This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.
Jon: After the shock that "Dead Freight" ended on last week, it was fitting that we began with a wordless, really creepy scene to open this week's episode of Breaking Bad. The atmosphere surrounding Walt, Mike and Todd as they barrel-ized the poor 14-year-old and his dirtbike was somber and complimented by a excellently crafted piece of droning music to emphasize the dreary business they had to complete. Meanwhile, Jesse is outside the garage having a smoke, presumably still so shaken from the shooting that he's excused from clean-up duty. Eventually Todd joins him, and acts like murdering a kid is no big whoop. He promptly gets clocked in the eye by Jesse and elicited a fist pump from me (fuck you, Landry!). When we come back, Todd's pleading his case to still be a part of the team. It's no surprise that Jesse wants him gone, but for once Mike and Walt agree on something and vote that he stay since he knows too much and they're not too keen on killing anyone else that night. So, we haven't seen the last of psychopath Todd or the kid's taranchula in a jar that he's now claimed, probably as a memento of a productive day (and only a bit incriminating with it still being covered in the kid's prints).
Meanwhile, the next day Mike hilariously spots and loses another tail by Gomey and a DEA grunt. He checks in on the bug still broadcasting from Hank's office and realizes there's still a lot of heat on him, channel's Danny Glover, and decides to arrange a buyout of his share of the methylamine by a rival from the Phoenix area to get out of the business all together with a cool $5 million. He gets Jesse on board with his plan and the two try to talk Walt into joining them, but predictably he stubbornly refuses (more on that below). Mike and Jesse have one of those middle-of-the-desert business meetings Breaking Bad loves so much with this new drug lord. He quickly susses out that they have a third partner who isn't selling his share of the 1,000 gallons of methylamine, which means the infamous blue meth will still be out on the streets. This guy is no pushover and only has an interest in purchasing this stuff to get the blue meth out of circulation, so there's no deal until Jesse and Mike can get Walt to sell as well.
Jesse seems to be completely finished with the meth biz at all costs at this point, and goes over to Walt's house in an attempt to change his mind about selling. Now, all this season Walt has been manipulating Jesse into doing what he wants seemingly at will. But not this time. No, he just guilts him into it.
You see, Walt has been highly distressed by this whole methlymine-selling scenario, reduced to sulking in his living room easy chair with little more than a glass of scotch, a houseful of silence and a lifetime of regrets. And those regrets have manifested themselves into where we are today. Walt is haunted by the buyout he took for Gray Matter decades ago; you know, the company he started with Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, who we met way back in season one. You might remember them as the billionaire scientists who offered to pay for his chemo treatments? Well, the details are still unclear but we now know Walt left the partnership for personal reasons. The short-term financial gain then pales in comparison to the torment he puts himself through each week by forcing himself to look at Gray Matter's worth each week. Walt doesn't want to make the same mistake again. Plus, it's become more than that now. Since his family is broken (and that was the whole reason he started down this path in the first place), he claims his motivation to continue cooking is not financial. So if he's not in the money business and not in the meth business (per se), what the hell is he doing it all for? In a bold speech, Walt proclaims he's actually in the EMPIRE business, aka the power biz as we discussed last week. He is trying to build an empire that would rival the one he presumes he would have had if he hadn't taken that buyout all those years ago. The man is going to overdose on power quicker than Jane OD'd on their blue meth.
But then Skyler walks in through the front door, and we're quickly treated to what turned into an awkward dinner of epic proportions. For all the heaviness this episode waded through, this scene was a welcome sight and a great reminder at just how hilarious it can be when it chooses. At the close of the dinner, Walt reveals to Jesse just how bad his home life has become. He knows that's a sad tale but it might not be enough to sway Jesse back to his side, so tells him, "This business is all I have left. And you want to take it away from me." That's probably enough for the good-hearted Jesse, who thinks so highly of Walt still, to get back on his side.
Later, Walt arrives at the gang's headquarters to swipe his share (if not all) of the methylamine. Mike anticipates this and holds him hostage in the office for the rest of that night. However, Mike has an appointment with Saul and Hank at the DEA and leaves Walt zip-tied to an old-school radiator while he attends it. This gives Vince Gilligan and company another opportunity to flex their creative science muscles as Walt hatches an escape plan by using the live wires from a coffee pot to melt the plastic cuff holding him down. (A quick side note: I usually am all for the utilization of crazy science to help Breaking Bad characters get in and out of their pickles, but this time the lack of common sense in lieu of creating drama bothered me a bit. I'd think placing the wire on the other side of the zip tie against the radiator would be the safer option, preventing him from burning himself. But electrocuting plastic that also will hurt your main character exemplifies just how desperate he was to free himself, so for drama purposes, the higher stakes made sense. The only reason I can come up with as to why this wouldn't have worked is the metal coils would have conducted the electricity and thus become an even greater hazard than the severe burn on Walt's wrist. Obviously, I have no idea if this is the case, and the show made no attempt to explain Walt's decision, so all I'm left with is speculation.) And just like that, Walt is back on the streets causing mayhem once more.
So while we watched Saul work his magic on Hank and Gomey, our newly freed Walt managed to move all the methylamine in addition to talking Jesse into backing him up once all is revealed to Mike. And we'll just have to tune in next week to see if everyone wins, as Walt asserts with Mike's pistol pressed against his temple.
