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Breaking Bad Watch: I Am the One Who Gets Knocked Out

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Ursula Coyote/AMC

Spoilers for last night’s final-season premiere of Breaking Bad follow:

If you were worried that the final run of Breaking Bad episodes would be lackadaisical in ramping up the drama and advancing the story as the finale approached: well, you can stop worrying. The return, “Blood Money,” meant business.

Walt’s cancer is back–something broadly hinted at before the show went on hiatus but made crystal-blue-clear now. (He is also, evidently, concealing it from his family, as evidenced by his hiding his chemo-induced sickness. Because of course he is.) We now know, in the flash-forward, that not only is Walt seeing hard times–and is now armed with both a machine gun and ricin–but so is his family, or at least his family home; it’s fenced off, the swimming pool (the site of so much White family life) being used as a skateboard pit.

And everything is out on the table between Hank and Walt. We’ve spent five seasons–well, I have, anyway–wondering how Hank would react to learning that Walt was Heisenberg all along. Would he go into denial, unwilling to accept how he’d been deceived? Would he play things cool, keeping Walt close until he was ready to lower the boom? Would a cat-and-mouse game follow, building to a confrontation in the final episode or two of the series?

Nope. Granted, the jaw-dropping throwdown between Hank and Walt was precipitated by Walt’s figuring out that Hank was on to him. But you can see–after his literally sickened response to first learning–that the discovery has awakened a fury in him. There’s no regret in his turning on his brother-in-law, no apparent fear or hesitation, but rather, great relief.

It’s an astonishing scene (in an episode, by the way, by Bryan Cranston, as if to spike the ball). And it’s a reminder that, while Cranston has won deserved praise for playing Walter White for five years, he hasn’t carried this series by himself. Dean Norris and Cranston are both eye magnets here, and the force just arcs between them as your attention is drawn irresistibly to both at once.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Is Back: Why It’s the Most Moral Show on TV)

The conflict is both explosive and subtle at once. There’s a lot of alpha-dog fury here, from the blammo! moment when Hank punches Walt out. But listen to the fencing match of their dialogue, the way Walt, even as he’s caught red-handed, pleads with Hank without ever actually confessing in so many words. (“These wild accusations, they could destroy our family. And for what!”)

And then, as Hank presses his attack (“Rot, you son of a bitch”), a silent turning point is reached, and the subtle pleas become subtle threats. (That point, perhaps, is when Hank insists that Walt bring the kids to him and Marie.)

There’s a great moment where, having spent his fury, Hank finally lets show some of his confusion and amazement that Walt–nerdy, brainiac Walt whose chops he was busting way back in the pilot–is not just a criminal but a composed, controlled, ruthless monster, and that Hank has been living, professionally and personally, inside a massive lie. “I don’t even know who I’m talking to,” he says, and it’s a wonderfully plaintive, lost line reading by Norris. He’s furious, but he’s also still a little sick, and it’s not the potato salad.

Walt answers with a characteristic understated threat–“maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.” But by now we know the stakes, because we know precisely who Walt is. There’s no more left to say for now, and so Walt and Hank stare each other down, size each other up, in a Western-like final long shot.

Game freakin’ on.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* Maybe even more menacing than Walt’s threat to Hank is the coldness with which he dispatches Lydia, who–after apparently her takeover of the business has gone south–is essentially begging him to save her life. Walt may be acting out of commitment to go clean for good, but his refusal is pure Heisenberg. Who would think the phrase “Have an A1 day!” could be so frightening?

* Walt, though, is not the only one who’s learned to scare people off. Skyler is stone-cold in shooing Lydia off–“Never come back here”–but equally impressive is how incisively she sizes up the danger. (As the saying goes, no one has ever washed a rental car.) The scene, I think, shows that as much as she and Walt are working to go legit, Skyler too has been changed by the past year, in ways that can’t be unchanged simply by buying another car wash.

