Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

Walt’s a Different Man in Every Scene. I Hate Them All.
Talking television.
Aug. 26 2013 12:00 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2


Walt’s a different man in every scene. I hate them all.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad

Photo courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC

The tricky part about playing Walter White is that it requires a quiet kind of skill. Bryan Cranston rarely gets to do Lear-like scenes of ranting in the rain; instead, he portrays a guy who’s always playing a part—and we have to see the tiny changes in his presentation when he addresses different people. Everyone who comes into contact with Walt gets a unique version of the man. With the customers at the car wash he’s a bland worker bee who never deviates from the script when he wishes them an A1 day. With Walter Jr., he’s a confusing but loving and protective dad. With Saul, he plays up his genius and his ruthlessness. And back when he associated with drug dealers, he was Heisenberg, a mysterious figure who inspired a narcocorrido.

June Thomas June Thomas

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

This episode, we saw Cranston’s acting—that is, Walt’s acting—close up, and it was astonishing. At that dreadful, aborted Mexican meal in the mall, he maintained a masterly bluff—his condescending tone when brushing off Trent the overenthusiastic server sent my Walt hatred to Hank levels, but when he suggested that the Schraders were the bad guys here, because their behavior could hurt poor Walter Jr., I understood Marie’s stunned incomprehension. Who is this monster, and where did he come from?

Then we saw Walt’s “confession”—a format we associate most with suicide testimonials these days, though I must admit that the one that came to my mind was Nicholas Brody’s—and we learned that Walt has really upped his dissembling game. Not only did he craft a great narrative—and make good use of his habit of withholding information; Hank knows how monumentally screwed he is when he learns that Walt paid his medical bills—but he sold it. The tears, the pathetic affect, the reference to himself as a coward. If Hank had any evidence, and if he weren’t so tragically compromised, the video alone wouldn’t be enough to keep Walt from justice, but absent those things, Walt’s smarts and A1 acting make Hank lose hope of capturing his prey.


Thank goodness that Jesse saw through Walt’s act. He knew that he was being played and jerked around, that “the whole concerned dad thing” was yet another attempt to manipulate him. And that was before he figured out Walt’s most despicable move. Walt might have been a father figure to Jesse, but once Jesse figured out that Walt had targeted Brock, the kid to whom he was being a pretty great dad, those ties were snapped.

Willa, you’re right that Jesse and Hank need to calm down and think. And Matt, you’re right that the guys with the swastika tattoos on their necks are plenty cool and plenty strategic. When enough enemies have you in their sights, it’s hard to escape. Between Jesse, Hank, the Aryans, and lung cancer, there are a lot of targets on Walter White.

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