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AMC (ended 2013)

Breaking Bad S05E09: "Blood Money"

For your listening pleasure, Jim White's "Wordmule" (click the middle of the black bar.)

This is it, guys. The beginning of the end of Breaking Bad. And boy did it feel like it. The sense of finality that wafted over the intense, near-perfect, wasting-no-time final-season premiere "Blood Money" was thicker than the pot smoke in Saul's waiting room or the stink left behind by Hank's dumbo deuce-drop in Walt's bathroom. With only eight episodes to wrap things up, creator Vince Gilligan and crew opted to drop the hammer and gun it, starting the end almost immediately in "Blood Money."

It shouldn't be surprising, but it is. Too often shows backload endings into a final season, but Breaking Bad is frontloading it. I mean, Hank and Walt in the garage! Oh my god I probably watched that ending five times in stunned silence each and every time. That Breaking Bad would, in the first episode of its final season, put Hank and Walt into a confined space completely shattered the 10 Commandments of television. "Thou shalt not blow your load too early," I think one of them goes. But Gilligan is writing a new testament, as he always has with Breaking Bad, and its fully abides by Breaking Bad's main tenant of suspense over action. Breaking Bad has its "Can you believe that happened?" moments, sure, but it's really built on a different question that keeps getting asked: "How are they going to get out of this one?"

That trademark suspense and question was all over the final scene of "Blood Money," one of the most powerful interactions Breaking Bad has seen, and it was masterfully doled out in stages that built and built until the audience was on some sort of Jenga structure that brushed the clouds. Heart attacks were everywhere. When Walt drove up to Hank's driveway the air in the scene changed. When Walt engaged Hank with the smallest of small talk I nearly fell off my couch. How does a question about potato salad become that intense? And when Walt interrupted his departure with a look of, "Oh, one more thing..." in his eye and TURNED AROUND to go right back into Hank's den it was almost too much to handle. And that's all before the major confrontation. 

We can all make guesses about why Walt decided to ask Hank about the tracker he found on his car, or even why he went over to Hank's at all. If you ask me, Walt's the kind of guy who would rather know bad news than ignore it, and as an intellectual he knows there's power in knowledge and Hank held that power. Walt can react to the concrete facts of a situation better than he can in a situation where he assumes them, and in a head-to-head situation on an even playing field, chances are Walt is going to win. So Walt went there to find out exactly how much Hank knew as soon as he could because every second he spent not knowing meant Hank held the upper hand.

If that setup pushed us to the edge of the cliff, what happened next stomped on our fingers save for our little pinky one. Hank exploded on Walt with a monologue of "Previously on Walt Screws Hank." Hank screamed about Walt driving into traffic on the way to the laundry from Season 4. Hank was furious over the phone call saying Marie was in the hospital when Walt and Jesse were hiding in the RV in Season 2. Hank accused Walt of orchestrating the 10 jailbirds plucked in prison in Season 5. Hank pegged Walt for the bombing at the nursing home that killed Gus in Season 4. And Hank correctly pinned the name Heisenberg on Walt. 

Rather than protest too much, Walt's reaction to Hank's grilling was measured. Almost eerily so. He didn't outright deny the claims, but he feigned some ignorance as to "where this is all coming from." He said the "wild accusations" would destroy the family. And in an almost childish ploy, he dipped into the Hallmark section and said his cancer was back. It's an odd reaction to seeing his life potentially blow up in front of his face, it was almost vacant. And maybe that's where his strategy was. He didn't seem to give away anything, instead playing on Hank's devotion to their shared family and changing the subject to terminal illness.

But maybe he's relying on Hank's doubt (his goofy brother-in-law, a drug kingpin?) the same way he felt comfortable lying to Jesse about Mike earlier in the episode. Walt has spent most of the series hiding behind appearances, but he's wearing out his disguise like it's the first round of Face Off (now it makes more sense that Cranston chose to wear a Walter White mask to Comic-Con to walk freely among the geeks). It's hard to tell what was going on in Hank's mind when he told Walt "I don't even know who you are anymore," but I'm going to guess it was everything imaginable. Confusion, shock, anger, disappointment (in himself for not realizing it), all attacking his thought process to a point of mental paralysis. Walt's reply was more clear-cut, and written beautifully. "If you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly." That has two meanings. To the part of Hank that isn't convinced Walter is Heisenberg, it's a plea to reconsider what he's saying for the sake of their family; an accusation like this that goes public would destroy them. To the Hank that is positive that Walter is Heisenberg, it's a threat; it could be Hank that's next to fall in Heisenberg's path of destruction. It's the type of language that perfectly encapsulates Walt's Yin and Yang.

