Season 5, Episode Five: Dead Freight
“No one other than us can ever know that this robbery went down. Nobody. You got it?”- Jesse Pinkman
One of the most enduring things this show has done is to start off certain episodes with enigmatic, surreal or just downright perplexing cold opens. Season 2 was built around these non-sequitur teaser sequences, but each year has it’s fair share of them. This episode, the fifth episode in the final season, trumped anything the show has done to this point, and it did it by being as blank and meaningless as possible. The cold open in question features a young boy riding a dirtbike across the Desert of Opportunity. Apparently he’s looking for something. Sure enough, we find out that that something is a tarantula (he even brought a glass jar for it to live in). After he scoops up his new friend, he gets back on his bike and takes off into the desert. A train whistles in the distance. Well, that was illuminating, wasn’t it?
We pick up the episode proper with Walt launching his plan to figure out just who exactly has been bugging their methylamine shipments. He starts this off by paying a visit to the newly appointed ASAC Schrader in his office, where the former immediately begins crying and whining about how Skyler doesn’t love him anymore, while the latter jut as quickly recuses himself in an effort to escape what is surely one of the most awkward situations imaginable. As soon as Hank leaves, Walt springs into action, bugging his computer and leaving the microphone behind a loving photo of Hank and Marie. The next phase of the master plan involves taking Lydia to some sort of underground structure in an undisclosed location and, after subjecting her to some Ehrmentraut brand Bad Cop, Worse Cop, forces her to call up Hank and ask him if he bugged the barrels. To her credit, Lydia manages to question Hank without Hank questioning her, and, after Walt’s bugs pick up on the fact that it was the DEA office in Houston who was responsible, she does her best to convince Walt and Jesse not to kill her (“everyone sounds like Meryl Streep with a gun to their heads.”) Eventually, her promises of “an ocean” of Methylamine intrigues Walt to the point where he promises (on his children, apparently) that Mike won’t kill her.
Her “ocean?” a Madrigal chemical transport train from Long Beach that, after stopping in Flagstaff, passes through a three mile “dead zone,” where cell signals and automated signals cannot escape. Mike isn’t on board, for a multitude of reasons, least of which because they would have to kill the men on the train. While he and Walter argue over the logistics of the potential heist later at Jesse’s (in the second installment of “Two Angry Bald Guys Argue”), Jesse comes up with the brilliant idea of replacing the methylamine they take with water. We cut to Walt in full Heisenberg gear staking out a covered bridge inside the dead zone, with Mike and Jesse at his side. With the assistance of the Vamonos Pest boys, including Todd, (whom they explain the plan to while hammering home one simple tenet: no witnesses), they bury two giant tanks in the ground below the bridge: one for the methylamine they’re going to steal, and one for the water they’ll use to replace it. After a brief interlude at home, where Walter intimidates his son into going back to Hank’s and intimidates his wife for no reason at all, we’re back to the dead zone, and the plan is sprung.
Using Saul’s guy Kuby to stop and distract the train (by having him pretend to be a truck driver who’s ride has conveniently broken down on the tracks), they buy enough time for Jesse and Todd to set up the switch. In one of the longest and tensest scenes the show has done thus far, everything is going well, despite the variable presented by a friendly samaritan who happens upon the scene and offers to push Kuby’s truck out of the way and give him a ride back into town. Mike, acting as the lookout, orders Walt to withdraw, which of course Walt doesn’t do until he’s gotten his full 1,000 gallons from the tanker. Despite Walter’s procrastination, Jesse and Todd manage to escape, the former by hiding under the train while it passes, the latter making a daring leap from the moving train, a leap I was certain was going to kill him and provide yet another consequence of Walt’s hubris in a season dedicated to it. Thankfully, almost shockingly, neither Jesse nor Todd is hurt, and the heist has gone off nearly flawlessly. They’re back in business, and no one was seriously hurt. A truly victim-less crime.
They celebrate, Jesse calls the train a bitch, and Walt shuts off the motors providing the water pump. But the sound doesn’t go away. There’s still a motor on somewhere. They look around, and notice the strange little boy from the cold open sitting there on his dirtbike. A witness. After a few awkward seconds, he waves, and Todd waves back. Just some guys doing work on a train; a happy, coincidental meeting in the desert. A few more seconds pass, and Todd pulls out his pistol. No witnesses. He shoots the kid in the head. Jesse loses his shit. There are no victories in this business. There are no victimless crimes. Lesser shows might have given us at least a commercial break to process the catharsis that was the train robbery. Not Breaking Bad. We get barely even a minute before a child is murdered, barely even a minute before another of Walt’s victories destroys someone’s innocence. As Walt himself said in the last episode: “nothing stops this train.”
Season 5, Episode Six: Buyout
“My wife is waiting for me to die. This business is all I have left. All I have. And you want to take it away from me.”- Walter White
In a muted, soundless cold open, Mike, Walt, Jesse, and Walt begin the process of covering their tracks from the heist. First they remove the pumping equipment and set it aside in the Vamonos Pest warehouse. Then they uncover the dirtbike, and begin reducing it to it’s components so they can melt it down in a barrel. The looks on their faces let us know that soon afterwards, they will be doing the same to the body of Drew Sharp (the boy). The last time Walt and friends melted a body in a plastic barrel was after Gus killed Victor, and it served as a form of black comedy to lighten what was one of the darkest hours in the show’s history. This time, there is no such levity. There is nothing worse than this, than melting down a boy’s body simply because he was in the wrong place and the wrong time, denying his family from ever knowing the truth much in the same way Lydia was afraid that her daughter would think she had been abandoned. Todd goes back to the dirt-filled dump truck and digs around. We see Drew Sharp’s hand poking out. Mercifully, we cut to afterwards, where Jesse is smoking a cigarette next to the methylamine container. Todd approaches, and starts making small talk about how “shit happens, huh?” Jesse punches him and walks away.
