And we’re back. Breaking Bad returned this week after a year-long mid-season break, and we’ve got the last word in recaps for the first episode (of the second half, making it episode 9 of the season), “Blood Money.” But warning, spoilers ahead…tread lightly.
The episode opens with the first flash-forward since the beginning of the season. We’re treated to the scene of the White’s condemned, decaying house. The pool is empty; skater punks are videotaping themselves riding in the abandoned backyard pool. Then the flash-forward Walt pulls up, presumably coming straight from the Denny’s, as we see the M60 machine gun in his trunk. He shimmies through the fence, past a City of Albuquerque warning sign.
Entering the house, it appears less of a crime scene and more of a ghetto. There’s graffiti on the wall reading “HEiSENBERG,” a bedroom door is kicked down, newspapers are scattered, and windows have been shuttered. The excessive spider webs makes it seem like this place has been abandoned for much longer than chronology suggests (approximately 10-11 months). But nonetheless, it still holds the longest Chekov’s gun in television history, that ever-lingering leftover vial of ricin, which Walt quickly retrieves. He pauses to reflect, as the cameras shatter his visage, turning his look into a twisted sneer. Walt then leaves, and even though he is seemingly low, his ability to coolly greet his neighbor Carol stinks of Heisenberg-like hubris.
Turning back to possibly the longest bathroom trip, after a slow, suspenseful track-in, Hank emerges in an anxious frenzy. He tilts down the hall, Leaves of Grass in hand, with the camera swaying along with him gratuitously—almost shaking with Hank’s impotent rage. And it is exactly that: Hank, a man of action, the man who beat Jesse Pinkman half-to-death, has no recourse at the moment but to leave. And upon leaving, his rage bubbles up into a crash-inducing, hospital-visiting anxiety attack. The direction perfectly captures the quick-onset tunnel-vision of panic, complete with anxious, violin drones reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. But ultimately, the takeaway (besides the very ominous way that Hank uses a knife—right by his wrists—to cut off an ER wristband) is that Hank definitely knows that Walt is Heisenberg, and he even begins comparing handwriting.
But at the same time, Walt definitely isn’t acting like Heisenberg. In fact, he’s getting along pretty well at work, focusing his boredom into small profit-increasing schemes and expanding the carwash. If anything, Skyler is in full command here. And she proves just that when Lydia arrives to try to get Walt back into the meth production business. Apparently, while Walt has been away, Todd the replacement cook has not been doing as well. And Lydia says she’s “backed into a corner.” Even when she insists that she’ll “make it worth his while,” Walt insists he’s just a carwash owner now, reminiscent of Walt’s earlier showdown with Gus at Los Pollos Hermanos. Either way, Skyler goes out of her way to make that Lydia is not welcome at this car wash or around her family. Here we see flashes of what we might call “Skysenberg.” Lydia runs away, but if she’s truly backed into a corner, she’ll be returning with some other way to pull Walt back in (and just when he got out).
While we then see a montage of Hank compiling the evidence, putting the pieces together, we go back to Jesse, who’s the same as ever. Literally. Besides his brief stint as Mike’s #2, Jesse has been miserable with this wealth and life, plagued by non-stop guilt. When he tries to give away five million dollars (half to Kaylee Ehrmantraut, half to the parents of Drew Sharp—the boy who Todd killed in the desert), Saul responds with exactly what the audience is thinking: “C’mon already.” Of course, Saul has no concept of charity, but his worrying sends Walt over to Jesse’s where they literally sit, divided on the couch by the $5,000,000. Jesse keeps it, but he later throws it out of his car at a poor neighborhood, like some kind of deranged newspaper boy. Jesse’s embodying what Mike drawled to Walt earlier in the season: “I’ve never seen someone try so hard not to make five million dollars.”