Phew. Now let's talk about Jesse, the Sensitive Sally of Breaking Bad who rubs his head in depressed contemplation so often that he'll be balder than Walt by the time he's 35. Kids are his Kryptonite, and the murder of Drew Sharp the tarantula collector and the empty bank account of Kaylee Ehrmantraut still lingered over him. The five million he got from Walt last half-season, the blood money, taunted him and he tried to do right by handing it off to the Sharp parents and Kaylee. "It's what Mike wanted," Jesse said, blowing Saul's mind and shredding my heart. Jesse is Breaking Bad's tragic character, and damn that Aaron Paul is great at shooting all that sadness at us.

Painful as it was, my second favorite scene of "Blood Money" was Walt's visit with Jesse. It was like Bad Advice Dad came over unannounced to suck out Jesse's entirely reasonable thinking. What made it so effective was the constant and repeated lying on Walt's part as he insisted Mike was alive and partying on some tropical island with a coconut-shell drink in his hand. His whole act was entirely paternal, he even called Jesse "son," the same way a father convinces his son that his dead dog is playing on some farm somewhere with a bunch of other happy dogs. "This is your money!" *friendly shoulder pat* "C'mon! You've earned it!" Coincidence that the bags of (blood) money were placed right inbetween then like a five-million dollar barrier? Nope. And the lies just kept coming. "I did not kill Mike." "Yes, Mike is fine." "Jesse, I need you to believe this. It's not true, it's just not." Every lie was a twist of the knife for us, and for Jesse, it was more of the same from Walt but this time Jesse appeared to be wise to it.

Jesse's wisdom came into question later, though, when he drove through the 'hood like Johnny Appleseed minus the apple seeds and plus the fat stacks of cheddar. Or Oprah doing delivery. You get a bundle of cash! You get a bundle of cash! You get a bundle of cash! That tells me that Jesse didn't so much want to help out those who have been harmed from their business (like the Sharps and Kaylee) as he wanted to get rid of the reminder of his part in it. But he'll never truly erase the memory until some form of justice is served. Remember how determined he was to kill those drug dealers in "Run" for their part in killing that kid? Well he knows exactly who killed Drew (Todd) and he's pretty darned sure Walt killed Mike, taking away Kaylee's chances of being the most popular 18-year-old in Albuquerque. What happens when Jesse learns about Walt's part in Jane's death or Brock's poisoning?

We should also talk about the ominous flashforward that kicked off the episode. The White House was in shambles, "Heisenberg" was spray-painted on the walls, ruffians were using Skyler's empty dunk tank as a skate park, and neighbor Carol was mortified when she saw Walt. Walt went straight for his hidden stash of ricin, but for what? Like the flashforward in the first half of Season 5, it's way too early to tell. 

God, this was good. Front to back, from the production assistants to Cranston's magnificent directorial work, "Blood Money" was television with no regard for worn tradition or tired patience. As an opening salvo for the final season of one of television's finest dramas, it will serve as an example and high bar for comparison for everything that follows. Yep! I liked it.



NOTES


– Dean Norris (Hank) and Bryan Cranston (Walt) were incredible in that final scene, but I'd like to especially single out Norris for the entire episode. It's rare that Cranston gets out-acted and I'll concede that Hank had the better material in "Blood Money," but wow. He was great. It's time to throw his name into the Supporting Actor race. And now I have to watch Norris spew elementary-school-grade dialogue in Under the Dome while corralling an idiot son. Ugh.  

– Add possible Emmy-winning director to Cranston's arsenal. His work here was impeccable, and some of the best the series has seen. 

– Do you think this season will boil down to Walt vs. Hank? Given the fireworks of the their confrontation in the first episode, I wouldn't be surprised if Walt "solves" his Hank problem soon and other problems come from it.

– Saul has an iPhone with a Hello Kitty case!

– Mr. Gilligan: EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON EARTH would watch Badger's Star Trek episode. This is easy money. Kickstart this bitch.

– What kind of rude hobo wakes people up during car naps to ask for spare change? That was just inconsiderate, hobo!

– The scene where Walter searched for, and found, a bug on his car could not have been shot any better. It was a perfect visualization of a world falling apart inside of Walt's head. Also, it's hilarious that the big bad Heisenberg wears a robe and slippers.

– I'm wondering about the significance, metaphorical or story-wise, of the kid playing with the RC car in Hank's cul-de-sac during the beginning of that final scene. With no artistic reasoning I can think of behind it, my overthinking says it's some form of foreshadowing. Walt's going to put a bomb on the RC car and use it to blow up Hank! Okay, maybe not that drastic, but I wouldn't be surprised if it returned somehow.




Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 9/29/2013

Season 5 : Episode 16

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