by: Michael Shields
Breaking Bad is coming to a momentous conclusion, moving through its shocking final act. Follow along as we recap the first of the final eight episodes, “Blood Money”…
“If you don’t know who I am maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.” – Heisenberg
A few weeks back information began to seep out of the Breaking Bad camp like a slow leak from a car tire. One of the first items revealed was the title to the remaining episodes. We learned that the first episode would be entitled “Blood Money”1. With this information it was easy to surmise that we would be delving deeply into Jesse’s guilt after receiving 5 million dollars from Walt in the mid-season finale, “Gliding over All”. But while “Blood Money” began to lay the foundation for Jesse’s final unraveling…..this was hardly the main event!
Walt’s New Enemy…..
Breaking Bad is one of those special television shows that avoids taking the easy way out. Nothing is glossed over or “yadda yadda’d”. Because of this we are assured we are going to pick up right where we left off. We are going to be given the opportunity to watch Hank emerge from the bathroom equipped with a Walt Whitman classic and information capable of inducing a panic attack while driving.
Quickly Hank goes to work verifying that W.W. is, in fact, his brother-in-law Walter White. In no time at all he has proof positive that Walt is Heisenberg as he takes us all on a walk down memory lane perusing old evidence2, which included another look at the surveillance video of the warehouse methylamine heist3, and a familiar sketch of Heisenberg4. So, Hank knows that Walt is Heisenberg. We all knew that would be the case the moment he chose a classic book of poems over Skyler’s old copies of Family Circus while relieving himself. But the moment when things really get interesting, when we realize that the game is truly afoot, is when Walt learns that Hank knows.
I didn’t believe the confrontation would happen in this episode. I figured it would be drawn out some, that we would be toyed with and anticipation would be built to a dizzying crescendo. Not so much. Vince Gilligan was quoted as saying last night that they made the conscious decision in the writer’s room to get the Hank and Walt confrontation out of the way as soon as possible, because they had so much more ground/story to cover for the rest of the this final season. Thus, in the first episode back we were handed on a silver platter what we have all been waiting for. By simply pressing the button to close the garage door, sending chills down our collective spine, an encounter that has been in the cards for upwards of five years was finally upon us. And it all began with the punch heard round the world!5.
Now, there are many ways that Walt could have responded to these accusations. He could have simply took off and split town. He could have attempted to buy Hank off or involve him in his enterprise some way. Or he could have even tried to wipe him off the face of the Earth, thus ensuring his new-found knowledge never saw the light of day. Instead, he vehemently denied the accusations, used his cancer as a shield6, and then assumed the guise of Heisenberg and menacingly threatened Hank, as he knows Hank is aware of his devious capabilities . And when it was all said and done we were left with that same burning question….What is Hank going to do now?
Last time Walt visited Jesse, seemingly to reminisce about The Crystal Ship and finally pay up, Jesse was shaking like a leaf on a breezy autumn day. He knows to be scared of Walt. He knows what he is capable of, and how averse he is to letting loose ends just dangle about. But now, Jessie also knows that Walt surely killed Mike, as there is no possible way he would have given the green light to off all of his guys if he were alive. Jesse, who can hardly look Walt in the eye7 finally sees Walt for the liar he is – which presumably could cause him to ask himself just what else Walt has lied to him about8?
It is remarkable to watch Jessie’s transformation into the new, and capable, moral compass of the show. Yet at the same time it was cringe-inducing to watch him suffer as he played Paperboy with money he intended for Kaylee Ermentrout and the family of the young scientist and spider enthusiast Drew Sharp9 – which would still leave him “two miracles short of sainthood”!10. Jesse, like the viewer, was lured in by Walt’s motivation, his ambition, and his wit. And he, like the viewer once again, remained with Walt well beyond the point of no return, a place where Walt exists as a form of pure evil we could have never imagined. Jesse’s latest guilt-fueled meltdown is not going to be looked at fondly by his former partner. You can’t litter the town with drug (and blood) money and expect nothing to come of it. I have a bad feeling about this, and the fate of a character who has become easy to root for will be a question that looms heavily over the remainder of the series.
Skyler vs. Lydia….
The balls on Lydia. Showing up to the A1A Car Wash was an act of desperation of the highest order. A 68% percent drop in the quality of meth surely isn’t pleasing her overseas business associates and Lydia’s concerns are sure to play out over the remainder of the season. But for now she was shown the door, as Walt channeled his inner Gus maintaining his professional persona while being questioned in public about illegal affairs, and Skyler told her in no uncertain terms “to stay out of my territory.”
