On…Breaking Bad – Blood Money (S5E9)

***SPOILER ALERT: HUGE SPOILERS FOR THE LATEST EPISODE OF BREAKING BAD***

How long has it been? Breaking Bad’s season split has led to one of the most anticipated episodes of all time. The viewer numbers reflect that, with more than a 100% increase for this episode over the previous one. Is this episode though actually good enough to justify that? With spoilers aplenty, I’m going to look more in-depth into the episode, talk about what I liked and didn’t like, and also speculate on the rest of the season. It’s a bit of a different format than my regular, general blog posts so if you’re looking for a more general review, please see my Breaking Bad post here. Without further ado, let’s begin!

The Flashforward

What a start. We see a grungy looking Walter attempt to break into his own house, which has now been fenced off and looks completely abandoned. It’s an opening reminiscent of the start of season 5, and the mirrors here are clear. When Walt enters his house, the shot is framed exactly the same way as how he entered his house for his previous two birthdays. Again, BB’s attention to detail is just tremendous and really adds a lot of depth to the show. Of course, the focal point of this scene is the spray-painted HEISENBURG on the wall. Then Walter retrieves the ricin from his bedroom, leaves the house, and encounters Carol who turns white as a sheet and drops her groceries.

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So obviously, from the spray paint, we can assume that Walter White’s secret gets out. People react badly, presumably, and from the damage done to the house and Carol’s reaction, it seems as though the community has taken on some of that fallout from the whole situation.

What about the ricin? Well, either Walter is aiming to kill someone else…or himself. I don’t think he’d be retrieving it just to keep it from being found as evidence, given the state of the house and how it’s already been broken into. Now, why would he need ricin to kill someone? If this is the same Walter White from the previous flash forward (which we can reasonably assume), we know he buys a M60 machine gun. The ricin is more than just a weapon, I really do think if it’s going to be used to kill anyone, it’s going to be someone important. I just hope it’s not Jesse, whose fate is looking more perilous than ever.

Furthermore, Carol’s reaction is revealing. To me, it seems as though she is terrified but more shocked than intimidated. Honestly, I think that is the reaction of someone who looks as though she’s seen a ghost. I wonder if Walt is planning to pull off some faked death during this season. And perhaps some situation presents itself which requires him to come out of the grave and prepare for some large battle.

Now, I also wanted to comment on the use of flash forwards. I understand their use as something to hype up the excitement for the episodes leading to the finale. They give us a small insight into the future of Walter White and given how much he’s transformed, there’s plenty of speculation as to what could have happened to have driven Walter to such a situation. But honestly, I wonder if they take away from some of the shock factor of the coming episodes.

Now we know for certain that Walter’s life is going to shit; but to be honest, any astute viewer could have figured that out seasons ago. There is not going to be a happy ending for Walter White. I just can’t see the show betraying that basic premise: that Walter starts off as the good guy but turns into something so morally bankrupt that he can’t possibly be redeemed. So what is the purpose of these flash forwards? I honestly think they’re somewhat of a lazy crutch to ramp up the tension for the finale. Then again, perhaps they’re more of a red herring and are more misleading than we think. If that’s the case, then maybe I can forgive them and the misdirection is rather clever; but otherwise, I find them to be a little unnecessary.

Hank’s Reaction

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I have to say, Dean Norris really got to show off his acting chops this episode. His nausea, his confusion, his inner turmoil, was really brilliantly shown off here with the combination of Dean Norris’ top-notch acting as well as the cinematography. And then the moment when he reverts back to the Hank we know, telling Marie that he’s ‘fine’, was just amazing to watch. The way he seems so turbulent, so conflicted, is really portrayed with a high level of finesse.

Whilst the montage of Hank trawling through evidence boxes was a little cliché, it served to reiterate Hank’s skills as a detective. It felt like a cool throwback to other police investigation shows. But I wonder if this actually backfires a bit, because showing all the evidence and all the photos, the sketch of Heisenberg, the conversations he’s had with Walt in the past…Hank piecing it all together now seems a bit late. Then again, I think we can forgive him, because we do tend to have a blind spot when it comes to people we love and trust.

Jesse’s Generosity

Poor Jesse. He’s quickly grown into my favourite character. And now, I am so worried about him. I am so worried that something is going to happen, or he’s going to put himself in a compromised position and it’s going to force Walter’s hand. Vince Gilligan has stated that Walter is going to do something unforgiveable this season…and I am so scared that will be Walt killing Jesse. So now, I see Jesse on screen, and I’m just screaming, “Take the money and run!” but of course, I know he won’t.

