Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

Is Breaking Bad Still a Revenge-of-the-Nerds Fantasy?
Talking television.
Aug. 25 2013 10:00 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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Is Breaking Bad still a revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy?

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 11
Anna Gunn as Skyler White and Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

Photo courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC

Willa, June,

Talk about an awkward family lunch. Personally, I never pass up the chance for some fresh-made guacamole. On the other hand, I’ve always been more of a manic-snacking-while-nervous kind of guy; I’m jealous of the slender forget-to-eat-while-nervous people out there. The White/Schrader family doesn’t see it my way, I guess. But, man, nice plan from Walt.

This episode really brought me back in a lot of ways to the thematic elements of the first season. Cooking meth and killing people weren’t something we were ever strictly supposed to approve of. But Breaking Bad launched as something along the lines of a “revenge of the nerds” fantasy. Pushed into a desperate situation, the very intelligent Walter White is able to reclaim his masculinity and get one over on his dumb jock brother-in-law. Things got much darker, especially in the first half of Season 5, but I like that with the moral stakes raised the show’s returned to that dynamic. Walter really is smarter than Hank. He’s a totally amazing meth cook and criminal mastermind, while Hank is at best a middling DEA agent who’s somehow managed to bungle this investigation even after figuring everything out. 

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After all, surely Hank could have recognized that he’s the last person in the world who’s going to break the very breakable Jesse Pinkman. I find Walt’s attitude toward his operation’s weak link interesting. Superficially it seems like a “last link to human decency” kind of scenario. But as Jesse finally comes out and says, Walt’s hardly treated Jesse decently over the years. And Walt has his family! Isn’t loyalty to family above all else supposed to be the way master criminals rationalize their bad behavior? It’s all for the kids? If the little Whites were all girls, I’d say Jesse is the son Walt never had. But what’s wrong with Walt Jr.? He seems like a good kid.

Perhaps the cold open was a hint that for all Walt’s smarts, there’s one ball that he’s not paying attention to? He’s so busy tying up his loose ends that he’s forgotten he’s someone else’s loose end. Last week, as Saul’s goons were contemplating grabbing the money and fleeing, we were reminded that Walt’s most impressive crime was orchestrating 10 simultaneous prison executions. Except he didn’t actually do any of the planning or legwork on that one. He just got in touch with a guy and made the payment. Maybe the real master criminals are the guys wiping blood off their boots in a diner.

What the hell happened to this country?

Matt

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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