Breaking Bad S05E09: “Blood Money”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hot Meth: Breaking Bad’s Final Season

PRAISE! I know summer’s supposed to be fun and endless and “for the youths” and everything, but for me it can’t go fast enough. Breaking Bad returns this August for its final season of eight exquisite episodes. How do I know they’re going to be so exquiz? Because they always fucking are. That’s the amazing thing about BB. No lulls. No missteps. Pure adrenaline, tight and excruciatingly perfect. I think I’m turning myself on a little.

I’m fan of AMC’s promotional strategy. The last leg of this timeless televisual masterpiece is just gonna be a weeks-long heart attack, and both the short preview clips and the photo gallery communicate that beautifully. Breaking Bad has always been a deceptively simple show, and I like how sparing these photos are. Silences and longing camera stares into the desert have always been used to great effect on the show. Where the characters are so complicated, so morally ambigious, constantly evolving, the cinematography and pacing is slow. Subtle. And we always feel like we’re riding 45 degrees up a rickety roller coaster track, just on the cusp of free fall.

Check out this photo gallery, too! Obsessed with Aaron Paul, as always. Boy has nuanced trauma sweatin’ out his pores.

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Mad Men Season 6 Finale: “In Care Of” Reviewed via Instant Message

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I’ve been too swamped to write a proper review of the Mad Men  finale, so I present to you this lively AOL Instant Messenger exchange. Doesn’t cover any plot points really, just…general Mad Men griping.

FRIEND 1:

basically the whore house changing his opinion of things regarding sex and power doesnt really jive with the theme of the measures he goes through to reject his childhood. the writers have created a contradictory character. early in the show they showed him rejecting the ways of his past, but now they show him embracing the ways of his past, and there isn’t any explanation for why or how it could work. draper’s character actually made a whole lot of sense when his childhood was on that farm with a douche dad and meager means because he rejected all that wants to be the opposite of it. draper is pretty much the opposite of that. but when the show added in the whore house, they muddied that idea because they imply that draper learned his views of women from that, but that doesnt make sense because he his character was always about rejecting what he had learned. so if the real character of draper lived in that whore house, he would most likely now be super uptight, so much so that he would probably go the opposite route of being whorey and instead would be all about monogamy

FRIEND 2:

im just gonna make leah respond to that, idk either way lol, i honestly dont

FRIEND 1:

i dont believe the writers have draper as fleshed out as the fans of the show do
i think that when they use bad plot its becuase they use bad plot, not becuase of some super plan
so far this is two season finale’s ive seen where the plotting all depends on draper being very unlike he normally is
its like the writers dig themselves into a hole they cant get out of, so they just make draper suddenly fall in love with megan
they did the same kind of thing with this finale

ME:

i mostly agree that don is not a consistent character. i also agree that the last two season finales were very good episodes with NO underpinning throughout the season which they both capped off. don and the other characters doing inexplicable things, or having inexplicable things happen to them, is kind of matthew weiner’s fallback for the finales now because he wants to imply that ~the late 60s were chaos~ and ~nothing makes sense anymore~. he’s getting lazy with the characters, making their actual actions sloppy and sudden, and the show no longer has that strained tightness that made it so stylish and exciting in the first couple seasons.

but i did kind of get the feeling that what weiner is doing with don is deliberate (if poorly planned/executed). when the show started, we thought of don as poor, unloved, taught to be stoic in the face of hardship and starvation. but it’s not like his adult self actively REJECTED that ideology and strived for riches and family. we saw dick whitman get really affected by small acts of kindness, particularly those that touched his sense of spirituality (like the hobo). he obviously craved comfort and beautiful things, even if his childhood was emotionless and shitty — he was the OPPOSITE of his parents even then. he naturally grew into a man who’s forever pursuing love, validation, wealth, but never wants to admit it and feels a little guilty even as he’s enjoying it.

but as the show has gone on, don has obviously started to age and disintegrate, and experience the bitterness that middle age and cutthroat business practice invariably brings. he clutched desperately to megan and made that impulsive decision because he wanted to stave off age and emptiness (which was building up on him all through season 4) and now that he’s seen his second marriage fail, he knows time will never be on his side again. the whorehouse is essential to that realization, because that was when he started to discover the unique validations of sex. the power dynamics of sex, of men and women, has always been essential to the draper character, but now that he’s past 40 and getting all decrepit, it’s become a bit of an obsession.

i mean, look at the linda cardellini storyline. that was don’s pathetic way of reigniting all the forbiddenness of prostitution and the thrill he got as a teenager, being around young servile women. getting his way with a woman, alternately controlling and comforting her, has gotten don off like nothing else — from betty to megan to all of his longterm affairs. he needs to feel like a man. not the way his poor impotent father taught him, but how the prostitutes taught him. the farm is where he learned about duty, love, business, loyalty (everything that made him complex and great in seasons 1-3). the whorehouse is where he learned about desire (which made him sexy and intuitive about advertising in season 1-3, and progressively more desperate in seasons 4-on). it makes sense that the whorehouse would now be the most significant cornerstone of his life, as he starts to realize that most of his mistakes have not been related to love or business, but desire. he’s doomed to WANT, he’s doomed to ENVY, he’s doomed to RUN AWAY from reality and into small brief comforts. that’s all whorehouse.

and that’s me being generous – i think weiner made a lot of that up as he went along, and like i said, the more loose and cobbled-together feeling of the show has more to do with weiner’s laziness than actual intention. but i think he’s stumbling upon a lot of significant truths about the character, and refocusing on this other stage of draper’s past doesn’t necessarily negate the character we know from the first few seasons. in many ways, don is only a shell of his former self now, so it makes sense that he’s feeling ideologically connected to a totally different part of his past.

Mad Men: Season 6 is Nigh

Today marks a very special occasion in a young woman’s life. I am that young woman. One month till the penultimate season of Mad Men begins and I couldn’t be happier! I am happy because:
A) Mad Men is just my goddamn fucking life.
B) Matthew Weiner finally realized that all great things must come to an end.
Except he realized it too late, so now it’s more like all pretty good things must come to an end.

I’m not saying Season 5 didn’t have its moments (can I get a holla for that weepy Peggy/Don farewell?) but after the absolute zenith of creative achievement that was Season 4, it would have been nice to make 5 a bit of an elegant cooldown session. As the years advance in Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Prycedom, our heroes and heroines get older and sadder and it’s not giving me the feels so much anymore. Now we’re pretty much just watching Pete Campbell cringe away from the encroaching hellfire that is the boogie-oogie 1970s:

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Only my groovy ‘burns can save me now.

That said, it is always my sincere hope that Weiner will captivate and surprise me. He did that last season, but in the meanest way possible – by killing off my darling Laney-pants. No more suicides please. However, I will take a murder. Wouldn’t put that past Don or Un-Fat-Betty.

Of course, The Master took the time to disseminate 10 “facts” about Season 6, but as usual they don’t really portend much. I don’t mind; I hate when showrunners spoil shit hither and thither. And Man Men isn’t really the kind of show you can spoil anyway (see Weiner’s revelation that every season has “different tones and flavors,” like a Pinkberry of class and gender struggle). I like my quality programs slow, and thorough, and thoughtful. Like the lovemaking of a great samurai. Take notes, Weiner!

Anyway, so, so excited for the premiere, which is going to be two delicious hours. Let me note that I am pulling for an upwardly mobile Peggy storyline and some good Sally Draper bitchery. If you wish to puzzle things out a little bit and prepare for the TV event of the spring, check out the preview. See you in a month, fellas.