His decision to donate the money to Mike’s granddaughter and to the parents of that little boy was perfectly in line with his character. Jesse has always had a soft spot for kids. But in this case, I don’t think this was motivated by any feelings of charity. Jesse is clearly feeling conflicted about the means with which they obtained that money. Whilst that’s never been a problem previously, it seems as though Jesse feels like they’ve crossed a line. This is the final line. And that is making Jesse revert back to his reckless, self-destructive personality from earlier seasons. Which is why, once again, I am so scared for his wellbeing.

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Of course, Jesse has grown up a lot. And nothing portrays that more than his astute observation that Mike is dead and Walter knows that. Seeing Walter lie to him was so painful though. How many scenes have we seen like this already? How many times has Walter begged Jesse to understand, to exonerate him, to see Walter as the good guy? Jesse, it’s time to wake up. Mr White is bad news, and you need to get out.

It’s curious though that Jesse seems to be the only person left that Walter feels compelled to justify his actions to. To some extent, that’s to keep Jesse on his side; he’s the guy who could bring him down if he wanted. But I think it’s not entirely selfishly motivated. He clearly sees himself as a father to Jesse, and he wants to command Jesse’s respect. Still, all this begging has got to backfire right? I think Jesse has demonstrated in this episode that he finally sees through Walt, and things are going to unravel between them soon.

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Girl on Girl Action

I’m of course referring to Skylar’s showdown with Lydia. Lydia, of course, as nervous and paranoid as ever, I think is more dangerous than she appears. I think there are a lot of pressures on her, and things are going to get heated. Her appearance is a huge red flag, indicating that things in Walt’s business empire aren’t all sunshine and unicorns.

Skylar standing up to her, telling Lydia to leave and never come back, is her version of Walter’s “This is my territory” speech. She’s turning into a bit of a Heisenburg herself. She’s taken to the financial side of criminal proceedings quickly and the line between that and actual criminal activity is going to blur pretty fast.

Oh and did you notice that Skylar and Walt were both wearing white/beige coloured clothes? They’re matching sense seems to indicate that things between them are getting better, now that Walter is out of the business and they’re seemingly having a normal life (albeit with a ton of money to launder). I mean, they’re even sharing a bed, though there doesn’t seem to be much intimacy there. Walt’s suggestion at buying more car washes seems to surprise Skylar, but not in the “Are you fucking kidding me you monster?” kind of way but in a “Wait you actually said something sensible?” kind of way. I feel sorry for her; we know that this happy relationship is going to be short-lived.

The Showdown

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Boy oh boy. This scene really shocked me. When Walter turns up at Hank’s house, I expected Hank to sidestep the issue and spend more time trying to gather evidence before a big confrontation. Honestly, I thought Hank’s revelation would come at least two or three episodes into the season. This accelerated pacing was welcome, and I have high hopes for the rest of the season. But then, the garage doors go down, and I’m sure every viewer took a big gulp, found the popcorn, and got ready for something explosive.

Seeing Hank punch Walter was so satisfying. And the fact that Walter seems totally blown away, still tries to retain some of his Walter White sensibility, really shows that these two are formidable opponents. Of course, Walter quickly (and rather scarily) transitions into Heisenberg, and his ‘Tread Lightly’ line is going to be as iconic as ‘I am the one who knocks’, I’m sure.

I’m surprised he goes down the cancer route though. The whole “I’m going to be dead in six months” defense is a bit odd; hasn’t Walt learned by now that his cancer has never resolved his conflicts? It would be such a lame ending to have him succumb to cancer. I’m sure there’s a better ending for him, surely. Though perhaps that’s once again a betrayal of his hubris.

Still, my surprise comes from him not pushing the family angle more. He could have told Hank that revealing Walt’s identity is going to be a bigger problem for Hank than for him. How is it going to look if the biggest meth cook in the state is the DEA boss’s brother in law? How is it going to look when it comes out that Hank’s physiotherapy is paid for by blood money? I hope they show Hank dealing with these issues.

And for god’s sake, is anyone going to tell Marie anything? Even Walter Jnr. has had more character development than her.

Bonus

Walter White putting a towel down and kneeling in front of his toilet bowl and puking? Clearly a call back to Gustavo Fring. Really cool, again tying into the notion that Walter takes something from everyone he kills. Which is interesting because he didn’t actually kill Gus, as far as we know yet, the bomb on the wheelchair was orchestrated by Hector.

Skinny Pete and Badger’s conversation? So brilliant. I loved the little nod to the tele-transporter personal identity problem, which of course, is a genuine area of academic research in philosophy/metaphysics. Then again, it was said by a bunch of stoners on the show, so I’m not sure how well that actually reflects on my academic discipline. I know I said the pacing feels fast, but the fact that the director felt it necessary to include this 4 minute dialogue just goes to show that even though the world of Breaking Bad feels so much darker, there is still time for moments of light comedic brevity.

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