Breaking Bad: “Blood Money” Recap

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It’s interesting how much Breaking Bad  is willing to give away as we approach its end. The show has used the flashforward cold open several times before, most notably in season 2 with the pink teddy bear scenes. Those scenes were, for the most part, unintelligible. Nothing from them seemed to pertain to story at hand, but they seemed indicative of foreboding doom for Walt and his family. Of course that proved to be a red herring, the scenes were of the aftermath from the plane crash over Albuquerque. The flashforwards of season 5 are of a different breed. Rather than obscufating the truth, these scenes feel like carefully crafted hints of what’s to come for Walt. Vince Gilligan, through these scenes, is showing us his hand. Teasing us just enough to view all the events in the present through a specific lens: Walt is doomed. Based on the cold opens of “Live Free or Die” and “Blood Money” we know that Walt has come back to Albuquerque, he needs a giant machine gun, a capsule of ricin, and that the identity of Heisenberg is public knowledge, and Walt doesn’t give a damn if people know he’s back (“Hello, Carol”).

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Wow. It feels like a lot, but like any good long form story these reveals only inspire more questions. Mainly: how did this happen? This conceit injects season 5 with a new sense of urgency and tension. Knowing that Walt’s fall is coming gives each scene a special quality of tension. His comeuppance could occur at any moment, and each time it doesn’t the tension ratchets up another notch. To date season 5 feels like the steep climb up the hill before the plummet off the cliffside. In “Blood Money” we’re closer to that plummet than ever before.

Since the very first episode fans of Breaking Bad have been waiting for Hank to discover Walt’s secret life. This is the end all be all dramatic moment the show has been destined for. Rather than teasing it out, Gilligan and Co. tackle it head on with this mid-season premiere in an electric scene between Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris. A scene that proves Norris to be Cranston’s equal as an actor. The shame of Hank’s character is that Norris plays the meathead so convincingly that we mistake Hank for Dean. Give him a scene like this, hoo boy. He is able to render the anger, confusion, humiliation, betrayal, and shock Hank is feeling in a single look. If Hank becomes the hero of Breaking Bad in its final episodes, Norris is definitely up to the task. Breaking Bad has always been good at delivering chilling one-liners. Walt’s thinly veiled threat of “tread lightly” may be its best to date. The unresolved tension in that scene will carry us into next week. The final shot, of the two men, unmoving, Hank contemplating Walt’s words, Walt, waiting to see Hank’s reaction: perfect.

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This powerhouse of a scene caps off what was, until this point, a rather middle of the road episode of Breaking Bad. An episode designed to move pieces into place and prep us for the inevitable storm.

Walt is insisting on his ‘normal’ persona, acting as a man who owns a car wash, even rebuffing Lydia’s attempts to lure him back with talk of 68% purity. There was a time when purity that low would have made Walt’s blood boil. But he plays his best Gustavo Fring impression, an evil man masquerading as an honest one. Then we discover his cancer is back, in an achingly matter of fact reveal as he takes a call sitting with a chemo iv in his arm.

Then there’s Jesse, poor, poor Jesse. The last remaining sense of conscience and morality in Walt’s bleak world. The guy can’t catch a break, he can’t even look at the money Walt left him. Five million reminders of the blood on their hands. Aaron Paul‘s blank, thousand yard stare, invokes the image of shell shocked soldiers unable to readjust to home life. His attempt to free of himself from his money through good deeds is heartbreaking. If anyone should survive the coming fall, it’s Jesse. Despite his crimes, he’s managed to maintain a child like sense of morality that has kept him from the dark depths that Walt opened for him.

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So here we stand. At the brink. And we need to tread lightly.

Awesome Interview with Dean Norris over at Vulture: here!

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