Friday, September 23, 2016

Thoughts on Breaking Bad - Season 5 (Part 2)

I hadn't realized when I watched this season that it was actually split in half (although now I regret not seeing it when it aired, and being part of the cultural excitement about catching the last episodes and finding out in real time what happens next), but in hindsight that makes a lot of sense. And since it's a longer season (16 episodes instead of 13) - and being the last season, there's lots to talk about - it made sense to split this review in half, too. Here's the final part!

Spoiler Warning: This post is going to discuss - and therefore contain major spoilers from - the second half of the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad. The ending to the series will be covered. You have been warned!

S5:E9 "Blood Money"

I couldn't help noticing Bryan Cranston with the director's credit for this episode. Very cool. The X-Files used to do this in its later years, giving its lead actors an opportunity to get some directing experience.

What a haunting opening scene. Presumably taking place after the season opening flash-forward. Walt returns to his house, now all boarded up, to retrieve the poison he hid there. Such suspense. What all went down to get him to this point? Where is his family? How did he escape fate? Where is he headed now, and what is he going to do with that poison, and all those guns? (Also, it's amazing how the swimming pool has become a sort of character in and of itself, framing a lot of the intense, emotional moments of this series).

This is it. Finally. All this time, Hank never [seriously] considered the possibility of his own brother-in-law being a crime lord. But there were moments. The stolen chemistry equipment. The initials in Gale's lab notes. Hank had this image of Walt that precluded the possibility of seeing him in this way. That's why he could so easily brush off the tiny details here and there. But now, with the Walt Whitman book, and the damning connection it makes between Walt and Gale, whether he believes it yet or not, or wants to believe it, it's going to force him to consider Walt in a new light. And I think that the more he thinks about it, the more the pieces are going to fall into place. This will finally be the ultimate end for Heisenberg, as it always should have been. But how will it go down?

Oh, shit. Walt confronts Hank about the tracker on his car. Now Walt knows Hank knows, and Hank knows Walt knows he knows. He doesn't know how to respond, but you can see the heartbreak in Hank's face. I didn't think it would happen this fast. I thought they'd play it out for a while before the confrontation. But this is great. No pussyfootin' around. Now it's a battle of wills, not wits.

The whole scene is tense, but understated. We're not talking, like, explosions and things. I mean, yeah, Hank punched Walt, but they're barely speaking over a whisper. Yet the emotions...I feel buzzed just watching it. All the anticipation has been leading to this. I want to know what happens next. I don't want this episode to end - I want to watch the next one! This show hasn't been so exciting since I'd gotten into the habit of expecting its usual high quality. I feel like I'm watching the first season again.

"I don't know who you are. I don't even know who I'm talking to."
"If that's true - if you don't know who I am - then
maybe your best course...would be to tread lightly."

Spoken like a true Heisenberg. You think he's going to spin another lie to save face - the way he used to do to Skyler before she figured everything out. But no. No games here. Just pure ego.

Shit, I'm watching the scene again. Right now.


I have to say, for a scene I've been anticipating this whole series, it completely delivered. I wouldn't have predicted it'd go down quite like this. I wasn't even expecting it to happen so fast - and surely this is just the calm before the storm. But this is it - the confrontation between Hank and Walt when Hank knows that Walt is Heisenberg. And it is fantastic. Kudos also to Dean Norris for bringing it in this scene. As Hank Schrader, he's been a fun character, but kind of in the background. Here he goes head to head with the great Bryan Cranston, and possibly even comes out on top! I can't wait to find out what happens next.

S5:E10 "Burned"

Aftermath! Hank confronts Skyler, thinking she'll help him out (ha!). But she's concerned for herself (and rightly so). Things are spiraling out of control for Hank. He has no idea how deep this thing goes.

That's rich - Walt getting offended at Saul's suggestion to off Hank. Like he has any moral standing left...

Marie confronts Skyler. Emotions are running high. I'm totally digging this atmosphere. Hank's been hunting Heisenberg all this time, but there's no joy in finally finding him, because he's lost family in the process, and that's just devastating. All that's left is the cold desire - the need - to catch this monster. Somehow.

