Now more than ever, things are coming together and coming apart on Breaking Bad. Coming together as plot lines and characters converge, as warring factions arrive at decisive victories and losses, as the landscape of the show is permanently altered. And coming apart as every manipulation has its cost, as “winning” becomes meaningless, as devastating violence erupts.
Back in Business
This week’s episode opens with the other end of Walt’s closing telephone conversation last week. Todd is back making meth for Lydia — who, incidentally, he seems to be developing a bit of a fixation on — but he’s still not getting it quite right: the purity is below Heisenberg standards, and he’s accidentally burning out the product’s trademark blue color. It’s convenient, then, that he should suddenly receive a call from Walt himself asking a favor of Todd’s uncle.
When Walt goes to meet with Todd’s sketchy Aryan family, Todd’s uncle is more than willing to perform the hit on Jesse, provided that Walt return for another cook. It’s kind of funny — while I think we’ve all largely come to see Walt as some sort of criminal mastermind, his resources remain pretty limited: he’s only been a criminal for a year or two, most of his professional network has either been killed off or turned against him, and if someone wants to negotiate tough with him, he doesn’t have much leverage anymore. Ultimately, he agrees to one last cook after the job is completed.
In order to help Todd’s neo-Nazi crew find Jesse for the hit, Walt tries to lure him over to Andrea and Brock’s house. He manages to politely convince Andrea to leave a message on Jesse’s voicemail, and she hits all the right notes: she sounds concerned, she’s largely ignorant of any potential menace, casually mentioning that Walt is here with her son in the kitchen — he couldn’t have scripted it better. Walt stations some of Todd’s men out front and instructs them to take care of Jesse quickly without alerting the mother or child.
His plan, however, is all for naught: Hank intercepts Walt’s voicemail and ignores it, instead staging an even better counter-trap. Having threatened to come at Walt “where he really lives” last week, Jesse reveals his plan to do Walt in by seizing his money. Hank and Jesse conspire to lure Walt to the burial site by picture messaging him with a barrel of cash, keeping Walt on the line while threatening to burn it, and then tracing the call all the way out to his hiding place.
By the time Walt speeds out to meet them, he’s inadvertently confessed to multiple murders and given the location of his money away. When Hank, Jesse and Gomez catch up, they have him dead to rights.
And then all hell breaks loose: in his last moments before capture, Walt calls Todd’s uncle for back-up, thinking that Jesse is operating on his own. He surrenders when he sees that Hank and Gomez are with him, but by that time it’s too late: as Walt watches helplessly from the back of Hank’s truck, Todd, his uncle and their entire neo-Nazi gang roll up and open fire. Hank and Gomez duck for cover, but they’re outnumbered and outgunned. Executive Producer: Vince Gilligan.
Though we don’t have an official body count at the end of the episode, this is Walt hitting bottom no matter how you slice it. He is still somehow convinced that all his actions were for the good of his family, but there’s no way to make it out of this firefight with that deeply flawed schema intact. The potential deaths of Jesse and Hank are his fault; he has the blood of his family on his hands, and he can’t hide behind good intentions anymore.
As I’ve said previously, I’ve been afraid for Jesse’s safety all season. With only three episodes to go, next week’s cold open could easily be the end of his story; it would be an early, disappointing end, no doubt, but this show is no stranger to brutal, pointless deaths. I’ll reserve judgment until we know what’s happening with him for sure.
If this is the end for Hank — and I do think that’s overwhelmingly likely — then I’m glad he at least got a fittingly bittersweet send-off. To go after Walt alone was always a stupid plan, and I never had any doubt that the show would punish him dearly for his hubris. It was an unexpected surprise, however, that he was allowed be successful in the midst of his downfall: he outsmarted Heisenberg, he made the arrest himself and he called Marie to tell her that he did it and that he loves her.
For all intents and purposes, Hank won. But as season 5 in its entirety has demonstrated, the story doesn’t end when you win — the story ends when you’re dead.
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(Image courtesy of AMC)