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Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 9 Review: Meandering Menace
A future Walt returns to his now-abandoned home. We don’t know what’s happened in the preceding weeks, months (years?) but one thing is for sure. When he stands after removing a vial of ricin from a wall plug, he jumps at his own reflection in a broken mirror. That’s the message which the Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 9 premier opens with. Walter White is a broken man. In the mirror, this image is literalised.
And so begins the final run of Breaking Bad, possibly one of the biggest television events in many years, since The Sopranos perhaps. And the creator, Vince Gillighan, is taking his absolute time with it.
The pacing is as meandering as it could possibly be. As if Gilligan et al. are forcing the viewers to wallow in it- to wallow in the home stretch of one of the most significant TV events in recent history. The slow opening jump cuts to the title, which cuts to Hank immediately after his potential revelation that Walter White is it. That he is Heisenberg. That he is the baddest guy in New Mexico. (And not “the baddest” as in “the coolest.”) Walt, possibly once the “hero” of the show, is now unequivocally the villain. He’s terrifying and resourceful. The editing and acting has been notched up to the extent that every cut with Walt in it is brimming with apprehension.
When Hank goes to leave the White household, in a jumpscare moment from any typical horror movie, Walt appears at his car door. Wearing his nondescript, friendly middle-aged-man clothes, Walt is the scariest thing onscreen. As he drives home, the shock hits Hank, it’s pretty harrowing. Within half an hour of episode 8’s revelation he nearly has a heart attack, and even nearly crashes his car in a hasty retreat from Walter. It’s devastating.
On the other hand, however, this moment also provides a turning point for Hank; one of many the character has seen. Hank is changed, when he finally correlates the handwriting. He is now a hard-boiled detective with everything at stake, with a wolf in his family’s midst. You can tell that Hank is going to move onto the next stage of criminal case obsession.
Throughout the show we’ve seen Hank evolve from a realistic, frustrated DEA agent to being a hard-boiled detective with a characteristic limp; to being a well trained, smart detective driven to the point of madness and sickness with an obsession with one case. It’s an archetypical development for such a character, which moves him from the realms of reality into perfect fiction.
I love how Breaking Bad has done this. The whole show feels like it might be an origins story- from real people in dingy scenarios to character cutouts we see in fiction everywhere. I hope I don’t sound like a broken record- but I reckon I’m going to be saying the same thing every single review this season.
And indeed, having said all that about the characters becoming strong archetypes, it’s hard not to come back to Pinkman. A lot of the new episode is about Pinkman and his collapse; we see him going to see Saul Goodman about handing his multi-million-dollar takings off to Mike’s bequeath. We see Walt going to him to convince Jesse to stop trying to move his money around. (Which of course leads to Walt lying, barefaced, about killing Mike. He’s so natural at it. Ingenious, pure evil.)
Walt convinces Jesse not to give the money to Mike’s family. Sure, perhaps Jesse would have been giving the cops a direct link to him by handing the money over. But by stopping him, Walt also ruins the lives of Mike’s family. I bet they sure could do with those millions. It’s so agonising watching Walt ruin life after life on his crusade to make bucks and stay safe.
Jesse unravels further, and his guilt and horror about everything which has happened is clearly leading to a revelation which may mix everything up in the show. Jesse is realising, and has been realising since about season three, that money isn’t everything. His relationship with the girl-next-door wasn’t initially about money, and when it became about money, drugs ruined them. After killing Gail, Jesse went on a bender for an extended period of time to get over it, a 24 hour party; in one scene he literally threw money around. And none of it helped. In Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 9, Jesse finally realises he has to get rid of it. He has to get rid of his money. He tries to fob it off on Mike’s needly family- but failing that due to Walter, he eventually just throws it around his neighbourhood. He drives the city streets throwing bundles of cash like a green-back paperboy.
I’m wondering if Jesse will become a redemptive hero in the show. If he alone will realise none of the lifestyle and reality of the drug life is worth money- which is why the whole show exists.
This is especially pertinent because for Walt, because we find out the Walt is returning to the throes of chemotherapy. He’s a mortally sick man again. The cancer didn’t remiss for very long. It appears that he genuinely wants to get out, but his morals are still fundamentally corrupted. This is clearest in the episode’s final, seminal scene, which will no doubt become the stuff of legend. Hank finally confronts Walt. It’s incredible. Hank, perfectly acted by Dean Norris, displays the sublime frustration that someone would feel from that level of betrayal. He struggles to talk coherently, his mind is operating on pure anger. And while Walt obviously doesn’t want to antagonise someone who is this close to him, someone who could ruin everything, he can’t help but desperately try to defuse the situation.
The instant Hank threatens Walt to remove his family to Hank’s place, that’s when it really kicks off. Literally in the show’s last two minutes. Because the whole point of the show is Walt trying to protect his family- we know that above all morals, above all fatalism, that’s what Walt is really about. That’s what the show is really about. Walter’s family are the unbreakable rule, the golden rule. Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 9 ends with the nearest we’ve come to hearing Walt threaten someone close to him: “perhaps your best course is to treat lightly,” he says to Hank. Then there’s a tense silence. Then the episode ends.
Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 9 is definitely a strong opener for the last 8 episodes. It’s a little slow, but this is obviously a tactical piece of pacing to set the tonal foundation: things are resolving. Characters are reaching their end-points. I reckon things will get faster, and worse, before they get better.
I also reckon the last moment of the show will be Walt dying. I’m assuming that the flash-forward sequences are him casting chemotherapy aside and trying to redeem himself in his last days, with no medication to hold back the tumours in his body. Abandoned by Jesse and Skylar and everyone around him. But we’ll have to wait and see. Maybe he’ll manage to do something good at last, with that machine gun in his trunk.
Hang tight for the review of the next episode on Monday.