Season 5 Episode 8: A dead man’s thoughtfulness
Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 8 recap
I had a long intro that I worked on over the week: it was about Mike’s loyalty to his crew and Walt’s constant demand for gratification and accolades. But once I watched the episode I scrapped it because Breaking Bad moves quickly; yes it is layered, nuanced and complicated, but it also tells a linear story that evolves and grows even if, as viewers, we aren’t emotionally done with a character yet. I’m not done with Mike (or Gus or Gale or even Jane for that matter) but their stories are over, at least in the physical sense. Their ghosts may be lingering, but the story moves on so we must too. But damn it, I hated to see Mike in the trunk of a car, a little old man sentenced to a vat of acid.
Walt is sitting in his office, staring at Mike’s desk while a fly buzzes overhead. Walt looks tired and weary, deep creases are etched in his face. It’s like he’s absorbed Mike’s exhaustion. The fly buzzing of course brings up memories of the revered “Fly” episode, when Walt and Jesse spent hours trying to kill a buzzer in the superlab. To me, that fly represented the futility of Walt’s problem-solving cycle. Sure he can kill the one right in front of him, but another fly always seemed to reappear when all is quiet. The next irritant is waiting to get in.
Walt meets with Lydia to get the 9 names, and she proposes an even bigger distribution network, specifically shipping to the Czech Republic to fill an above-average demand for meth. Walt agrees, and the poison he hid under the porkpie hat goes unused. Walt calls in creepy Todd’s uncle for a massive jailhouse hit on the 9 remaining names; at the meeting, Walt acts like an eccentric, esoteric drug kingpin, wondering about the cheap artwork while the hit men talk logistics. Walt knows that these 9 men have valuable information and must be taken out quickly and before the DEA realizes what has happened. And taken out quickly they are: the murders are fast and brutal, they are struck down with military precision as the clock ticks loudly.
Walt is playing with Holly and the news is on in the background, blaring the story of the 9 men killed in jail. Again, Walt is on the periphery of violence. It’s never right in front of him, but always off to the side where it can’t hurt him. Hank comes home and is upset over the murders not just because his informants are gone, but because 9 men are dead, and even if they were bad guys, they died terrible deaths. Hank’s silence is so sincere compared to Walt’s sappy, artificial cancer monologue or comically tearful marriage confession.
With Lydia’s massive Czech order and his existing deal, Walt is busy, seemingly cooking round the clock. Walt is an empire now, and what’s a modern-day empire but a corporation that requires consistency, organization, structure and management (he’s got the branding down pat). So this is what Walt sold his soul for: to cook day-and-night and go home to a loveless marriage and no children. Running an empire isn’t nearly as fun as building it. Think of Gus, working the front lines at his fast-food chicken joints; he may have been obscenely wealthy and powerful, but he was a businessman, first and foremost. Yes Walt has it all (money, control, autonomy and safety) but he also has the monotony of production and the endless grind of being CEO.
Skyler is hanging out with Holly and Marie very sweetly but firmly tells Skyler it’s time for the kids to go home and that she and Hank now feel they may be doing more harm than good to the White family.
Skyler goes home to find Walt staring out at the pool (a contemplative Walt is scary) and asks him to take a drive. They arrive at a storage facility and she unveils a pile of money; so much money she lost count a long time ago. And Skyler asks Walt a question he probably had never considered, but dammit it if it isn’t the only question he should be asking: how much is their family worth? Faced with this pile of money he has to quantify his empire, his kids and his life.
Walt goes in for a check-up and sees the towel dispenser he dramatically punched after finding out he was in remission, back when he was angry over being denied his perfect ending.
Walt goes to visit Jesse (earlier in the episode, he had dismissed him from the office), and Jesse looks nervous, scared and out of sorts. Walt spots Jesse’s bong and smirks (don’t judge Mr. White!) and they have a conversation about their old RV – there’s nostalgia in humble beginnings, and as they reminisce about running out of gas, Jesse wonders why they still kept it even after they earned money, to which Walt summarizes, “Inertia.” (This seems a lot like the reminiscing Walt did with his former Gray Matter partner about ramen noodles, except in that scenario Walt was Jesse – sheepish and apprehensive.) Jesse agrees about the inertia (but perhaps doesn’t know what that means) and it seems as if Walt is preparing for an inevitable change. Walt leaves bags of money outside for Jesse - $5 million presumably – and says goodbye. I want to think this isn’t a head game, but no matter Walt’s intent, Jesse is shaken (he opened the bag as if he was expecting to find Mike’s body in it). He tells Walt he knows what happened (I’m assuming he meant Mike, as well as the 9) and when Walt leaves Jesse slides a gun out from his waistband. He is terrified of Walt, but still he sits in his house, smoking and getting high, too inert to even run.
In the “Fly” episode, exhausted and delirious from sleeping pills, Walt said there must be some combination of words that would help Skyler understand what he’s done. She may not ever fully understand, but Walt finally found the right combination: “I’m out.” And it looks like he means it. Why now? I suspect he wants his life back, he’s tired of cooking, he’s slayed his Gray Matter demon and the thrill is gone. Heisenberg wants Walter White’s life.
Sunrise, sunset, a bright sunny day and a backyard meal at the White house with Hank and Marie. It’s normal, but not: Finn is pushing Holly around the pool (I gauge the White’s familial happiness by Walt Jr’s name, so clearly they aren’t all healed yet) and the conversation is ordinary but friendly: Hank is going to brew more beer and Marie wants to change her hair colour. But it’s taut and heart pounding too, the mundaneness is wrong – something is off. It reminds me so much of the last, stressful scene of The Sopranos, when Meadow was trying to park while the family waited inside.
Hank goes to the bathroom, drops trou and picks up some reading material. He rifles through the magazines and picks up a book. IT’S THE F-CKING WALT WHITMAN POEM BOOK. They’ve done a close-up on this book at least once this episode, who knows how many times it’s been shown this season. And he opens it and reads the inscription. His FACE. Hank knows.
Inscription (from AMCTV episode recap): "To my other favorite W.W. It’s an honor working with you. Fondly, G.B.”
They provided flashbacks, but if you watch religiously (like I know you all do), you knew the second he opened that book that Hank would finally see what has been under his nose: Heisenberg is Walt and Walt is Heisenberg.
Let’s process this. Holy sh-t, right?
And it cracks next season wide open: Walt is on the run but why? From who? With the turn of a page, everything has changed.
And how great is it the that the writers gave us Mike’s death and this moment on screen. I always wondered if Hank knew (clearly not) and they could have had him find out between this season and next, or a million ways that we wouldn’t have witnessed. But they gave it to us in a deliberate, concentrated moment and didn’t shy away from the reveal. With all the violence, rage and bold heists this season, it was a book of poems by a 19th century poet that finally connected the dots. A dead man’s thoughtfulness – not vengeance, anger or greed – will catapult Walt into his biggest crisis yet. Next stop: New Hampshire.
Attached - Aaron Paul in London yesterday shooting A Long Way Down with Imogen Poots.