Breaking Bad Final Countdown: Part 7 of 8

September 29, 2013 will mark one of the saddest days in television history: The conclusion of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing dramatic series, Breaking Bad.

Truly, few samples of film, standalone or episodic, can match the skillful pacing or narrative flair of this show. And for that reason, I will pay my personal homage through the blogosphere: Episode-by-episode critiques and recaps of the final 8 installments of the series.

Be warned, there will likely be spoilers abound. This is primarily for fans who crave a post-viewing play-by-play. Comments are encouraged.

So without further ado:

Season 5 Episode 15 (Original Air Date: September 22, 2013)

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Choice. Its a funny thing, isn’t it? I mean, its nice to be altruistic. To act in pursuit of our needs and desires without implicating other people. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Depending on our choices, shit can get brutal. Like, car crash brutal. Whereupon impact, pieces shatter and fly into a million different directions. In these situations, no one gets out unharmed.

Just ask any of our key players. Even the not terribly relevant ones. Sorry, Andrea.

Mr. White’s made a few pretty bold moves. The infamous phone call, for one. Which had [almost] entirely abdicated Skyler of her role in the couple’s crimes. The kidnapping. Which, in retrospect, could have been just another layer in the phone call scheme. And then, of course, his sudden disappearance.

We pick up with the red getaway van that whisked away our troubled hero last time. Ed the Extractor pulls into the Vacuum Sales and Service Shop. Out of public view, he opens the backdoor. Howdy Heisenb– uh, Saul?

Our lovable Kevin Costner lookalike has a plan: to become a “douche-bag with a job and three pairs of dockers.” He’s thinkin’, best case scenario, to be a manager at Cinnabon. But first thing’s first: He needs a new photo for a phony Nebraska ID. He wonders about the huge gash on his face. Worry not, Ed assures, we’ll photoshop that shit out.

Saul’s to lay low for a few days. In the meantime, he’ll bunk in the basement. Oh, and by the way, hope you don’t mind having a roommate.

Who could it be? You guessed it: Walt. Erratic and vengeful with way too much time on his hands. He’s got a plan, but first, let’s check in on our mournful little mouse-faced Marie.

She’s got escorts. They promise they’ll find Hank. Ok, that’s comforting… Until they pull up to her home and find it trashed and gutted. Two of the men scout the home while Marie’s promptly removed from the situation. So that’s, what? 30 seconds of screen time? Uh, did I write this episode?

The men search. Then Jesse’s voice, low and broken, invades the scene. The sound carries us to the lair of the thieves with the confession tape.

Jesse’s on screen. Eyes red and puffy. The Nazis laugh as if they’re watching an Episode of 30 Rock [RIP] and they skip ahead. Oh– what’s this?

The crew conveniently land on a bit about Todd. Specifically, his cold-blooded murder of a little boy. “BOOM,” Jesse emphasizes, “Like it was nothing.” He and the victim are identified by name. Should of re-thought that one, lil’ pup. Now you’re the rat.

Meth D’s a bit proud about Jesse’s retelling of the story. After all, with the life choices HE has made, it pays to be perceived as a psychopath. But Uncle Jack reacts from a slightly different point of view: one of his men has been identified. That ain’t cool.

He’s ready to put the kid down, but Meth D intercepts. Its funny how often the interests of Lydia align with the presence of Jesse. He can provide her with the product purity and color she wants. And he also carries information that can help or harm her empire. Which would also mean, if the Nazis comply, that they can get even MORE filthy rich.

But above all, Methy’s got a crush. And he’ll stop at nothing to gain Lydia’s approval.

Jesse knows nothing about any of this. He’s still in his cell. Staring at the photo of Lydia and Brock. Then he notices his ticket to freedom.

A paper clip.

In a faraway land, Walt and Saul play catchup beneath the Vacuum Shop. Walt is madly focused on reclaiming his stolen money. He asks for about five “hitters and mercenaries” to enact his revenge.

Saul, ever the pragmatist, puts things into perspective. Walt being gone will solve nothing. His family won’t be safe. And there’s no simple way to transfer his money to them.

It’s clear to everyone that Walt’s got a bad hand and should fold. But why let that stellar poker face go to waste? Walt assures his audience that it’s only over when he reclaims his rewards and gives them to his family. No more effin’ around.

It’s not over, he gasps over a strangled cough. Ok, Old Man. We’ll believe it when we see it.

Meanwhile, Skyler’s effectively receiving her death sentence. Sort of. Really, its a warning about the legal action she might face for withholding information about her hubbie. The details of which are unclear beneath the the droney squealy noise ringing in her head.

As was the case when Walt received his diagnosis in Episode 1, those specifics aren’t really relevant. What matters is time is running out. And the course of action is anything but certain. Skyler’s at a standstill.

So that night, she quietly complies to surveillance. She sits in a darkened living room of a home once occupied with thoughts of future children. A loving husband. And the knowledge that her sister and DEA in-law were just a phone call away. But this house is no longer a home.

Reflecting over a cigarette, the silence is busted by Baby. Skyler walks into the room.

It’s Meth and the gang. In black masks. Circled around Baby’s crib. A man grabs Sky and covers her mouth. Todd is checking in to make sure nothing has been or will be mentioned about his “girlfriend.” He doesn’t want to come back. Cuz it’s kind of out of the way and gas is CRAZY expensive.

He makes sure the threat REALLY comes through with a shoulder-touch and leaves Sky to mull over things.

Later, Meth and Lydia connect at a coffee shop. He lights up as she steps in and dumbly attempts to follow when she sits back-turned at the next table. She corrects him, as I imagine she would do frequently in the inevitable erotic fan fiction about these two.

He procedes to boast about his good work scaring the shit out of Skyler. But she’s not satisfied. Subtle ain’t her game. Too much risk involved. She suggests taking a break from MD, Jack and the rest of his cronies.

