Monday, September 9, 2013

Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 13, “To’hajiilee”

This whole final season (in fact, much of the entire series) is like a five or six-way chess game, with characters making moves and counter-moves and thinking three turns ahead. Or perhaps a better analogy is that Walt is playing multiple games of chess at once, like a Bobby Fischer prodigy: currently, Walt’s game with Skyler involves keeping her placated by containing Jesse’s rage; his game with Jesse has always involved manipulating Jesse into doing what Walt wants; his game with Hank revolves around not getting caught, and he put Hank in check two weeks ago with his false video confession. This week, Hank and Jesse are maneuvering the pieces to try to nail Walt with evidence, while Walt sets up a defense, trying to flush out Jesse by contacting Andrea and Brock. Walt’s play with Andrea is a good one, and probably would have worked too, but Hank has foreseen it, and has preemptively put Jesse’s communication with the world on lockdown, snuffing out the threat.

This series of moves and countermoves finally seems to come to an end near the conclusion of this week’s episode (or it would have seemed to, had we not had a prior glimpse of the future); Walt’s luck has run out, his foresight having finally failed him, and there seems to be no more moves to play. Not only has he unknowingly given Hank the confession Hank wanted to get last episode when Walt talks to Jesse about killing Gus, Emilio, Krazy-8, and the two drug dealers he hit with his Aztek (doubtless Hank and Gomez were recording the phone call from Jesse’s end), but Hank has also tricked Walt into leading Hank straight to Walt's buried money, making all of Walt's nefarious actions for naught. When Walt realizes how thoroughly he’s been outplayed, he cancels the call for backup from Todd’s uncle Jack, sits back, and cries. Checkmate.

Jesse looks like he expects Walt to throw some fulminated mercury.
I’m glad that Hank gets to have a moment of triumph; he arrests Walt, gloats about tricking Walt into thinking Jesse knew where Walt's money was hidden with the fake photo of a barrel of cash, smugly asks where Walt has actually buried the money, and then reads Walt his Miranda rights. It’s a nicely cathartic moment for Hank, and one that also elevates Walt and Jesse to a higher level of animosity. Jesse is so thoroughly convinced of Walt’s cunning that he maintains a look of concern on his face even while Walt is complying with Hank’s orders to turn around and get on his knees. Jesse has seen Walt connive his way out tighter spots than this, and thus is anxious about being on the other side of a confrontation with Walt (rightly so, as it turns out). Jesse only begins to breathe easier when Walt gets on his knees and Hank takes out his handcuffs, and then Jesse also revels in Walt’s apparent defeat, spitting in his face after Walt calls him a coward.

However, this scene gets its true power from our already having knowledge that Walt will be free and toting a machine gun in the not-too-distant future. That is, this entire scene is suspenseful because we already know that this is not how it’s going to end for Walt; the entire time, I was left wondering how, exactly, Walt was going to get out of this jam (I suspected it might involve Todd’s uncle Jack, but I didn’t expect the militia to show up right then and there).* The militia arrives, and Walt screams adamantly at Jack to call off his rescue before the bullets start to fly. Suddenly, it seems, someone else has sat down at one of Walt’s chessboards and has started to make moves without Walt’s consent, moves that sacrifice pieces Walt isn’t willing to lose. Walt called Jack before he realized Jesse is working with Hank, but Walt gives up when he sees Hank get out of the car (thus Walt's tear). Walt might be reluctantly willing to kill Jesse, but killing Hank is still beyond the pale of what he's willing to do.

* The inevitability of Walt’s arrest going south for Hank is exacerbated by the bevy of “something is about to go wrong” tropes the show indulges in before the militia’s arrival: Walt is handcuffed in Hank’s car, looking utterly defeated; Gomez congratulates Hank; Hank calls Marie to tell her he got Walt, and that he loves her. It’s all rather pat and ominous, and felt to me like the one false note in an otherwise tense scene (although it does provide some plausibility by allowing the militia more time to arrive – they must live awfully close to the reservation where Walt buried the money to have gotten there so quickly). 

