Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Breaking Bad 513: To'hajiilee

Let's see, how to talk about the first half of the episode first, without jumping straight to THAT ENDING.

Todd (I believe we call him "Creepy, Less Attractive Matt Damon" at our house) is a character the writers have quietly built over the last season, from an almost unassuming worker bee who takes initiative and does what he's told, but speaks up or takes action when he feels it's necessary to the job at hand, to a major player in the Heisenberg empire. I won't lie, I kind of liked him from the beginning. Yes, he's absolutely one of the scariest characters in Breaking Bad history, but if you're looking to get away with the biggest meth business in America at all costs, he does what needs doing, no questions asked. Was it awful the kid on the bike was killed? Of course. But he knew the task was to get away with the train heist, and that kid potentially stood in the way - what other choice was there that wasn't an equally as awful solution?

At first, I was labeling Todd as an alternative, soulless Jesse Pinkman type, but he's really a fascinating combination of Walt and Jesse - like Walt, he understands and accepts that lives need to be sacrificed, in order to benefit the business, and accompanies said sacrifices with emotionless rationalizations. But like Jesse, he's also very eager to please his mentor/boss and work hard for a pat on the head. When watching Todd and Lydia in this episode, I couldn't help but think of Jesse and Walt in their partnership days (uh, minus Todd's awkward touching and tea drinking), and Lydia even pulls a Walt-style manipulation, taking advantage of Todd's feelings for her to encourage improvement in his cooking skills. I was skeptical about the writers introducing these characters to us so late in the series, but their development has been compelling to watch.

So, Huell is a great pickpocket, but it's apparently not difficult to drum up some good old scare tactics and play him. Whether this trickery came off plausible or not really isn't the issue, for me, because the fact of the matter is, we don't know Huell that well and can therefore reasonably believe he'd be fooled by Hank's plan. I just liked the scene because we got to see Hank once again doing some great Cop Stuff like the good old days, and because their staged meat-for-brains photo (and Marie subsequently also referring to it as brains when she sees it in the trash) was hilarious. I've said it before and I'll say it again - as unimaginably dark as these last episodes are, it's a real measure of the writers' talents that they're still able to inject a little humor, here and there.

Walter Jr. working at the car wash crossed my mind at some point, I think while watching the first half of season five, and I immediately assumed Skyler would never let it happen, as she's been determined to keep her kids completely detached from her and Walt's illegal activity. So, I was definitely surprised to see her teaching him to cashier (also, I thought part of the money laundering involved Skyler running fake transactions through the register, and that would seem harder to pull off if she's putting others on the register). That aside, this was another brilliant comic relief scene of sorts played by them and Saul, likening back to the awkward Jesse/Walt/Skyler dinner from the first half of the season. I about died laughing just from the way Junior stared at Saul. R.J. Mitte has aged a good five to six years since the show began, but he continues to capture Junior's innocence/ignorance so well.

There isn't much to say about Walt's trip to see Andrea and Brock, other than how downright creepy it was. I don't know what it says about Walt that he can nonchalantly make small talk with a kid he poisoned, especially while said kid is sitting in a very "Walter Jr." setting - eating his breakfast. But it obviously doesn't say anything "Mr. Chips" about him.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to coherently talk about the second half of the episode, because, you know...FEELS! OVERDRIVE! And stuff. It's the kind of television you want to watch with a buddy, so you have someone to clutch desperately when your heart starts pounding for these characters. First, Walt's drive to the money site. Something felt off to me when watching/hearing the phone conversation between him and Jesse, and while I initially attributed it to the scene just not working for me, it wasn't until I thought about it some more later that I realized I was totally wrong. It's supposed to feel off. To the viewer, it's meant to feel like a weird exchange, because this is the first time we see Jesse outsmarting Walt. When you realize that, the whole scene is scary and awesome, all at once. THE STUDENT HAS BECOME THE TEACHER kind of stuff.

I love that Jesse has grown a pair and decided not to be pushed around by others, anymore, but seeing Walt get duped so easily was honestly uncomfortable to watch (especially after his own plan to flush out Jesse through Brock and Andrea fails). We know that the Walt from earlier seasons would never fall for such a poorly constructed trick, but this is what the writers have carefully been building since the end of season 5.1: a series of seemingly small slips on Walt's part (leaving the Whitman book out, for one) leading to the eventual fall of his whole empire. And while Walt going after Jesse's weakness failed (albeit, because Hank intercepted Andrea's call to Jesse), Jesse expertly nails Walt's weakness (his money), which allows him to outsmart his former partner into revealing everything he's done (though I'm assuming this phone call can't be used in court) and taking them straight to his money. It's hard to watch the tables get turned on a man who's always had the upper hand, because it's further evidence of the end being near, of the fact that there's no going back to the RV days or the taking down Gus days. But it's also a bit satisfying to see Jesse and Hank pull a Heisenberg of their own.