Then Meth D plays his Ace. “We’re up to 92%. And its blue. And We’ve got Jesse locked up in a cage.”

Oh. Thinks Lydia. This changes things.

It’s back to Walt, taking refuge in his New Hampshire hideaway. Ed gives him a tour. Its basic. Month’s worth of canned goods. Steaks in the freezer. Generator. Woodburner. Bad TV reception. Two copies of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. No cellphone or internet access.

It’s casually mentioned that Walt is the subject of a nationwide manhunt. That being the case, Ed promises to bounce in the event that Walt leaves the gate of the reservation. Because no way is he risking his life for that.

Ed will be back next month with newspapers and supplies. Which gives Walt ample time to “Rest up,” and “Think about things.”

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As Walt willfully hides, Jesse plots his escape. His paper clip lock pick works swimmingly. Now he stands on a ladder built of a folded mattress and a bucket. He reaches for the top of the cell. Then the chatter nears.

When Meth D arrives with a bowl of ice cream, Jesse’s back in position. Good thing, too. Who would wanna miss out on a delicious mish mash of Peanut Butter Cup and Americone Dream? Guys, I’m pretty sure we were wrong about this guy all along.

I mean, he even takes the tarp off of Jesse’s cage so he can watch the stars! How precious.

Sucker. Now Jesse’s got one less obstacle in the way of freedom. In a quiet moment, he resumes his escape plan. I want to point out how incredible this feat is. Possible, sure, but the upper body strength one would need? Forget about it. I’ll just cook meth till they kill me.

Still, the little man makes it. He runs toward the barb wire fence. He leaps. Ravages his way toward the top. But his captors follow his trail. They picked him up on surveillance. He’s cornered. Helpless.

So he barks. Loud. He’ll never cook for them. Not again. So they better kill him now.

Poor Jesse. You really should have thought this through. Your choices effect the world outside of you. The people you care about. The things you want to protect. They are extensions of you. Just as accountable for every one of your actions.

The photo was designed as a reminder. It was a subtle way of saying, “there are worse things than killing you.” But Jesse is all heart. He took a risky opportunity and it backfired.

So MD and friends take him out for a late night drive. They visit an old friend. Lure her out of her home with the promise of seeing Jesse again.

MD explains that its nothing personal. And in the blink of an eye, she’s gone. Done. Dead. Nobody’s innocent. Nobody’s safe.

Jesse sees it all. And he’s reminded about the boy. Effectively they warn, “Don’t pull the trigger.” Its a matter of choice.

It’s 30 days from Walt’s arrival, and he waits like an adorable puppy at the gates. There he is! Ed! My Master who brings food and supplies!

He’s got replacement glasses. Stacks of newspapers. And updates on the family. They’ve moved out of the house. It’s fenced up now. Largely due to teenagers breaking in.

Skyler now works as a taxi dispatcher. She uses her maiden name. And there’s talk about Grand Jury.

Ed assists in administering Walt’s chemotherapy. He mentions that he’s now a pro after taking a course at the school of Youtube. Solid.

When he tries to leave, Walt begs him to stay. $10k for 2 hours, he proposes. Make it an hour, he bargains. It’s a deal. They start a game of cards, and Walt asks the tough questions.

In the likely event that Ed comes to the cabin and finds Walt dead, what happens to the money then? He asks if Ed would bring his money to his family.

Ed’s answer is honest and brutal. “If I say yes, would you believe me?”

That night, Walt sleeps. Photos of Skyler are all over the wall. Walt’s ring falls off his finger, waking him. He tries to place it back on. It won’t fit. He picks up a string and forms a necklace. Then he sits up. Struck with inspiration.

He takes a box and packs it with money. Then packages it nicely. Next morning he takes it outside to the gate. Overlooks the fresh tracks. And exits.

Next we see Junior in class. He’s got a phone call from Aunt Marie. And you thought we’d seen the last of her, huh? No such luck, buddy.

Junior takes the call in a secluded office. “Aunt Marie?”

We cut to a bar with a woman who is decidedly NOT Marie. “Hold on a sec, Honey.” She passes the phone to Walt.

He’s genuinely elated to hear his son’s voice. He rambles, trying to find an apology and a proclamation of love. None of it quite solidifies. But then comes the plan.

He asks about Junior’s friend Louis. He’s a good kid. Is his address the same? He wants to send a package to him that’s actually meant for Junior. Its important that he say nothing about it to anyone. Its got $100k. He wishes it could be more, but that’s all that fits.

Do you understand?

Junior’s quiet throughout the phone call. We can’t get a good read on him. But when he starts, its clear.

“You killed Uncle Hank!”

Then he pulls a Marie.

“Why are you still alive? Why don’t you just die already?! Just die!”

A screenwriting teacher once instructed that, when creating good drama, we ask ourselves, “How hard should I be on my characters?” To which the response is always the same:

“Harder.”

Be unforgiving. Be brutal. Let them fight through it and fight hard. Jesse’s there. And I thought it couldn’t get much worse for Walt, until the next scene.

Walt makes another phone call. To the DEA of Albuquerque. He tells them who he is, and leaves the phone dangling on the hook. His cover is blown.

He heads to the bar and orders a Dimple Pinch. Neat. Then he notices something curious on the television.

Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. They’re being interviewed about their recent $28 million Grant for drug abuse treatment centers throughout the southwest. It’s perceived as a political move to distance themselves from their Grey Matter co-founder, Walter White.

They minimize Walt’s involvement. He had nothing to do with anything but the name. What’s worse, the Walter White they knew – the kind, wonderful man they befriended – is gone. Buried. Dead.

Walt swells with fury.

The police arrive. But not in time.

And now, there’s

One.

More.

Left.

