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End of Season Report: Breaking Bad, Season 5 – Part 2

9 Aug

Jesse and Walt doing what they do

Part two of my notes on the first half of Season 5 of Breaking Bad.  Part one is here.  Moving forward.

After stating forcefully that he’s unwilling to sell his share of the methylamine even though the potential buyers have told them it’s all or nothing, Walt succeeds in doing nothing but pissing everybody off until he actually comes up with a solution that requires him to do the other thing he does best besides make math;.  His plan is dependent on him bringing his braggadocio to convince someone of something, in this case, convincing the drug dealers that he is the legendary Heisenberg.  What once was a lie, has now become the truth.  While Walter White is a helpless, cancer ridden science teacher, Heisenberg is a master chemist who killed drug dealer extraordinaire Gus Fring.  What started off as an idea, has become a reality.

Walt is incensed when Jesse won’t stay with him in his meth operation, and refuses to give him his share of the money, as he’s resentful of Jesse’s choice to abandon him.  Obviously, Walt is clearly in the wrong here, but it’s just another go around in the complicated father – son type of relationship Walt and Jesse have.  Walt, with Jesse, can be proud about himself in a way he can’t be with his own son, and Walt cares about what Jesse thinks; Jesse’s inability to rationalize the shooting of Drew Sharp is a shot directly across the bow of Walt’s ability to do so.  Even though it’s certainly in Jesse’s best interests to step away from more illegal activity, I think Walt really believes what he’s saying, that this is something Jesse does well, and that this will keep Jesse, who really didn’t have a lot going for him before Walt came around, from using.  The rush of being the best may not have the same appeal for everyone that it does for Walt, but for Walt, that’s what this is all about. In a perverse way, Jesse, like, Walt, was better at cooking meth than anything he had ever done before, and it’s unfortunate there’s no legal way for him to take advantage of that.

At the end of the second to last episode, Walt brings Mike’s go bag to him, and insists that Mike gives him the names of his guys in jail.  Mike, of course, won’t, and Walt, feeling helpness and out of control, clumsily shoots Mike.  It’s an obviously poor choice by Walt, reacting to his lack of control over the situation which Walt can’t deal with, and he realizes it afterwards, though that doesn’t do Mike much good.  Mike, without blaming the victim too much, could have gotten away with his life intact if he didn’t take it upon himself to ream out Walt for everything Walt did to screw up Gus’s operation.  We had a good thing going with Gus, Mike insisted, until you had to go and blow it up.  Of course Walt did not have a good thing going with Gus, at least towards the end when Gus wanted him dead, and it wasn’t actually Walt who screwed it up to begin with, which is hard to remember, but Jesse, when he decided to try to kill a couple of drug dealers who used kids.  Still, Mike just has to rub it in, and while that doesn’t make his death his own fault by any means, he should know Walt well enough by this point to know that he’s temping fate to say the least. Mike who’s so cool, calm, and collected for the vast majority of the series lets his emotions get the best of him here and it leads to his death.

I had forgotten just how much time passes in the final episode of the first half of the fifth season.  Walt enlists Todd’s uncle to kill all of Mike’s henchmen in prison at the same time.  Murder for hire is pretty vicious for certain, and it’s an incredibly brutal series of deaths, but any sympathy I feel for these henchman is nothing compared to what I feel for Drew Sharp, the boy killed by Todd in the desert.  After all, practically, Walt was right.  Without their hazard pay, several of these guys were going to talk, as we saw.  It was a cruel thing to do, but something Gus Fring or any other person in Walt’s boss of a drug operation situation would have agreed necessary to keep on.  Again, that doesn’t make it right or good, but it’s business rather than evil; these people didn’t deserve to die but they were hardly innocents.

Skyler shows Walt all the money that Walt’s acquired, which she’s placed in a storage locker, to point out that for all the money they have, they could never launder it all in a million years.  She’s right, but it’s unclear whether or not it matters to Walt.  Walt is only partly doing it for the money; he’s wants to do something he’s the best at and be the boss.  Still, maybe he sees a way back to his family here, an opening left by Skyler, and he decides, not unwisely, to take it.  Of course, if this was a different series that could be the end – Walt realizes he’s got more than he could ever need, decides to retire, and the family more or less goes back to normal.  In this show, though, at the same time they’re having dinner, as Walt’s retired, and Skyler seems for once to not despise Walt with ever fiber of her being, Hank comes upon a copy of Leaves of Grass in the bathroom, sees it inscribed to “W.W.,” similar to a copy of Leaves of Grass found at Gale’s apartment, and what the W.W. really stood for hits him.

I don’t particularly like the last scene for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t think Walt would be so careless to leave a gift from Gale lying around in the bathroom.  Second, Hank’s a damn good cop – if he figures out Walt, I’d vastly prefer it to be from a positive act, rather than simply stumbling upon it.  Third, I hate the reminder after Hank sees the “W.W.” that reshows the scene where Hank is trying to figure out what W.W. means; we’re all obsessive Breaking Bad watchers, we either remember the earlier scene or can figure it out.

Every season, I talk about a couple of individual scenes that I adore outside of their context. This season it’s the first scene in Madrigal, where after watching a test of dressings (Franch clearly the best) a Madrigal executive locks himself into the bathroom and kills himself with a defibrillator.  Just beautiful; the clinical science lab, the sharp coloring, the bizarre suicide method. Additionally, I’ve also often said no show does montages better than Breaking Bad, and the final episode’s Crystal Blue Persuasion montage as Walt and Todd make meth is fantastic; it’s as if the show was waiting to use this song for five seasons just for this moment.

For every complaint I make, it’s worth stating that this is Breaking Bad we’re talking about.  Like Mad Men, it’s great, even when it’s not.  Even the weaker moments, are pretty brilliant, and even when I disagree with a choice, I know a ton of thinking and work went into every single decision.  No choice was made willy-nilly or just offhand, or just happened because no one thought about it.  I liked the fifth season more the second time I watched it. Although I’m not sure how the show’s going to end, nor how much impact the ending, for better or worse, will have on my opinion, Breaking Bad is currently one of my five favorite hour long shows of all time.