* Walt, as I’ve written earlier, does believe in his typical hubris that he can change that if he stays out of the game, no matter what he’s done before, he can be a decent person again; “The past is the past.” Jesse, who isn’t able to retrofit his morality so conveniently, isn’t buying it; still haunted by Drew Sharp’s murder, he’s trying to get rid of his money as if it were cursed. The past, for him, is not past; it’s soaked into every one of those $100 bills.

* And yet even in this moment, even as Walt insists he’s quit the game, it’s clear he’s hardly changed–at least not in his ability to look at Jesse and baldfacedly lie about not having killed Mike. (And another brilliant line read from Aaron Paul, who pours a five-gallon jug of contempt into, “Yeah. Like you said. He’s alive.”)

* We still don’t know whom the machine gun is intended for. Are we all guessing that the ricin is meant for Walt himself?

* Nice callback to the season-4 poison caper as Huell watches Jesse light up a cigarette in Saul’s waiting room.

* “Why do you think McCoy never likes to beam nowhere? Cause he’s a doctor, bitch! Look it up, it’s science!”

* I would not have pegged Walt and Skyler for Squeeze fans! Though “If I didn’t love you I’d hate you” would at this point be a pretty optimistic read on their relationship.

* Please tell me AMC is going to license Schraderbrau novelty mirrors for sale.

* And the return of the Breaking Bad Visual of the Week: Not the showiest shot of the episode, maybe, but I really liked the disorienting pull-back after Walt discovers the GPS tracker. That, or Jesse hurling stacks of bills from his car like a guilt-wracked paperboy.

One final note: I’m going to be reviewing Breaking Bad’s last run of eight episodes, but–between travel out of town and the fact that AMC is not sending review copies of every episode–I probably will not be able to review every week. But I’ll see you back here (hopefully) next week. 

34 comments
wallstreetfool
wallstreetfool

Given what we've seen so far, if nothing else, I strongly believe that Skyler is DEAD or, Walt used Saul's contacts to get himself and his family a new identity... But for some reason, maybe to feed his massive ego, Walt is back in ABQ and is about to Destroy/Dismantle/Disembowel someone brutally.... I'm hoping Walt doesn't die in the end... They should show Walt killing the whole cartel and becoming the Monster Druglord of the world, and sitting on a throne or something...That would be a satisfying ending...

http://wallstreetfool.com/2013/06/26/stocks-and-options-trading-course-499/ 

equinoxquote2013
equinoxquote2013

One key moment missed here is just before Walt searches for the GPS device. He is thinking and then realizes exactly what is happening and starts searching for the GPS. This is a masterful replay of the moment when Gus realizes that something isn't right and refuses to go to his car in the parking garage. The looks on their faces are identical.

SeaghnWhite
SeaghnWhite

The closing act, the confrontation between the characters Walt and Hank, was the most intense, visceral exchange of threats I have ever experienced.

I've been moved emotionally by very, very few screenplays. Breaking Bad is one of them, and the only one which I can say does so consistently.

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

Cranston did a great job of showing how, bubbling just under the surface, Walt feels irritated and inconvenienced by everyone around him. (As though he can't believe these puny humans would not see the brilliance of his logic in every situation.) He even seems irritated and distant when he's trying to shore Jesse up. The only exception: He's more careful with Skyler, I think because she looks so tense and as though she could still bolt in a nanosecond given any reason. 

And it's always such an exquisite agony to watch Jesse drowning in guilt and grief---especially because we know that his moral conscience grew out of his association with Walt. If their paths hadn't crossed again, Jesse would most likely still be a feckless two-bit junkie dealer (or dead or in jail). Jesse's Heisenberg-induced torment is both gift and curse.

Heisenberg(akaWW)
Heisenberg(akaWW)

Pride, Ego, Vanity, Arrogance. Throughout the series' run, almost every character's downfall and/or demise was a result of some form of hubris.


canali
canali

to me the opening scene was huge: such a wasteland with tragic forebodings, that empty, gutted, destroyed shell of what was once a loving home....couldn't help but wonder what became of walt jr and skylar....felt like a graveyard.