To review last week’s episode, click here.

Breaking Bad Final Countdown: Part 6 of 8

September 29, 2013 will mark one of the saddest days in television history: The conclusion of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing dramatic series, Breaking Bad.

Truly, few samples of film, standalone or episodic, can match the skillful pacing or narrative flair of this show. And for that reason, I will pay my personal homage through the blogosphere: Episode-by-episode critiques and recaps of the final 8 installments of the series.

Be warned, there will likely be spoilers abound. This is primarily for fans who crave a post-viewing play-by-play. Comments are encouraged.

So without further ado:

Season 5 Episode 14 (Original Air Date: September 15, 2013)

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When last week’s episode ended with a sentimental exchange between Hank and Marie, the internet was abuzz about what this meant for the characters. Because if Gilligan’s bell has conditioned us to think or feel anything in this kind of moment, its dread.

So in 7 days, we accepted Hank’s death. The arrangements were made. We buried him and we said our good-byes. That’s it. We hardly knew ye and all that jazz. But you dug your own grave, smarty-pants.

A grave that, a mere months prior, gave promise to a better life.

It was on that same ground that Walt and Jesse first cooked in a make-shift RV meth lab. And here’s where we begin this week. Same place. But back to a time when Jesse and Walt had no clue and a lot of aspirations.

In a quiet moment, the scantily clad Walt steps outside and mutters to himself incoherently. Then he picks up his phone to call Skyler. Nervous, he bumbles through his rehearsed lie.

He’s unsure. Meek. Timid. Well meaning, of course, but utterly terrified. We remember this point in his life, when the drug trade seemed kind of fun. Back when it was, What the hell? I’ll cook a few rocks, make a fast buck, then leave the game. Worst case scenario: I’ll be dead in 6 months and my family will be a few hundred thousand dollars richer. Junior and Baby’s school will be paid for. A part of me will live on. And they’ll wonder about their dad for the rest of their lives. Wonder how he could have loved us so deeply that he’d risk everything just to provide for his family.

Skyler and Walt exchange I Love You’s and tentatively schedule a weekend getaway. And suddenly I’m assisting in the funeral planning: Yeah — That coffin. That’s right, the one that looks like Ramesses II. I’ll take it.

Walt fades away. Then the RV and Jesse follow.

The commercials hiccup and bring us right back to the same spot. Back in the now. The gunfire subsides. And from a distance we ask ourselves, Who’s left standing?

Well, not Gomie for one (big surprise there). Hank is on his back, clutching his leg. He sees his partner’s weapon a few feet from his swiss-cheese remains. A spark inside says “Keep fighting,” so he weakly pulls his weight a labored yard or two. He’s just shy of his goal when Jack casually intercepts. “Simmer down, Sparky.” Things ain’t lookin’ too hot.

Todd (aka “Meth Damon”) points out that Pinkman’s missing. Henchmen Frankie and Lester are on it. The gang ID’s Hank and Gomie as agents of the DEA, which pretty much seals the deal. Hank’s to be put down.

Walt swells with humility and procedes to beg that Hank be spared. Its quite pathetic, really. Hank’s accepted Jack’s intent. Any further discussion is really just for kicks: there is no room for negotiation. But its a good thing for Jack that he takes the time to humor Walt. In the midst of his manic pleas, he spills the beans about the $80 million buried in this spot. He offers Jack a ticket to anywhere if he sets his brother-in-law free.

Oh Walt — your soft lil’ underbelly is showing! How cute! How thoughtful and sweet! Things are looking up for the —

Oh shit. Motherfucker just shot Hank in the head.

Ok, so we expected it. But that tiny glimmer of hope that he might make it made for a really hard fall. Inevitable, yes. But how often are the desires of protagonists so coldly ignored? This shit’s real.

Walt falls to the ground and howls mournfully. But the desert stillness mutes the anguish.

Jack smells his buried bones and gets right down to business. He points out the convenience of Walt’s coordinates and the lackeys dig. They take everything. Barrel by barrel, Heisenberg’s empire is dismantled.

But hang on. Even Nazi-Necks have sensitive sides. Jack leaves Walt a single barrel. That’s roughly $11 million, for the folks without calculators. Which is totally almost worth the cost of a dead in-law.

A well-placed time lapse counts the barrels and buries the bodies of yet another pair of supporting cast members. And we’re all left pondering: Why couldn’t it have been Marie?

Meth Damon offers his sympathy to Walt. Jack assures him that, had it not been for his nephew, Walt probably wouldn’t be alive. “No hard feelings,” he says, and the two fine gentlemen shake on it.

As Jack starts to leave, Walt reminds him that he still “owes him” Pinkman. Jack tries to call him on his bluff with his retort: “You find him and we’ll kill him.”

There he is! Hiding in the most obvious spot in the area – beneath a car. Not one of the writer’s best twists, but we’re here for the long haul. So moving on.

Jack’s a man of his word. Jesse’s prepped for execution. On his knees. Staring at two birds in flight overhead. Are they mid-combat? Its an image that disrupts the comfort of an endless blue expanse. He looks away.

MD intervenes. He thinks an interrogation is in order, seeing as Jesse has been in cahoots with the DEA. This information may be relevant. The guy’s got a point, I guess.

Walt approves and they begin to take Jesse away. But wait. Walt’s not finished. He looks Jesse in the eye.

“I watched Jane die. I was there, and I watched her die. I watched her overdose and choke to death. I could have saved her, but I didn’t.”

I can’t help but wonder if there is some catharsis in this confession. I’d say there is. But the snarl in his delivery is purely vengeful. His intent is unquestionably malicious.

Jesse’s dragged away and Walt enters his car.

He can’t look at his reflection in the rearview mirror. So he turns it away. Then he drives.

But before long, the car putters out. He looks at the gas gauge. Its empty. A bullet hole is the cause.