Pinkman! Oh man, I want to see what happens when Hank questions Jesse. I'm riding the wave now!

S5:E11 "Confessions"

Hank: "...make this all go away."

Ha. You can't make this all go away. I was hoping for a somewhat happy ending for Jesse, being that he's the one with the conscience and all. But with everything that's happened, I don't know that he could ever be happy again. Even if he manages to escape legal trouble, he'll still have that stain on his soul - in his memories, his psyche.

"He really did a number on you, didn't he?"

I'll say. With friends like Walter White, who needs enemies?

A confession! How far we've come since the first episode, which was the last time Walt attempted to record a video confession...

You know, I didn't think Hank would be able to crack Walt's defenses, but putting confessing in terms of "stepping up" and "being a man" - how will Mr. Ego respond to that?

Lol, oh man. By trying to frame Hank - that's how. A criminal mastermind to the end.

To the last, I tell you. Walt sounds like he's actually concerned for Jesse's mental state. But I know he just needs to make Jesse disappear, so as not to compromise his plans. It's probably just his sentimental feelings from working with Jesse that prevents him from simply offing him like everybody else.

And, yep - Jesse saw right through it. I'm glad he's finally calling Walt out on his bullshit. Then again, this is beginning to feel like the last we'll see of Jesse...

{expletives deleted} Jesse found out about the cigarette! Will Jesse be the one to finally kill Walt? Dammit, why am I going away for the weekend? I want to watch the next episode now!

It's funny how vague the episode synopses are becoming on Netflix, in order to avoid spoilers. "An unusual strategy starts to bear fruit, while plans are set in motion that could change everything." That sounds like something you might get in a fortune cookie, lol.

You know, I'd been thinking in these flash forwards that it looks like Walt is gearing up for war - but against whom? My first thought was, of course, the DEA. But could it actually be Jesse? All this time, I'd been waiting for the confrontation between Walt and Hank, but what I didn't see coming was the confrontation brewing between Walt and Jesse. Well played, Gilligan.

S5:E12 "Rabid Dog"

Walt with the gasoline - it's like he's spinning another one of his lies from two or three seasons ago. I'm sure Skyler knows he's lying, but at this point she knows better than to ask him for the truth. (Well, at least not in front of Junior). But why didn't Jesse burn the house down, like he was going to?

This is interesting. Everybody just assumes that Walt will eliminate the Jesse threat, but for once, he means to solve the problem without terminal violence. Even I could be accused of thinking Walt would off Jesse earlier in the season. But now we're dealing with a person close enough to Walt that his "moral judgment" (ha!) is kicking into gear. It's not that he'll kill anyone, it's just that there are few people who matter enough to him to warrant foregoing the "final solution". It's like, he's got a moral compass like everyone else, it's just tuned all the way down to "sociopath". It remains to be seen, however, how easily Jesse will flip into the "not sacred" camp as he continues to threaten Walt and his family. Or, if Walt can't make that jump, will that be the ultimate end of him? Is Jesse even capable of that? (Why did he change his mind about the house? Or did someone change it for him?).

"Walt's a bastard. Secret's out. We'll talk about it."

Oh my god! An alliance between Hank and Jesse? A match made in Hell! (Or, since this is an antihero story, and Walt's the protagonist, a match actually made in Heaven?).

It seems poignant that the camera focused on Hank buckling himself and Jesse in before driving away. Something about following the rules and doing the right thing, logic prevailing over emotion. Something like that.

Marie in therapy:

"There is no problem - no matter how difficult, or painful, or seemingly unsolvable - that violence won't make worse."
"I know. I...don't worry, I wouldn't hurt anybody. I just... It just feels good to think about it."

And that's why we're all watching this show, right? But I guess that's where we draw the line between good and evil.

One thing that's ironic is that early on in this show, Hank and Marie were the unlikable people, compared to Walt and Skyler. But they're the good ones - they're coming out on top in the end. Just goes to show, there's more important things than a person's charisma. Then again, the way that we're drawn to charisma...again, that's why we're watching this show, right?

