As we launch into the back half of these first eight episodes of Breaking Bad’s final season, we close up the methylamine crisis that has stood in the way of our Three Amigos. At the same time, we experience the gut punch that is the irrevocable murder of an innocent curious dirt-biking child who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fallout from this incident is surely going to be the basis of these final three episodes.
I did not get around to reviewing “Fifty-One”. I would still like to, but time got away from me, as well as the fact that the Rian Johnson directed episode intimidated me with its complexities from a reviewing standpoint. Suffice it to say that of the five, it is my favorite to air thus far. Those kinds of character-driven episodes are the ones I particularly look forward to on this show (as fabulously as on-the-edge-of-your-seat episodes like “Dead Freight” are). What is so exciting about going into next week is that the final seconds set up what is sure to be juicy character material on every front.
I have noticed that it is becoming standard practice now in “Breaking Bad” reviews to view the episodes on the prioritized context of logistics. Instead of feeling like genuine concerns, these mostly feel contrarian for contrarian’s sake; nitpicks for the sake of nitpicks. I listen to the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast every week and the research and time that goes into the logistics on this show are insane. Obviously there are plot holes. But to view this show as if its realism makes or breaks it is a shame. It discredits the innovation in the top-notch writing, directing, acting, visuals and its overall vision. And I feel sorry for those people that cannot at a certain point let it go and say they had a damn thrilling time during the exquisitely executed heist sequence.
But let’s go back to the beginning. The significance of the elusive cold open this week became clear only at the episode’s tragic end. At first, the child’s wardrobe actually had me thinking if maybe this was a young Jesse but I put that to rest by the end of the teaser when we hear the train whistle blowing. Then part of me, correctly I may add, feared the worst. The episode made me forget about the kid until the end when celebration ensues and you realize there is no way this episode will end with our characters victorious.
How Much Is He Acting?
In a piece of Walter White Master Class Acting, “Dead Freight” gets started with a visit to Hank’s new office. Hank has made a point to verbally acknowledge Walt’s spending habits recently. He may not be connecting it to Walt being Heisenberg but it is becoming very clear that once Hank gets the missing piece of the puzzle, the rest will immediately click into place for him.
I loved seeing Hank squirm when confronted with Walt coming to him with domestic problems and then proceeding to break down. This is clearly not his forte and his discomfort turns into some really funny stammering by Dean Norris. Frantically closing the shades and “You want a cup of coffee? I’ll get you a cup of coffee”. Of course the other thing is that Walt, while coming to Hank under false pretense and putting on a performance, is once again manipulating with statements of truth:
“Skyler doesn’t love me anymore. I don’t know what to do Hank. I don’t. She…she says that I’m a bad influence on the kids. And uh—that I’m not good for them. She thinks I’m a bad father.”
Walt will continue to get all the sympathy from Hank and Marie, considering how they view him and all that he has been through with cancer this past year. Skyler will continue to look like the mentally troubled catalyst for all of this. But how much of Walt is acting here? These are certainly feelings he should be deeply struggling with. He feels the fact of his statements but he will not let himself feel the enormity of his domestic situation. He has bigger fish to fry and his blowout with Skyler last week caused him to throw himself even deeper into his financial endeavors. My interpretation is that this is a performance that, while rooted in genuine feelings and truth, is buried so far down in Walt’s psyche that there is no hidden catharsis for him here. Then again, when Hank leaves, there are a couple of notable beats where he gathers himself together before proceeding to plant the bug. That Bryan Cranston is towing this many layers in one scene is remarkable.
Discussing the Fate of Lydia:
In the first of many darkly lit interior scenes, Lydia has been taken to a warehouse where she is to answer for the tracking device on the methylamine barrel. This is also the first of a series of conversations in this episode about letting people live or die. As Lydia sits in the background, Walt, Jesse and Mike discuss her fate. Jesse still wants to save her while Mike clearly still has it in for her. Walt, very quickly giving his first okay for someone to be executed, says to Jesse that the vote is two against one. Although Lydia is saved in the nick of time, both Walt and Mike (not that Mike being ready to kill people is a new realization) ultimately have few qualms about killing people off who may threaten their enterprise.