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Against a soundtrack of the Limliters’ “Take My True Love By the Hand”, Walt rolls his lone barrel of millions through the desert. Then he stumbles across a curious Native American in his modest brick house.

Walt notices a warn but sturdy truck outside. He wants to buy it. But its not for sale. What’s that you say? I can’t hear you over my flapping band of 100 dollar bills!

Sold.

Walt loads the truck and is on his merry way home. Back to his True Love.

Who is trying to reach him by the way. We catch her as she’s leaving a message. Then Marie comes in.

Still in the dark about her dead husband, Mrs. Schrader is feeling pretty above it all at the moment. She’s fantasized about revenge against Walt and her sister. And she’s got a pretty gnarly inferiority complex. So she brings out the guns.

She tells Skyler that Walt’s been arrested. She demands every copy of the video confession. And she instructs that Junior be informed about all of it. Skyler’s in hysterics.

But her verbal abuse is nothing compared to what Jesse’s been through. We check in to find him in an underground cell, face battered and bloodied beyond recognition. He can barely open his eyes. MD pays him a visit and he’s utterly terrified. “I gave you what you wanted!” He pleas. But he’s needed for a new purpose.

Namely, cookin’ meth. Only its under a pretty hostile work condition. I mean, the overhead ceiling leash could be deemed as a precaution. I’ll accept that. But the photo of Brock and Andrea is just a spirit-killer. Not cool, man.

Meanwhile, Junior’s not terribly thrilled about the new information he’s been fed. He’s got questions. Like, way too many if you ask me. Someone give this kid a bowl of cereal and just be done with it. I can’t stand him when he’s hangry (hangry, adj. experiencing hunger-induced anger).

You know its serious when he starts calling himself Flynn again. But really, onto more pressing matters.

Like Walt promptly getting the fuck out of Albuquerque. He’s back at home and packing like a champ.

Down the street, a stubborn Walt Jr — sorry, Flynn — is doing that thing where he refuses to buckle his seatbelt like some kind of spiteful grannie. And somehow he’s totally impervious to the incessant dinging. I’m really hating this kid right now.

As they pull up, they see Walt. But Wait! Hank, like, arrested you. Crap.

Skyler and Junior bombard the delirious, unrecognizable man in their house. He refutes their questions. Tells them everything’s fine in strangled, stabbing syllables.

Skyler accuses Walt of the murder.

“No!” Walt objects. “I tried to save him!”

Skyler extends her shoulders. Gains height. Mama Bear’s pissed. She roars at Walt. Demands that he leave.

He won’t budge.

What’s the story about the Meth Mastermind Who Cried Wolf? I’m guessing Skyler’s all too familiar with that one. Hence her resistance. And fear.

She’s terrified. Really. And when this kind of mania foregoes rationality, it backs defenseless animals into corners. And when animals are backed into corners, there’s one option for survival. To bite.

Or, in the case of a scared knife-wielding human, to slice. Right across the hand. In seconds, the estranged man and wife wrestle to the floor. Fighting for ownership of the deadly weapon.

Eventually, Junior intervenes. Walt stops. Realizes what’s happening.

“What are you doing?! We’re family?!” He’s falling apart. Shattering into millions of unfixable pieces. Wholly unable to accept responsibility for the collapse of this family unit.

Junior calls the police. Tells them his mom’s under attack by his dad. And that he may have killed someone else.

Walt’s tried the fight. Now he flights. And he takes Baby with him. The blood on his hands soils her clothing. Skyler desperately follows. She begs. She screams with every bit of maternal instinct left inside of her. But the cries are all ignored. Walt drives off. They’re both gone.

So, before we keep going, I’d like to give you all a chance to breath. I may have forgotten to do so at least 3 or 4 times in the course of the episode. And one of the most troubling scenes is still yet to come.

So here’s an intermission.

-Quick cut to Jeopardy music-

And we’re back!

First things First. A genuinely creepy moment with Walt and Holly in a public restroom. He’s still kind of bleedy. And he’s giving her the goo-goo baby talk. Not a developmentally sound parenting choice, but whatever. That’s just splitting hairs at this point.

After Walt proves his complete inadequacy as a father by getting his girl to cry for mommy in like 5 seconds, he decides to give mum a buzz.

The Whites residence is filled with police. Marie and Junior and Skyler all sit in the living area. The phone rings.

Skyler answers. Walt asks if she’s alone. Yeah? Ok, let the hate-fest begin.

There’s not really a tactic here. Its just unbridled, desperate, misdirected hate. He tells her that he took Holly to teach her a lesson. Tells her she’s always whining and complaining. Never obeys him. That she had no right to tell Junior anything. That everything is her fault and a direct result of her disrespect.

Oh, and that she’s a stupid bitch.

I’m not sure if Skyler’s stunned or just trying to keep him on the line. But she’s really great at letting him vent. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to remain so calm if my husband threatened to kill me like he does here.

Which brings me to the most interesting thing about this conversation: Walt concludes by saying “You’re never going to see Hank again,” presumably because “He crossed [Walt],” and then warns “Family or no. Let that sink in.”

Did Walt forget he wasn’t the guy who actually killed Hank? In this particular situation, he finds that assuming that role gives him the upper-hand. He adapts the evil behavior and carries it so close it mutates into something real. Kind of like what an octopus does, only exclusively with bad things that hurt people. Hm.

After the assault and unheeded request to come back home, Walt ominously informs us that He’s “still got things to do.”

He forgivingly leaves Holly in a firetruck in the Albuquerque Fire Station.

Then, next day, he stands in the very spot where Jesse waited for his ride out of town. Could this be Walt’s ticket to freedom? Something inside of me doubts it. But there’s only one way to find out.

