Entertainment Magazine

Review #3639: Breaking Bad 5.5: “Dead Freight”

Posted on the 15 August 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written and Directed by George Mastras

“Breaking Bad” continues to surprise me with every new episode. Episodes like this are relatively easy to review, simply because there is such joy derived from watching a sequence like the train robbery at the end. I mean, the show gets to have its anti-hero characters actually rob a train! Granted, it’s not for cash, rather for an endless supply of methylamine, but it’s the show going for broke in returning to its modern Western roots.

Review #3639: Breaking Bad 5.5: “Dead Freight”

Not only does the show reference Jesse James, but the characters get to act like Jesse James. As much as I want to delight on the actual train robbery sequence, the episode does fully acknowledge the darker edges of the series. That involves a lot of death, or rather the threat of death. A sense of doom lingers over much of the episode, if not the entire thing. From the unsettling, non-sequitor cold open to yet another standoff between Walt and Skyler, I spent much of the episode worried about many of the characters and what might happen to them. It’s part of what draws me into the show and excited about what could happen in future episodes.

Part of the surprise in how the train robbery comes into play is that it’s borne out of desperation. Walt, Jesse, and Mike swiftly deal with the Lydia problem by just outright killing her. Walt makes sure to cover their tracks, though. Coming into Hank’s new office under the guise that he needs advice about his crumbling marriage to Skyler. Walt is shameless now, and even as he is lying through his teeth, there is a kernel of truth in what he’s telling Hank, which makes the lie all the more effective. Skyler is afraid of Walt, though Walt doesn’t tell Hank why that is. Walt seems to know Hank psychologically and that predictably, Hank is uncomfortable talking about feelings and relationships and so he leaves the room as fast as possible.

It gives Walt the opening he needs to bug Hank’s office and that leads to the first scene with Lydia. Safe to say that I was completely in the wrong about Lydia planting the GPS tracker on the methylamine barrel. The ruse concocted by Mike does what it’s supposed to: suss out who really planted the tracker. What gives the scene a tense edge is Lydia trying to think and beg her way out of being murdered by Mike. Her twitchy, wide-eyed demeanor really sells the point of the scene (and oddly makes the character so memorable). They stumble onto the fact that the Houston DEA office actually planted the tracker. So the warehouse supply is out of bounds now. Lydia comes up with the idea of getting them an endless supply of methylamine in a complicated train heist.

The show covers all of the little details and gets all of it just right. Once again, Walt and Mike argue about the plan with Jesse caught in the middle (as was the case with the erasure of the laptop from the APD evidence room in the season premiere) and it’s Jesse that comes up with the brilliant plan to replace the stolen methylamine with water. The way the train heist plays out was one of the most exciting and beautiful sequences the show has ever done. Everything goes according to plan, then gets blown up by unseen variables. Walt is now, ironically, embodying the Heisenberg name that he has taken as his bad guy persona.

The uncertainty principle applies here. He can plan for every contingency, but people from outside their world (the unseen variables) are constantly in the way. A good samaritan volunteers to push the “dead” truck off the tracks, allowing the engineer and conductor to start the train sooner than our heroes want them to do. Walt, ever the anal perfectionist, doesn’t stop the pumping until it reaches a thousand gallons, thus putting both Jesse and Todd in danger. But they pull it off in the end. Only to be seen by a singular witness: a boy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The realization that the train whistle connects both the cold open and the train robbery adds to the dread over the entire sequence. The joy of pulling this plan off without a hitch is replaced by the horror of Todd’s sudden murder of a child. Walt and Jesse have, by and large, avoided murder through the series. Here, they are directly responsible for this death and it’ll be interesting to see what the fallout will be going forward.

Comparatively, the other scenes pale to the train robbery. Walt and Skyler have yet another skirmish and part of it did feel like it was repeating some of the points from the fight last episode. There’s an interesting tug-o-war going on here, though. Skyler tells Walt to deal with Junior and his mini-rebellion against his parents. Walt is firm with his son (and notice that he is the only one who calls him “Junior” while everyone else calls him “Flynn”) and again, there’s the sense that Walt will lose his son as he continues to battle Skyler.

Walt can’t have everything he wants, and as much as he wants Junior to stay under his roof, he bends to Skyler’s request that his kids stay at Hank and Marie’s for as long as Skyler deems necessary. Skyler and Walt are having their battle of wills, while Hank continues to chase Walt and his drug-running operation, and I am firmly in the thought that Junior will be a major casualty. It hasn’t been an entrenched thought until this episode, but it’s something to definitely watch out for in the future. Walt has no qualms about being the bad guy and there’s a bit of arrogant delight in his voice when he tells Skyler that he’s going to rob a train, but seeing the kid now murdered after the train heist may change or at least adjust Walt’s sense of invincibility.

The show treats murder and death as serious things. It is the ultimate consequence of what Walt and Jesse are doing in making meth. Innocent people are now involved, and I get the sense that this is only the beginning. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vince Gilligan and his writing staff found some way to put Holly in danger. The show isn’t bound by any kind of shackles now, and I’m preparing myself for more death to come. It’s slowly starting to surface, and like a runaway train, there seems to be no stopping or even escaping it now.

Score: 9/10

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