WillSparg
WillSparg

F this page - too much reliance on FLASH FLASH cause it was written by kids.  not coming back

Steve_Davies_20912
Steve_Davies_20912

Maybe James meant "marijuana cigarette" and just forgot to include "marijuana."

yogi
yogi

I'd totally watch Badger's Star Trek episode, if only he could write it down.

PikesvilleAL
PikesvilleAL

in an episode, by the way, by Bryan Cranston-  (typo alert -missing "directed")

There is no way Hank can turn Walt in without the DEA thinking Hank knew or was previously involved.

Mike++M
Mike++M

Two things I think you may have missed...

1)Walt dispatching Lydia at the car watch was a clear and obvious homage to Walt's earlier dealings with Gus Fring at Los Pollos Hermanos. Except now the 'foot is on the other shoe' so-to-speak.

2)Jessie wasn't smoking a cigarrette in Saul's waiting room. As Huell said it was pot.

Also, I think you were dead on about the potato salad. I think potato salad may be a recurring theme. I wouldn't be surprised if Walt's little vial of ricin ends up in potato salad though I can't say who will end up eating it.  Can't wait to find out what exactly happened that makes Walt's neighbor practically soil herself in her driveway when she sees Walt!!!

MasDa49
MasDa49

James, great recap.  Thanks.  I guess haste is why you didn't get the vomiting before the GPS discovery, or that it was weed Jesse was smoking (I thought he was clean?) in Saul's waiting room.   Still, keep your commentary.  We love it.  

The massage Saul was finishing with abrupt masseuse who reminded him of the "barn door" was classic random Gilligan humor.  

Why did Walt show Hank the GPS and confront him?  That is so un-Walt.  Like Gus, Walt would have exploited it, capitalized it, used it to his advantage.  Walt had nothing to gain by showing his hand or confronting Hank (or maybe he did?).  It sure made for great drama, though.  Maybe Walt was unsure Hank knew?  Walt could have found out without showing GPS device, right?   

Hank's eyes when talking to Walt looked fuzzy and dull, like a shark.  I wondered all year how Hank would react to knowing, and feeling betrayal for how Walt used Hank (cell call to Marie, intentional car wreck) all makes sense now.  The only character with the correct moral compass is right to feel no compassion with those things.   One question, in the list Hank spoke of to Walt about how Walt crossed the line, he named one person who got killed.  Who was that?  Can't rewatch now, get the name and search.  

What a great "first" episode.  I thought they would slow pace this, and kudos to Vince and co for coming out swinging.  After the last few episodes of season 4, culminating in Face Off, I didn't think it could get any better.  I was wrong. 

Been a TV watcher for a long time, and this is the best it gets.  

Can't wait for next Sunday.

BTW, first day of school for my kid.  Had to wake up at un-godly hour for the first time in three months.  I got maybe 2 hours sleep; too hyped up from the show.  



KarW
KarW

"Are we all guessing that the ricin is meant for Walt himself?"

I actually did think that for awhile but then I remembered how a few times it was mentioned that anyone ingesting ricin would get sick for a few days (as if they had the flu) and then pass away.

I can't imagine someone committing suicide in that drawn out of a fashion.

The idea that keeps coming back to me is that in the pilot when Walt though he was caught he opted for "death by cop" although I can't imagine Vince G and the rest of the writers taking that obvious was out.  I would like to think the machine gun is a bit of MacGuffin and won't play in to Walt's death @ all.



Steve_Davies_20912
Steve_Davies_20912

Yo, b----, you be missin' an "r" in Schraderbrau. Best tread lightly.

BTW, Walt throws up before he finds the GPS tracker.

Completely agree on Dean Norris. I was thinking that as I watched the two square off. I was surprised as hell Walt confronted him on that, and somewhat less surprised that it would have been so easily found.

sjg35_2000
sjg35_2000

That wasn't a cigarette Jesse was smoking....it was weed. Saul jokes to Jesse by calling him Woody Harrelson. 