Walt sits by the swimming pool, even at the hotel (nice hotel by the way). Did I mention how the swimming pool is almost it's own character in this show? I don't know if there's some symbolism to it, but even if not, I think that's a great detail that really fleshes out Walt's humanity (what little of it he has). I can totally relate to meditating near water. It has a calming influence.

"You think I came all this way just to let something as silly as lung cancer take me down? Not a chance."

Even though that's what I thought this show was all about at the start, I kinda feel like Walt has a point now. Can anything take him down?

As Jesse sits down to be interviewed on camera by Hank (and Gomez - I'm glad Hank's brought him into this, as I didn't like seeing him cut out, and Hank with no allies at the DEA), I want to believe that this will be good for him - that he'll work out some kind of deal or whatever.  But then I remember those Youtube videos I've seen about how it's NEVER in your personal interest to talk to a cop - even when you're innocent. And given how guilty Jesse is, and how crafty and slippery Walt is, Jesse's basically signing his own arrest warrant here if things don't work out the way Hank wants them to, or if Hank has a sudden change of heart about Jesse after learning about his involvement in Walt's misdeeds. (Although if ever his possession of a conscience could save his soul, this would be the time for it - I think that's something Hank could respond to, much as he's already predisposed to hating Jesse).

Once again, great investigative instinct, Hank. He's figured out that Jesse is Walt's weak spot. And not just because of the dirt Jesse has on him. This truly is the making of a great "the taking down of Walter White" story, provided things don't go the way Walt would like to see them go.

What is Jesse's plan? Oh shit, did Walt just put a hit out on Jesse? Well, that took almost a whole episode...

S5:E13 "To'hajiilee"

Hank and Gomez trick Huell to try and track down Walt's only remaining weakness - his money - leading to an epic showdown in the desert.

A living example of "moral relativity" is an ex-con hitman describing other people as "savages".

Walt puts out a hit on Jesse with Todd's uncle Jack, in exchange for agreeing to cook once more, in order to teach Todd to bring up the purity. He can't kill Jesse himself because he's too close to him. But I can totally see him taking out Todd's whole family if necessary. Maybe Todd, too - I don't know.

Oh god, Walt is using Brock to flush Jesse out. He's a madman!

In the desert - Walt realizes he's fucked, and finds out Jesse's working with Hank. What is he going to do now?

Surrender! Is this it?

No! You can NOT end the episode there, right in the middle of a shootout! It's terrible - I even said to myself, Jack's crew are gonna come anyway, and spring Walt, but then I got so lost in the moment - Hank finally arresting Walt - that when they showed up, it was just like, oh shit. Also, Hank's phone call with Marie had a strange poignancy to it that I couldn't quite place. I figured it must have been because Hank just closed the case that's been driving him mad for years, indicating that everything's going to be better in their relationship moving forward. But as soon as those trucks came around, I got this sinking feeling - Hank's not making it out of there alive. Damn.

S5:E14 "Ozymandias"

An eerie flashback to the first day, that emphasizes how much has changed since then.

To think that Walt would offer his entire fortune to Jack to let Hank live. I know he's "family", but Walt never even liked Hank that much. And this is his money we're talking about - the reason he did it all. I wonder if he's got something up his sleeve (he always does). Like, sure, let Jack take the money. As long as he gets out of this, he'll figure out a way to waste Jack and get the money back. Maybe he doesn't even have a plan yet, but is counting on his wits to figure it out later (he'd have good reason to).

"My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself."

Oh my god, this episode is just filled with bad feelings. It's not even cathartic. Just sad. Ugly. Yet I still love it.

Caged and tortured - this is not the ending I had in mind for Jesse... Although being shot execution style wasn't it either.

> Call for help.
> Take matters into your own hands.

Junior calls the cops on his dad. Walt rushes out with the baby. Skyler runs out into the street after them, helpless. This is the most haunting suburban scene I've watched since Halloween. My terse comments do not do it justice. "We're a family!"

