Breaking Bad Recap ‘Dead Freight’
“Damn, you guys thought of everything!”
When faced with the prospect of losing their supply of methylamine last week, Walt sneered to a bickering Mike and Jesse that “Nothing stops this train. Nothing.” That doesn’t bode well for the sweet, inquisitive young boy we see riding his dirt bike in the cold open. He rides through the desert until something catches his attention—it’s a tarantula crawling across the desert floor. The boy grabs a jar out of his jacket pocket and coaxes the spider inside. As he finishes up he hears a train whistle in the distance and turns to investigate.
The whistle in question is coming from freight train which is carrying a car filled with methylamine, a substance very necessary to Walter White. It’s important to note that the Three Stooges could make crystal meth without methylamine, but they couldn’t cook Walt’s precious recipe. So, out of his usual vanity, Walt insists they find a new source, rather than use pseudo for a less chemically pure cook.
The complication, as we saw last episode, is the GPS device found on the barrel of methylamine that Jesse tried to grab from the Madrigal warehouse with Lydia’s panicked assistance. Mike was so convinced that Lydia had planted it to drive them away from using her as a source that he was ready to kill her—but Mike was wrong. Walt plants a transmitter and bug in Hank’s office (creating an opportunity to do so by visiting Hank and getting weepy about Skyler, which makes Hank flee the room in search of coffee), and they are able to listen in on a call to the Houston DEA office, where we discover it was just sloppy work (“Who would do something so stupid as to put a tracking device on the outside of a barrel?” Hanks asks, incredulous).
Lydia is exonerated, but Mike still wants her gone. He’s still meditating on the hit she put out on him not that long ago, and thinks she just can’t be trusted. (We also see, for the first time really, just how scared Mike is.) But Lydia has an ace up her sleeve. Why bicker about a few barrels of methylamine when you can get you a whole “ocean” of the stuff? There’s a freight train set to carry tons of the substance through New Mexico. All you’d have to do is find a way to do it without tipping off the cautious post-9/11 feds to its capture.
As it turns out, Lydia is aware of a “dead zone” in which a robbery could be pulled off without anyone being aware. Mike explains that there are two types of heists, the kind where they get away with it, and the type where there are witnesses left behind. Unless there’s another way to do it, the engineers will have to be killed, and Mike doesn’t feel like doing it (which Lydia, naturally, feels a bit insulted by).
So there’s an opportunity staring them all in the face, but seemingly no way to get it. But, just as with the magnets back in the premiere, it’s once again Jesse who comes up with the idea. He may still scream “Yeah, bitch!” as triumphant exclamation, but Jesse Pinkman is no longer the hood rat neophyte he was a year ago. Jesse’s gone from the idiot who left the keys in the ignition of the RV to the boy wonder with all the answers.
But, as with Jesse’s previous flash of inspiration, the moment is framed between the dueling forces of Walt and Mike as they argue over whether the operation is sustainable. Jesse is caught between these two quarreling father figures, attempting once again to make peace. So, since this scene, and many others, is positioning Jesse as the child of both Walt and Mike, let’s talk a bit about parents.
Walt is a parent, of course, and has stated any number of times that he is engaged in this illegal operation for the welfare of his kids. But each opportunity Walt has—and declines—to walk away puts the lie to that externalized justification. Skyler finds herself desperate to keep her children safe by depositing them in the loving arms of Hank and Marie, who we see cuddling little pink monkey Holly and dealing with the ever-mercurial “Flynn” (as Walter Jr. is now apparently asking to be called again). When Flynn tries to return home, Walt orders him back to silence Skyler’s worries simply “because we’re your parents and you’re our child, that’s reason enough.” Walt would have his children back, but if it’s going to make Skyler even more reluctant to help him than she already is, they must be sent away.
And then there’s Jesse Pinkman, with no children of his own, but a perpetual weak spot for them. It was a child that kept Jesse from killing the two meth-heads that Walt sent to scare him back in Season Two. It was the use of a child gunman to murder Combo in Season Three that made Jesse willing to forfeit his life to punish the gang members that had turned the kid into a killer, and it was the poisoning of Brock, his girlfriend’s son, that led him to stick a gun in Walt’s face at the end of the last season. So Jesse, and maybe Mike in his way, is as close to a good dad as this show is going to give us. Let’s put a pin in that for now.
Jesse’s plan is to create a diversion, stopping the train long enough to siphon out the methylamine with no one ever knowing. Dimwit associate Saul Kuby (played by comedian Bill Burr) pretends to be a trucker with a rig broken down on the tracks. Kuby waves the engineers to stop, then asks them for help with his truck (“That’s why they call you guys engine-eers, right?”). The Stooges also enlist the eager-to-please Todd of the crooked fumigation crew (formerly seen informing Walt and Jesse about the nanny-cam in their base of operations), and drill into his head that “No one other than us can ever know that this robbery went down.”
“Damn, you guys thought of everything,” Todd brown-noses.
The heist itself is a brilliantly choreographed race against time, as the guys must first siphon the methylamine out of the car, then pump back in an equivalent amount of water (so that alarms aren’t sounded when the car is weighed at its end point destination). Jesse handles things below the tracks, Todd climbs to the top of the car, and Walt watches the counter to make sure the numbers are right.
The jig is almost up when a Good Samaritan drives by and offers to push the truck off the tracks, and Walt waits until the very, very, very last second to call Jesse and Todd back (ending up with, in typical Walt fashion, more than he actually needs). The train starts to move with both guys still in their positions—Todd leaps from the top and Jesse lies as flat and still as possible inside the tracks. It’s tense, it’s thrilling, but ultimately both men are safe.
Walt, Jesse, and Todd celebrate their victory, but stop dead with the arrival of the inquisitive boy from the cold open. The kid waves at the strangers, doing god-knows-what out in the desert. Todd waves at the kid and then—with absolutely no change to his affect—guns him down without hesitation. Jesse screams a slo-mo “Noooo,” but yes, the kid is very dead. Of course, Todd is merely following the direct orders given to him earlier. They thought of everything but that.
We’re left to ponder what effect this horror will have on Jesse and Mike’s delicate sensibilities, and just what Walt will do to keep that train rolling down the tracks, as Vince Gilligan’s name appears just so we can curse it.
Season Five, Episode Five
‘Dead Freight’: A-