With an ongoing series of cold openings and thrilling twists, Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan has done enough to merit the nickname M. Night Gilligan, though this week’s episode alone was more skilled than any Shyamalan move in recent memory. This week’s opening involved a boy on a motorbike picking up a tarantula in the desert, and just before he speeds off, we can hear a train whistle. The stage for a heart-pounding Western is set.
All that is promptly forgotten, though, when activity turns back to the White homefront. We see Walter, again in a move that parallels his predecessor Fring, stroll into Hank’s DEA office. He promptly breaks down, causing the emotionally timid Hank to leave the room and freeing up time for Walt to place a keylogger and bug in his office. And, wow, has Walter gotten his acting down over the past few seasons. It is pretty clear that he is the only challenger to Bryan Cranston’s Emmy threepeat. Unfortunately, Walt left his fingerprints all over the keylogger and bug, and as far as the audience knows, he never picked them back up. In the office of a newly-minted “Assistant Special Agent in Charge,” this was a risky move.
A less risky move was trusting Hank and Marie with Holly and Walt Jr. Hank muses how they wish they could keep Holly with them, which may be an all-too tempting offer for ever-recovering kleptomaniac Marie. Walt Jr., aka Flynn aka “Emo McGee”—a name lovingly bestowed upon him by Hank—is still sulking about his move and being kept out of the loop, but by the way Marie offers him lasagna, it’s clear she understands the way to Walt Jr.’s heart. A few good breakfasts and her parenting might just win him over. And it looks like it will have to, for in the White household Skylar makes a bargain with Walt that the keeps would be staying at the Schrader’s until she knows they are safe.
With the Skylar problem at a temporary resolution, the meth problem still remains—specifically, the methylamine problem. Lydia, as you may recall from last episode, freaked upon discovering a GPS tracking device on one of the tubs of methylamine she was planning on moving with Jesse. Mike has acted on his suspicion that it was planted there by Lydia, and now he, Jesse, and Walter have her captive while they try to figure out whether her “Meryl Streep” performance is genuine. And, as it turns out, it is. Unfortunately, their method of finding this out—forcing Lydia to call Hank, causing him to inquire about the GPS tracker to others, and then listening in with the bugs Walt placed—still means that the warehouse’s methylamine is too hot to touch.
They come up with another plan: a train heist. A now more cooperative Lydia informs the trio about a certain dead zone wherein they can stop and hose the methylamine from the train. After Mike tried to explain to Walter that he is not Jesse James,1 Jesse remarks on the plan “…so like Jesse James?” But the plan is a little bit more difficult, as Mike tells them, because they can leave absolutely no witnesses.2 Nevertheless, they manage (well, mainly Jesse, once again coming up with an idea while Mike and Walt argue) to engineer a plan that would avoid witnesses.
And it goes off without a hitch. Besides a good Samaritan that makes the heist a bit more stressful than need be, Walt & Co. steal all the methylamine they intended: 920 gallons. “& Co.”, though, has grown, and now includes pest control/former-thief Todd, who bears a resemblance to Matt Damon.3 Jesse and Walt briefed him on the plan, with Walt looking upon Jesse almost as a proud father, but the brief ominously ended with this exchange.
Jesse: “The point is, no one, other than us, can ever know that this robbery went down. Nobody. Got it?”
Todd: “Yeah, absolutely.”
Walt: “Are you sure?”
Todd: “Yes, sir.”
Todd follows through on this exhortation. And while it seemed like Walter’s hubris was going to be problematic (like when they were outside the evidence room, like when he was ignoring Mike’s storyline in “Madrigal”), the actual problem arises from Todd doing as he was told, for the cold opening comes full circle at the end of this episode. The boy on the motor bike emerges to catch Walt, Jesse, and Todd celebrating their tense, successful heist. With a slight wave, Todd immediately acts, pulling out his gun and shooting the child, resulting in one of the most anxious episode closings of the season. Standing behind Todd, Jesse screams “no” and Walt doesn’t flinch.
The theme through this season has been about children as the new religion. That is, in the gray reality of Breaking Bad, the sanctity of children is unquestioned, except by the truly evil. The use of children was behind the fissure between Gus and Jesse/Walt, and it was the poisoning of a child that looks to be the point of no return for Walt—the moment his Heisenberg alter-ego fully took over. Yet while Walt has broken so bad as to violate the innocence of children, other characters still respect it: Skylar has been almost one-dimensional this season in her desire to protect her offspring, while Mike does not kill Lydia out of respect for her love for her children, and Lydia herself demands that Walt swear—not to God, but—on his children’s lives.
Todd does not respect children, and he is so far associated with Walter, Jesse, and Mike that his problems are their problems. They have 920 gallons of methylamine and the blood of a child on their hands.
1Mike: “Just because you killed Jesse James, does not make you Jesse James.”
2Mike: “Bottom line, I’ve done this long enough to know there are two kinds of heists: ones where they get away with it, and one’s where there are witnesses.”
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