Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 5: Stop That Train
Why is 5/5 making me nervous? I feel something heavy in the air.
The duality of Walt (chemistry teacher/ambitious meth cooker) has been done away with. Now it’s all Heisenberg, all the time. But episode one gave a glimpse into the future (Walt’s full head of hair and diner breakfast), so Heisenberg’s fall is to come.
The episode starts with a dirt biker racing through the desert. A young boy (11 or 12?) gets off the motorcycle to play with a big hairy spider. He picks it up and puts it in a jar. He seems curious about it.
Hank is hard at work. His new position suits him, and so does his post-injury demeanor. He’s less quick to heckle or throw out a crass joke. The bitterness and fear that gripped him seems to have slipped away, revealing a more thoughtful and introspective man.
Walt visits Hank at work; he really is taking a page from Gus’s playbook about hiding in plain sight. Hank notices the new watch, and says between that and the new car, Walt deserves to treat himself. But Walt’s extravagant gifts aren’t the same as Hank’s mineral collection. Hank’s rocks were at least a thinking man’s hobby. Walt’s new toys are pure materialism, there’s no nuance to them.
Hank is a sucker for Walt’s “aw shucks I’m just a guy who has survived cancer and is so grateful for life” act. Walt confesses that Skyler doesn’t love him anymore and positions himself as a cuckold and pained family man. Walt is really laying it on thick – gathering allies for an inevitable war. He knew his teary marital woes would send Hank running (literally), which gave Walt enough time to install a bug in Hank’s office.
Mike, Walt and Jesse are holding Lydia hostage in a very classic gangster setting (dark warehouse, metal table, bright overhead lights); Mike has her phone Hank and question him on the GPS. Of course Lydia is a nervous, insane mess – how did this woman work with Gus? And how is she an executive when she can barely spit out a sentence to save her life? The men hold another vote on whether or not to kill her and Jesse is the only nay; she’s just about to be killed when the bug reveals that someone from the DEA did in fact put a GPS on the barrel.
Mike argues that she should still be killed anyway because she took a hit out on him (Jesse: “Like the mafia?”) and now she has lost access to the warehouse chemical supply.
Lydia plays her last hand: an ocean of methylamine being transported by train.
She makes Walt promise her she is safe on his children’s lives and explains why she wanted Mike dead—she didn’t want to take the risk of leaving that many people out there who could turn on her, but she also doesn’t want to pay them off. Her desperation and motivation strike me as familiar; she feels like Walt in the post-Gale, pre-nursing-home-explosion era.
I’m curious about Lydia in that she seems to be only concerned for her daughter, so why would she have gotten involved with Gus in the first place? Was she a willing participant in the drug ring, or was she forced into it?
Lydia tells them to rob the train (yes Jesse, like Jesse James); it all sounds incredibly risky. Last week, Walt said nothing could stop the train they were on. Walt has appointed himself conductor and they are on a very dangerous track.
Hank and Marie are loving life with baby Holly. Junior overhears them talking about him and sulks like only a teenager can. It’s not perfect, but Hank and Marie offer the kids a home without the poisonous subtext that clouds every Walt and Skyler interaction.
Back to square one, Mike wants to try a pseudo cook, but Walt argues it is much lower yield and their new equipment would be wasted. Mike and Walt continue to argue about the business, particularly the list of 9 that need to be paid. Now there’s two conductors, one train, and no track.
Jesse is once again forced to play mediator – he’s like a child stuck between his divorcing parents (but in this case no one wants custody of little Pinkman).
They come up with a plot to siphon the chemical and curious, eager Todd is there to help with the operation. I don’t like the paint-by-numbers explanation Jesse gives him. Do criminal syndicates have a transparent communication policy? I thought it would be on a need-to-know basis. Todd seems too keen for information.
A sulking Walt Jr (now back to being called Flynn, the only way he can rebel against his family discontent) locks himself in his room at home, rebuffing Skyler’s attention. But Walt is no pushover; he firmly tells Junior he will stay at Hank and Marie’s and that is that. There’s a steeliness to Walt’s tone that makes Junior back down.
Walt tries to talk to Skyler, but she says, “I’m not your wife, I’m your hostage.” Oh snap! I hardly think Walt cares how Skyler feels about her servitude, he just wants her obedience. Skyler agrees to keep the secrets and launder the money, using that as a bargaining chip to keep the kids away. She offers herself up for the safety of her children, promising to be whatever she wants him to be. Walt concedes, surely buying his time.
The train heist is both confusing and concise; the team works to pump out the methylamine and pump water back in so as not to disturb the weight of the tank. That’s the trick: switch out something valuable (methylamine) for something common (water). Is this like switching Walt for Gus? Sure they may seem the same at first glance, but Gus definitely held more weight.
With a decoy truck breakdown on the tracks, the boys work at pumping the good stuff out and refilling with water. (My husband vehemently questioned the logistics of the operation; I just wanted the tension to break.) A Good Samaritan pulls up and offers to pull the truck off the tracks. Holy hell what is going on? Mike orders them to abort but of course Walt is pushing the heist to the last minute. Of course he won’t abandon the operation without every last goddamn drop of that juice. Walt thinks he knows best, he will not listen to anyone because he’s a greedy b-tch. Or have we been ignoring the obviously diagnosis for Walt’s personality disorder: he’s an adrenaline junkie. Maybe he should take up bungee jumping.
Jesse nearly gets run over and Todd jumps off at the last second; everyone lives and the methylamine is secured. Jesse throws out a “ya bitch!” for good measure.
But Walt sees something a few feet away; the boy from the first scene, the one who put the spider in the jar. He tentatively waves. Todd waves back, then takes out a gun and shoots the kid. Jesse screams no, but it’s too late. Little guy is dead. It’s shocking and unsettling – you just know Jesse is going to be devastated - and it’s a classic Breaking Bad gasp moment. Every dangerous, misguided deed demands a consequence. You don’t just get to rob a train and ride off into the sunset like a modern day cowboy. There’s no such thing as a victimless cook.
But who is Todd? OK, I admit, Friday Night Lights clouded my judgment of the character (which is actually a brilliant bit of casting by Vince Gilligan). But let’s really look at Todd: an exterminator who robbed houses on the side is still a long way from a guy who would murder a child in cold blood. Was he acting on orders to kill any witnesses, or was he taking initiative, like with the nanny cam? He shot the boy so easily, as easily as he waved to him. Todd may be the partner Walt’s always wanted.
Kids suffer a lot in the Breaking Bad world. Andrea’s brother was murdered on a street corner; Brock was poisoned; the little dirt biker shot for witnessing a crime. It’s impossible to tell what the long-term effects of Walt’s transformation will have on his children, and like Skyler says, they are always in physical danger just by being near their father.
I want to blame Walt for the kid’s murder, but I can’t quite get there. I don’t even know what Walt would had done if given a moment to think about it (Jesse would have intervened). But Walt is driving his f-cked up train on this f-cked up track, and behind him he’s pulling Jesse, Mike, Skyler, his kids, Hank and Marie, Todd, and this dead little boy. Now it’s just a question of who gets off at the next station and who dies in a fiery crash.
It won’t be Walt’s first crash: his actions lead to a mid-air plane collision that rained debris and death down on Albuquerque, some landing in his own pool. He was an arms-length away from that disaster, but I don’t think he’ll escape the train wreck so easily.
Photos courtesy AMC