Tuesday, 4 September 2012

BREAKING BAD, 5.8 - 'Gliding Over All'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

They could happily rename this show Broken Bad now. The mid-season finale of season 5 was a remarkable hour of drama, shot through with involving and unexpected consequences. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) still has his supporters amongst the show's fan-base, but it's surely impossible to sympathise with him after the slaughter he conducted here. The proverb says "the darkest hour is before the dawn", so it was perfect that once Walt started to see the light and turn away from his drug-making, to make amends with Jesse (Aaron Paul) and rebuild his marriage to Skyler (Anna Gunn), his leg was caught in a snare that's laid dormant for awhile. And it was all courtesy of the late Gale Boetticher; arguably the first regrettable casualty of Walt's Heisenberg persona.

To begin with, it was fascinating to see Walt on the rise for once, unencumbered by anything or anyone. After killing Mike in a moment of petty outrage last week (who else thought it especially tragic Mr Ehrmantraut ended up dissolved in a drum?), Walt was quick to tie-up Mike's loose ends. The ten arrested men who could blow the lid on his operation were cruelly dispatched in a two-minute window of opportunity and sickening violence; knifed or set aflame on Walt's orders by paid goons behind various prison walls, as he calmly counted the minutes on the expensive wrist-watch Jesse bought him for his birthday. (So that was its significance.) It's impossible to view Walt in the same light again. There may be a rationale for everything he does (he isn't a psychopath), but this is a man who, in the space of only a year, has gone from milquetoast chemistry teacher fleeing through the desert in his underwear... to the cold, calculating initiator of multiple murder. The fact the evolution of Mr White hasn't felt rushed or utterly implausible is Breaking Bad's finest accomplishment, and reason enough to hand an Emmy to Bryan Cranston.

And yet, the chance of atonement was offered and eventually grasped for by Walt. A fantastic montage made it very clear that Walt's business is running like clockwork; cooking meth undetected with Todd (Jesse Plemons) in their itinerant fumigation tents, and opening up overseas trade thanks to Lydia keeping herself useful by shipping meth to the lucrative Czechs. As baby Holly was learning to walk, her father's own infancy as a drug lord was over. He was the new Gus Fring and all his empirical dreams were coming true.

But once Skyler showed Walt the pile of money he's made in her secret lockup (too much to adequately launder via a humble car wash), reality started to sink in. How big did the pile have to get before he's satisfied? Later, three months after their acrimonious split, Walt even returned to clear the air with Jesse—reminiscing about their early days cooking meth from a shoddy RV—and left his erstwhile partner-in-crime his share of the money they made together. And then, Walt actually did the decent thing and told Skyler he's putting the meth business behind him and literally getting their family back together under one roof. I'm not entirely sure Walt could just step aside without some repercussions from the people who rely on him for his product, but maybe this will come into play when the show concludes next year. But the intention to return to normality was there, and you could tell by the way Skyler held her husband's gaze with a smile that she believes he's trying to make amends.

And that's when it happened. I was inordinately tense during the last scene with the Whites and Schrader's around the pool, knowing the writers will undoubtedly pull something to make audiences gasp, and they didn't fail in that respect. Wandering into the White's bathroom to use the toilet, Hank (Dean Norris), whose investigation of the Fring case was effectively over after the jail killings of every potential lead, idly started flicking through Walt's copy of "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman—and noted the inscription "To W.W. My Star, My Perfect Silence", written by Gale to Walt back in season 3. A phrase Hank remembers reading before, in Gale's own lab notebook found at his murder scene. The brief flashback to the season 4 moment where Hank joked W.W stood for Walter White, with Walt putting his hands up jokingly ("you got me") suddenly took on a whole new meaning... and the penny dropped for Hank that his brother-in-law's the notorious Heisenberg. The master cook he's been chasing for over a year.

So what happens next? The writers have eight more episodes to conclude this incredible five-year story, but it's hard to imagine it'll take that long for Hank to arrest Walt. He needs concrete evidence (is an inscribed book enough?), but Walt's likely going to be leading a normal life if the DEA start snooping into his activities. The same inconvenience befell Gus Fring in season 4, and he was able to continue presenting himself as a cooperative member of society, but I can't see Hank falling for the same trick twice. Can Walt fabricate a story to explain why he owns that book? I can't think of one myself. Hank probably won't want to bulldoze his way into pointing the finger at Walt, if only because it would cause irreparable damage to his family if he was proven wrong. But after what happened with Gus and Mike, what hope does Walt have if the DEA become suspicious of him? Is his only chance to eliminate Hank before he tells his colleagues about his theory? If so, how will he find out Hank knows before everyone else does?

"Gliding Over All" (the title of a Walt Whitman poem) was a magnificent halfway point for this season, it goes without saying. As usual, Breaking Bad is just so unpredictable. You can have your theories and, occasionally, you'll get a hit (we all knew Mike was doomed), but you can never quite pin the show down. It's too damned slippery... and yet, when certain things happen, like Hank's epiphany on the loo, it also feels so inevitable. I love that.

I genuinely have no idea how we can get eight more hours of this show, now Hank practically knows Walt is manufacturing the blue-meth, but the flashfoward from this season's premiere makes it clear Walt will be around approximately nine months later—albeit on the run, going by an assumed name, and buying a machine gun at a Denny's. Therefore, somehow, Hank isn't able to arrest and charge him in the near future... unless Walt had recently escaped from jail in that flashfoward and is a fugitive. I have no idea, and that's the real fun of this show. I bet even the writers don't know everything yet--which is part of the fun for them, too. I'm just glad they're talented enough to half-improvise stories without sacrificing too much plausibility along the way.

This was a fantastic way to halt the final season; although the wait for summer 2013 is going to be intolerable now. This episode was brilliantly directed by Michelle MacLaren (who pulled off two of the show's best ever montages) and succinctly written by Moira Walley-Beckett. I'm once again in awe at how far beyond every other TV show Breaking Bad is. My mind will fizz with questions and burn with theories for many months to come, but I'm sure what Vince Gilligan and his crew have in store will be several grades better.


  • There were various call-backs to past episodes here. The painting Walt recognised on the wall of the scumbags' house was on his hospital wall, for instance. The towel dispenser with the huge dent was from when he punched it after a cancer diagnosis. Another fly returned, reminding us of the episode "Fly", with Walt momentarily escaping the burden of his life by instead focusing instead on something small and inconsequential. And, of course, the ricin capsule Walt had left over from season 4 was almost used to kill Lydia—before she earned her usefulness again with an overseas business plan. I wonder who will be on the receiving end of that poison before the show is over. Hank? Nah, too obvious. Jesse?
  • Should we assume Walt's cancer is back after the MRI scan he was seen having here? Why else show him having one? He was popping pills in the premiere's flashforward, most likely to combat some of its effects.
  • I've heard it mentioned that this episode ended on a similar note to season 6 of Dexter because both had major characters realising the truth of a protagonist, but the big difference is that Hank's good fortune triggered a memory and enabled a deduction. On Dexter, Debra just blindly wandered into a "caught red handed" situation. The equivalent would have been Hank stepping into a fumigated house and seeing Walt standing there in his haz-mat suit and rubber gloves. Imagine the disappointment!
written by Moira Walley-Beckett / directed by Michelle MacLaren / 2 September 2012 / AMC