All relatively straight-forward stuff, don't 'cha think? Speaking of which, that's been one thing I've noticed this year -- there's not much to analyze on this show. Maybe I just got spoiled with Mad Men a few months ago, but I really expected to be able to delve into BB with more gusto. Obviously this is our first crack at examining the show week by week here at LowBrowMedia, but I've always felt previous seasons were overloaded with talking points. This being the final season may explain that since everything has to start coming to a conclusion, but everyone's motives are basically laid out for us right now and I'm finding it difficult to drum up subjects worthy of great discussion. It's still an excellent show, but perhaps it's not rife for deep analysis as I had led myself to believe it to be.
So, what say you, Mike (and fellow blue-meth heads)? Is everything merely as it seems, or is your old pal Jon just missing something incredibly obvious in these first eight eps?
Mike: Well, in answer to your last paragraph, I think a lot of the problem lies in the fact that, although they do have certain things in common, in that they are both extremely high quality shows on the same network, "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" are two completely different shows. I think the case could be made that "MM" is more of an English major's paradise, pregnant with undercurrent and symbolism, while "BB" is a little more of an open book.
That said, as I often say, I hope I never have to choose, at gunpoint, whether "MM" or "BB" is the better show. For as much as I love the unpredictable, black-humored, breakneck crime noir that "BB" has become, I also hesitate to say that I enjoy it more than the pointillist, character-focused short story narrative that is "MM" at its best.
Which also isn't to say that I don't enjoy writing about both shows! Speaking of, here goes for episode six of this season:
- I agree, it was a great cold open this week. I knew what was going to happen next, but I still gasped a little bit as the small, cold hand was uncovered in the dirt. That's some pretty great all-purpose acid they've got access to, huh? Disposes of a metal and plastic dirt bike just as cleanly and completely as human remains.
- Todd, Todd, Todd. What are we going to do with you? Oh, cool. Sure, that works -- we'll just keep you on. Yeah, he deserved that punch from Jesse, and also that neck grab from Mike, but I still maintain that he made the best, most pragmatic, business-positive decision last episode. (What I should probably underscore is that, of course, it really doesn't make it morally right in my book.) But that's not the business they're in. Every stage of this thing, from precursor fluid to blue meth in some poor junkie's bloodstream is based on hurting someone. There are no winners here, as Walt is getting closer and closer to finding out. I mean, he is, right? That's the only way that we can interpret the opening sequence from the season premiere? Right?
- Okay, a pretty obvious thing I'm going to say anyway: I think this meth competitor/precursor buyer is going to be nothing but trouble. And would it have killed Mike to doctor the numbers a bit so that it wasn't so obvious that Walt was being a stick in the mud? Well, it will probably end up killing Mike in the end, one way or the other. I hope it doesn't happen, but I have had a theory since the season premiere that Mike won't survive this half-season. He had a good run.
- I agree with Walt. I think a year, maybe a year and a half is a reasonable amount of time before doing any soul-searching.
- Some great Skyler stuff this episode, which also continued to make my stomach ache for all the tension in just about every scene she's in. I mean, can't she just chill out for one minute? Yeah, it made for some pretty impressive, and -- again, agreed! -- much-needed comedy during the meeting Jesse again for the first time and dinner party scenes. Was the last time Jesse was even on Skyler's radar when she came over to his house and yelled at him for being Walt's pot dealer in the first season? Either way, I just loved when Jesse was bug-eyed, taking the longest sip of water ever captured on film. And whatever DID happen to truth in advertising? It's interesting to see that, as I've mentioned before, Walt is essentially living a lie in most aspects of his life, which is in turn enabling him to be more truthful in his relationships with Skyler and Jesse, however painful that might be.
- Speaking of the lines he's feeding Jesse about building his empire, as I've just implied, I think he's being more or less completely truthful for perhaps the first time with Jesse. (It just hit me -- in a reversal of the usual scenario, it's Jesse that needs to convince Walt to do something that he wants.) I wonder when the not-so-subtle shift from simply providing for his family to nascent emperor Walt happened. If I had to hazard a guess, it would probably be around the time the last emperor had half his face blown off and this kind of thing became even a distant possibility.
- Jon, if memory serves, I'm pretty sure in the episodes with Gretchen had at least a pretty heavy implication that she left a personal relationship with Walt for one with their business partner, and that was what resulted in him leaving the company. So, of course, it wasn't quite as cut-and-dry as he's making it seem to be here, but just using a bit of the truth to make Jesse second-guess himself. A classic Walter White-brand manipulation!
- I also loved the interaction between Mike and Walt at the end of the episode, and then Walt's "MacGyver"-esque escape from radiator confinement. Though it was on a much smaller scale than last week, I was left just as breathless after this scene, and winced right along with Walt as he singed his wrist with arcing electricity. After yet another hilarious meeting with Saul, Gomie, and Hank, Mike has 24 hours with the law off his tail, so he can get out of this mess for good. What excellent timing that the now free, and now-precursor possessing Walt has a plan to get everyone their money and also keep everyone happy. What could possibly go wrong?
- Favorite one-liner of the week: "I've never seen anybody work so hard not to get five million dollars."
See you next time!
Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables:
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"
Week 3 - "Hazard Pay"
Week 4 - "Fifty-One"
Week 5 - "Dead Freight"