Going postal, gray matter style: breaking bad, s5e6

Boy, that escalated quickly.

The Trio and Todd disassemble and dissolve the motorbike in acid in another spectacular opening scene set to somber, contemplative ambient music and devoid of facial expressions. A tactful metaphor, as Matt Yglesias noted, for “ the more gruesome process of dismantling a life.“ Walt initially seems hardest hit, but we find out that his reaction to Lydia last episode accurately reflected his convictions. “Do you have children?” Lydia pleads. “That has nothing to do with this,” he replies.

Walter and Mike look on as Todd cleans up his handiwork.

Walter and Mike look on as Todd cleans up his handiwork.


Presumably recalling Brock’s near-death, Jesse nears a total breakdown, as evidenced by the frankly threatening veins crisscrossing his forehead. He promptly punches Todd in the face when the newcomer shrugs off the murder with, “Shit happens, huh?” The untimely death has brought competing interests into stark relief—a bloody occasion for self-reflection. A deliberative council results in Mike and Walt again agreeing to keep Todd, with Jesse dissenting. Even given Mike’s subsequent roughing up of Todd, the somewhat soricine ringer looks and speaks like he’s learned nothing. I expect more erratic behavior from him going forward, should he survive the coming internecine warfare.

Mike’s in the park…with his granddaughter. There’s simply no way the denouement of Breaking Bad doesn’t revolve around the children of our dearly beloved meth-brewing heroes. Mike throws his tail, but a later review of Hank’s tap confirms they plan to continue the program, despite the grizzled enforcer’s countermeasures.

The Shrader duo continues to be about as effective as a bloodhound with a sinus infection. Hank’s tailing operation is feckless; Marie’s method of interrogation is woefully misguided. But if Mike’s the apotheosis of professional steadiness and stoicism, Skyler’s an unmitigated shitshow. Yet both Schraders achieve results, owing to the circumstances of their enemies. Mike can’t get around the admittedly sophomoric tailing because he lacks the organizational capacity, while Skyler’s psyche weekly hurtles toward the breaking point. You can see the volatile mix of fear and anticipation in her eyes when Marie asks to “be told everything,” and her faux-relief at having “admitted” to the affair with Ted. Skyler now begins to resemble closely Gollum dancing on the bridge in the bowels of Mount Doom. Her inability to shun the joy she believes is in store for her and her kids—should she cave—could very well end poorly for everyone involved. It’s impossible to gauge Walt’s reaction to a Skyler backstab, but most of the likely scenarios involve a baker’s dozen of dead bodies.

Meanwhile, Aaron Paul is very silently stealing this show in the way that the Best Supporting Actor award remains more interesting than its leading-role counterpart, the same way that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s filmography is vastly more interesting than that of almost any leading-role Academy Award winner.  Walt gives Jesse the day off and steps inside the vapor-capture tent, where he begins to whistle as he gears up for cooking. Jesse hasn’t left yet, though—he hears it and clearly interprets Walt’s whistling as nonchalance in the wake of a dead child. This tip-off leads to a larger confrontation later, as Jesse arrives at Walt’s home to break the news that he and Mike are buying out. Meth business or money business, Walt? Empire business, he replies. Which was, I think, lazy writing, as unmemorable as it was expected. All I could think about was that fucking carpet commercial. The next half of the conversation, as Walt explains how he bought out of Gray Matter (good to see you again) before the company took off, proves far more compelling.

In light of this conversation and Walter’s admission that his kids are gone for good and his wife waits for his death—I’m not at all surprised Walt turns down the $5m. He’s not in it for the money any longer—he’s in it for the prestige, the thrill, and most of all, the deference he receives as architect of a legendary product. Scarface on the television during a White family dinner earlier this season prove to be more than a cute Easter egg. Both Tony Montana and Walter White crave the respect they never received; their decision-making is made fundamentally irrational by the value they place on intangibles.

I think June Thomas’s take comes closest, of the three Slate roundtablers, to the truth: aside from Jesse’s little foray into the azure depths of Heisenberg meth, there’s been virtually no examination of the crime-drama staple warnings against “getting high on your own supply.” But only because Walter’s evolution is a long-term case study in exactly that. The only meaningful checks on Walt—queasiness about killing, the welfare of his family, his fear of arrest—have been removed. More and more I’m resigning myself to the fact that Breaking Bad will end very poorly for almost everyone.

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