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Breaking Bad Recap ‘Dead Freight’

By on August 13, 2012

Todd (Jesse Plemmons) changes the game, as Jesse (Aaron Paul) looks on in horror (Image © AMC).

“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.

Breaking Bad
Season Five, Episode Five
‘Dead Freight’: A-


  1. Donald McCarthy

    August 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    What was brilliant was that they set it up to make it seem like Walt or Mike might have to off Todd since he was asking a lot of questions, kept being told how no one could know about this, and, of course, wasn’t a main character.

    When I saw the “V” rating I said to myself, “Either Lydia is killed or Todd is killed.” When it was clear Lydia was safe I figured Todd was a goner and they’d have to figure out a way to explain his death to the insect exterminators.

    I never expected him to shoot that kid. That was a genius reversal and one which made me actually gasp aloud, something I haven’t done while watching a show since the Boardwalk Empire season finale. After having everything go right for him, this season feels like it’s now shifting into a downward spiral towards the end of the show (coming in 2013, sadly- damn you for making us wait AMC!).

  2. TJ Burnside Clapp

    August 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    This story was utterly gripping – so much so that I had completely forgotten about the little kid from the teaser until he showed up right at the end. And WOW, what a shocker to end the episode!

    I also thought they might be getting ready to kill off Todd, but this is a much better dramatic choice. The fact that Todd killed the kid kept Walt from having to do it, which he would certainly have been ready to do, based on his past actions – except for having to do it in front of Jesse! You could see almost see the wheels spinning in Walt’s brain … if he shoots the kid, he reveals his true nature to Jesse, which means Jesse would almost certainly figure out that Walt was the one responsible for Brock’s poisoning, and Walt would lose all that manipulative psychological control over him that he’s worked so hard for. But then – BLAM! Todd takes care of it all for him.

    This show is so wonderfully twisted. I really can’t wait for the next one.

  3. Matthew Guerruckey

    August 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I did see the ending coming, but I couldn’t tell exactly how it was going to play out, which I think is a testament to the brilliance of the writing. I knew the kid would show up, but when–during the operation, afterwards, after it had gone terribly wrong? I kept waiting for Mike to see him from his watch post.

    I honestly thought his death would happen from an accident. I thought that it was a possibility that Todd would kill him, just because of how explicit the “no witnesses” instruction was given to him, but also because we don’t know much about Todd yet. It’s a pretty cold-blooded way to truly “introduce” a character. I didn’t think they’d kill him off before we knew what he was about. Now we do.

    I agree that this sets up an end game, if not for the series as a whole quote yet, than at least for the Walt/Jesse partnership. Walt’s going to be very pragmatic about this, but Jesse is going to flip the hell out (and so will Mike). Season Five just went from very deliberate and measured to out of control.

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