The next scene takes place inside the warehouse, where Todd tries to rationalize what he did by dropping all the old platitudes. “It was him or us” and “I had to save the team,” and all other manner of Heisenberg-isms that we’ve come to be less and less convinced by over the seasons. Walt asks him to step outside, and Todd tries to state his value to the operation (with a seeming throwaway line about his uncle’s “connections in prison”). After he leaves, Walt, Mike and Jesse decide that the only way to proceed is to keep him “on the payroll” (Walt’s really taken to the idea of being a boss, hasn’t he?).
The next morning, we catch up with Mike, by way of the DEA agent tailing him. Gomez arrives, sees Mike make a dead drop under a trash can, and elects to find out what it is after Mike up and leaves. It’s a handwritten note, from Mike to his friends at the DEA, with a gentlemanly suggestion of what he thinks they should do. How nice of him. Later, in his kitchen, Mike hears Gomey’s report to Hank about their encounter. The latter responds that “even pros make mistakes,” and that they just need to keep the pressure up. Mike smirks, and then Mike sighs, looking more weary than ever (which is saying something indeed). He doesn’t have the heart for this anymore. Jesse, meanwhile, has his crisis of confidence when, during one of their cooks, he sees a news report about Drew Sharp’s disappearance and nearly breaks down. Walt assures him that they have to keep going, that the future will hold “plenty of time for soul-searching.” He offers to finish the cook, telling Jesse that he’s had trouble sleeping, too. After Walt thinks he’s gone, he comes back downstairs to hear his supposed friend and mentor casually whistling away as he goes back to work. It’s taken awhile (almost too long for some fans’ taste), but Jesse is finally starting to see just what his partner is.
It is with both these scenes in mind that Walt stumbles upon his two partners in conference at the Vamonos Pest warehouse, where they tell him that they’re out, both of them. They’ll be taking their shares of the methylamine to a guy Mike knows in Arizona for $5 each. When Walt scoffs that they’ll be selling to his competitors for “pennies on the dollar,” they both retort that this is the only way. The next scene, where Mike and Jesse meet with Declan, Mike’s contact, shows them that selling two-thirds of the methylamine won’t cut it. Declan wants the “blue stuff” off the market entirely, and isn’t willing to scrounge up $10 million when the real source of his opposition is still in business.
A short time later, Walt gets a call from Jesse, whom he invites over to his house to talk. In the episode’s centerpiece, Jesse fills him in on the situation, and attempts to convince him that enough is enough. They’ve made enough money. He tries desperately to reach the Walter White he once knew, the man who sat in a junkyard and counted out the $737,000 he needed to secure his family’s future. But that man isn’t here. Perhaps he never was. There is only Heisenberg, who talks about Declan’s deal as “selling out,” and how, in the past, he made a similar choice with Gray Matter, his and his friend Elliot’s business (been a LONG time since either of those names have come up). He talks about how, for “personal reasons” (hint: Gretchen) he took a $5,000 buyout from Gray Matter. He talks about how, now, the company is worth 2.16 billion dollars (he looks it up every week). He “sold (his) kids’ birthright for a few months’ rent.” He’s not in the meth business of the money business. He’s in the empire business. After Jesse wonders whether a meth empire is really something worth being proud of, Skyler walks in, and what was one of the most revealing character scenes in the history of the show turns into one of the most surreal as Walt invites Jesse to dinner, demonstrating to his partner just how powerful he has become in his own home. Jesse nobly, almost painfully, tries to compliment Skyler at every turn, and after she asks Walter if he told his partner about her affair, Jesse shrinks back and takes an awkward drink, almost like a kid trying to get his parents to talk to each other again. It’s a wonderfully dark comedic moment, further cementing Aaron Paul as the heart of the show, always put in these horrible situations by Walt and always reacting in the most endearingly dopey way possible.
Almost immediately, however, we’re plunged right back into the pathos from before, as Walter tells Jesse that his family, the thing he was doing this for, is essentially gone. He has nothing left but the business, the empire. And he will not abide Jesse and Mike trying to take it from him. After Jesse presumably leaves, Walt hustles over to the warehouse in an attempt to steal the methylamine, only to find Mike there waiting for him. Mike tells him that the deal is going down the following morning no matter what Walter does, and after an awkward night spent in the office together (not in that way, though I admit it would have been a surprising plot twist), Mike tells Walter that he has something to take care of before the deal, and ties Walter to a radiator. While Mike deals with his business (which turns out to be a meeting with Hank and Gomez where Saul threatens them with a restraining order), Walt sets about freeing himself. He does this by first attempting to grab a nearby coffee maker and use the glass to cut himself free. After he accidentally sends the coffee pot itself skittering across the room, he comes up with another idea, using his teeth to strip and separate the coffee maker’s power cable, using the current as a blowtorch of sorts to burn his way free.
Mike, after leaving the DEA office, learns from Saul that their little gamble has given him maybe 24 hours free to “pull the ripcord” and get out. So it’s more than understandable that when he gets back to Vamonos Pest and finds the methylamine gone, he puts his gun to Walter’s temple and starts counting to three. Walter, who wisely seems to have clued Jesse into his plan (Jesse manages, once again, to calm Mike down long enough to give Walt time to talk), tells him that, according to his new plan, “everybody wins.” Cue credits.