Breaking Bad Season 5
The return of the “oh sh**!” moment.
How ’bout that cold open? Breaking Bad excels at such set pieces, and they sure squeezed a lot into those few minutes. The cheery breakfast chatter, the gloomy bathroom exchange with the mysterious stranger, the promise not to take the new car and its scary cargo over the border. I won’t even try to speculate what Walt is up to on his—or, at least, Mr. Lambert’s—52nd birthday, with his Unabomber affect, his nerd glasses, and his Granite State ID. Live free or die, indeed. But Walt’s behavior was typically absurd. Was he trying to attract attention? Because using bacon strips like birthday candles and leaving a $100 tip for a Denny’s breakfast is a sure-fire way to cement your place in a waitress’s memory. I’m guessing we’ll find the answer to that question in the series finale.
This episode certainly had its share of “oh shit” moments. The first, of course, was Walt’s sudden realization that he and Jesse hadn’t cleaned up every trace of the laundry-based meth lab after all. Before he headed to Casa Tranquila in the final episode of Season 4, Gus’ last act was to take a reassuring glimpse at the video feeds that monitored events at the meth lab and whatever other illicit businesses he was managing, before closing the lid on his computer. Now the first challenge of Season 5 is to destroy that computer. (By the way, as someone with much love for classic plot lines, I almost hate to bring this up, but in this digital age, when the data is in the cloud and every poet knows to back up their work, surely Gus’ laptop isn’t the only gateway to that video footage?)
I was struck by the fact that for the first time—except, perhaps, back in Season 3 when Walt and Mike realized simultaneously that Gus couldn’t kill Walt and Jesse if Gale Boetticher died first—Walt outwitted Mike in a criminal matter. As much as I enjoyed Mike’s image of Walt in a black leotard “dangling on a clothesline,” Walt was one step ahead of him, noting that they didn’t need to grab the computer, just destroy it. But Jesse—unappreciated, perpetual second-banana Jesse—was ahead of both of them in thinking of the destructive powers of magnets.
The scene at the junkyard with the philosopher criminal was a hoot, but the business with the truck was a little hard to swallow. Post Oklahoma City, is it really so easy for a couple of guys in cat burglar outfits, one of whom has a bright white plaster on his nose, to park a sketchy-looking truck right next to a government building, and then make a smooth getaway after the heist? (BTW, I do hope some enterprising academic is writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the shitty vehicles of Breaking Bad.)
Of course, Walt is still too sure of himself. He’s convinced that having destroyed Gus’ computer, they’ve obliterated all the evidence. But, as usual, he went too far. That last twist of the dial that made all the evidence fall from the shelves (and tipped over the van) broke the frame on Gus’ photo, thus exposing a Swiss bank account number and keeping the story in play.
I know that for the sake of the show, Jesse can’t take Mike’s advice to just get the hell out of Dodge, but I wish he could. Then again, Jesse needs something to do. When he’s idle, he always gets pulled back into his addictions. And now that he’s spotted Walt the money for the magnet and van, I wonder if he has enough cash to just take off and start over far away from Albuquerque. Do you see any hope that he’ll get out of Mr. White’s shadow?
And what about Skyler? She told Walt she was scared of him. In what way I wonder? Of what he might do to the family? Of what might become of him? What do you think?
We’re living in a time of string theories and God particles,
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.