We’re reached the half-way point of the fifth and final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Since the season is taking a breather until next summer (sweet Jebus!), we figured we’d bring back the ever-popular ‘He Said/She Said’ to cover as much ground as possible.
Let’s bitch it out…He Said (Cinephilactic)
So I would argue that there are two big reveals in this episode: 1) Jesse (Aaron Paul) inferring that Walt (Bryan Cranston) killed Mike (Jonathan Banks) and 2) Hank (Dean Norris) discovering the Walt Whitman book Leaves of Grass with the inscription from Gale Boetticher (David Costabile). Interestingly both of these reveals are preceded by a nostalgic conversation with Walt (Hank’s summer tracking trees; adventures in the RV with Jesse back in S1). In both cases these conversations reinforce a theme of revisiting the past in lieu of living in the present.
For Hank, that’s in response to the prison slayings that Walt has orchestrated in order to keep Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) men silent, which makes the head DEA man question whether his mindlessly circular task marking trees in the woods was more enjoyable than “chasing monsters.”
For Jesse, this is the result of finally managing to extricate himself from Walt’s grasp, even if he can’t free himself of his former mentor’s judgment (Jesse feels compelled to hide his bong during Walt’s impromptu visit and Walt barely hides his smirk of self-satisfaction, having predicted Jesse would return to drugs if he quit the business). Their conversation is less one-sided than Walt’s and Hank’s, but it serves a more manipulative purpose. Just as we’ve seen time and time again this half-season, Walt refuses to relinquish control over Jesse, preferring instead to reel him in with memories of their time cooking together before silently letting Jesse know that he’s not only killed Fring’s nine men, but that he’s giving him all his money even though he promised he wouldn’t.*
*Initially I thought that the bags were Mike’s and this was Walt’s way of letting Jesse know who killed him. In reality, Jesse was paranoid in much the same way as Lydia (Laura Fraser): he thought Walt had come to kill him, much like the Madrigal employee likely believed in her coffee-shop talk with Walt.
As much as Walt is in control, however, Skyler (Anna Gunn) is ultimately the one living in the future. After a quasi-intervention from Marie (Betsy Brandt), Skyler confronts Walt at the storage locker she’s keeping his piles and piles of cash, desperately asking when he’ll have collected enough to let her “have my family back”. It’s a bold move from a woman who only a few episodes ago told the same man she hoped his cancer would soon return. Obviously seeing the effect of her separation from daughter Holly and Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) takes its toll, but it’s not unimportant that the scene in which she decides to reveal the secret locker is preceded by a shot of Walt staring at the pool in nearly identical lighting and staging as her pseudo-suicide attempt back in 5×03 ‘Hazard Pay’. In an episode marked by circularity and inertia (the sculpture in Hank and Marie’s house, Walt’s decision to follow in Gus’ footsteps by diversifying distribution into the Czech Republic and all of the callbacks to moments from other seasons outlined by Alan Sepinwall), it’s interesting that Skyler is the only one thinking of the future.
And yet as soon as we see the Norman Rockwell meets Desert Living set-up at the end of the episode with the family reunited, eating and drinking by the pool – the picture of normalcy and stability – it’s clear that it can’t possibly last. And moments later, Gale Boetticher returns with a vengeance to disrupt the inertia. And with that, Breaking Bad ends its 2012 with a hell of a cliffhanger.
TVAngie, did you see the circularity? What did you think of Walt’s expansion plans? And how stunning were those two montages (set to “Pick Yourself Up” by Nat King Cole and “Crystal Blue Vibration” by Tommy James and The Shondells)?
She Said (TVAngie)
Yes, circularity was an obvious trope throughout the episode, but although the scene spokes to one another as you outlined, I had a slightly different take on things. First, let’s start out with Hank’s trip down memory lane: I interpreted this more as a fruitless task of endlessly marking trees being more fulfilling than “chasing monsters” because whenever Hank seems to take a step forward in the investigation, he’s pushed two steps back. Funnily enough, his story reminded me of The Wire and how the endless pursuit of the “bad guys” can never provide fulfillment. Whether you catch them or not, there’s a never ending supply of baddies out there.
My interpretation of the conversation with Jesse was completely different. I think Jesse was cautious about being killed by Walter because he knew that Walt had orchestrated the elaborate prison killings of Gus’ remaining apostles. When Walt tells Jesse that Mike “is gone”, Jesse naively believes that Mike has successfully fled. Like in 5×07 ‘Say My Name,’ Jesse finally catches onto the monster that Walt has become, but he still doesn’t have the full picture. We’ve seen how loyal Jesse can be, especially to his surrogate fathers. If indeed Jesse believed that Walt had killed Mike, I’m certain Jesse would have taken out his vengeance on Walt. Instead, he grabbed the gun in self-defense.
