Monday, August 13, 2012

Breaking Bad Review - Season Five, Episode Five: Dead Freight

By Geddy Cahoon

Wow. That's all I have to say coming off of last night's episode of Breaking Bad, Dead Freight. Going into it, I didn't know what to think because the previews indicated that it would primarily involve the three main guys robbing a train. Any part of me that was worried was countered with a part of me that reassured myself, "If any show can do this right, it's BB."

What we ended up getting was a fairly decent episode, with it's share of great scenes, a handful of flaws, and an amazing final fifteen minutes, ending with one of the most surprising and sickening things I've ever seen on any television show, ever.

Hit the jump to hear my in-depth thoughts on this week's episode of Breaking Bad, Dead Freight.
This week's episode kicked off with a cold open that really bugged my brother, but I didn't necessarily mind. It basically involved a little kid riding his trike through the desert, and picking up a tarantula in a glass jar. A train whistle ominously blows in the distance, and the kid rides off.

Honestly, I was very "meh" about this opening, in the beginning. I always expect BB to start off in ambiguous ways, and the episodes almost always end up referencing the cold open at some point. On it's own, this wasn't great, but by the end it's absolutely chilling. I really dug the whole "train whistle blowing in the background" thing. It felt really ominous; it was barely audible to us, but it resulted in that kid running off to something horrible.

My one real issue with the opening is that at first I thought I was missing something; Breaking Bad often engages in visual symbolism (There was some later in this episode actually), and I thought the tarantula being trapped was supposed to mean... Something. Even by the end I didn't really get whatever point they were trying to make with it, and that's kind of bugging me. I'll end up moving past it, and the only possible explanation I've come up with is very simplistic but at the same time muddled. In short: Not worth mentioning here.

Also, why are kids always running around in the desert unsupervised in Breaking Bad?

The Albuquerque Desert: More fun than a playground, apparently.

Overall, this was a muddy yet intriguing cold open that would end up becoming much more effective by the episode's end. After the title card, we see ASAC Schrader putting the final touches on his new office. Walt enters and says he has to talk to Hank alone. Walt makes some small talk, thanking Hank and Marie for looking after the kids, but then breaks down crying, telling Hank that "Skyler doesn't love me anymore." He basically cries on Hank's shoulder for a moment, and Hank, clearly uncomfortable, excuses himself to grab the two some coffee. As soon as Hank leaves, Walt can "end scene" so to speak, stops crying, and plants two bugs in Hank's office.

This scene was somewhat predictable, but that didn't make it any less intriguing. Walter is a master manipulator. Originally, pride was often a roadblock for him to clear. Now, instead of being enraged by the fact that people view him as "weak" and "mild-mannered," Walt uses it to his advantage. He plays off of his children, and the damage he's done to his wife to further his goals. It's kind of like a car wreck; it's twisted and awful, but you really can't look away. He used to be so terrified all the time, as I noted in last week's review (Which you can check out here). But now, Walter just strolls right into government buildings and sticks bugs in the office of the highest ranked employee.

You've come a long way buddy.

I really enjoyed this scene. As horrible as it is, it's kind of fun to watch Walter pull the strings. No matter how many times he does something dastardly, I always find myself shaking my head in disgust. His villainy is consistent, and the seemingly seamless cloaking of meth kingpin Heisenberg in chemistry teacher Walter White's clothes makes for some extremely entertaining scenes.

In the next scene, we see what Walter needed to plant those bugs for: In the last episode, the ending implied that Lydia had attempted to turn on our main trio, and now the three are meeting with her about it. They chain her to a desk, and Mike gives her a list of things to say when he dials Hank's cell number. He continuously (And rather chillingly, as is Mike's forte) tells Lydia that if she falters, attempts to scream for help, or makes Hank suspicious in any way, shape or form, that he will pull out his pistol, and shoot her in the head.

This is how Mike solves all of his problems.

