Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

Walter White Has Given Everyone He Knows PTSD
Talking television.
Aug. 11 2013 9:50 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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Has Walt given everyone he knows PTSD?

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad_Season 5, Episode 1_"Live Free or Die"
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

Photo courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC

Friends,

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

There’s so much to talk about, but let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the genius of that cold open. As in the opening scene of Episode 501, we flash forward to the time around Walt’s 52nd birthday: He has chunky Williamsburg spectacles, a mountain-man mien, and a very large weapon in the trunk of his car. He’s back at the White family home, but the place looks totally different: The pool that once contained plane-crash debris has been drained, the seating area whose landscaping included a lily of the valley plant is now the lip of an improvised skateboard ramp, and the bathroom where he first shaved his head has been trashed. As Walt strides around the house retrieving his precious vial of ricin, we learn beyond a shadow of a doubt that his criminality has been exposed to the world. The living room has been defaced with the word HEISENBERG, and when he calls a cheery “Hello, Carol” to his former neighbor, it’s not just his scraggly beard and sweat-stained shirt that make her drop her shopping bag, terrified.

At first, I thought the oranges that we saw rolling out of Carol’s shopping bag were a tad too on the nose. After all, they’re The Godfather’s go-to portent of death. But after seeing the rest of this grim, gripping episode, I’m pretty sure they’re Vince Gilligan’s citrus-scented signal that we have moved into the era of consequences.

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Walter White may be a scientist, but like a devotee of The Secret, he seems to believe that saying something makes it so. He doesn’t tell Skyler that his cancer is back—apparently he thinks that would affect his ability to fight it—and he only admits that Lydia is a “former business associate” after Skyler points out that normal people don’t pay to have rental cars pressure-washed. A little later, he struggles to convince Jesse that Mike Ehrmantraut is alive and well and doing crossword puzzles in an undisclosed location. Jesse knows he’s lying, but he’s too traumatized and worn down to argue. Jesse knows that for Walt, “the story comes first,” so he just parrots the version of events he knows Walt wants to hear and hopes that will shut him up.

Unlike Jesse, though, Hank won’t let Walt get away with murder. No matter how convincingly Walt swears, “right hand to God,” that he’s just a dying man who runs a car wash, Hank knows that his brother-in-law is a “lying, two-faced sack of shit.” He knows that Walt betrayed him over and over—and that he’s personally responsible for more than a dozen deaths.

Walt’s friends and family all seem to be suffering from PTSD. Skyler doesn’t contradict Walt’s fantasy narrative of escaping the drug business because her kids’ lives will be ruined if he’s found out. Jesse is dissociative, bordering on catatonic, because he can’t get those dead kids out of his head. I wasn’t sure that Hank’s heart would survive the realization that he’d barbequed with Heisenberg, but his time with the file boxes seems to have restored his strength. If I were Hank, I don’t think I’d let Walt make it out of that garage alive, but there are seven episodes to go, and we’ve seen Walt retrieve his ricin, so we know that he does get to exit. But how? I guess we’ll find out next week.

Have an A-1 day,

June

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