Breaking Bad Season 5

We All Need To Distance Ourselves from Walt
Talking television.
July 22 2012 11:00 PM

Breaking Bad Season 5

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We all need to distance ourselves from Walt.

Breaking Bad (Season 5).
Walter White and Jesse Pinkman back together

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Why is Walt cooking again? He tells Saul and Jesse that he’s broke, $40k in the hole. But he and Skyler own the car washing business, and we know from her careful spreadsheets that it’s profitable. Walt no longer has a shred of excuse about needing to cook in order to salt away money for his cancer treatments or to provide for his family, really. He’s going back to making meth because he wants to rake in “the gold in the streets,” and because the myth he’s writing about himself, in his own head, is intoxicating.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

Director Vince Gilligan telegraphed Walt’s shift from sympathetic to evil a while ago—it’s the dramatic devolution at the heart of the show. I liked the little reminders this week: Walt washes dinner with rubber gloves while taking the call from Mike, who reports that he’s in, after all. Walt crows over his lasagna as he gets into bed with Sklyer, gives her a creepy and proprietary kiss, and reassures her that “it gets easier, I promise you, what you’re feeling right now.” He is ostensibly talking about her response to Ted’s unsettling injuries, but the subtext of course is her needing to make peace with his choice of drug dealing as a long-term career choice. Skyler is depressed. If you ask me, she needs an escape plan. Mike is right: Walt is trouble, a time bomb ticking away.

The challenge of a ruthless and increasingly evil protagonist, of course, is to keep us watching even as we distance ourselves from him, morally and emotionally. And so the writers’ room is softening Jesse as it hardens Walt. The duo’s search for the ricin cigarette is Exhibit A. Walt is playing Jesse: We see him make a fake cigarette out of salt. He plants it so Jesse can find it and reassure himself that he didn’t accidentally poison Brock. Guilt assuaged—plus big bonus, Jesse weeps, actually weeps, in ruing his initial suspicion of Walt: “I almost shot you,” he moans, and “How could I have been so stupid?”

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This scene is going to come back to haunt Jesse, right? He’ll somehow find out about the Lily of the Valley (though Walt couldn’t have left the incriminating evidence in the back of his car, could he?) and then he will rue his own ruing. I got pounded by our commenters last week for suggesting that Jesse had lingering doubts about Walt’s innocence when it comes to Brock. And like I said, I do know they came together at the end of last season. But I stand by my argument that there is room for ambiguity here. Jesse concluded that Gus didn’t do in Brock. Now he thinks he himself is absolved, because he has found the deadly cigarette. So how did the kid become terribly ill—won’t Jesse keep asking that question? Won’t Brock’s mother reappear this season to remind him of it?

Hank and the FBI are asking another good question: Who gave Tio the bomb that killed Gus? I always enjoy Hank’s sleuthing and I’m happy to see him and his partner take their hunt all the way to the German headquarters of Madrigal, where surely we will soon learn of an accomplice to the late Mr. Schuler. (It never occurred to me that someone could kill himself with a defibrillator. Yikes.) I’m also glad for a Mike backstory—let’s hear more about his bad Philly days and about Kaylee’s $2 million offshore account, which Hank must have been led to by the note we saw on the back of the photo in the evidence room last week. I hope Kaylee isn’t the show’s next child sacrifice. And I also want to see more of Lydia, who I keep thinking of as Ms. Stevia. Good thing she showed up to solve the methylamine supply problem.

Drink your whatever,

Emily