douche who would wrestle the spotlight away from his brother-in-law at his own birthday party without a thought, and Walt was the meek sliver of a man who didn’t even require a fully attentive handjob on his birthday (and don’t get me started on the improper sidearm technique).

He was the anti-Needham, if you will
He was the anti-Needham, if you will
 But as Walt sought to assert himself in increasingly callous and eventually hugely destructive ways, the trauma heaped upon Hank served to gradually uncover that underneath the bluster, there was actually a caring and upstanding man.  There’s a point in “One Minute” (which is starting to get some serious competition for my favorite hour of the show here in the home stretch) where Hank tells Marie “I’m not the man I thought I was,” and that’s “not who I’m supposed to be.”  This is just before he elects to come clean about his beating of Jesse and take his punishment. Like a man.  To Hank, honesty is an inherent component of masculinity.

A refined palette in excretory literature certainly doesn't hurt
Though a refined palette in excretory literature certainly doesn’t hurt
But Walt, he doesn’t just lie, he lies big.  Is there any problem so large that it can’t be solved by an extended, faux-emotional, explosively-hypocritical monologue?  “Confessions” seeks to test that, and to be fair, Walt should be pretty confident in the tactic’s efficacy.  It is, to quote one of the more paradoxically honest men on the show, an option that has worked very well for him in the recent past.  It wasn’t that long ago that he brought Jesse around from pointing a gun at his head to helping him suicide bomb a nursing home.  First of all, Jesus, when you actually type that out… But mainly, I can see how that turnaround, and his bringing Jesse back into the fold after the beating from Hank caused him to swear up and down he wanted nothing more to do with the Great Heisenberg, would cause Walt to be a bit lazy and transparent with his latest idle “suggestion” that Jesse call the up the Vacuum Man and skip town.  He wasn’t particularly subtle when he planted the idea of breaking things off with Andrea last year, either.  And it does actually work anyway, if only because Jesse is too weary to do more than insist that he drop the folksy paternalism.

Walt puts more effort and nuance into his lie to Flynn about where his shiner came from, using only the softest touch necessary to get him to avoid the Schraders for a night so that he and Skyler can concoct an insurance policy against them that makes the issue of using your cancer to manipulate your son into avoiding information about your international meth/murder ring look downright quaint.  That “confession”…damn if it isn’t the most impressive, fiendish, elaborate lie of the series.  It’s a jaw-dropping scene when it is revealed, and acted with sickening gusto, with Walt playing broken, morose victim to the hilt even as we know him to increasingly view himself as the master of the universe.

To take a derail into acting for a minute, aside from the impressive displays the character of Walter is putting on this week, it should be noted that the entire regular cast is on fire this entire episode.  Okay, RJ Mitte is still just struggling to find a new spin to put on asking what’s going on, but Cranston and Paul are knocking things so incredibly far out of the park that it can be easy to overlook how great Odenkirk is at playing Saul both in his element (in the interrogation room) and in distress (when Jesse storms the office), or how good a submission episode this would be for Dean Norris, even if it only consisted of the 10 minutes between when he steps into that day-glo Mexican monstrosity and when he and Marie react to the video.

rest
We thought they couldn’t do a more awkward dinner than 
Jesse’s green bean disaster.  But we did not yet know Trent.
 But it would also be ignoring Betsy Brandt, who is phenomenal in the restaurant scene, and surprisingly lands the ultimate dramatic gutpunch.  I love how she can’t bring herself to even look at Walt until she drops her cold, hard, eminently practical suggestion on him.  Advising someone else to commit suicide is sort of a ludicrous suggestion on its face, but really, if Walt were to off himself it would solve most of the problems for everyone else at that table.  He, of course, has other ideas, revolving around a special edition, “director’s cut” of the “not a confession of guilt” video that opened the pilot.

walt
“My name is Walter Hartwell White. To any law enforcement agencies, 
this is not an admission of guilt, and also, if you find my pants, 
please return them to 308 Negro Arroyo Lane…”
In this version of history, Walt was conscripted into cooking on behalf of his greedy, violent brother-in-law, who had decided to work the other side of his badge and scoop some of that gold from the streets.  This is evil because it foists the blame for all of Walt’s misdeeds onto a completely innocent family member, but it’s genius because of how many true details he was able to work in bolster the frame of the lie.  Hank did take Walt on a ridealong just before the blue meth appeared, and did take the kids from their terminally ill father’s care, which are easily verifiable.  He did have an enmity with Gus Fring that led to the other man to send the twins after him in the parking lot.  Walt did create the bomb that killed Gus.

But that’s all circumstantial, and could probably be fought off in a he said/she said court battle.  Not saying that Hank would get to keep his current gig, but I don’t see him doing jail time based on those parts of the story alone.  The real nails in Hank’s coffin come from his own dishonesty and financial desperation.  I wouldn’t say that Hank has “broken bad” in the way that Walt or even Skyler has, but it is interesting that he and Walt’s positions have flipped around to the point where it’s Hank who has been backed into a corner by prohibitively expensive medical treatments.  But of course it’s dishonesty that has tightened the noose.  Marie’s in trying to navigate around Hank’s pride, and Hank’s in refusing to expose Walt until he can bring him in on his own terms.  These are eminently understandable decisions given the context in which they were made, but they provide just the threads that a master of the lie form like Walt needs to complete an utterly damning mosaic of Hank Schrader: Criminal Mastermind.