Lydia calls Hank, who doesn't give her a straight answer about the tracker on the methylamine case. With the use of Walt's bug, we hear Hank consult Gomez, who confirms that the DEA did not place trackers on any tanks of methylamine. As Lydia exasperatedly continues to insist that she didn't have anything to do with the tracker, the trio convene and Mike insists that what has to be done has to be done. Jesse is still reluctant to kill Lydia, and Mike informs him with a strange mixture of sadness and annoyance, that she put a hit out on him.

They agree that they could bust in and take a few tankers full of methylamine using Lydia's access card, and then figure out how to get more when the time comes. The group then hears Hank call up the El Paso DEA, who confirm that they did indeed put trackers on the outside of the methylamine tanks. Hank basically calls them idiots, and Lydia is apparently in the clear.

The one setback is that ALL of the methylamine tanks have been equipped with trackers. Their supply is shot. Mike reasons that even if she didn't place trackers on anything, Lydia deserves to be killed because she will turn on them like that if given the chance. She counters the 13,000th threat on her life with the claim that she can provide the trio with "an ocean" of methylamine.

The first Google Image result for "ocean of methylamine." Irrelevant, but still a fun little picture.

This was another great scene from this episode. Walt, Jesse and Mike were downright scary here. They effectively kidnapped Lydia, and she was chained to a table in a dank, empty parking garage. Mike was also at his most intimidating, and his threats against Lydia were pretty frightening. Laura Fraser continues to impress me as Lydia. She feels very natural in the role of an absolutely terrified woman attempting, at all times, to keep her composure. Her lines are all delivered with a perfect mix of confidence and fear.

The business-like way Walt conducts himself now is also very frightening as well. Most of the killings Walt has perpetrated in the past have been very spur of the moment and messy. Now he's the one ordering kills, voting on whether or not this woman dies. It's still strange, five episodes in, to see him in such a position of power. Like I keep reiterating: I'm loving Laura Fraser, any scene with Walt, Mike and Jesse is bound to be superb, and Lydia's continued ability to... Live, is laudable.

Lydia then basically tells them that Madrigal imports its methylamine, and it comes in on a train. Essentially her plan is for them to hijack a train. Lydia can work all of the details out for them, but they'd have to handle the crew. The one drawback: Mike says that the crew would have to be murdered, and all three men are inexplicably opposed to that.

Now, I'm not sure how I feel about the final sequence of the underground parking garage scene. It had some funny moments - I honestly laughed out loud when Lydia said she would be expecting a percentage of future profits. The look Mike shot her was priceless, and she certainly has cojones. I also loved this exchange between she and Walter:

WALT: You're familiar with the concept of leverage?
LYDIA: Don't patronize me-
WALT: You have none.

However... The fact that the main trio is so hesitant to kill two innocent men really baffles me. It baffles me less with Jesse, admittedly. Jesse is of course the only one of the trio that we've actually seen kill an innocent person, but that's beside the point. But the idea that Walt, the man who poisoned a child and Mike, the professional contract killer, are averse to killing two people doesn't sit right with me.

Walt has always done whatever it takes to further his goals. Whatever. It. Takes. Mike, though we've never seen him do it and despite his soft-spot for those he deems "innocent", has certainly killed an innocent man or two during Gus Fring's tenure as New Mexico's meth kingpin. I get that it needed to set up the eventual heist,  and I'm not saying it would've been good to kill two innocent men, but I just felt that those two were really act out of character and irrationally in the context of the story.

Yeah, these two hate killing people...

We then cut to Hank and Marie's where... Nothing really happens. They play with the baby, and talk about Jr. who overhears them and angrily says they can keep talking about him once he's in his room. That's pretty much it. Last week's episode was very Marie-heavy. This week? Not so much. Not that that's necessarily a terrible thing, but she's a character known for slowing the pace and distracting us from whatever the main story arc is.

