Tread Lightly: Breaking Bad Final Season Premiere Recap “Blood Money”
“There is nothing left to do but try to live ordinary, decent lives”
Poor Carol. All she ever wanted out of life was to enjoy the simple things—watering her garden, unloading groceries from her car, and enjoying the relatively steady rise of her property values. And then the man next door—Walter, the teacher—began throwing pizzas on his roof and receiving visits from well-dressed Mexican gentlemen holding glittering axes, and it turned out that he was actually the kingpin of the largest drug cartel in the Southwest. Heisenberg they called him.
Carol may be far down the list of the people that Walt has wronged during his two-year ascent to the top of Albuquerque’s drug scene, but she’s on there. Top of the list, arguably, is Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank Schraeder, who has dedicated himself to tracking down the mysterious Heisenberg, only to realize that he’s been under his nose all this time. We rejoin Hank (after he flushes, we can only hope) moments after his realization, as the old panic sets in behind his eyes and he rushes Marie out the door, only to have a full-blown panic attack while driving that sends him crashing into someone’s front yard. He grasps the man’s white picket fence as his vision wavers in and out of focus. It’s a perfect symbol for the death of his own vision of Walt, Skyler, and maybe even mankind in general.
To Hank, there were certain people who could conceivably be involved in the drug underworld—your Tortugas, your Badgers, your Jesse Pinkmans. To find that straight-laced Gus Fring was running a cartel out of his fast food joint was a surprise, but this is a violation. Hank’s panic is an important counterpart to Walt’s calm. Walt has been able to rationalize his every action, while Hank is brought to his knees by the idea that such evil could infiltrate his family. Hank represents the fear that Walt buried to accomplish his ever-changing goals.
If Hank is Walt’s fear, then Jesse is his guilt personified—a sort of “Picture of Dorian Gray” that withers as the powerful Heisenberg rises. Since Jane’s death in Season Two (about a year ago in the show’s timeline) Jesse has been in some form of denial, amplified by his murder of Gale Boetticher and the loss of Mike Ehrmantraut, who (once he stopped recommending that Walt kill him, anyway) was about the only person in the course of the series—including his parents, Walt, and even Jane—to have Jesse’s best interests at heart. The official story that Jesse has been given is that Mike successfully disappeared with his cut, but Walt’s brutal, simultaneous, dispatch of ten potential DEA informants connected to the Fring empire has shown Jesse just how far Walt will go to protect himself, and Mike was a clear liability.
After Jesse tries to give away his share of their millions to Kaylee, Mike’s granddaughter, Walt shows up at his house to deny any complicity in Mike’s death (except for the part about shooting him in the gut for absolutely no reason). “I need you to believe this,” Walt tells him—commands, really. It’s not a denial, it’s another attempt to control what Jesse believes and keep him in the corner he needs him to be in. But Jesse’s expression, and even his droopy lids (an Ehrmantraut trademark), make it clear that this time he’s not buying Walt’s bullshit.
Jesse presents a bit of a story puzzle for the writers. He’s been an inactive force for so long that we need to believe that there’s something out there that can motivate him into action again. There are so many lies that Walt has convinced Jesse to believe that the unraveling of any of them could bring the two to blows again, like they were in Season Four—and there are plenty of places that Jesse could learn the truth. Todd knows what really happened to Mike, Saul and his bodyguard Huell know what really happened to little Brock, and Walt knows what really happened to Jane.
In this episode Jesse winds up playing Robin Hood with the money, once he realizes he can’t possibly give it to either Kaylee or the parents of little Drew Sharp, the curious boy that Todd shot in the aftermath of the train heist, throwing it into random yards in the ghetto. It’s an act likely to draw attention, likely to bring Walt to his front door again, and drive a wedge even further between the two.
Meanwhile, life is good for Walter White. He’s been out of the game for a month, and enjoying dinner with his family (Walt Jr. has at some point ditched breakfast, further proof of the series’ dedication to bold character development) and work at the car wash (“have an A-1 day!”). Sure, he’s still got Lydia coming around his business begging him to cook one more time (a request he dismisses with the smiling, professional façade of one Gutavo Fring), but that is distinctly “none of his concern”. And his cancer is back, but maybe—just maybe, that’s what Walt wanted all along, back when he was so sure that the disease would take his life. He secretly attends chemo sessions, watching the IV bag drip chemicals into his body with the steady leak of an hourglass.
Once, all that Walt wanted was to fade away into a dignified death and provide financial security for an admiring family. The hollowed-out wreckage of the White home in the flash-forward, though, shows just how much Walt will fail in that goal. But in the present, Walt seems to be dedicated to living what he describes to Jesse as an “ordinary, decent life”. He sneaks away from dinner to pop chemo pills and vomit—and that’s when he discovers that Leaves of Grass is missing. Unable to sleep, making connections between Hank’s sudden illness at the barbecue, his not going to work for a week, and that book—that goddamn trophy—he walks outside to check underneath his car. Sure enough—there’s a GPS tracker placed underneath, similar to the one that Hank had Walt place under Fring’s car. Walt takes a panicked look down the street. After a year of scrambling to keep his illegal business away from his home it has finally, definitively, caught up with him.
That would be as good a place as any to end a first episode—there’s motivation, setup of arc with season-long potential, and even a remarkable riff on Star Trek featuring Badger and the multi-faceted Skinny Pete (who really deserves the spin-off instead of Saul). But Breaking Bad doesn’t take half-measures.
Walt shows up to Hank’s place to check up on his old buddy. “How are you feeling?” he asks with cheery concern. The two men talk about potato salad and car washes—everything but drug empires. Hank’s sadness betrays what he knows, but he doesn’t spill it. Walt turns to leave, but he can’t leave well enough alone. He walks back and pulls the GPS out of his pocket. “You wouldn’t know anything about this, would you?” he asks with as much innocence as he can muster.
Then Hank closes the garage door and delivers the most satisfying punch ever straight into the smug face of Walter White. It knocks him into the garage door and sends his glasses flying. Hank grabs Walt by the collar and rages “All along, it was you…I’m going to put you under the jail.” Walt plays his last card, “My cancer’s back,” he tells Hank. Hank says, “Rot, you son of a bitch,” but he flinches. The part of Hank that doesn’t want this to be true remembers that Walt is human after all, and still family. He tells Walt that if the kids stay with him and Marie maybe some arrangement can be made, but the mere suggestion of taking his children away causes the Walter White mask to slip off. “That’s not going to happen,” Heisenberg sneers. Hank’s eyes are alive with fear as he chokes out, “I don’t even know who I’m talking to right now.”
“If that’s true … then maybe your best course,” Walt answers with deadly calm, “ would be to tread lightly.”
The episode ends on this stunning moment, leaving both sides of the chess match to ponder their next move, but this much is clear: to his family, to his friends, and to his neighbor’s property values—Walt is the danger.
Season Five, Episode Nine
“Blood Money”: A