I was amazed how that sequence is visually constructed. I loved how the camera remained stationary as Jesse went off screen after peering through the curtains to see Walt at the door. We only discover that he grabbed a gun after Walt has already left. I would have had an entirely different interpretation of the scene if I had known Jesse was armed before Walt entered. I think Jesse thought those bags were filled with explosives or something, but nothing suggested to me that it would be Mike’s cut (which I believe was seized by the DEA when they got wise to the safety deposit box drop-offs). Whether or not this precedes Jesse returning to Walt remains unclear – if Walt is indeed “out”, then this gesture to Jesse functions more like an apology than a ruse to get him back into the redundant student/mentor cycle.
I also want to address a scene you only briefly mention: Walt’s visit with Lydia. Indeed, Lydia fears for her life and the scene ends – unlike Jesse’s – by confirming that Walt did intend to kill her via the ricin vial. I think having this scene earlier in the episode is brilliant, because it anticipates Walt’s meeting with Jesse and plants the seed that Walt might actually kill him in order to keep things clean. Still, like Jesse, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic when Walt recounted their crazy adventures with the RV. The emotional/nostalgic part of me still hopes they will reconcile, but the rational part of me knows that will never happen.
I spent some considerable time analyzing Walt’s reaction to Skyler’s intervention. Is Walt finally seeing that there is no purpose to his relentless quest for an impenetrable meth empire? Does he actually and authentically want to work toward redemption (if that’s even possible?)? The episode’s ending seems to suggest it, which is a bit too convenient for my liking, but it certainly makes Hank’s discovery in the bathroom perfectly (and predictably) timed. And speaking of the final scene by the pool – I have to highlight what an amazing display of visual prowess it was because I found it to be the tensest sequence of the night. Much of what happens is shown to us in a single take, the voices audible yet simultaneously indistinguishable as everyone exchanges inconsequential banter, essentially making it a non-consequential scene. The tension is further punctuated as Junior slowly pushes little Holly in her stroller closer to Skyler to get more sunscreen. The entire sequence likely ran for mere seconds, yet felt like hours. I half expected assassins to pop out of nowhere, taking everyone out. Of course, nothing even remotely close to that happened – in fact - nothing at all happened which made it even more unnerving. It was actually a relief to follow Hank into the bathroom because I knew something huge would have to happen to pay-off the preceding scene.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cinematography throughout the episode, which is breathtaking. Not only the montages you mention, but also the saturation of colour throughout. I particularly liked the hits of dark purple in the zebra-printed (throne-like) chair at Marie’s and the pillow Junior plays with; it’s clear to me that the purple is meant to signify Walt’s “royal” family. And of course, there are so many scenes where we see Walt bathed in “pure” meth blue, whether it’s reflections of the pool in the night sky, the washes of blue from the storage facility lockers and walls, or Walt’s endless supply of blue, button-up shirts. The exception is his shirt in the final scene where he wears a non-descript beige shirt, denoting his return to the monotony of domestic life. A subtle visual nod, but incredibly effective.
So tell me, cinephilactic, do you think that the prison montage – intercut with closeups of Walt’s watch – is an indication of the “BOOM” of “ticking time bomb Walt”? Or was this merely to show us how all the killings too place over two minutes? Should we expect an even more explosive boom than intricately orchestrated murders?
He Said (cinephilactic)
I hadn’t considered the breathtaking montage as any other than a demonstration of Walt’s power: his meteoric rise to the top represented by the ease with which Heisenberg can eliminate nine inconsequential lives. But your suggestion that it’s reflective of the ticking time bomb that has become Walt’s life is interesting, especially given the fact that we know Walt is effectively living on “borrowed time” since we know where he spends him birthday in just nine months. And considering that we have an additional eight episodes to go, I think it’s safe to say there will be even larger explosions in the future, so although this particular countdown heralded the end of one stage of his meth career, a brand new one is just around the corner.
I think we should end it there and open the floor to comments. Readers, what did you think of ‘Gliding Over All’? Any insight into the titular work of Walt Whitman and how it corresponds to the episode? Were you expecting something bigger to happen, or were you pleased with the cliffhanger? How do you think Hank will deal with the knowledge that Walt is Heisenberg? Is there anywhere left to take Jesse’s story now that he’s “out” and paid-off? And – most important question – who will live to see the series end? Speculate away!
Breaking Bad has aired the first half of its final season. The last eight episodes will air in 2013, likely sometime in the summer, on AMC