Wait, a methsaic!  Is it too late to change that to methsaic? Because that’s totally like a pun on methamphetamines.

Metaphor:  Nailed.
A mosaic. Made of threads. Of amphetamine.  Metaphor = Nailed.
The “confession” appears to be an utter checkmate on Hank’s ability to hurt Walt.  But then Saul had to get cute with having Huell lift Jesse’s sack of weed.  Obviously, Jesse is not going to get very far setting fire to the Whites’ house, which is stripped out but not burnt out in the flashforwards, but the ramifications of his finally realizing what went down with Brock have 5 more weeks to play out, and if he and Hank do not end up working together in some capacity, I’ll be a disarmingly polite meth-monkey’s racist shitbag uncle.

Again, just because it's lovely
This spin-off is still possible.  All’s I’m sayin’.

Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys

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 a half dozen of his guys.  Jesse beats Saul for his role in Brock’s poisoning.

Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “I beat this once.  And there’s no reason to think I won’t do it again.”  Walt’s talking about his cancer, except he’s not.

Best Lie – Walt’s “confession” video is obviously a four course, diabolical, kaiju-sized bear trap of dishonesty.  But I want to single out the offhand way Walt responds to Hank accusing him of running a drug empire with an almost exasperated “there’s no drug empire.”  I hope someone has already edited that to be followed immediately by “I’m in the Empire Business,” in full Arrested Development-style.

Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15.  And here I was dead certain that Jess would look up from splashing gasoline all over the floor of the White house to see Flynn staring at him over a bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch.  I could still see that being the opening next week.

We Are Done, Professionally – Walt tries to send Jesse on a real trip to Belize, but Jesse puts together some pieces and decides he wants to say goodbye to Mr. White first.  Saul will probably be closing all his files marked “Pinkman” pretty soon.

It’s The Little Things – The new spin on the signature time lapse shot, of an interior with the cops fruitlessly interrogating Jesse.  Walt’s running the five steps from his car to the door of the car wash before stopping to compose himself.  The tarantula in the desert (and it only now occurs to me that tarantulas have a way of scaring the crap out of people, despite being essentially harmless to humans, making for an apt reminder of Drew Sharpe).  Walt fretting with Skyler’s concealer to mask his shiners from Jr.  The smorgasbord of bold, clashing colors on Saul’s, shirt, striped tie, and Wayfarer ribbon. Skyler mumbling “thank you for your honesty” to a customer who returns a couple bucks in extra change.  The Hello Kitty phone returns!  Everything involving Trent the Waiter, who gamely tries his usual upselling technique, with no way of knowing that this is the absolute last 4 top that would be interested in watching someone lovingly handcraft a distinctive, brightly colored concoction for their consumption right there at the table.

Monday, August 19, 2013

BREAKING BAD 5.10 - "BURIED"

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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.

jesse
Just thinking about the time he met Bob Barker, I’ll bet
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?

hue
Actually, I’d watch that show too
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.

YOU DONE FUCKED UP NOW
YA DONE FUCKED UP NOW
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.

When this guy is making this face, you've officially gone Too Far
When this guy is making this face, you’ve officially Gone Too Far
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.”

Which is silly, because we all know what he'll ACTUALLY be remembered for
Which is silly, because we all know what he’ll ACTUALLY be remembered for
 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?

Again, just because it's lovely
Again, just because it’s lovely
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys

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.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

BREAKING BAD 5.09 - "BLOOD MONEY"

break

In the past week or two I’d seen a bunch of folks with early screeners of the premiere say something to the effect of “holy shit! So incredible! And that’s just the cold open!”  Now, Breaking Bad’s cold opens are the best in the biz, and one of my favorite aspects of the show.  But could this one live up to the hype?

Well, not entirely, as it’s not actually that eventful.  It’s basically a tease, but a tantalizing one, revealing new aspects of what drove Walt into Hampshirean exile (whatever happens, the state of the house indicates it will be nice and public) as well as what’s to come (someone’s getting ricin’d! Dad went to the trouble of making the stuff, and someone’s going to eat it, damn it!), as well as featuring Cranston’s remarkable physical transformation into the post-Heisenberg, walking dead version of Walter. That lingering shot of the shattered reflection of Walt’s face speaks volumes about how far into the ground his inflated self-image from season 5A has been driven by this point in the future.   There’s no kingpin in that reflection, no father, not even a chemistry teacher.  Just a husk.

