Breaking Bad Season 5
Lots of great parenting advice this episode!
Photo by Ursula Coyote/AMC.
This was an episode about helicopter parenting, right? Well, maybe not, though it was obsessed with the question of how much freedom we should allow our children. My first thought when we encountered the boy on the bike was that he was driving recklessly—he’s out there, alone, in a communications dead zone, taking risks with no one to protect him. Yes, he was wearing a helmet—the stripes on it reminded me of the stripe on the hood of Walter Jr.’s muscle car—but if he took a spill off-road in the desert, that wouldn’t save him. Walter Jr., meanwhile, is in the throes of adolescent rebellion—he’s using the name Flynn again, and he’s isolating himself from his family and friends. And it’s all because, as Hank—excuse me ASAC Schrader—says, “His parents treat him like a baby.” Surely there’s a happy medium between tooling around the desert unsupervised and hiding in your room?
One thing that kind of bothered me about this episode was everyone’s sudden acquisition of extraordinarily specific skills. Jesse is now well-versed in wireless wiretapping technology? (And shouldn’t they have someone listening to that feed? Lester Freamon and “Prez” Pryzbylewski spent untold hours in headphones before they got the goods on The Wire.) Jesse and Todd suddenly know how to do all that coupling and uncoupling in incredibly stressful conditions? I do, however, buy that Walt is able to figure out braking distances and work out the difference between the weight of water and methylamine, yo. “Just because you shot Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James,” Mike said to Walt two weeks ago, but Walt sure acted like him tonight. I wonder: Does this foreshadowing mean that Walt will be killed by a member of his own gang?
Oh, and to return to Walt’s bugging of Hank’s office for a moment: Surely that was a bad idea? It did—miraculously—clue them in that Lydia wasn’t responsible for planting the tracking devices on the barrels, but the bugs are bound to be found at some point. The DEA might not be able to pin it on Walt—presumably Hank will have other visitors—but it’s another clue that Hank is still being targeted, and it should encourage them to maintain their vigilance.
I was glad to see a familiar face in the role of “truck driver whose vehicle breaks down on train tracks.” It was the guy Skyler hired to encourage Bogdan to offload the car wash, right? At times I’m frustrated by the show’s small cast, but it’s great that actors come back to reprise small roles.
I think you’re right to marvel at the episode’s tightly designed structure, Emily. Vince Gilligan and his gang are so good at dropping breadcrumbs that slowly—sometimes very slowly—lead us to a big payoff. (Though I still call bullshit on Operation Lily of the Valley!) In the cold open of “Dead Freight,” the kid traps the spider, gets back on to his bike, and heads off when he hears a train horn. Another show would’ve put a big pink highlighter on the sound effect, but Breaking Bad let us figure it out for ourselves, and I love and respect the show for that.
The final image of the spider in the jar reminded me of “Fly,” the bottle episode from Season 3, in which Walt and Jesse cemented their partnership. “Dead Freight,” was the opposite of a bottle episode, with its wide-open vistas and what for Breaking Bad counts as a cast of thousands. Does the spider signal the end of the bond between Walt and Jesse?
Oh, and while I’m waxing wild, Jesse Plemons’ character surely got the name Todd because Tod means dead in German!
Everyone sounds like Meryl Streep with a gun to their head,
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.