Till next week, my beauties! Only 2 more to go…

EDIT:

Or is there an unexpected meaning to that final phone call? An escape plan, perhaps? A shot at Walter White’s redemption? Stay tuned as we peel back even more layers of this deliciously complex series.

To review last week’s episode, click here.

Breaking Bad Final Countdown: Part 5 of 8

September 29, 2013 will mark one of the saddest days in television history: The conclusion of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing dramatic series, Breaking Bad.

Truly, few samples of film, standalone or episodic, can match the skillful pacing or narrative flair of this show. And for that reason, I will pay my personal homage through the blogosphere: Episode-by-episode critiques and recaps of the final 8 installments of the series.

Be warned, there will likely be spoilers abound. This is primarily for fans who crave a post-viewing play-by-play. Comments are encouraged.

So without further ado:

Season 5 Episode 13 (Original Air Date: September 8, 2013)

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So how about something new this week? Let’s tip a hat to Gilligan and start from the end…

We’re going vintage. Back to the Indian Reservation To’hajiilee. Where it all began. A private pact between Walt and Jesse has since cracked wide open. And the pipe dreams of familial fortune are now crushed under Hank’s fist.

No one expected it, but the hapless DEA Agent has come out on top. That’s right, Hank finally nabs Heisenberg. And he revels in the moment.

He wants to share it. So he rings up Marie. He tells her what he’s done. What they’ve both wanted for so long. She’s misty-eyed. Congratulates him. They trade I Love You‘s and Hank promises to see her soon. Its a beautiful momen–

Wait, hang on. I don’t want this. I don’t think any one else watching this show wants it. This is not Hank’s battle to win. This is between Walt and Jesse. Between Evil and Misguided Good. What guides Hank’s actions? Pride and duty? Eff that. What about fighting for what you believe is right a la Jesse? Or preserving the one good thing that came of a really shitty situation like Walt? I don’t want the NARC to reign victorious. No way.

Perhaps the writers felt that they owed Hank some kind of tiny consolation prize. Fair enough. But hang tight – what’s that I hear? A team of hired assassins? Gentlemen, commence shootout.

Who will survive? The only certainty is Walt. And Hank’s everyone’s top pick to kick the bucket. Especially after that sappy reach-out to Marie? You’re gone, buddy.

Alright. Let’s take it back…

The episode begins with Lydia, Todd and friends in a meth lab. They’re tweaking the latest product. Solid, indeed. But Lydia, the fierce independent business woman, schools her cooks on ‘branding’. Namely: If it ain’t blue, it ain’t happenin’. An apologetic Todd later explains, over tea, that he screwed up that last batch. It’ll get better, he assures.

As Lydia bids adieu, Todd receives the call that ended last week’s episode. You know the deal. Now a man with a swastika tattoo is out for Jesse’s blood. Should have gone to Alaska, little man.

For now, though, he’s relatively safe. He, Hank and Gomez devise a new plan to “get” Walt. Remember last week’s promise that Jesse “Get him where he really lives?” No dummy, not his house! He’s talking about his money — Stay with me here! They know he’s got it somewhere. But how to find it?

As they ponder, Hank pulls out a bloody wad of meat and throws it on the kitchen floor. While not immediately evident, Hanky’s got a plan:

A photo op! Because what’s more convincing than a pic of a guy with his guts spilling out? It certainly worked on Heffer Huel. When Hank demonstrates an inside knowledge of Heisenberg’s major moves and throws a Jesse “death pic” into the mix, the message is clear. Jig is up buddy. Withhold information and we’ll throw you to the hounds!

Huell doesn’t know much, but it is enough. He squeals about the rental van Walt uses to transport his barrels of blood money. He tells them about the shovel and the fact that the vehicle was dirty, implying an off-road venture. They now know he buried it somewhere in the desert! — Great, that narrows it down.

Walt positions his men for the next move. Neo-Nazi Jack interrogates his client about his reason for the hit. Asks if its a rodent problem. “No,” Walt assures, “He’s just angry.” Walt insists that the hit be quick and painless. “He’s like family to me.”

Is anybody still buying into Walt’s claims that everything he’s been doing is for the family? He continues to hide stuff from Skyler. He seems fairly indifferent about Junior. Does he even know  Baby’s name?

I’m not negating Walt’s inital motivation. Sure, he meant well in the beginning. But what matters to him now? Jesse’s up there. Walt has sincerely bent over backwards to protect the two of them. And Jesse preserves Walt’s humanity better than anyone.

Money is also big. When Jesse devises the scheme to hit Walt where it hurts, he doesn’t bring Skyler or Junior into the mix. Behind the righteous for-the-family bullshit, Its all about the Benjamins.

Grim, I know. But not exactly unexpected. Walt, like anyone on planet earth, craves validation. He wants his legacy. That much has been evident since unearthing his missed opportunity in Season 1’s “Grey Matter”. Success is the aim.

And culturally, what defines success? The good graces of a sloppy, hot-headed meth dealer and addict? Or the glossy, prosperous, picture perfect family? Providing for the family is and has always been the goal. But maybe the reasons are a little more self-seeking than we’d thought initially.

He needs his legend. And Jesse needs justice. Something’s gotta give. “Time is of the essence,” Walt tells Todd, Uncle Jack, and pals. He doesn’t know where his prey is hiding. But, he “knows how to flush him out.” The men agree, but the cost is high: Walt must cook for them. One last time.

bb_ep13_1I’m anxious at this point. Which, naturally, is cue to cut to commercial. When we return, the camera focuses on little Brock innocently eating a bowl of cereal.

Hell no! What kind of sick unimaginable perverse thing is Walt up to now?!

He’s the one who knocks. Andrea answers. Walt explains that Jesse’s gone missing and is using again. He’s terrified that his friend may have hurt himself. That’s right. Fondle the heartstrings – it’s his ace in the hole. Andrea rings up Jesse with a phone number Walt provides and leaves a message filling him in on Walt’s concerned visit. Dance, puppet.