Walt’s still got some hold over Jesse, yes (or sort-of. Jesse doesn’t buy into Walt’s assurances that Mike is still alive), but he’s losing control of his body. We see him getting chemotherapy and later vomiting. In the scene, paralleling Gus after his drug cartel-poisoning, Walter hurls into the toilet before he can even kneel on a towel. What does this mean? It’s a minor detail, but it shows just how bad shape he’s in: Walt is losing control over his body, and his dignity. At the same time, he realizes he has lost his incriminating copy of Leaves of Grass. Connecting the dots, Walt realizes Hank is onto him and has placed a tracer on his car.
The episode reaches a climax as Walt visits Hank in his garage-turned Heisenberg debunking center. It is apparent from the files in Hank’s garage and his demeanor that he knows every last thing about Walt’s crimes, so Walt turns to exit the garage. Pausing, he flips into Heisenberg mode, and engages Hank about the GPS device. Walt, stuck within the confines of the carwash, couldn’t help himself here. It’s almost like he is drawn to conflict—well, he undeniably is, because his next comments draw a knock-out punch from Hank, who is still filled with bottled rage. Walt, however, puts on the mist. He moves from making logical arguments (you’ll destroy the family, no one will believe you) to emotional ones (mentioning that Hank will never see him in prison, he only has six months to live). This kind of quick-calculating argumentation is classic Heisenberg, but here he is still play-acting as family-man Walter White. When Hank wants to have Skyler leave Walt, Walt turns into full-Heisenberg. An ominous, almost imperceptible turn, that occurs when Hank remarks “I don’t know who I’m talking to,” Walt responds, “If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course, would be to tread lightly.”
The episode ends on that note, making for an altogether fascinating return to television for the series. Showrunner Vince Gilligan and gang have managed to wrap up half a season after a major twist in the storyline, and tie it all together and yet another anxiety-inducing cliff-hanger.
- Our favorite meth heads Badger and Skinny Pete have a fairly long discussion in Jesse’s house, that I can only imagine is rife with insight. (Star Trek fan Vince Gilligan has allegedly been waiting to insert this bit of Trekie fan fiction since season 1.) I’m cautious about reading too much into the characters of the pie-eating story (might Walt parallel Spock—who knows?), but any time Chekov is mentioned, it’s worth thinking how this idea/premise might come back. Specifically, early on, Badger and Skinny Pete indirectly touch on the age-old paradox of the Ship of Theseus when discussing Star Trek’s beaming. That is, when you take a person, and change his bits one by one, even if you end up with the same apparent person, is he really the same?
- A yellow RC car was being driven by a kid outside of Hank’s house during his showdown with Walt at the end of the episode. I’d bet anything that RC car is going to be run over at the start of episode 10.
- Walt insists he won’t live past six months to Hank. But we know he does, because of the flash forward. It’s a little perplexing, as we see Walt in the first flash-forward taking medication (presumably for cancer), yet he also has a full head of hair. Either he has stopped chemotherapy, or he has somehow beaten the cancer.
- I am very curious what flash-forward Walter has planned. Is he merely accruing weapons? Or does he have a grand plan? He moves with confidence, but what kind of plan could involve both an M60—a weapon of large chaos and destruction—and ricin—a poison that must be administered with precision?
- I believe Walt initially engaged Hank because he was looking for the challenge to break out of the dull, car wash life (after all, he was working at that place at the start of the series—it’s almost like nothing has changed). But when Hank insists that Skyler live with him and Marie, Walt fully adopts his Heisenberg alter-ego, cautioning Hank to tread lightly in what has to be one of the best subtle threats offered in the series. It’s important to note that while Walt was initially just looking for a thrill, he desperately does not want to let go of Skyler and his family. After all, she’s the entire reason he quit doing what he loved, cooking meth.
- Mirroring was all over the place. We have the example of Walter (above), but also Jesse and Hank have conflicted selves through the episode.
- I look forward to seeing how the “Ozymandias” connections, apparent in the flash-forward, are further drawn out.
Lastly, here’s a great cinemagraph via reddit user Eurobob: