Breaking Bad: Season 5
Aired: August 12, 2013
Writer: Peter Gould
Director: Bryan Cranston
“You need to stop focusing on the darkness behind you. The past is the past. Nothing can change what we’ve done, but now that’s over.”
– Walter White
Brian Singer’s 1995 film The Usual Suspects gave us one of the most memorable endings in cinematic history. In the closing moments of that film, we see U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan have an epiphany that the man he’s been looking for – the criminal mastermind Keyser Söze – has been right under his nose the whole time. As his coffee cup smashes to the floor, Kujan realizes that the star witness who has just left the office – a crippled, two bit conman named Verbal Kent – was actually Söze all along. The final shot of the movie is Kent walking away from the police station, dropping his phony limp as he disappears for good.
It’s an absolutely brilliantly choreographed moment and its the perfect twist to end on.
But you have to wonder what Kujan did next. How did he handle this shocking revelation? Was he haunted by it? Did finding Kent become his obsession? How did he go back to his normal life when that one shocking moment forever changed the way he saw the world?
We’ll never know for sure. But on last night’s Breaking Bad premiere, we got a pretty good idea of how his life might have progressed, thanks to Hank Schrader.
As the first half of season five ended last summer, Hank had a similar “aha” moment. The man he has been looking for – the meth kingpin known as Heisenberg – has been right under his nose this whole time. After stumbling across an inscription in a copy of Leaves of Grass left in the bathroom, Hank realizes that his brother-in-law Walter White, who is just outside by the pool hanging out with his wife and her sister, has been Heisenberg all along.
Unlike the end of The Usual Suspects, this time we get to see what happens next. And to their credit, the Breaking Bad writers pick up exactly where they left off. We see Hank leave the bathroom and return to Walt and the rest of the family outside by the pool. We see the shock on his face and the physical toll it takes on his body. He ends up wrecking his car on the way home. He ends up in the emergency room with Marie concerned it was a heart attack. And then he calls in sick to work the following week so he can obsessively pour over all of the Heisenberg case files, finally putting together the pieces that have been there all along.
But there’s no vindication for Hank. For one thing, he isn’t our protagonist. This isn’t the story of Hank Schrader cracking the case of a lifetime. It’s the story of Walter White, a former science teacher who went from “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” It’s not a hero’s tale. It’s about the rise (and I’m assuming the fall) of an unlikely drug kingpin.
Even though Hank finally has all of the pieces, he still doesn’t have enough to take Walt down. He’s pieced it together in his brain, but he doesn’t have any real evidence proving that Walt is Heisenberg. He has the book, but he took it from Walt’s house. It’s not admissible in court and even if it was, it’s circumstantial evidence at best. Beyond that, he has some grainy surveillance footage and a police sketch that vaguely resembles Walt. Most of the people who can identify Walt as Heisenberg are dead. And he’s (at least for the time being) out of the game. He’s just a dying man running a car wash.
Hank was already warned to let the Heisenberg case go after his promotion. He has more important things to worry about than one old case that everyone else considers closed. To go back into the office and tell everyone that his brother-in-law was Heisenberg would sound like the ravings of a madman. It would be career suicide.
Which is what makes that final confrontation between Walt and Hank so amazing to watch. I expected more of a cat-and-mouse game to ensue between the two, but instead Walt decides to confront Hank head on once he pieces together that his brother-in-law is on to him. And, at first, things end in a stalemate. Walt starts to walk away, but like we’ve seen so many times before, he just can’t help himself. He turns around and takes the GPS tracker out of his pocket, letting Hank know that he knows he’s being watched. And Walt puffs out his chest and basically thinks there’s nothing Hank can do about it.
Then Hank punches him in the face.
It’s such a visceral moment. If Hank was the hero of this story, it would be a moment of triumph. But instead, it’s a man whose world has forever been changed using the only method currently at his disposal to release some of his internal pain. It’s not a real victory, but it’s all he has in that moment.
And it has me so excited to see what the show has left in store in the next seven episodes. We know the cancer is back and Walt’s time on this Earth is limited, one way or another. We know from the season five premiere and from the opening of last night’s episode that nine months from now, the Whites’ house will be an abandoned wasteland, Walt will be outed as Heisenberg and he’ll be driving around under a fake identity with an assault rifle in his trunk and the unused ricin capsule in his pocket.
This show has continued to get better and better as its gone along and it came out of the gates strong for this final stretch. I’m really excited to see where it will all end up.
And another thing …
- Poor Jesse Pinkman. Walt bringing him his five million dollars was actually one of the sweeter moments at the end of the first half of season five. Unfortunately, the money he was owed hasn’t brought him any peace. Walt’s previous speech about it being blood money is stuck in his head and all he wants to do is give it away. After failing to give the cash to Mike’s granddaughter and the family of the little boy gunned down during their train heist, Jesse resorts to throwing the cash out his window into random people’s lawns.
- Was I the only one surprised at just how much Skyler physically towered over Lydia when telling her to leave the car wash?
- Someone really needs to animate Badger’s Star Trek episode pitch like they did for Patton Oswalt’s Star Wars Episode VII filibuster.
- This episode was directed by Bryan Cranston, who once again does a great job behind the camera. The opening sequence in the tattered remains of Walt’s house, which is mostly silent, and the close up of Walt almost leaving the garage, then turning back (while Hank looms in the background the whole time) in particular were both excellently crafted.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.