At its core, Breaking Bad is a Western – and in the last act of every Western worth its salt, there’s bound to be showdown. That showdown is the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, as Walt tries to escape the walls closing on him from all sides – and ‘Blood Money’ is the introductory scene – the quiet dawn before the final draw, if you will – opening with a series of images to reinforce that no, Walt will not be able to escape in the shadows of the setting sun. It’s the White family home abandoned, trashed inside and out, home to dusty memories and the name ‘Heisenberg’ spray painted across the coat closet in the living room. Walt is going to lose his family – and once that happens, he’ll be lost forever.
Like the season five premiere ‘Live Free or Die’, ‘Blood Money’ opens with a flash forward, choosing a very telling scene for its first shot: it shows a group of teenagers grinding on the pool railing, circling around the bottom to maintain their speed and balance. It’s a very clear metaphor for the shape our bearded Walter White arrives in: everything’s fallen off the rails, and he’s scrambling, circling around the bottom of the drain just to keep enough momentum from being sucked in (his momentum? A poison tablet and an M60 laying in the backseat of an old car). He looks like a man broken – and without his family, probably is – only accompanied by the remnants of his pride (seen as he says hello to his old neighbor Carol, who he once used as a dummy in case a bomb was waiting in his house back in season four).
From there, ‘Blood Money’ pulls back about nine months, and fills in the blanks (after showing Hank’s dumbfounded reaction to what he had read, eventually having his first panic attack since early in season three) with various characters. Walt and Skylar have found an uneasy peace, and are thinking about expanding the car wash business; Jesse’s about in the same condition as last season, condemned by all the money he’s made, unable to find someone to give it away to; and Walt Jr. is getting ready to start college hunting (the next big expense waiting the White family, not that it matters anymore).
Things seem pretty peachy (outside of Hank sweating and silently freaking out, of course), but the moment Lydia arrives, the tone of the episode immediately shifts, and the first few Heisenberg dominoes fall. After Lydia points out that Heisenberg’s replacement sucks and she wants his back (telling him he needs to help “get the ship back on course”), things slowly start to fray around the edges (like the string on his hat he stared at back in ‘Fifty One’), little holes appearing in each of his plans.
And Walt doesn’t realize it: one of the things we’ve always talked about with Breaking Bad is Walt’s increasingly large ego, one that hasn’t deflated even as he’s given up his chair at the table of power, moving into retirement – but with retirement, a new regime comes in, and the name Heisenberg doesn’t quite hold the same weight. Walt can talk a big game and mention all the people he’s murdered (which is enough to work on most people, best seen with Saul’s reaction to the situation), but now that he’s alone, who is going to protect him? Walt thinks he’s away and free now that he’s given up the meth game: but the game doesn’t always quit you sometimes, and with Walt’s guard down, it’s only taken a month for it to slowly start shattering.
On some level, though, he doesn’t care: as I predicted during last season’s finale, Walt’s cancer has returned, and he’s only got about six months to live (again). Like he did the first time he heard this news, Walt’s preparing for death – the same attitude of recklessness that got him in trouble in the first place. And we know he doesn’t die: merely ten months from now, he has a full head of hair and a beard, a clear sign that his plan will fail once again.
But Walt’s plans have already failed before, whether based around cancer, or fueled by his insane sense of pride: it failed in the 1980s, when he allowed his ego to get in the way of him making billions. It failed him when he started cooking meth to make money (he made money, yes, but he ruined everything else), and now that he’s stopped, he’s failing again: there’s a cyclical sense to everything Walt and others do in this episode. There are constant callbacks to previous episodes, whether it’s The Dog House, Badger telling a crazy story, or Walt and Skylar telling everyone to “have an A1 day.” We even get a scene of Walt working the register at the car wash – everything about ‘Blood Money’ points out that we’ve been here before: and the first time around, Walt barely made it out alive, and ruined his family in the process. A year from now, his family will be gone forever, and Walt will finally have to come to terms with something Marie very casually points out (it’s only heard in the background at the beginning of a scene): he’s the freakin’ devil.
Even for a much-hyped episode, ‘Blood Money’ does exactly what it needs to do to set the scene for the final run. The showdown between Walt and cancer (and Walt and Hank, and Walt and Jesse – who definitely knew Walt was likely lying to him about Mike being alive) is set, and the timer’s begun. What I really liked about the episode is how tight and focused it kept things: save for its scenes spent with Jesse being emotionally numb to everything and anything, every shot and scene is focused on reminding us what kind of person Walt is, and even though he’s put back on the domestic mask, the monster still lurks underneath. His last line of the episode is a veiled threat at his brother-in-law, telling him that since he doesn’t know who Walt is anymore, the best idea would be to tread lightly. And that’s where it ends, Walt (bleeding from a punch to the face) going toe-to-toe with Hank, the silent weigh-in before the heavyweight fight to follow.
– yes, there probably wasn’t enough Jesse in this episode. But right this moment, there isn’t a lot to do with him: until he finally accepts that Walt has killed Mike, Jesse’s not going to do much of anything. But he will: notice that moving image behind him on his TV screen. Green designs all over turning to dark, dark blue and then to red and back: meth, money, and blood: they’re inseparable, and Jesse can’t escape those thoughts.
– ‘Blood Money’ is really an hour-long Dean Norris showcase. He is absolutely terrific capturing the mix of confusion, anger, and dumbstruck awe at just who Walter White really is.
– one of the items to fall out of Carol’s grocery bags is a few oranges, a nice little nod to The Godfather (and recalling the oranges that fell when Ted had his accident in season four).
– two characters seen wearing red: Walt Jr. and Hank. A clue to something? We shall see.
– Skylar chases Lydia away, opening a nice can of shit she’ll have to eat later, I’d assume.
– Badger’s speech is pretty awesome, as expected.
– Saul warns Jesse that giving away all that money will still leave him “two miracles short of sainthood.”
– “I need you to believe me.”