Breaking Bad – Dead Freight
Huh, well that episode lived up to the hype. How anyone can complain about this season only lasting eight episodes when the writers manage to fit so much story into each one is beyond me. As in Hazard Pay and Live Free or Die, Dead Freightoffers a continuation of the prior conflicts, the introduction of a new issue, the insane idea to solve it and the execution that plan all within fourty odd minutes. So many other shows would have needed eight episodes to tell the pesticide story alone, but unlike say The Shield this show gets its train job over and done with inside the space of a single episode while still managing to make it matter just as much to the overarching continuity, but first the caper itself.
Breaking Bad has always had some strong western influences, if only because of its being set in the south western state of Albuquerque with its dry deserts and other arid landscapes, and these all came to a head here. Heisenberg has been known all along for his black, wide-brim hat (still the surest symbol of a villain available) but more recently the show has been dropping subtle hints to this story: Mike’s remark to Walt that “Just because you killed Jesse James, don’ make you Jesse James” is echoed here by the the other Jesse (Pinkman) shouting “What, like Jesse James” when the plan is first place upon the table; so too does Walt’s ominous statement last week that ‘nothing tops this train’ wring a little differently in this new light. Just as he is the one who knocks and the danger, he has now twisted another catchphrase or two to be about himself: He is Jesse James, he is the one who stops the train.
As a western fan I obviously love the idea of them harkening back to this kind of old-fashioned story, i’m not sure though if the execution was all that it could have been. Certainly the episode was crafted at a level far and above nearly all other shows out there, but after the likes Rian Johnson and Michelle MacLaren, George Mastras simply can’t compare. For me there was something a little too modern about way he constructed the crime: the music, the editing, etc. were cool but given the concept they could have been so much more. I would have loved to have seen some slower shots, some slow Sergio Leone-esque pans across the tracks. In my mind this episode called for more of a Rat pack, sixties kind of ‘cool’, a classical approach and although it lacked any classic Breaking Bad visuals what we got was still good enough to tell the story and what a simple but stunning story it was, especially the final shot of it.
Thanks to the strong suspense and relatively low stakes (compared to some of the shows other tense moments) the train robbery was simply a whole lot of fun to watch; it was the joy of seeing a plan come together, of people being smart and things working as they should. Of course though this is a TV show and so some drama must arise, some mistakes must be made and to tell you the truth even I made one this week. I thought I was so smart going into the episode, thinking that I had Landry, ah Todd, all figured out. I had a hunch that he was an undercover cop and so much of this episode seemed to support that idea, raising it almost to theory status. The ‘Previously On…’ that cut straight from Hank saying a spy was in place to Todd introducing himself against orders to the cooks seemed strong evidence and Walt stressing that Todd keep the robbery a secret even stronger, but then came that ending and the realization of just what an idiot I am. If he’s a cop then Walt is still the good guy here.
There was so much talk about murder and parenthood in this episode, about the making and the taking of life: Walt was made to swear on his kids lives, he was warned again about being a danger to the children, he swung from side to side and Mike and Jessie argued about who it was ok to kill and tried to plan everything so that nobody would have to get hurt. All of that stuff, and of course the strangely straight cold open, was leading up to that final moment, to Jesse seeing yet another kid on a bike get shot down because of what him and Walt are doing. The Breaking Bad death tally is now up around two hundred (one hundred and sixty five died in the plane crash they kinda caused) and this isn’t even the first kid that they have killed, but no matter how many dominoes you set to spill something like that still has a strong effect. For Jessie’s sake I just hope like hell that it is the last, but knowing how much story is still left to tell who knows how much blood will yet be spilled? All I know is that I’ll be there to see it.