And he's off, with a new identity. All that's left is the denouement - tying up loose ends, seeing the rest of these characters' ends.

I guess this season has been all about not just how Walt will be taken down - but how far he'll go before the end. (Which is what we've all been watching to see).

Surely, Walt's loose ends are going to be killing Jesse - but does he know for sure that Jack's gang kept him alive? He was willing to give himself up when Hank caught him, but now, even when he's lost everything - most of his money, and above all, his family (including his kids) - he's still in it for himself, apparently.

S5:E15 "Granite State"

Lol, I was just thinking, "I wonder if we'll see any more of Saul Goodman." And, sure enough, here he is. This should be interesting, seeing Walt as he is now, interacting with Saul, both of them on the lam.

"No matter how much you got, how can you turn your back on more?" - Todd's laconic wit.

Todd threatens Skyler (and the baby) to keep quiet about Lydia. I love how this show does scenes like this. It's like, we've seen what crime is like from the perspective of a million dramas and documentaries, and it's always these bad people we don't understand, framed in a certain way that we can separate ourselves from the danger. Here, it's like, this is just another part of the daily life of these people. It's fascinating.

I was really rooting for Jesse to escape that compound, but I guess at this stage - ever since the showdown in the desert - this show is done with feel good developments. It's all about soul-crushing devastation now, and Todd's encounter with Andrea (animals!) accomplishes that like a knife to the gut.

Walt holes up in a cabin in remote (and snowy) New Hampshire. (Why am I thinking of the Smoking Man, lol)? All he's worked for has turned to dust. A perfect representation of the previous episode's allusion to Ozymandias (which I also remember being referenced in The Watchmen) - the king of kings brought low. He can't even get the little (relatively speaking) money he has left to his family. It was all for naught. I guess, in the end, crime doesn't pay, after all. What will be his final move? And what will become of Jesse? What will happen in the final episode? I'm betting it'll hinge on a confrontation between Walt and Jesse.

I think one of the most fascinating things about this series is how it manages to make a villain sympathetic. Walter White is a human being. A despicable human being sometimes - for sure. But a human being nonetheless. Like, I was rooting for Hank to catch Walt (sooner or later), and Flynn had every right to react the way he did when Walt called him after going on the lam (great scene, by the way). But still, I sympathize with Walt because I understand why he did the things he did.

He still deserves to rot in hell - make no mistake about that. Understanding is not the same thing as condoning. That's something that I think a lot of people have trouble with (in the real world). It's like they have some superstition that if they "understand" the reasons why a person does horrible things, it's the same thing as excusing those things. I never understood how or why that conclusion should follow. I mean, shouldn't we try to understand why people do horrible things? Isn't that a better way to prevent and handle those bad things than willful blindness?

I strive to separate emotion from logic in these cases. People who do horrible things can still have something to contribute to society. Like, if a murderer donates to a puppy shelter, the fact that he donated to the puppy shelter doesn't mean that he shouldn't suffer the consequences of committing murder, and at the same time, the fact that he's a murderer doesn't mean that his charity toward puppies is "poisoned" in some way. (In the case of money, I completely understand not wanting to spend so-called "ill-gotten gains", but the point is conceptual - if a bad person does something good, that doesn't mean that the good thing isn't really good, especially when other, not bad people do it).

S5:E16 "Felina"

"If we're gonna go that way, you'll need a bigger knife."

Walt's plan to get the last of his money to his family via a veiled (and coerced) donation by the Schwartzes (of Gray Matter) is (characteristically) brilliant. And Walt's visit to their home is another one of this series' subtly haunting scenes, with Walt just kinda walking into the place (not even breaking in - just walking in) and acting like he owns it (as well as the lives of its inhabitants). Awesome bluff with the "snipers" - it totally had me going. Also, nice surprise seeing Badger and Skinny Pete one last time before the series ends.

Great job shooting Walt in the coffee shop that Lydia frequents. I swear, he was sitting right there, and I didn't notice him until he stood up! Well done.