The conversation between Walt and Lydia seems like it will become very important later on. The only real thing being pointed out about this scene is the mention of children in a nice bit of foreshadowing. Walt talks to Lydia (alone by the way; Mike and Jesse are outside) about why she put the hit out on Mike. They have similar interests. Walt is unable to get past the hazard pay Mike is paying to his nine men. Lydia sees these nine men as liabilities that need to be taken out. They both want the same thing.
There’s a nice little scene with Hank and Marie sharing some down time with Holly. I think a lot of people, me included, are thinking about the possible eventuality of Hank and Marie taking Walt Jr. and Holly for good. This is where I see them ending up, but this show never turns out how I expect. Also; Emo McGee.
And then we are out on location in Santa Fe with some truly stunning shots of the three walking along the train tracks:
Unknowingly Giving an Indirect Order, or: What We Say Matters:
In a crucially important conversation, Todd asks Walt and Jesse about the logistics of the train robbery in what seems like a convenient exposition scene. But this exchange sneaks in:
Jesse: “The point is, no one other than us, can ever know that this robbery went down. Nobody. Got it?
Todd: Yeah. Absolutely.
Walt: You sure?
Todd: Yes sir.
Todd is seemingly just a young thief who wants to get in good with the guys on top. What Walt and Jesse do not understand in that moment is just how seriously Todd is taking these words. The implication of ‘doing what is necessary’ is present everywhere in this exchange. Particularly Jesse repeating “nobody” and the absolute conviction in Cranston’s line delivery of ‘you sure?’ From Todd’s point of view, it is hard to misinterpret that. Walt and Jesse obviously have no reason to ever think about a contingency plan for what happens when a kid wanders onto the scene. However, Walt is trying to get into the big time. This isn’t a small operation Walt is trying to build. So Todd is likely under the assumption that taking a kid out is on the table if it comes down to it. So did they pull the trigger? No. But for Todd, an aspiring foot soldier who knows that Walt and Jesse mean business, and the two were indirectly and unknowingly giving a future order in that moment resulting in the death of a child.
Something also to note is that this whole thing was Jesse’s plan, the point of which was to avoid having to kill the two crew members. Now from Todd’s point of view, this plan was put into place so that nobody knows the train got robbed in order to avoid further investigation. While these are all added bonuses to the plan, the crux of it was put into place by Jesse to avoid having to off the crew. Again this season has made Jesse into the guy who comes up with a plan in the midst of Walt and Mike feuding. This formula is getting repetitious but by the looks of things, factions are shifting next week.
The Domestic Front:
The White household is lit like a rotted out hollow shell of what it used to be. I am loving it.
The anguish of Emo McGee is pretty much the last thing people watching care about. But it shows that the domestic situation is really spinning out of control. There is no way this can be kept up for much longer. The kids are out of the house. The entire charade is cracking under Walt and Skyler and each time they make a move against the other, the closer they get to mutual self-destruction.
Walt and Skyler’s conversation feels like a watered-down lowly prioritized rehash version of what came in the episode before and I am not sure how certain lines like “Don’t start Walt. I won’t change my mind about you. Ever.” were necessary. There was a touch of ‘in case you forgot’ about it. But I do love Skyler calling him out on the fact that his somebody had a gun to my head story was told with pride. That last moment of Walt acquiescing felt a bit like the emasculated dynamic he had striven so hard to get away from. Of course though, he has the last word as his ‘robbing a train’ delivery mirrors the pride Skyler spoke of him expressing earlier. And how about the foreshadowing on that ‘out burying bodies’ inquiry?
The final heist sequence is a bravura turn by first time (first time!) director George Mastras who also wrote this episode, his ninth overall in the series. This is the man responsible for “Crawl Space”, “Hermanos” and “Kafkaesque” among others. I cannot imagine how complicated shooting this sequence was especially for a first time director. This is the most ambitious set-piece the series has taken on and from everything I’ve listened to about the making of it, how long it took and how much meticulous research went into this; it definitely sounds like they had their hands full. Even Vince Gilligan, who is rarely on set because he is so busy in the writer’s room, was present for the four days it took to get this sequence shot.