I can't forget to mention how brilliantly the scene was shot, either, forgoing the traditional pan back and forth between two characters on the phone and instead opting to just show Walt. Breaking Bad does this frequently, showing only one character during a two-person phone conversation, but in the past, we would only hear the dialogue from the person on screen - half the conversation. The difference here is hearing both characters' dialogue - Jesse's voice without seeing his face, instantly turning him into an ominous mastermind who has full control (for once!) over Walt (he actually calls him Walt as well, instead of Mr. White, and I wonder if that feels as weird for Aaron Paul to say as it does for us to hear). Combine that with the amazing driving shots and - gah. Even without the scene that followed, this episode owned me in that moment.

As if we're not yelling, "Walt, it's a trick, you're smarter than this!" at the TV during that scene, it's even more alarming how long it takes him to figure out he's been played. Even when he pulls up to the site and sees no one there, he's so shaken by the thought of his money being destroyed that it takes him a good minute of wandering around before he starts kicking himself. Damn, Walt, you be really far gone, yo. So, okay, next step, call Todd and his Nazi family out to kill Jesse. Except, once again, his plan fails when he finally finds out something everyone else has known all along - Jesse is with the D.E.A. (there's been a lot of that character ignorance throughout the show, mostly things that the audience knows that Jesse doesn't (Jane) or that Hank doesn't (Heisenberg), but we rarely see it happen to Walt). Bryan Cranston's silent acting from behind the rock made this scene. For a moment, you don't actually know which way he's going to go, if he'll go back on his "no killing family" promise and sacrifice Hank in order to off Jesse, or if he'll call off the hit. And honestly, I still can't decide what his real decision was. We know he told them not to come, but the way in which he said it made me wonder if he secretly did want them to come. If he really wanted to cancel the hit, he could have said something more believable, like, "Never mind, wrong guy, it's not Jesse," or, "Never mind, I lost him." I don't know. The way the dialogue played out made it seem like he just wasn't genuinely calling off the hit.

Walt's surrender is a great scene because, again, the audience knows something these characters don't - we've seen the flash forwards and know that Walt not only makes it to fifty two, he makes it as a free man. It allows us to have a different reaction to seeing him get arrested, because we know, essentially, he's going to get out of it somehow, so we instead start thinking, okay, how is he going to escape this? And this is where you start to see it all coming. Todd's clan showing up, the shootout, probable death for Hank and Gomez. I have such an immense appreciation for a show that meticulously utilizes color imagery and poetry and other literary techniques, but will then turn around and pay tribute to classic film with the equivalent of a modern-day western shootout. In any other show, this ending would have been tacky and cliched, but Breaking Bad combines the literary and the surreal and the theatrical so well that you're more than happy to be along for the ride.

Predictable as it was all meant to be (the arrest, Hank's victory speech and phone call to Marie that had very finite undertones, the shootout that inevitably kills Hank and Gomez), this is perhaps just another Vince Gilligan trick. Breaking Bad loves to make us think we're going in one direction before taking us in another, so it's entirely possible this obvious setup is meant to make us think Hank will die, when he really won't. Either way, I can't wait to find out. Personally, I think it's time for Hank and Gomez to die, but then, I haven't been as big a fan of Hank's more recent coldness and his manipulative, abuse treatment of Jesse (i.e. his Heisenberg phase). Furthermore, I'm in probably a minority group of fans who still wants to see Walt defeat Hank, even if/when the cancer eventually kills him. The cops getting killed would also make sense here, given Jesse's earlier warning to them that whatever they want to happen, the exact opposite would happen. The shootout certainly lives up to that prediction.

As for Jesse's fate, I've longed believed he wouldn't be killed off (or that he would at least make it to the last episode before dying), so I don't see him dying in the shootout. But I also don't see a feasible way for him to escape. If such is the case, and if his D.E.A. partners are killed, he's in for what I can only imagine is pure hell at the hands of Walt and/or Lydia and Todd's crew. I don't know why on earth they would choose to keep him alive, at this point, as his only strength to them is his cooking ability, which they've already got Walt for. I'm torn between desperately wanting a character I love to survive and knowing that if he does survive, it'll likely be as a captive to some pretty awful, violent people. But I don't think his time is up yet, so it'll be interesting to see how anyone will justify keeping him around.

Can I end this by talking about PINK? You can arguably predict a good portion of the death, tragedy, and violence on Breaking Bad by looking out for the color pink. The most notable instance of this was the pink teddy bear from the cold opens throughout season two. It was not only connected to the plane crash that killed a lot of passengers, but it ran tangent to Jane's death as well, showing up on a mural in her bedroom (Walt also wears a pink sweater in the season's last episode, in case it wasn't obvious who was to blame for ALL DEATH, EVERYWHERE). Holly is dressed almost exclusively in pink, and in one scene, it's almost horrifying to see her wearing a pink hoodie with bear ears, essentially turning her into a pink bear. I don't think that necessarily signifies she will die by the show's end, but maybe it foreshadows the deaths of those close to her - the White family. Also, not to counter my "Jesse will live" theory, but his last name is PINKman...though again, that could merely suggest that everyone around him dies while he lives. Anyway, I bring all this up because Saul shows up in a pink shirt in this episode, foreshadowing the shootout that we can be certain will have a body count. Props to the show for never forgetting those details.

Skyler is going to wonder where the hell Walt is, and I don't know that the Fugue State story would work a second time.

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