Well, now we know who the poison was intended for. Walt's tying up loose ends, alright. And working on something big, too. He'll need it to take down Jack's group. I hope this blowout is going to be one last example of Walt's wizardry - like the trick with the fulminated mercury all the way back in the first season.

Walt visits Skyler first. I'm glad that the truth about Hank is being set straight once and for all. I really thought Walt had gone off the deep end when he made that call after running out with the baby, but Saul's explanation suggests that it was just a smart move to try and take some of the heat off of Skyler. As terrible a person as Walt may be, the family deserves to know that he genuinely didn't intend for Hank to be killed. Although some would say that the damage is done. It's certainly too late to turn back the clock.

And then Walt confesses: "I did it for me." This really is the end, isn't it? (Although, I suppose he has to say that, if he wants the family not to question the Schwartzes' gift when it comes, which is the only way he can get any of his money to them)...

And, the final showdown. Jesse strangles Todd (how things have changed since the first season). Todd was one of those odd characters, where I wanted to like him, but then he would do things that made me not like him. Kinda like Gus - except in the end, I guess the worst things Gus allegedly did, Gus didn't even really do. In Todd's case, I can't say I'm sad to see him go. He totally had it coming. As for Jack, I like how Jack's death mirrors Hank's death. Shot in mid-sentence. Then Walt gives Jesse one last mind fuck, but he prevails over Walt's psychological manipulations this time. Not that it warrants forgiveness, after everything that happened, but Walt did save Jesse's life, and gave him his freedom, in the end. Not saying Walt should run for saint or anything, just is what it is.

And then Walt dies surrounded by what he truly loves - in the bowels of a meth lab. And it wasn't the cancer, but a bullet that killed him! I think the one enduring idea that I've taken away from the ending to this series is how we've been taken on this wild ride, and the purpose was to demonstrate, from a more or less sympathetic perspective, how a bad man came to discover his calling in life - being a drug kingpin ("I liked it. I was good at it."). And the fascinating part is the extent to which he's been portrayed sympathetically. No, we haven't always agreed with him, but as I explained above, we've been asked to consider the motivations for his behavior, and they've been largely understandable from the perspective of human nature. Does it mean we should let meth lords do their thing? No, not necessarily. (I mean, you could make an argument, but...).

I guess I just really respond to the whole idea of sympathizing with somebody misunderstood. People are so quick to judge and condemn. Again, not saying I condone Walt's behaviors, but is it really so bad to take a moment and try to see where people are coming from? If you're so afraid that realizing that "he was protecting his family" will make you feel like his actions were justified (up to and including murder), to the point that you'd rather not consider it and just focus myopically on the bad thing he did, ignoring the reasons for it, then I fear for your own moral compass. I fear for the moral compass of humanity.

Then again, if there are people like Walter White out there in the world, who can come to justify these behaviors in their own lives... I guess I just like to see the world as it really is, in shades of grey. If things are not so clear cut, I don't want to reduce everything to blacks and whites. I want to experience the full dynamic range of life. And, philosophically speaking, if murder really is bad, then I want to discover the correct reason for that, and not rely on the demonstrably shaky foundations of something nebulous like the concept of "judeo/christian principles".

All this is to say that this is one fucking fantastic television series. But as incredible as this show is, and as crazy as anyone would be to say "I don't want to have more new episodes of Breaking Bad to watch", I really appreciate a story that's not afraid to end, and I'm glad that Vince Gilligan learned from the mess that the X-Files developed into, not to carry the show beyond its welcome. You can't do things like kill Hank and break up Walt's family (for real) until you're in the end game, and those are incredible storytelling events. Otherwise, if you try to keep the show going as long as it's profitable, you end up holding off on those developments indefinitely, and the show becomes something it never intended at the outset.

So, sad as I am not to have any more new episodes of Breaking Bad to watch, I'm really glad it ended when it did. After all, it's such a great series that it's worth watching again. In fact, I'd love to go back and watch it all again with somebody who hasn't seen it yet, just to savor their reactions. Hopefully you've gotten a little piece of that here with these reviews. It's been a hell of a time!

No comments:

Post a Comment