Though this short bit was kind of pointless, I did like how A. Marie never stopped calling Jr. "Flynn." The whole Flynn thing is so ridiculous that I can't help but chuckle whenever he's referred to as it. It fits Marie's character perfectly to have never stopped calling him that. And B. I enjoyed how much Walter Jr.'s relationship with Hank has changed. He always idolized him as his hero before. And though Hank was a bit of a jackass, he was certainly not a bad role model. Now that his father is a master criminal/murderer, Jr. is loyal mostly to him and even rebuffs Hank's offer to watch a movie together. If Walt hadn't become... What he is now, I'd almost feel a little bit happy for him - He finally got his son's respect and admiration. Now, the more I see Walt and Jr. "bond," the more I think, "Go back to Hank! For the love of god, go back to Hank!"

So this scene was a little bit pointless, but I enjoyed aspects of it and it was pretty much the perfect amount of "Hank and Marie" you should expect in a Mike/Jesse-heavy episode.

Oh hey you two. Just passing through I see.

Walt arrives home to find Jr. holed up in his room. He orders him to drive back to Hank and Marie's, and Walt and Skyler have another great back and forth.

Once again, Walt and Skyler's exchanges are fantastic. At this point, Skyler isn't a zombie anymore. She'll argue with Walt, they'll go back and forth. It's supremely entertaining. I'm loving the cavalier way they address each other at this point. It's like they know they're at something of a standstill with the kids at Hank and Marie's, so the tension between the two comes out in very casual ways. I also loved Skyler's line: "I'm not your wife, Walt. I'm your hostage." That was fantastic. This was a nice, short-little scene that effectively served to remind us of the dissention between Walt and Skyler.

At Jesse's apartment, Walt and Mike argue about what to do in lieu of actually robbing the train, and for some reason Mike, the CONTRACT KILLER, is implying that it's sick that Walt would even consider killing two innocent men. As ridiculous as that is, Jesse interrupts their fighting to propose his idea of how the train should be robbed.

This short scene actually really bothered me. First of all, Breaking Bad engaged in some of it's famous visual symbolism - As Mike and Walter argued, the two got to a point in the room where Jesse was literally sitting in between them. I do kind of like the idea of Jesse being a "child in a broken home," but the fact that he was literally in between Walt and Mike didn't do it for me. BB's visual symbolism is often very "in-your-face," but there was something about it's use here that was just too on the nose and insulting. Yeah, we know Jesse is stuck between Mike and Walt. You don't need to literally show us him being stuck between Mike and Walt.

In other news, the crew of Breaking Bad would like you to know that when it rains, you get wet.

Also, this is the second episode this season where the tactic of "Walt and Mike argue about a problem until Jesse says something cryptic and potentially problem solving so that we can cut to commercial on a hook" has been used. That's not a bad thing in theory; it shows that Jesse has really grown as a character and a criminal - He learned from three of the best. However, again, it just didn't work here. I kind of rolled my eyes and groaned when Jesse said "Hey! What if no one even knows that the train got robbed?" Wanna be a little bit less cryptic there, asshole? I get that it piques viewers' interest to stay tuned post-commercial break, but the dialogue on Breaking Bad usually doesn't feel like it's setting up a commercial or whatever. This scene did, and that unfortunately hurt it.

We then see the guys in the desert at some train tracks, measuring out something. Once they've measured out 800 feet, the crew of Vamanos Pest makes the scene, and assists them in burying two tankers in the ground. Todd, the blond guy from Hazard Pay, is helping Walt and Jesse pump some water into one of the tankers. He asks them what the plan is, and Jesse and Walt explain that they're siphoning the methylamine from the train and replacing it with water. Todd is very impressed in an almost childlike way, and Walt and Jesse somberly inform him that no one can know this went down. Todd understands (Foreshadowing alert!).

We then cut to the heist. Everyone is in place, and my favorite ancillary character from BB, Kuby, shows up to assist them!


He parks his truck on the train tracks, and the train comes screeching to a halt. The tanker with the methylamine stops right were the group measured it would, and Walt, Jesse and Todd begin siphoning. Unfortunately, a "good Samaritan" appears and offers to move Kuby's truck AND give him a ride into town. This unfortunately puts the whole plan in jeopardy, as the engineers start the locomotive up again. Mike radios Walt, and keeps telling him to abort. Walt insists that the tanker is almost full of methylamine, and orders Jesse and Todd to stay on the train. The tanker fills, and Jesse and Todd disconnect just as the train begins pulling away. Todd basically falls off the top, and Jesse is left underneath the train as it speeds off.

