Tuesday, 14 August 2012

BREAKING BAD, 5.5 – 'Dead Freight'

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

It begins with a lone kid on a dirt bike, riding across the peaceful desert, stopping to collect a tarantula in a jar; blissfully unaware he's yet to meet the environment's real danger that needs containing. "Dead Freight" had a beautiful bookend that packed a raw punch, no doubt about it, but the majority of the hour was another fizzy Breaking Bad escapade—which are something of a throwback to the earlier seasons, only the stakes are now far higher and success more critical.

Lydia (Laura Fraser) was facing a bullet to the head after her stunt with the GPS tracker she attached to a barrel of methylamine, but in trying to reverse the damage Mike (Jonathan Banks) actually discovered that she was telling the truth and really was innocent of any wrongdoing. Some of Hank's (Dean Norris) DEA pals tagged the barrel on a whim. It was a little reminder that Mike's gut is prone to mistakes, and also confirms that Lydia's too frightened to dare step out of line now.

I thought it was very interesting to see Walt (Bryan Cranston) interacting with Hank at work, ostensibly because he needs a shoulder to cry on about his on-the-rocks marriage. For awhile during their exchange in Hank's new office, you sensed that Walt really does value his brother-in-law's support and advice, as the two men have a surprisingly decent relationship—despite their differences. But is that just an illusion, as Gus Fring's relationship with Hank's own predecessor was? When the scene delivered its twist, and we realised Walt's emotional breakdown was calculated to make Hank leave the room, giving him the opportunity to install a listening device behind a family photo, it reminded me that Walt's behaving very much like Gus did in public. The

There were some good character beats in this episode, like another scene between Walt and Skyler where the possibility of endangering their children came up once again. Considering Walt's unyielding attitude about the idea of sending Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and Holly to Hank and Marie's permanently last week, it was a slightly surprise to see him acquiesce to Skyler's repeated demand here. Maybe he's had time to sleep on it, and realises it's better to be safe than sorry where his children are concerned, or he just knows he needs the keep Skyler sweet if she's the one with the important job of laundering the money he's about to make through the car wash.

But most of "Dead Freight" was built around the robbery of a train carrying a tanker of methylamine through the state, during which time it'll cross "dark territory" and be out of communication range with its base. An elaborate plan was hatched, to stage a breakdown over the track and force the train to stop, allowing Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Vamanos Pest employee Todd (Jesse Plemons) to siphon the train's methylamine and replace it with water. A perfect robbery, as there will be no weight disparity between weigh-in stations, and the eventual discovery will be blamed on the methylamine's source in China. I wasn't convinced this plan was entirely plausible, mainly because it relied on them somehow knowing exactly which of the containers has the methylamine inside (and it just so happened to be the one nearest their trestle bridge hideaway), but for the most part it felt convincing. The sequence was rather extensive and did a good job selling the tension with its pulsating music, although success was never really in doubt. Only three episodes till the halfway point of the final season and they're going to fail in an attempt to steal 1,000 gallons of methylamine? It wasn't likely, but kudos to writer/director George Mastras for managing to make failure feel possible.

It's that ending that lingers, though. The aforementioned dirt biker had been forgotten about by the time he made a last-scene reappearance, having witnesses the operation that robbed the train of its consignment. The killing of children has always been the taboo in the world of Breaking Bad, reaching back to the days when Gus had a young boy killed for disobedience. Last season's reveal that Walter secretly poisoned young Brock was shocking because infanticide (even attempted) was a line he'd never have crossed before that point of desperation was reached. Loaded with these feelings from the show's history, having Todd calmly shoot the dirt bike kid dead will have fascinating repercussions. Jesse protested before the bullet was fired, to no effect, so will he refuse to work alongside Todd from hereon in? Is he out altogether on principle? Has Walt's soul blackened so much that he'll rationalise Todd's action as a tragic but necessary evil? Thinking ahead more, how will news of a local boy's disappearance affect Walt's clarity of thought? He's convinced himself things will be different under his watch, but already things are crumbling? I guess Skyler's comment about Walt burying dead bodies was close to a premonition.

"Dead Freight" was a brilliant episode, in a season that's having ghoulish fun without Gus Fring's portentous cloud of doom hanging over everything. As much as I loved them, season 3 and 4 were often very gruelling to watch, whereas season 5 has restored an energy and zip reminiscent of season 1 and 2. But that doesn't mean Breaking Bad is shying away from making tough decisions and twisting its characters into excruciating psychological knots. Far from it. I can't wait to see the fallout to the spider-loving kid's demise, as a true innocent unwittingly caught in Mr White's web...


  • Did you notice Walt's the only person calling Walt Jr by that name now, with Skyler having gone back to Flynn again? A clever way of showing that Skyler doesn't even want her husband's name associated with her son these days.
  • I liked Walt's nonchalant confession to Skyler that he's "robbing a train", after she half-heartedly jokes that he's been out burying dead bodies, which is an admission he'd never have made so freely just a season ago.
  • There was lots of foreshadowing of the climax in this episode, too: Mike's comment that heists consist of people who get away with it, and those who leave witnesses; and Lydia attempting to find some common ground with Walt by discussing his kids.
  • What's with all the movie references this season? Scarface and Three Stooges footage last week, and now Hank's mentioning Heat on Blu-ray. Is this foreshadowing a threesome (Mike, Walt, Jesse) ensnared in a mash-up of Scarface and Heat come the series finale next summer?

written & directed by George Mastras / 12 August 2012 / AMC