Breaking Bad Season 5

Walter White Has Become Gus Fring
Talking television.
Sept. 3 2012 12:13 AM

Breaking Bad Season 5

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Walt has become Gus Fring.

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Courtesy of AMC.

No limits: Not on the number of killings Walt will order or the pile of bills he’ll acquire. In this season midpoint/2012 finale, Walt has turned into Gus Fring and worse. He’s the empire builder he bragged of becoming. He is Heisenberg, with the ridiculous hat that no one dares ridicule, the seamless supply of methylamine, and the global sales route that Lydia opens when she asks, in her weird staccato: “What do you know about the Czech Republic?”

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.

I can see now that the show has been marching us toward this conclusion, setting us up to accept Walt in terrifying ascendance. Breaking Bad is about the mayhem that unfolds when one regular guy decides that the end justifies absolutely any means. He’s the only one left with a vote, as he tells Jesse, and he casts his ballot to murder 10 people within two minutes. Because this is Breaking Bad, the killings are a niftily executed ballet of gore, culminating in the gasoline torching of the man Hank refused to make a deal with. Also typical of the show’s use of children to make us squirm, Walt watches a TV report of the jail killings while dandling Holly on his knee and Hank hears of them during a photo-op with a bunch of little girl cheerleaders.  The bloody and the banal, ever juxtaposed.

Heisenberg’s refrain is this: It had to be done. I still don’t understand what the point of killing Mike was, though. Apart from the fact that Walt was right – he could and did get the names of the nine potential snitches from Lydia – how was shooting Mike going to produce the list? The good thing about having Todd around, of course, is that he’s not going to ask those questions. But just as I was sighing for Jesse, he showed up and also failed to ask them. Jesse accepted Walt’s curt “He’s gone” about Mike without asking for any more information. We’re left to conclude that he didn’t probe because, consciously or not, he didn’t want to know.

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We saw two aborted killings tonight: Walt decided not to murder Lydia with the ricin—she was right, that was his intent until she floated her Czech plan—and Jesse decided not to shoot Walt when he saw him at the door. Walt held back for cool business reasons. Jesse held back because he has to put some moral distance between himself and Walt. He knows about the nine guys but he didn’t off them himself. And so instead of a shootout, we’re treated to awkward small talk and reminiscing. Walt stands in Jesse’s foyer with much the same itchy discomfort he showed in their early days together. Except now they have their shared memories. Walt remembers the screeching sound that wreck of an RV made, and Jesse supplies the explanation: the power steering belt. Why’d they keep driving it, when they had money? Inertia.

Is that the gift Jesse gives Walt that snaps him out of his Heisenberg delusion? I think so. Maybe Walt had decided to quit by the time he showed up at Jesse’s doorstep to give him the duffel bag of money. By then, Skyler had shown him the mountain of cash and asked him the obvious question: How much is enough? And she’d told him she wanted her life back, wanted their kids. But I think Walt needed Jesse to tell him that sometimes you keep doing something for no reason other than habit.  You’re stuck—you just have to see it that way in order to unstick yourself.

That’s the punch line of this moment in the show: Any routine can become drab and pointless. Teaching chemistry, undergoing cancer treatment, cooking meth in a yellow suit, raking in cash from your global drug empire. Earlier this season, Walt kept himself interested by arguing with Mike, corrupting Walter Jr. with a sports car, and watching Scarface. Now he’s ready to be a family man again. “I’m out,” he tells Skyler with a small bashful smile, like any man returning from the temporary insanity of his midlife crisis.

We know, of course, that no one gets out. You said it last week, Matt, when Mike was the one with the car pointed toward Mexico. And we had to know too that Hank couldn’t be vanquished that easily. For the entire hour he was down while Walter was up. It was time to reverse the dynamic when he picked up Leaves of Grass for his bathroom reading and turned to that telltale inscription from Gale. I loved the utterly slack expression on Hank’s face, not so much suspicion as utter befuddlement. And I was also thankful to the flashback of Walter and Hank discussing who “W.W.” could possibly be, and Walt’s deflection of “Walter White” by playing the bumbling bogeyman.

OK, now Hank knows. And he has exactly zero evidence. How do we get from here to Walt’s flight with a full head of hair and a car with New Hampshire plates? And what was Walt doing when he screwed in the outlet behind the night table in his bedroom?

 I’ll be pondering that ‘til we meet again for the second half of this last season.

It’s pretty cool the way they do that—just turn a car into a cube,

Emily

View a chart of the bad behavior of Breaking Bad's Walter White in Season 5.