The scene leading up to this fantastic climax is also excellent, where Walt drives frantically to get to the place where he buried the money while talking to Jesse on the phone. Not only is Walt’s madcap driving excellently shot, but Walt and Jesse hit some nice dramatic beats as they yell at one another over their current impasse (something I was hoping they would have a chance to do prior to the show’s denouement). For instance, Jesse has finally graduated to calling Walt by his first name, rather than “Mr. White,” perhaps indicating better than anything (even more than Jesse’s video confession) how truly lost Jesse is to Walt. When Jesse calls Walt by his first name, he emphasizes it, as though it’s a greater sign of disrespect than calling him “bitch.” Jesse also makes Walt think he has Walt over a barrel (so to speak), and Jesse revels in it, cruelly pretending to burn Walt's money $10,000 at a time. The tables have truly turned; Jesse is finally manipulating Walt as ruthlessly and cruelly as Walt has manipulated him, and Jesse has just as strong an effect on Walt as Walt ever had on Jesse. This is as near to powerless as we’ve seen Walt since he eliminated Gus (perhaps even since he became Heisenberg), and his raw desperation is shocking. However, perhaps the greatest part of this scene is when Walt finally loses his self-control and yells at Jesse about how he killed all of those drug dealers to save Jesse just as much to save himself, concluding with, “Only you’re too stupid to realize it!” It’s Walt’s equivalent of telling Jesse he truly loved him, even though Jesse has now ruined everything. Jesse was right to tell Walt that he was going to hit Walt "where he really lives" (as Jesse did near the end of last week’s episode); Walt can live with poisoning children, killing people in prison, and working with child-murderers (Todd), but burning Walt’s money crosses his line in the sand.

Other thoughts:

- Todd’s clumsy attempt to hit on Lydia was pretty adorable. Or it would have been, if he wasn’t also a sociopath. As if we needed more evidence, we get a reminder of the disconnect between Todd’s “aw shucks” demeanor and his cold-bloodedness when he doesn’t bat an eye after Walt asks him to talk to Jack about taking out Jesse. Walt might as well have been ordering a latte, given how un-phased Todd is.

- Todd’s ringtone for Walt is “She Blinded Me With Science.” It’s a nice touch that speaks to the way in which Todd views Walt: a super-smart father figure. Science!

- Hank is a regular cell-phone picture artiste. First he stages the photo of Jesse and the brains to trick Huell, and then he stages the photo of the barrel full of money in the desert for Walt. The photos are hilariously bad (especially the one of Jesse, who is just lying next to the brain). It’s enough to trick Huell (who is dumb), but I was a bit skeptical when the second photo also tricks Walt (who is smart). I’m not complaining too much though, since Walt’s belief yields that fantastic car ride out to the desert.

- I’ve enjoyed the limited amount of Huell we’ve received over the years, but I would be very amused if the last we ever see of him is his being duped by Hank and Gomez into giving Hank a lead. It would be one tiny loose thread sticking out of the Breaking Bad tapestry, but I’m tickled by the idea that - for all we know - Huell sits in that safe house forever.

- Walt buried the money where he and Jesse first cooked meth. Walt's a sentimentalist at heart.

- Walt approaches Andrea with false pretenses about his concern for Jesse, but everything he tells her about his concern for him is true: they had an argument; Jesse is upset; he has been using drugs again, etc. Once again, Walt’s best lies are really close to the truth.

- Walt Jr. was given something else to do in this episode aside from eat breakfast! And he gets to have a scene with someone aside from Skyler, Walt, Hank, or Marie! Precedents are being broken left and right, it seems. R.J. Mitte plays this scene like he’s simply excited to get to act with Bob Odenkirk, more so than Walt Jr. being slightly star struck.

- Nice touch: a “Better call Saul!” billboard can be seen in the background of many shots in the scene where Walt and Saul talk outside of the car wash.

- This week in beautiful Breaking Bad imagery: everything involving Walt’s speedy chase into the desert, especially the wide-angle lens shot from behind Walt’s Cadillac has he runs red lights (shot from a chase car that must have been tailgating – it was like watching a live-action version of Grand Theft Auto), but also Walt weaving in and out of traffic, and the shots where the car drove over a camera in the road.

- Jack and his crew don’t seem to be very good shots in the firefight. Gomez is an obvious candidate for the role of “murdered innocent,” but surprisingly, no one appears to get hit, at least not yet (doubtless this will change quickly in next week's episode). Jack and the militia aren’t exactly showing a lot of foresight here either, as they are laying waste to the car containing their benefactor. Still, the image of Walt struggling to get as low as possible while the car gets perforated made for a thrilling end to the episode. It's yet another cliffhanger in what's turning out to be a marvelous final season.

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