Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

I Don’t Buy Walt Jr.’s Naïveté
Talking television.
Sept. 9 2013 12:00 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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Is the show using Walt Jr.’s cerebral palsy as an excuse to make his naïveté more believable?

Walter White, Jr.
RJ Mitte as Walter White Jr. in Breaking Bad

Photo courtesy Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Everything about this hair-raising, heart-pounding episode was different because we knew ahead of time Walt would survive it. Let’s pay homage to the double flash-forward. It didn’t just change the suspense of who will live and who will die. It also changed all my feelings about Walt as the action unspooled. The show went up to the line of pathos for him. June, maybe you crossed into sympathy for him, since you’re worrying about his fate. I didn’t. In Walt’s most pathetic moment, when he’s trying to climb the desert buttes in his no-traction sneakers and starts coughing, I kept reminding myself that somehow, he was going to make it out of this. Instead of nostalgia for sad-sack Walt, I heard his megalomaniac snarl to Jesse in my ears: “I ran those gangbangers!” “You were too stupid to know it!”

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

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

Yes, that was an amazing duet they had as Walt raced to the desert to rescue his money. It was even better, I thought, for having Jesse off camera, beyond Walt’s reach and out of our sight. He knew just how to play his partner, just how to wring a completely damning confession out of him. Hank also gets some credit: He was back on his game when he questioned Huell and when he reeled in Walt by using his own money as the bait. The double cellphone photos, of the brain goo and the cash in the barrel, were an especially nice touch. So much of the time, TV and the movies still find it easier to operate in a world without smartphones, finding ways to dodge the ease of communication by breaking them, or losing them, or taking the action out of range of a cell tower. Or going back in time, like The Americans or Mad Men. Go Breaking Bad for this clever but also completely natural deployment of cellphone pics.

On a different note, Walt Jr.’s sunny innocence is getting to me. Is the show using his cerebral palsy to make it more credible that he could still be blind to his parents’ schemes? A couple of seasons ago, Walt Jr. was acting out like a normal teenager. Now he chides his mother for not giving the A-1 car wash goodbye she has just taught him. I know he is supposed to be overcome with concern about his father’s cancer, but would he really be this susceptible to Walt’s lies? Wouldn’t any 16-year-old ask his parents why they’ve melted away or pick up some hint of a family schism this deep?

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I wish I thought there was some way Hank or Gomez could have survived this week’s assault. No way. They were outmanned and outgunned. And Hank has to pay the price for underestimating Walt: That’s his Achilles’ heel, finally bringing him down. Why didn’t they have their badges, though? I know they’re working off the books, but I don’t see why that means they leave their government ID at home. I did love how the throwaway reference to the tribal police came back into play when Uncle Jack showed up. Todd’s posse is kind of a tribe of its own. And they’re ready to initiate Walt as a new member. At least till he can turn the meth blue. And then, Matt’s right, we double back to the plot about Walt becoming expendable.

Unless of course these genius writers have something entirely different in store for us.

You burned it. Like a cake,

Emily

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