@astro_lass
@astro_lass

If Walt uses the ricin, he'll likely frame someone for offing him.

Teacherlhs
Teacherlhs

@Mike++M Walt doesn't just act like Gus at the car wash. Notice how when he threw up in the bathroom he covered the floor just like Gus did when he vomited the poison he used to kill his cartel enemies. 

Mike++M
Mike++M

*car WASH, sorry, type-o

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

@MasDa49 

Good point. But don't forget the moment when Walter is walking out of Hank's garage, as if to leave the situation well enough alone, and suddenly stops, pulls out the GPS and goes back in for the confrontation on that issue. That's when the sh*t hit the fan.

LeeSalem
LeeSalem

Hank didn't name a person Walt killed, he said "Ten witnesses killed" referencing the jailhouse massacres (nine prisoners + Danny the fat lawyer). He also mentioned Walt crashing the car on the way to the laundry and Walt blowing up a nursing home.

vrcplou
vrcplou

@MasDa49 I think Walt has always wanted Hank to know, wants everyone to know.  Not necessarily that he's a drug manufacturer but that he's the Man, the-one-who-knocks, the one whose name must be known.  Hank and Skyler have always emasculated Walt to a degree and one of the unintended consequences of Walt's meth business is that he got his balls back, so to speak.  There's a part of him that's always wanted everyone to know; he has a twisted pride in his accomplishments.

Omagus
Omagus

@MasDa49 "Why did Walt show Hank the GPS and confront him?  That is so un-Walt."
--

I think it actually makes sense for two paradoxical reasons:

1) Vince Gilligan and his writers don't have much time. If this is a normal 13-episode season, we probably don't get that scene. But since time is compressed, things need to move along more quickly.

2) That said, it isn't actually uncharacteristic of Walt to do that. It falls into his pattern of needing to show other people that he's smarter than them as well as his habit of making rash decisions without fully thinking through the consequences. Walt is NOT Gus. Gus would have taken the time to think through multiple outcomes and prepared himself with as many contingency plans as possible. That's not Walt.

Mike++M
Mike++M

@MasDa49 Hi Mas, I was also surprised that both Hank and Walt showed their cards in this episode. I would have assumed that there would be a little cat and mouse going on for a few episodes to keep the audience guessing about who knew what about the other, etc. But VG probably already knows his audience better than we know ourselves and decided to this for this very reason. But still, it sets up for some very interesting family get togethers. poor Marie and Walt jr have no clue. I think they may be the ones who are punished in the end. At the very least I bet neither will escape unscathed. 

grovar
grovar

@KarW so the ricin thing is throwing me a curve.  in the flash forward, it's obvious that Walt has been away.  my thoughts is that he is just getting out of jail and is plotting revenge.  but it seems that even his neighbor knows who he is now.  so that begs the question, who is letting him get close enough for him to poison them?  Also, how far out is his 52 birthday?

Rorgg
Rorgg

@KarW Exactly.  Was discussing this last night -- Walt wouldn't do it in such a drawn-out manner.  If he wants to off himself, he'll do it far more directly, and in a showy fashion, he has the means.  Ricin is for a stealth and anonymous kill.

yogi
yogi

Oh the background and quick animation made it even better! Thanks for that link.

brinmilwaukee
brinmilwaukee

@Teacherlhs @Mike++M 

 You guys took both my posting points.... Walt laying down the towel for his knees as he puked in the toilet, and Walt running a legit carwash echoed Gus running a legit fast food outfit.

WillSparg
WillSparg

While you may be right that the time is compressed, the producers knew that a while back (at least I would hope so!)  I wanted the cat and mouse, the subtle hints among conversations when the families are around, having Hank following Walt and finding nothing (now that he;s straight) and still can't pin anything on him.  Just because he knows now, doesn't make all the evidence just stand up and point to Walt.  He still needs evidence.