Fire in the Hole: Breaking Bad Review “To’hajiilee”
“Fire in the hole, bitch!”
By all accounts, Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. On the interview circuit, his lazy Virginia accent and genial presence is as far from the evil visage of his creation Heisenberg as you could imagine—but then he’ll pull some ice-cold B.S. like cutting to black in the middle of a gunfight featuring his three main characters and the Aryan Brotherhood, and you want to go find him and kick him right in his genial nuts.
But before that rage-inducing ending we begin with Lydia making a very proper inspection of Todd and Uncle Jack’s operation. The meth that Todd’s been cooking isn’t bad—76% pure, far beyond what any of Lydia’s swinging Czech customers had experienced before Heisenberg’s blue crystal came into town. But, still, 76% is nowhere near the 99.1% of Walt’s product. Even worse, it’s not even blue. You had one job, Todd—one job.
Lydia was once in over her head, but—like Walter White before her—she’s become very adaptable. She’s even willing to indulge Todd’s school-boy crush on her, if that’s what it takes to get the product up to snuff. But after she leaves him in awestruck puppy love, gingerly touching the lipstick mark left on her tea cup, he gets the call we saw Walt make at the end of last week’s episode, and our darkest fears are confirmed: Walter White has ordered Jesse Pinkman’s death.
Last week also left us hanging on Jesse’s new plan—wherever it was that he had determined was where Walt “really lives.” We learn quickly here that it’s his money. Jesse doesn’t know where it is, but he knows who might—Saul’s bodyguard Huell. Hank and Gomey take him to a DEA safehouse to scare him a bit, and Huell keeps his poker face up until Hank shows him a (faked) picture of Jesse with his brains splattered on the ground. The big man cracks and spills every single thing he knows about Walt hiding his barrels of money (“Seven barrels?” Hanks asks in wonder).
Ultimately, Huell’s confession leads to a dead-end—they’re able to find which rental place Walt’s van came from, but there is no GPS on the van (thank you very much, ACLU), so there’s no way of telling where in the hundreds of miles of desert surrounding ABQ Walt may have buried the cash. But, as Hank says, Walt doesn’t know there’s no GPS on that van, and he (correctly) surmises that Walt would be driven to a blind fury at the idea of losing his money—enough for him to suspend disbelief and lead them directly to the cash. It works.
Jesse sends Walt a photo of a barrel of cash (faked, by the very spot that the Whites and the Schraeders used to have their family cookouts) and tells him he’s going to burn it all unless Walt shows up and, in fact, he’s getting a head start, burning $10,000 bundles every minute until he gets there. “Fire in the hole, bitch!”
Walt goes apoplectic and weaves through traffic on his way to meet him. As he does, he screams at Jesse until his throat is ragged that everything—everything—he did, killing the drug dealers, Emilio and Crazy-8, and even poisoning little Brock, was to save Jesse’s life as well as his own. “Only you’re too stupid to understand,” Walt snarls. And, in a way, he’s right.
Now that we’re nearing the end of our time with Walter White, it’s important to reflect back on why he began this journey in the first place. Every great character has at their heart a simple motivation, and for Walt that was always to provide for his family. As he has progressed through the series his egotism has caused complications for him and helped him justify some truly evil actions, but that basic drive has not changed. In fact, that need has only intensified as Walt dives further into his destructive alter-ego. For Walt, the money’s not just money, it’s the living proof that he has a soul.
When Walt gets out to the desert he finds no one waiting on him, and suspects that Jesse is hiding out waiting to kill him. He hides behind a rock and calls Uncle Jack, giving him his coordinates so that the Nazi cavalry can come to his rescue. But just then a van pulls up and out steps Hank—the very last person Walt would ever have suspected Jesse would go to. Earlier in the episode, as he meets with Uncle Jack to work out details of the hit, Walt bristles at the idea that Jesse may be ratting on him. “Jesse’s like family,” Walt insists, to Todd’s burning jealousy, and family just doesn’t do that. Walt, realizing that Hank has recorded his call and gotten the full confession he needs to tie Walt to his crimes, meekly calls off the hit and surrenders to his fate.
So here, finally, is the end for Walter White—meth kingpin of the Southwest. Trapped. Betrayed. As Hank reads him his Miranda rights—savoring every syllable of it—Walt glowers at Jesse. “Coward.” The most remarkable thing about this moment, which has been coming for so long, is that every character in the scene (expect Gomey, because who cares? He’s stupid Gomey) is right by their own code and wrong by another. Hank is right to abhor the man that Walt has become, and right to try to keep his family safe from him, but in his grandstanding “spiking the football” behavior, every bit as egoistic as Heisenberg asking Declan to “say my name.” Jesse is a criminal as well, and by that code is “wrong” to snitch on Walt to save himself, but right that Walt has gone too far. Walt is wrong in his actions but, as the last few episodes have made abundantly clear, acted out of obligation and maybe even love. Hate the sin, love the sinner, they say—and in one way or another, we are able to love all of these characters. And then the trucks roll in.
Uncle Jack’s crew comes anyway because of course they do, Walter! Jack doesn’t care if Jesse dies, Jack cares about his operation. And if keeping that preening dickhead Walter White safe is going to be good for Jack’s bottom line, then that’s what’s going to happen. So here the episode ends, with Walt shackled, unable to call off the hounds of hell that he has unleashed on his own family. Bullets fly, Walt panics, and Vince Gilligan walks around Los Angeles all day reflexively covering his privates.
Season Five, Episode Thirteen