Breaking Bad Season 5

Breaking Bad, Season 5: Walt Is Turning Into Napoleon
Talking television.
Aug. 20 2012 4:30 AM

Breaking Bad Season 5

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See? Walt is turning into Napoleon.

Breaking Bad Season 5.
Skyler White, played by Anna Gunn.

Photo by Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Matt, I thought you were going to go for the dinner table scene. Walt’s family drama and the meth procedural, together at last! It included my own favorite touch—Walt’s gloating “See?” It comes after he says that Skyler will be pleased as punch to dine with Jesse, and she agrees, clutching her Albertson’s shopping bag. In that See?  is everything black that Walt has become. He wants Skyler to see that she has to do his bidding. He wants Jesse to see that Skyler loathes as well as fears him, so he can guilt-trip Jesse into staying in the business. “My wife is waiting for me to die. This business is all I have left. And you want to take it away from me.”

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

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

You’re right, Matt, that we don’t get much to explain the thinking behind, “I’m in the empire business.” Maybe that’s another layer in the significance of See?—as in, See me rule my world. And maybe Walt is just turning into Napoleon, irrational and power-hungry and conniving. Offered $5 million for his share of the methylamine and a chance to walk away with his family safe, he splutters to Jesse, “pennies on the dollar,” imagining the $350 million in profits they could cook. As Jesse points out, that is crazy talk when $5 million is at hand. Walt is in this for glory, for self-aggrandizement, for revenging his younger self. We didn’t get the full back story on Gray Matter, but we know that he sold out for a $5,000 pittance and that he looks up the company’s stock market value every week: $2.16 billion, “billion with a B.” Walt ends his trip down Gray Matter lane with the lament, “I sold my kids’ birthright for a few months rent.” A natural enough way to see it, I guess—and yet Holly and WalterJr. seem increasingly irrelevant to him. Has he gone to see them? I don’t believe they are who he is building his empire for.

And Walt’s blatant manipulation shouldn’t work on Jesse. A few seasons ago, when he was brasher and angrier, Jesse would have told Mr. White he was full of shit. But this season’s Jesse is remorseful and tortured. His bloodshot eyes staring at the TV screen during the segment about the missing boy were full of anguish—and then we see him note the contrast when Walt goes back to work whistling. When he answered his phone, I thought maybe Jesse was making a plan to see Andrea. But no, he’s leaving Walt to go see Mike: They’re forming a sane alliance to sell the methalymine against Walt’s crazy insistence on keeping it.

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Jesse wants to break up with Walt peacefully. No hard feelings. They have history, after all. So he sits at the dinner table and talks up Skyler’s green beans before riffing, hilariously, about the everlasting disappointment of heating up frozen lasagna. Skyler is deadpan. The green beans come from the deli counter at Albertson’s. Oh, and did Walt mention her affair?

You could argue, I suppose, that it’s all a little broad: Jesse pining for homey food, Walt brooding as frustrated mafioso, Skyler tipping the wine bottle into her glass and then sailing off in the bitter wake of “May I please be excused?” But it worked for me as comedy because of Jesse’s eagerness to please. He’s the drug dealer with schoolboy manners as well as a conscience.

As for Saul’s legal shenanigans: No, it does not make sense to me that a state court judge with a sweet spot for the elderly would issue a temporary restraining order against the DEA because its agents are following Mike to the park. That is silly. And as for Skyler being a drag on the show: I actually thought her scene with Marie nicely conveyed her panic and her paralyzing uncertainty about the bind she has put herself in.

June, do you think Skyler come close to confessing the truth to Marie? And does Todd have the juice to pose a threat? (Is that why he kept the tarantula in its fingerprint covered jar?) And could Walt really have burned through that handcuff with the coffee pot wire? I assume the answer is yes, since the show does seem to care about getting science right, at least.

There will be plenty of time for soul searching,
Emily

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