Tuesday, 10 September 2013

BREAKING BAD, 5.13 – 'To'hajiilee'

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

written by George Mastras | directed by Michelle MacLaren

I have a constant feeling of sickness in my stomach whenever I watch Breaking Bad now, and it's getting worse as we approach The End. This ache is something to be grateful for, because I'm so conflicted about what's happening to all the characters. Should I follow my head or heart when it comes to deciding whose side I'm on? Is there even a "side"? Obviously Walt (Bryan Cranston) is the villain of the piece, and yet I find it difficult to hate him because he's the lead character whose downward spiral we've witnessed. I understand Walt, even if his actions are sometimes hard to sympathise with. Jesse (Aaron Paul) is established as the flawed hero with a stronger moral compass, and yet seeing him take delight in helping bring Walt down leaves a bad taste in my mouth. He would likely be dead if it wasn't for the fact Walt's morals have always been malleable. Theirs is an acrimonious split worthy of Jesse James and Robert Ford, and I keep praying for a reconciliation of some kind. More fool me? Hank (Dean Norris) is the hero, but because the show's told the majority of its story from the perspective of "the villains", it's not always easy to find catharsis in moments when Hank Schrader outsmarts Walter White.

"To'hajiilee" was a superlative episode that left me breathless as the tension tightened on several occasions. This was the moment when Jesse's idea to catch Mr White was set in motion, and it was a plot worthy of the infamous Heisenberg himself. Tricking poor Huell (Lavell Crawford) into revealing Walt moved his millions in plastic barrels, then making a deductive leap he would have buried them in the desert, before drawing Walt back to the site of his treasure by threatening to burn said fortune (using a faked photo of an unearthed barrel in Hank's back garden), was a beautiful sequence of lies and deception. Considering Walt's always been the character several steps ahead of everyone else, or able to squeeze out of seemingly impossible situations when he isn't, it was a humbling experience to see his protege Jesse outmatch him. The student truly became the master.

A number of things had been predicted about this episode's events, but it was nevertheless wonderful to see them play out. Lydia (Laura Fraser) had Todd (Jesse Plemons) cooking meth to a reasonable 76% purity, albeit minus the iconic blue hue, and Uncle Jack's (Michael Bowen) price for agreeing to kill Jesse was for Walt to teach them how to improve their cook. From there, it was a joy to watch Walt and Hank set their plans in motion—and one has the feeling Walt would have won, had it not been for the fact he was unaware Jesse was working with his brother-in-law. If only he'd known that fact, I doubt the trick with the barrel of money would have worked, but it was a key piece of intel Walt wasn't aware of. His own plot, to lure Jesse out by reaching out to his ex-girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios), might have worked if Hank wasn't intercepting Jesse's calls and shielding him from Walt's manipulations. The scene where Walt visited Andrea and Brock was also a welcome nod to a wrinkles of the show's past I didn't think we'd revisit, and I loved how it was subtly suggested Walt had poisoned Brock's cereal—which answered a previously unexplained question from season 4.

Few shows hold my attention as tightly as Breaking Bad at its best, and this episode refused to let go. The sequence with Walt high-speed driving to the site of his buried money while on the phone with Jesse, unaware he's being tracked by his phone's GPS, was a high octane jolt to the heart. It was beautifully directed by Michelle MacLaren, too, as Walt's car tore through the streets of Albuquerque and out into the lonely desert. And then the final confrontation: with Walt realising he'd been deceived, then deciding to call in Uncle Jack's gang to kill Jesse and his accomplices as a last-ditch effort, before realising Hank's amongst them and calling the assault off and accepting his fate. It was a fascinating character moment, as it showed that while Walt's ethics have slipped over time, family is family... and therefore Hank's untouchable.

I think most viewers would have guessed Uncle Jack wouldn't take no for an answer, seeing as he so desperately needs Walt back cooking meth again, and would arrive for a shoot-out just as Walt had been arrested... but it was still an astonishing piece of television. Walt coming out from behind his rock, being read his rights and only replying with a terse "coward" directed at Jesse; and the happy look on Hank's face as he phoned in the good news to Marie (Betsy Brandt).... and that was before the bullets started to fly, leading to a smash-cut to black as we wait for next week's aftermath.

Is Hank going to be killed, three episodes before the end of the series? That would be a very brave and unanticipated move, and it might actually happen. It would certainly spin things off in a fascinating new direction, as Marie would know something must have happened to her husband if he doesn't return home with Walt in handcuffs. I have a suspicion Jesse's going to be safe, so Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) is the most likely casualty of his gunfight, if the writers needs a notable death that doesn't scupper the 'Hank vs Walt' dynamic they've been relying on this half-season. Obviously Walt's going to survive, having seen the flash-forwards, but does it feel like that future's taking place in a world where Uncle Jack's cronies shot Hank dead despite Walt yelling at them not to? I'm not so sure.

Tense, gripping and sickening in equal measure. "To'hajiilee" was a stunning episode of a great drama that's winding up its story in the best way imaginable. There's only three episodes left, and while the flash-forward device has added certainties about Walt's future, I'm keen to learn specifics about Walt's existence a year on, and why he's back in town under an assumed name with a machine gun and vial of ricin.

  • It was fun to have a scene between Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) at the Car Wash, as those characters haven't met before now. It also amused me that Walt Jr sees Saul as a local celebrity and spent most of their interaction just grinning at his presence. How little he knows. I hope we get a scene where Walt Jr's finally let in on a few secrets, because it will be fun seeing his mind explode.
  • Interesting parallel that both Lydia and Skyler push the power of brand marketing in this episode; Lydia with blue being essential to the sales of their meth, and Skyler with her "have an A1 day" farewell to Car Wash customers.
  • The scene where Walt entered Andrea's house and walked past Brock eating his cereal was also noticeable for the sideways looks Brock kept giving Walt. It was almost as if he knows his recent sickness had something to do with him, or at the very least can smell a rat. An innocent child's intuition.
  • How cool that Todd's ringtone is Thomas Dolby's 'She Blinded Me with Science'. Science!
8 September 2013 | AMC