Tread lightly. Our time is almost up. The last episodes of Breaking Bad are descending through the needle and soon all our hearts shall be poisoned with the eternal glory of amazing television. Too much? Go away. You know nothing of perfection.
Last night marked the beginning of the end. “Blood Money,” the mid-season premiere, began Season Five’s death march towards immortality. If you watched it, you know that you beheld a master class in premiere episodes. If you did not watch it, what the fuck were you doing? “Eating dinner”? “Spending time with your children”? Get a life. Wait…no. Ditch your life. Gain this show. Breaking Bad is a rare work of art. Hop on this mind-blow train before it leaves the station forever!
Now let us address last night. It was a magical hour, during which our anti-heroes began to choke on the tight coils of destiny.
In traditional BB fashion, this episode features a brief future-jump, which reveals that Walter White’s worst nightmare has come true. The former chemistry teacher has been unmasked as none other than Heisenberg, the fastest-meth-cookin’ hands in the West. Clearly every last piece of shit hit the fan. Walter’s home is abandoned, in tatters, and we can only assume that the same fate has befallen his family. He sports the disguise that we saw briefly in this season’s first episode last year: hipster spectacles, beard, skin paler than death. I love that Vince Gilligan chooses to structure his seasons this way; we can conjecture about the events that brought the story to this point, but what actually happened is bound to be completely out of left field. Was Walt betrayed? Who set his plans to burn? My bet’s on Junior. That boy gets crazytown without breakfast and Skyler’s been skimping on the bacon lately.
The important thing is, it’s now been established that in the end, Walt’s world is dark, sad, lonely chaos. He is clearly on the run and the myth of his domestic life has been torn to shreds. And you know that these episodes will push us inexorably onwards, towards this reckoning.
But first, there are loose ends. The first of which is our sweet, damaged Jesse Pinkman.
Jesse’s first appearance in “Blood Money” was a little shocking. I never thought Aaron Paul could look so facially busted, but Jesse is purple-white, bloated, and sweaty with guilt and misery. He’s seen a lot of shit during the course of this show, and has always been an emotional yo-yoer, but it seems that the disappearance of Mike Ehrmantraut has finally sent this little sidekick off the deep end. Because he knows it was no disappearance. Deep in his simple little heart, Jesse knows that Walt not only had nine men murdered simultaneously, but that he eliminated Mike. Jesse knows that Walt is lying about it, as sure as he knows that all of his earnings are bathed in innocent blood. He’s finally cracked. This terrible moment is only slightly mitigated by the hilarious conversation that opens his first scene, courtesy of scene-stealing junkies Badger and Skinny Pete. Dumb homies, but Jesse’s dumb homies nonetheless.
Many viewers have expressed frustration with Jesse, and the fact that he never seems to get over things. He has that in common with Mike, who served as a sort of moral compass against Walt’s self-serving machinations. Without Mike, Jesse is rudderless, and he now knows just how deeply and irreversibly he’s been corrupted by Walt. Jesse managed to overcome Jane’s death (at Walt’s hands), Gale’s death (at his own hands, instead of Walt’s hands), and Drew Sharp’s death (at Todd’s hands, instead of Jesse’s hands, at Walt’s command). He’s Walt’s pawn. He’s a life-taker. He’s already in Hell.
The episode takes its title from Jesse’s five million dollars, packed neatly into two bags meant to uselessly comfort his victims. He might have seemed like the same old Low Point Jesse during this episode: crying, detached, searching fruitlessly for ways to unload his conscience. But I found significance in the scene above, where Walt attempts to convince Jesse that it’s time to move on with life, and Mike’s alive somewhere, and everything’s alright. Jesse hates Walt so much, but there’s one point where Walt calls him “son,” and you can briefly see him jarred back to life. Jesse is 26 years old, and he’s given over most of his early 20s to Walt. Despite all the pain that Mr. White rains down on him, he’s still his teacher, and pretty much his father. Jesse’s past the point of no return. He finally knows he’ll be tethered to death for the rest of his days.
But Jesse’s the last thing on Walt’s mind (as usual). Because Hank. Fucking. Knows.
Clearly the scene that everyone’s talking about today. The last we saw of Hank, he had just made the staggering connection between Walt and Heisenberg. The look that flooded Dean Norris’ face last year as he stared at Gale’s copy of Leaves of Grass was nothing compared to his prolonged reaction during “Blood Money.”
As Hank assembles the jigsaw puzzle of Walt’s double life, the reality of his brother-in-law’s betrayal threatens to completely overwhelm his senses. In fact, Hank suffers a panic attack as the weight of this truth runs him over like a freight train, again and again and again. His brain is battling between horror, sadness, rage, and too many question marks to count. This confrontation between Walt and Hank was one of the most amazingly written and photographed moments in Breaking Bad‘s history, as one of the last normal humans in Walt’s immediate orbit realizes they’re basically walking with the devil. Norris’ performance is LEGENDARY. He plays every second with so much emotion that it’s impossible not to bite off your fingers when you’re watching him. I had to push rewind with my big toe. Twice.
Of course, Walt reacts with typical Heisenberg bravado, advising Hank to “tread lightly” because he has no idea who he’s dealing with. Even though Hank literally knows everything (having assembled a giant GUS FRING IS RELATED TO GALE IS RELATED TO JESSE IS RELATED TO WALT) box, he’s kind of at a disadvantage because the betrayal has ruined him psychologically. Walt basically killed the entire Mexican cartel. How do you confront a guy like that in your garage?
Lastly, let us discuss the fact that obviously Skyler is gon’ die.
Let me just state for the record that I do not think Skyler is a bitch. Nor is her sister Marie. The women on this show are not inherently bitches. But let us concede that Breaking Bad is primarily a show about masculine selfhood, and that questions of identity and fate are framed through a male lens. In the end, BB is somewhat formulaic in its construction of the family and the marital unit. Skyler is not essentially bitchy, or boring, but the story doesn’t give her many moments of her own. Her existence simply defines a certain side of Walt; it does not stand on its lonesome and give us insights into a specifically female experience of crime and powermongering and self-delusion. It just doesn’t. Talk to me about Ted Benicke and money laundering all you want, but Skyler White is just an avatar standing in for Walt’s prior life as a law-abiding, cowardly domestic type.
The fact that the Whites’ marriage seems to be improving is a terrible sign for Skyler. Perhaps you’ve read of the Skyler death theory? I find it incredibly insightful, and it really locks in my expectations. She’s the only thing standing in Walt’s way, really. She makes him feel things, remember things. He just can’t abide that anymore, not with the threats of Hank and Madrigal closing in on all sides. Skyler Must Die.
And if my quiet musings at all approach correct prediction, Walt will have to choose between Skyler and Jesse somehow. The old family and the new. And I will just CUT everybody if Jesse has to go before Skyler.
Those are my two cents about this absolutely phenomenal episode. “Blood Money” re-proves that Breaking Bad is an essentially perfect show. It is so fucking taut, so perfectly choreographed, like a ballet of meth and money and blood. I love that it has this distinct ending point, and that each episode is going to dole out one shocking resolution after another until the finale, when we will all be tearing our clothes off and screaming because GODDAMN IT’S PERFECT AND IT’S OVER. Cinematographer Michael Slovitz recently noted in an interview that Breaking Bad is going to “redefine last seasons in television.” I have no doubt whatsoever.
Phew! So did you watch “Blood Money”? What did you think? Any guesses as to what these last few precious episodes shall bring? Leave a comment and close the garage door.