Once the train is gone, the trio begin celebrating their victory. However, the little kid from the cold open rides up on his bike, and waves at the three. I thought the episode was going to end there, but as soon as Todd waved back, I knew what was coming. Todd pulled out a gun and shot the child dead.


First off, I'll analyze the brunt of this sequence - It was pretty great. It was extremely tense, and the whole time I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something terrible to happen. I loved the involvement of Kuby, I loved the awful shirt he was wearing. I was also disgusted when Walter wouldn't let Jesse and Todd off the train. It kind of reinforces my worries from the last episode: Walter doesn't care for Jesse in the same way Jesse cares for him; to Walter he's an asset. Overall it was an awesome sequence. Going into the episode I was worried that the heist sequence would be cheesy, but BB pulled it off. I was sure they would be the one show that could. It was tense, effective, and it really was well-handled.

As for the ending... Wow. That's all I can really say. It was sickening. I think this is the first show I've ever seen where they actually showed a child being murdered. And there's probably a good reason for that. It was fucked up. On top of that, it was not at all the direction I thought the scene or Todd's character would go in. I knew someone was going to get hurt or die, but I figured it would be Todd, honestly. We had only seen one glimpse of him before, and he seemed extremely naive and innocent. Jesse Plemons played the character perfectly to avoid arousing any suspicion, and I think this turn of events really threw everybody off. The way Todd was written and played up to this crucial scene was nothing short of perfect. The abruptness of the episode's ending added to the chaos and awfulness of the final scene.

This episode ended up being really enjoyable. As stated I was worried about how the heist would play out, but it was handled extraordinarily well. This week's offering was certainly more action-packed than 51, but most of that action didn't come through until the end. Once again we saw the absence of Saul, though his involvement in the group's continued affairs was implied by the appearance of Kuby. The short scenes between Walt and members of the family were quite nice, and didn't make up the majority of the episode like last week. Laura Fraser and Jesse Plemons both had amazing showings, and the new characters to the series have been really intriguing/entertaining thus far. The more I think about it, the more I find Todd absolutely terrifying. His simple demeanor and just the fact that he never stopped smiling seconds before he murdered a child... It's just... Ugh.

There were issues with the episode. Mostly I just didn't get why Mike and Walt were so averse to killing people. I guess ultimately Jesse's plan avoids arousing any kind of suspicion, but it just seems... Off to me, that Mike and Walt are suddenly so averse to killing. I also wasn't a big fan of the symbolism this episode engaged in. Jesse literally being between Mike and Walter seemed a bit forced to me, and I still don't get the point of the tarantula. Maybe there was no point to get. The flaws in this episode were miniscule and they didn't hurt it too much.

Originally, I wanted to score this episode a "B." But the more I think about it, the more the awesome heist sequence and devastating final scene warrant a higher score. I'm really looking forward to next week now. What will be done with Todd? If Walter doesn't kill him immediately, it shows you how far he's fallen from any sense of morality. His killing of the rival dealers in season three was brutal, but he did it for morally understandable reasons. At this point, I don't think Walter puts anyone's life before business. If not killing Todd doesn't at least have some of Walter's supporters in the fandom rethinking their love for the guy.

Dead Freight was a highly entertaining episode that created a character who, though sure to be absolutely loathed by the fandom and possibly become immortalized as one of the most horrific characters in TV history, is supremely intriguing. I'm sure fans will be talking about this episode for a long time to come, and I'm sure I'm not alone in being morbidly excited for next week's offering.

That's it for this week! Be sure to leave a comment or like the NWC Facebook Page to tell us what you thought. Thanks for reading, and check back next week for more overly-verbose analyses of Breaking Bad!

No comments:

Post a Comment