When Walt leaves, he has his hitmen keep watch. He instructs them again to make it quick. He also asks that Jesse be lured away from Andrea and Brock once he inevitably comes to the rescue. Keep it classy, Walt.

This plan probably would have worked, too, if Hank hadn’t intercepted the voicemail. He parrots Jesse’s “Nice try, asshole,” and consults with teammates about what’s next on the agenda. They’re still riding on Huell’s squeeze. They know about the rental van. But where did it go? It had no GPS. Hang on, Hank wonders aloud, Walt doesn’t know that.

At the carwash, Skyler trains Junior in customer service. I must say, the little bugger’s not bad. He’s certainly friendly and courteous. But he forgets to send off his clients with a hearty “Have an A1 day!” He feels funny about this part. Skyler explains that its their brand. Like Lydia, she knows the value of presentation.

Things are going pretty well til Saul, face battered and bandaged, enters the place. Skyler and Walt are shaken and pissed. Walt confronts him and learns that Huell’s vanished. Saul warns that Walt’s target may be racking up a body count.

Back inside, Walt gets a text from Jesse. Its a barrel of money in a pile of dirt. Before Walt can even process what he’s seeing, Jesse calls.

“You get my photo, bitch?!” He’s got 6 more that look exactly like it, he says.

Walt’s visibly shaken. He bolts toward To’hajiilee. Jesse threatens with a plan that involves 5 gallons of gasoline and a lighter.

Walt’s heart is racing and we’re right there with him. The life he’s lived, the empire he’s built, is about to dissolve in a ball of fire.

Jesse is practically slobbering with the sweet taste of power. Walt pleas desperately. He resorts to his sob story. His cancer’s back. Burning the money is only hurting his family. His children.

You’re bringing in the kids?! What about Brock?

Walt says he’s sorry. Jesse snaps back, “No, you’re not. But you’re gonna be.”

Sympathy is ineffective. On to logic…

Brock was never really in danger. Walt had the dose measured precisely. And besides, that was a ploy to protect them both. To turn Jesse on Gus so they could phase him out. Walt cites the murders of Emilio and Crazy 8 as risks he’s taken to insure Jesse’s safety.

“Only you’re too stupid to know it!” Walt snarls.

The call drops.

Walt pulls into his spot in To’hajiilee. Back where it all began…

To review last week’s episode, click here.

Breaking Bad Final Countdown: Part 4 of 8

September 29, 2013 will mark one of the saddest days in television history: The conclusion of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing dramatic series, Breaking Bad.

Truly, few samples of film, standalone or episodic, can match the skillful pacing or narrative flair of this show. And for that reason, I will pay my personal homage through the blogosphere: Episode-by-episode critiques and recaps of the final 8 installments of the series.

Be warned, there will likely be spoilers abound. This is primarily for fans who crave a post-viewing play-by-play. Comments are encouraged.

So without further ado:

Season 5 Episode 12 (Original Air Date: September 1, 2013)

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As I write this, a fly buzzes around my head.

I’m not happy about it. For one, this isn’t a familiar workspace. I’m already out of my element. My sense of balance is compromised. When I finally wrestle my attention span into a choke hold, a tiny motor hisses in my ear. I can’t take it. Its driving me mad.

Breaking Bad devotees understand why this detail matters. You’re surely visualizing the pesky contaminant that taunted Jesse and Walt in their old superlab back in Season 3. Like me, you now remember how obsessive Walt became. How he wanted so desperately to control his environment. How that one small wrench in his plan nearly destroyed him.

You probably also remember how he pulled Jesse into his madness. And how it was actually the properly trained lapdog that eventually killed the fly himself. In Walt’s rabid pursuit of his tiny aggressor, he never quite came out on top. Jesse did.

So its curious to now see the power shift in Jesse’s favor.

From the first frame, Walt’s no longer top dog. He sees the remnants of Jesse’s madness and fears the worst. Gun in hand, he surveys his gasoline soaked home to a deafening buzzy crescendo. He’s fully present in this moment and so are we. But alas, his predator has vanished.

Roll opening credits, cut to commercial and we’re back. Now Walt’s thinking a bit more clearly. He hires some exorbitantly paid professionals to vanquish the odor and fix the door locks, but what’s this? He doesn’t want the locks changed, just replaced. A concerned service provider informs Walt that its customary to change the locks in the event of a break-in, but that doesn’t matter. The Master of Sweeping Problems Under the Rug has a very specific motive in mind: Skyler can’t know.

This might strike the viewer as a bit weird. As of late, Skyler’s seemed like a true partner in all this. She’s demonstrated that she can be trusted and will help Walt accordingly. So what is he trying to protect her from this time? Or is it not even her that he’s protecting?

Walt’s oddly vulnerable voice message to Jesse may sound genuine, but I’m not so sure. After his “I might kill you” hate-hug last episode, this plea bargain thing feels more like a tactic. Time to Brain File this one away for later review.

When it becomes clear that no amount of money on God’s green earth could eliminate the gas smell, Walt takes a new approach. He stages an elaborate scene that extends from the car to the family room and calls it a “Pump malfunction.”

Not his best work, I know. And even Junior can see right through the BS. But that’s alright, because blaming the fiasco on a cancer faint is just as effective.

Its agreed that staying in the house is not terribly safe and kind of icky. Junior suggests spending a night or two with Uncle Hank and Aunt Marie. Poor little idiot boy.

That night, outside the hotel, Kuby, Saul, and Walt convene about Jesse. They’ve got nothing. Saul goes out on a limb and says what just about everyone’s thinking: are you prepared to put Old Yeller down? Walt once again surprises, as he snarls: “Do NOT float that idea again. Find him.” You can tell by his cohorts’ faces that, just maybe, there’s another beast they should be worried about.