For Mastras and editor Skip MacDonald, what most impressed me were the various camera placement choices and the precise tension ratcheting management between them. The urgency mounts with a balance kept between Walt, Jesse, Todd, Mike and the Bill Burr (Bill Burr!) character. Additionally, there is never a moment of confusion as to what is going on or how far they are in the operation. We know where everyone is and what everyone is doing at any given moment. For my money, a great deal of action or heist sequences in films have a hard time transferring such a clear sense of what is actually happening at all times. “Breaking Bad” did it this week.
A shout-out once again to Dave Porter for his shifts between ambience and industrial-sounding music. Porter is doing some really intricate beautiful stuff every episode. Way more distinct and ambitious than the mostly phoned in role that music plays on other shows.
Was everyone else on the edge of their seat like I was during this entire segment? Even watching it for the third time, the tension in my body remained. And what would an episode of this show be without some Walt stubbornness thrown in for good measure? His insistence that they keep going to the 1,000 gallons they set out to procure is typical Walt. It is another reminder of Walt’s full measure philosophy. All or nothing.
The audience’s involvement in the heist makes us automatically and understandably complicit in the momentary celebration that follows. When they manage, by the skin of their teeth, to succeed, it is truly an accomplishment for them. As they share a rare instance of pure joy and relief, laughing and clapping abound, damn if I didn’t have a big gaping smile on my face. It worked! Jesse’s plan worked! Then my brain starts grinding. We have one minute left. What about that tarantula kid? No way will this episode end in celebration. Boom.
I have noticed a few grips regarding the fact that Todd pulled the trigger. And I have to say, I admire the show for going in this direction with it. Did these dissenters think Walt should have been the one? That would have felt cartoonish and inorganic. Too easy. The importance, the weight of having Todd be the culprit is far more interesting. Walt and Jesse were standing there. It happened before they could even say or do anything. It largely came from an unknowingly indirect order they gave earlier. Instead of another ‘what do we do about’ moral dilemma, we and they are thrust into the aftermath of a brutal cold-blooded shooting by a foot soldier under their command. It is already over. It already happened. They didn’t get to discuss it. Hell, they didn’t even get a chance to fully process the situation. And now there is a dead kid lying on the ground. What next?
A lot can be said about predicting where we are going with this, but as I said before, this is a turning point in the season. Factions will divide, new factions will form. Words cannot describe how eager I am for the fallout from next week. While most of me was horrified by the final seconds of the episode, there was admittedly a simultaneous jump for joy that my heart did in anticipation of the juicy material and direction this incident implies from both an acting and writing standpoint.
From the previews for next week, it looks like the DEA is on Mike’s tail, prompting him to want to pull out. Everything is coming to a head. Obviously Jesse and kids being killed do not mix well (I’ve always been amused that Jesse is the heart of the show in large part to his very normal abhorrence for children being murdered and/or exploited). He was willing to sacrifice himself at the end of Season 3 if it meant taking out the guys who shot Tomas. Now he is working with someone who did the exact same thing. Jesse will want Todd gone one way or another. I would also assume he starts thinking about getting out of this business considering that it has been only a few weeks since Gus was killed and they already have a child’s blood on their hands.
As for Walt, while he may a delusional prick full of arrogant hubris, a child being shot in front of him is certainly going to affect him greatly. It is interesting to note that the episode purposely does not cut to a reaction shot of Walt after the shooting. We never see his reaction; only Jesse’s. But I think his power to excuse himself and his actions are going to win out in the end. After all, he didn’t shoot the kid. These things happen. They will establish ground rules and will make sure that they are not in a position for anything to be done without his direct order again. And he will not get rid of Todd. They are in this together. That is how I see Walt’s reaction.
Another question I have is will Todd be seen by Walt as a potential replacement for Jesse if Jesse wants to pull out? Todd is the perfect minion. Walt’s best interests are his best interests and most importantly, he has zero moral qualms about what must be done.
What did you think of “Dead Freight”? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Until next week!