TV Review: BREAKING BAD 5.05 - "Dead Freight"
"Everyone sounds like Meryl Streep with a gun to their head."
With the fifth season of Breaking Bad broken into two discreet eight-episode runs, pacing and structure have been issues. The first four episodes have moved deliberately, slowly establishing a new world order for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), both in his criminal activities and in his domestic situation. For Walter, and Walter alone, they are one and the same.
In his review last week, our own Charles Webb observed: "What they're building is a monster in Walter White." I would add to that: He was already a monster, and he's becoming more monstruous with each passing moment.
We see that clearly in his meeting with brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), the newly-appointed head of the Albuquerque DEA office. Walter comes to him with a sob story that sounds absolutely sincere, in part because it's based on truth: Skyler 'doesn't love him any more.' She's convinced he's a 'bad element, a bad influence on his children.' Walter has become a much more convincing liar because he's learned, like all good actors, to draw from his own real-life experiences to inform his emotions. Hank is so convinced, he leaves Walter alone in his office to fetch him a cup of coffee, allowing Walter to reveal his true reason for visiting Hank: to plant a bug on his computer.
And the reason for that plant is revealed when Walter and his partners Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) "meet with" (i.e. threaten to kill) the always-nervous Lydia (Laura Fraser). Mike is convinced that Lydia planted a bug on a barrel of methylamine. It turns out that she's innocent of that particular crime, but Mike still wants to kill her, recognizing her as a loose cannon, despite her own acting performance, prompting Mike's observation quoted at the outset. Lydia saves herself, at least temporarily, by pointing to a bigger source of methylamine than the barrels in the warehouse that are now off-limits to the gang.
All they have to do is rob a train.
The episode, written and directed by George Mastras, who began on the series as story editor before moving up to producer, supervising producer, and now co-executive producer, is light on logic. The entire train robbery sequence is bound to fail from the moment we hear someone say, "Damn, you guys thought of everything!"
That someone is Todd (Jesse Plemons), from the pesticide / burglary crew in Episode 3. He's been drafted, presumably by Mike, to help the core gang, but it's not clear why Mike would choose someone he's never worked with before on a job that is potentially so fraught with danger. Mike isn't the type to take unnecessary risks; doesn't he know anyone else he can call upon, or are all of "his guys" -- save one, coming up -- locked up in prison now?
The robbery itself is based on the notion that the train will be out of touch from all communication for a three-mile stretch that just happens to include a crossroad, where Mike's one remaining guy -- actually Saul's guy, the fast-talker present when Skyler's former paramour Ted tripped over his own carpet -- has his truck stalled on the railroad track. (The notion itself sounds borrowed from Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.) (And, again, this is the guy Mike decides to use?)
Logic is further hampered by the idea that neither member of the two-man freight train crew would hear the noise of the robbery in the still of the desert air, about 800 feet away. Doesn't sound carry that far? Wouldn't they be suspicious?
And even before that sequence, we also have to buy the idea that Walter could plant a bug on Hank's computer in the DEA office without detection.
The show has taken leaps of logic before, in the name of excitement and impact, and I can't deny that, in the immediate aftermath of watching the show this morning, I was left in a daze. I wish, though, that the dramatic action sequence had better internal consistency, because the emotional pay-off would have been even stronger.
Other observations and questions:
-- Despite my concerns about the script, George Mastras did a fine job in his debut as director. I especially liked the cut from the green subterranean interrogation scene with Walter, Mike, Jesse, and Lydia to the warm, suburban pleasantries of Hank and Marie at home with Walter's infant daughter.
-- The opening sequence is nicely out of time; we don't know the identity of the boy -- I briefly thought it could be Jesse as a youngster -- or when it takes place, or even when, exactly, it would tie back into the show. It also reminded me of "Mandala," the chilling episode from Season 2 that features a mysterious boy on a bicycle.
-- Walter was smart enough to have prepared an explanation for Hank about the fancy new watch that he was wearing ("a gift for himself" that was actually from Jesse).
-- Last week, Charles expressed his hope that Walter and Lydia would meet, and possibly form some kind of alliance. They did meet here, and it was an interesting chess match, with Lydia trying to play on Walter's emotions as a parent, and Walter resisting her mightly -- at least for now.
-- Not to read too much into it, but I loved that Hank picked up Heat on Blu-ray and offered to watch it with Walter Jr. / "Flynn." Heat, of course, features a police detective and a master criminal who have a grudging respect for each other but won't hesitate to kill if necessary.
-- Mastras also does a great call-back to the scene in Episode 1 where Jesse came up with the idea of "Magnets!" As Walter and Mike argue, the camera pushes in on Jesse, sitting calmly and thinking. This time, he waits until a break in the argument, and then says, 'What if we make it look like the train was never robbed?', or words to that effect. Of course, the more that Jesse thinks about things, and develops a conscience that's more ill-at-ease with killing, the greater danger he poses to Walter.
-- Love that Walter puts on his Heisenberg hat when they're out in the desert, plotting the train robbery.
-- Skyler (Anna Gunn) makes a brief but effective appearance. She's regained her footing to a slight extent, having gone back to work, and expressing herself more clearly to Walt: "I'm not your wife, I'm your hostage." Exactly! She's resigned to whatever her fate might be, but she's not willing to sacrifice her children, and she's feeling sufficiently herself to note Walt's dirty jeans and ask him directly: "Out burying bodies?"
-- I wonder what ramifications will come of Walter finally laying down the law to Junior? Junior has (understandably) only blamed his mother so far, holding her responsibility for all the trouble in the household, and seemed to have bonded further with his father in the last episode. But he's moving toward seeing both of them as the problem, I think, and that's a fascinating avenue that can't be ignored.
What did you think of the episode?
Breaking Bad is in its fifth and final season and airs Sunday nights at 8 ET on AMC.