When Walt retires to his room, Skyler’s waiting. Drink in hand. She knows exactly where Walt’s been and who he’s been talking to. But she wants to know why. Walt tries in vain to deflate the situation. Oh, some kid almost burned the house down but changed his mind. Nbd. He’d never hurt anyone. Everything’s chill. Shockingly, she’s not convinced.

At this point, its easy to see how far in his own head Walt really is. His decided lack of rationality is in no way self-evident. And its scaring the shit out of Skyler. Walt asserts that he’ll talk to his former business associate and the problem will be solved, but not-drunk-enough Skyler knows this game of chess has one solution: KILL JESSE PINKMAN.

Next, drunk lady Heisenberg chills my bones as she asks “We’ve come this far, for us. What’s one more?” Jesus, Skyler. You insufferable bitch, you.

A commercial break sends us back to Jesse, either rehashing old tricks or dousing the White’s home again for the first time. He’s so ready to burn the fucker down until Hank intervenes. He explains that he’s been following Mr. Pinkman since he left Saul Goodman’s to meet his secret escort. And now he’s finally caught Jesse in a moment of manic rage. So you want to burn Walt down? Let’s do it together, Hank insists.

Meanwhile, Marie has problems. And my god, does she yip yap to her therapist about every one of them. Thing is, the only one that has any merit is the one that can’t really be discussed. So instead she talks about how she’s surfed the net for untraceable poisons and stopped doing basic human things like nomnom or sleepsleep. She’s got all these violent fantasies that freak her therapist out, but she impishly assures him, “I wouldn’t hurt anybody. It just feels so good to think about it.”

When Marie returns home, she notices some travel bags conspicuously placed by the front door. Hank’s never really been the subtle type, mind you. And the bumbling words match the bumbling gesture. Marie, you should bounce for a few days. She pokes and prods and Hank shows her an unconscious Jesse and explains his deal. Marie’s not one for information overloads, though. “Just answer me one question,” she instructs, “Is this bad for Walt?” Hank gives a slightly confused, “Yeah,” and she’s satisfied. “Good! Imma go reheat the lasagna now. Carry on!”

Hank snoops through Jesse’s Hello Kitty phone to uncover the voice message left by Walt earlier in the episode. The gears are turning.

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Back at the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, neither Walt or Junior can sleep. Walt explains that he’s “considering business options,” but his little one has a far more fundamental fear. My dad’s going to die. Walt minimizes his cancer, because let’s be honest, its the least of his problems right now, but Junior seizes the moment and grabs his dad. Holds him close. He may not understand the complexity of Walt’s life, but he instinctively senses that the end is near.

As Jesse composes himself in Hank’s home, he notices the old photos. The only evidence of the formerly ordinary lives these families had lead. Once he leaves his room, he’s greeted by Marie, who offers him coffee. Extending the welcoming party is – surprisingly – Hank’s colleague Gomez. They’ve got a tripod and a camera and all the time in the world. Jesse spills his guts.

Gomez and Hank agree that the confession seems honest, but isn’t enough to hold up on its own. They still need that ever elusive “physical evidence.” Hank’s got a plan: To take Walt up on his offer to meet Jesse, unarmed and alone, in a public place at noon the next day. Gomez thinks it could work, but Jesse has his misgivings. Namely, “Mr. White is the Devil and he’ll kill me.” What a baby!

Hank considers Jesse’s viewpoint then kindly puts things into perspective: This is not a choice. You are a criminal and I am law. Do it or else. Jesse enthusiastically agrees and leaves for a pee-break. Gomez brings up to Hank that Jesse is probably spot on about Walt’s offer being a set-up. But Hank’s conscience is clear. Pinkman’s a lowly criminal after all. “Best case scenario: He gets killed and we have it on tape.”

Then comes the moment of truth. The cameramen are in position. Walt waits on a bench. Jesse approaches, but wait. Who’s that guy? A bald man in black stands a few yards away from Walt and has a major staring problem. Trust betrayed. Jesse paces toward a payphone and rings his enemy. “Nice try.” Walt can’t get a word in as Jesse reads him his death sentence. “I’m after you.” As Walt leaves, he passes his alleged henchman, whose daughter runs into his arms. False alarm, but the damage is already done.

Both men enter their getaway cars. A livid Hank barks at his unlikely affiliate. What were you thinking?! But Jesse promises that there’s “another way” to get him. A few hundred feet away, a weakened Walt calls Todd and informs him that he’s got a job for his uncle.

We’re halfway there, my friends. And the fly is still buzzing.

To review last week’s episode, click here.

Breaking Bad Final Countdown: Part 3 of 8

September 29, 2013 will mark one of the saddest days in television history: The conclusion of Vince Gilligan’s game-changing dramatic series, Breaking Bad.

Truly, few samples of film, standalone or episodic, can match the skillful pacing or narrative flair of this show. And for that reason, I will pay my personal homage through the blogosphere: Episode-by-episode critiques and recaps of the final 8 installments of the series.

Be warned, there will likely be spoilers abound. This is primarily for fans who crave a post-viewing play-by-play. Comments are encouraged.

So without further ado:

Season 5 Episode 11 (Original Air Date: August 25, 2013)

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In case there was any doubt, Walter White does not give a fuck. You may have had your suspicions when he directly murdered some folks and poisoned a kid and passively watched a woman die. Mother Teresa he ain’t. But beyond being sociopathic or deceptive or just plain mean, he occupies a whole ‘nother level of grotesque. We’re talking downright evil.

More on that later. This is Breaking Bad, so above any one character is story. And here we have one of the most masterfully crafted in the series.