Before getting to the meat of things, let’s check in with Jesse briefly.  He is a hollowed out shell of himself, struggling with the guilt of a death that he played a part in last year.  But by this point we should probably just expect him to start out a season that way.  This time, instead of slumping through rehab or throwing the world’s most soul-deadening party, he’s playing a demented live action version of Paperboy with $10,000 bundles of cash.  Aaron Paul does crushing guilt like a champ, and he and Cranston still play off each other so well that you hardly notice that their long talk here is basically pieces of a dozen prior conversations stitched together.  I’m still impatient for him to take more action against/with the other major characters.

jesse

We also get a glimpse at the booming car wash business, and a brief Skylar vs Lydia skirmish.  Oh, Lydia, you might be a dangerously unstable business associate, but you don’t stand a chance against the fury of Mrs. White when her slice of domestic bliss marginal acceptability is threatened.  It’s a rarity to see Skylar get to be assertive, since she’s been stuck in such a tight box ever since she learned of Walt’s activities.  But I bet even the haters were on Skylar’s side in this one, and that both the character and Anna Gunn enjoyed having a deserving place to vent.

Hank, meanwhile, quickly shows himself to be less suited to maintaining an elaborate fa├žade than his brother-in-law.  He may be a blustery sort, but he just isn’t able to conceal the depth of hurt and anger he feels over this revelation, and seems to know it as he sequesters himself in the garage to work out the extent of his brother-in-law’s crimes.  His detective-ing montage, complete with funky 70’s-ish music, was terrific all around, but the shot of the goofy Schraderbrau logo put it over the top into sheer awesomeness.  If that is not the avatar for at least 3 members of the Chud message boards by the time this posts, I officially do not understand the internet.

brau

Honestly, Walt figuring out that Hank must have taken Leaves Of Grass is quite a leap, but it’s one that leaps us right to the real meat of the cat and mouse game that must ensue, so I was pretty much all for it. When it cut out on Walt standing in his driveway, GPS tracker in hand, I figured that was it and was all ready to start writing up a very favorable review.

But what gives me so much hope for these last episodes is that it didn’t end there, although it would’ve been a perfectly adequate revelation on which to end a premiere. No, we then get one of the most significant scenes of the series entire run, something we’ve been anticipating and dreading since the pilot: Hank confronting Walt about his crimes.  It does not disappoint.  Punches are thrown.  Curses are hurled.  Lies are feebly put forth, and quickly abandoned for threats.

I should probably state for the record that Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris are really fucking incredible actors.  It may be early and foolish to make such a call, but I’d say that not only is Cranston a shoe-in to win one last Actor award from the Emmys this year, but Norris might even elbow past Aaron Paul for the Supporting trophy (Emmy voters certainly play favorites with shows and like to honor ones as they wrap up, so tough break Mandy Patinkin and John Slattery).  One of the pleasures of these remaining episodes will be seeing these two guys play off each other with their hole cards showing, and this was a fine start.

hank

And it happened so fast!  I’ve talked before about how Breaking Bad has a reputation as a slow-paced show that is not quite deserved.  The show has always been fascinated with process and, abetted by a protagonist who thinks through his problems methodically, it will go in for extended sequences where we just watch a character work, or stew in their own juices.  But the show has also burned through a ton of plot in its 60 or so episodes, and has made a habit of progressing its storylines at a thrillingly haphazard pace.  Remember how abruptly the Tuco situation came to a head, or how the Cousins were swept off the board midway through the third season, or how Walt expanded internationally, made hundreds of millions of dollars and retired from cooking in the course of a montage at the end of last year.  And so just as it feels like we’re settling in for an extended chess match between Walt and his new nemesis, Gilligan and co. say “nah, fuck that” and cut right to the quick.  It’s exhilarating to see the narrative pedal put to the floor like this, but also probably wise, since Hank is no dummy but probably can’t compete with Gus Fring as a chess player (particularly since Hank has so muchto lose by exposing Walt), and there is not enough time left to play out that particular string in a way that would not feel on some level like a rushed retread of that dynamic.  
Plus, we now get to see Hank confront Skyler about her role in all this, and interact with Jesse…

Only 7 more episodes. I don’t want to get my hopes up too far (my trust still carries a LOST-shaped scar from the last time I thought a show might really nail the landing). But if this episode is an indication of how the season as a whole will play out, things are going to go quickly, badly, and end on the strongest note of all.  And even if the end somehow sucks, I will always carry Badger’s Star Strek spec in my heart.

walt

Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys

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.

Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”


Best Lie – Certainly not his feeble attempt to convince Jesse that despite all signs pointing and flashing at it, he did not kill Mike.

Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count - 15. The writers are apparently making a late-game surge to have the kid’s onscreen dinner tally match his breakfasts.  They’ll need to squeeze about 9 more into the next 7 episodes, but I think they’ll get there.

We Are Done, Professionally – Walt rejects Lydia’s entreaties to teach a summer course in remedial chemistry to his replacement cooks.

It’s The Little Things – “Feliz Cumpleanos, Enrique!” (for some reason this made giggle). Saul having one phone with Hello Kitty decals on it in his drawer full of burners. The brief glimpse of the picture of Hank posing over No-Doze’s corpse back in, er, “happier” days.  Walt still rocking the tighty whiteys.  Hank’s neighbor playing with the replacement RC car Hank presumably bought to replace the one Marie ran over several seasons back.