The Cancer is Back….
Walt’s cancer has returned, which is a momentous reveal. He is back on chemo and once again having regular meetings with the toilet bowl. It is important to recall that all of the decisions that Walt has made, the entire blood-soaked journey, is a result of Walt receiving a death sentence. With remission Walt took us on a ride we didn’t quite expect, one where he was no longer acting in the interest of his family after his death. Walt is back on the clock now, and it would be easy to assume that his goal would be to maintain his squeaky clean11 persona with his children as the cancer slowly takes him from them. But he also has nothing to lose, and appears hell bent on living out his final days12 in the reckless manner we have become accustomed to. Walt is a live wire, and facing sure death again only accentuates the intensity.
The Cold Opening….
To kick off “Blood Money” were were taken back to the time soon after the cold opening of “Live Free Or Die”, where Walt capped his 52nd birthday breakfast at Denny’s by arming himself with a M60 machine gun and a whole grip of ammunition. He then returns to his former residence, where so much has changed. What was so affecting about returning to the White home and witnessing it in such a state of chaos is that we have an attachment to that home. We watched Walt and Skyler walk into it with a real estate agent deciding if the size of it would suffice for their growing family. We’ve ate countless breakfast’s with Junior there, watched Holly grow up within its walls, and we’ve hurt there under the weight of Skyler and Walt’s deceptions. The empty swimming pool13 to commence the episode being used by a crew of skateboarders as a half-pipe was a swift kick to the gut, and the fact that property was enclosed by a chain-link fence makes it crystal clear shit has hit the fan. Even more telling was the word “HEISENBERG” spray painted on the living room wall, and neighbor Carol’s14 reaction to Walt15….which means one thing…..everybody knows!
“You are the devil” – Marie
Walt obtains the ricin from the bedroom, which he will undoubtedly add to his already stout arsenal being amassed for his inevitable last blaze of glory, and then something interesting happens. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Walt pauses, and seems to hardly recognize the man before him, and appears possibly even disgusted at the sight. And for the first time Walt is witness to what we the viewer have been feeling the entire time: That we hardly recognize the former chemistry teacher, father, and loving husband we first met.
We are traveling at breakneck speed16. What came to fruition this episode could have been dribbled out over a slew of episodes. But Breaking Bad doesn’t work that way. The playing field has been leveled. Hank and Jesse now know what we have known about Walt for some time – and this changes everything. Breaking Bad is a morality play, and we’re in the inevitably tragic final act. The table is triumphantly set. Only seven more episodes left….
- Written by longtime staffer Peter Gould and Directed by Bryan Cranston. [↩]
- CASE NO: 10-5450192 BOETTICHER, GALE. Set to the tune of Jim White’s “Wordmule”. [↩]
- From the episode “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type-Deal” [↩]
- A sketch we first saw in Season 3’s first episode “No Mas”. [↩]
- “It was you. All along, it was you. You drove into traffic to keep me from that laundry. That call I got, telling me Marie was in the hospital? That wasn’t Pinkman. You had my cell number. You killed 10 witnesses to save your sorry ass. You bombed a nursing home. Heisenberg? Heisenberg! You two-faced sack of shit! I will put you under the jail.” [↩]
- Making Hank the second of Walter’s family members to tell him they hope his cancer kills him, as “Rot, you son of a bitch” is the new “waiting for the cancer to come back.” [↩]
- Something Hank struggles with later in the episode. [↩]
- Once again, something Hank had to come to grips with throughout the episode – including the fake phone call that sent him over the edge in Season 3’s “Sunset”. [↩]
- 2.5 million to each. [↩]
- A classic Saul Goodman one-liner. [↩]
- Car wash pun – couldn’t help myself. [↩]
- “In six months you won’t have someone to prosecute.” [↩]
- It is remarkable how Breaking Bad brings inanimate objects to life. Books, teddy bears, towel dispensers, paintings, and now a garage door opener! This occurred at another point in the episode when Walt placed a towel beneath his knees before he threw up – as Gus did in “Salud”. [↩]
- The second “Hello Carol” of the episode was comic genius. [↩]
- Carol dropped a bag of oranges when Walt spoke to her – and rest assured that the writers are well aware that oranges in The Godfather franchise were used as a symbol of impending death! [↩]
- I would like to take a moment here and mention the incredibly entertaining conversation about Star Trek between Skinny Pete and Badger. It’s incredible that Badger has concocted a script for Star Trek that involves a pie eating contest and Scotty accidentally beaming Chekhov’s guts into space. So good. [↩]