Pre-title credits, we check in with Todd. He leaves a voicemail with Walt about “a change in management” and asks that he call back for details. In a diner, we see the makings of a next generation meth-pusher in Todd’s cinematic retelling of the Great New Mexico Train Heist. He’s meeting with presumable business partners who later sneak away into a public restroom where one curiously wipes some blood off his boots. Ah, that change in management.

It will be interesting to see where this part of the story will tie into the final events of the series, especially seeing as all the major players seem pre-occupied with other plot lines. But even as we now have questions, these cryptic scenes have dramatic purpose in “the now.” The past isn’t through with these characters. Now, more than ever, every move counts.

Hank’s in a delicate situation. He’s tried desperately to squeeze information out of all of his adversaries. Which includes virtually everyone. Marie’s technically on his side, but let’s be real: that’s a major handicap.

He craves morale. Any reason to keep going. Mr. Pinkman should fit the bill, right? I mean, the guy is DE-pressed. Totally viciously ripped apart inside. Like a lion sniffing a broken-limbed gazelle, this should be beyond easy. But no, not even this guy will give up the good stuff. Saul eventually cuts into Hank and Jesse’s awkward prom dance, but only after its made painfully clear that Jesse’s lips are sealed. How painfully emasculating. Sorry bro.

Back at the Whites, Walt is debriefed by Saul and gives instruction for the next play. Junior yells something to dad about visiting Aunt Marie to help fix her computer, but we know better… Junior’s an idiot with computers! He’s like, the WORST guy to ask for help in that capacity. Walt has to think fast, so he brings up his cancer. But, if you want to leave your dying dad alone to help your kleptomaniac, meddling Aunt, I’ll be fine. I’m sure the neighbors will hear me scream if I fall over. Naturally, the empathetic Junior stays. Sucker.

Before a word from the sponsors, we see Marie freak out at Hank for keeping Walt’s secret a secret. Then we’re taken back to Episode 1 of the series as Walt and Skyler agree to film a confession. Note Walt’s behavior in front of a camera this time around. There’s no sense of fear or urgency or even regret. He’s entirely stoic. Purposeful. Vulcan-logical.

We sit at the edge of our seat through the commercial break and come back just in time to catch a dinner date between the Whites and Schraders. Walt and Skyler play defense, to start. Their opponents assume a more aggressive approach. After continued back-and-forths about child safety and awkwardly ignored guacamole offers, Marie utters the meanest words ever spoken by anyone ever.

“Why don’t you kill yourself, Walt?”

I want to reiterate that Walt is basically the worst person on this planet earth, but shit. This lady really gives him a run for his money with that one. Like, how rude.

The Schraders try desperately to back the Whites into a corner, but all this really does is confirm to the audience that they have NO IDEA who they’re messing with. Speaking of which, back to the recorded confession…

Its done. Well, a rough cut anyway. It could use some touch-ups in post, but for now, its ready for private viewing. H&M watch it at home with a critical eye. Walt wants some feedback.

It was good, brother-in-law. You tell a good story. Very believable emotional responses to the information being presented. I do wonder, though, if this is a narrative that could potentially ruin my life forever. That whole thing about me using my knowledge and power as a DEA to bully you into being my meth cook could really damage my character. I can’t quite prove that Gus wasn’t a business partner either, or that I orchestrated his death for that matter. And the $177k in medical bills that I “forced” out of you? Well, geez. You’d have me in quite a pickle with that one.

Evil is the theme here. Pure unadulterated evil. I know its standard for in-laws not to get along, but this is – Damn. I’m thinking Hank might want to actually take Marie’s advice at this point.

So there’s one threat eliminated. Walt’s way too smart for Hank, and what can he really do? He’s a man of the law – he can’t go rogue. Its about 99% safe to assume that Walt’s got him stalemated. But then, there’s also a loose cannon that needs fixin’.

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Saul and Jesse meet Walt in the desert to discuss a few things. Its worth review that, while waiting, Jesse watches a tarantula pass by his feet. Hmm, where did we see one of those before? Ah right, when it was snatched from the cold dead fingers of a dead boy who kinda-but-not-really witnessed the train heist. Point is: He’s dead. Jesse doesn’t like that. Never has.

Walt inspects the vehicle for trackers and asks Jesse about the information he’s given Hank and how much he thinks he knows. Nothing. Perfect. You should get out of here, Walt suggests. Start clean. For your own good.

For all of Jesse’s idiotic impulses and erratic behavior, he’s always been kind of a sweetie pie. And puppy-loyal. Its kind of endearing, but mostly pathetic, and that culminates in a raw moment with Walt in this scene. Jesse feels dicked-around, and he wants some honesty. But more than that, he wants Walt to admit that he needs him. Even if this particular “need” is for Jesse to disappear.

So Walt gives him a hug. He consoles him the way humans like to be consoled. Through physical contact. Warm, friendly, entirely calculated and disconnected human contact.

At the carwash, a heavily shadowed Walt ominously assures Skyler that they’re “fine.” Skyler seems oddly unconvinced. Cut to Hank in his office, calling off the dogs and letting Jesse go scott-free.

So as Saul sends off his client, it seems that all is right in the world. Removing Jesse from the picture is really a key element to Walt’s success. Why? Because Hank is a man guided by logic. When he’s enraged, he’s still effectively leashed to the green grass of common law. Which means, no matter how desperate he may become, there’s always a limit.

But what about a guy whose libido is king? He’s got a human capacity for morality, but what keeps him grounded? Where’s Jesse’s leash?

It was firmly in Walt’s hands, but then he let it go. Find a new home, pup. We can’t take care of you anymore. And it almost worked, before that simple discovery that sent Jesse over the edge. That minute detail that pattered in his mind as delicately as a tarantula on sand.

This is getting REALLY good folks. Stay tuned for next week.

To review last week’s episode, click here.