I so rarely get to use the word penultimate. But this is it. The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, and while it was pretty depressing; it was also full of surprises.
Open on an actual vacuum store. Best Quality Vacuum. Call the number listed on the storefront sign - 505-842-4205 – and reach a message from gruff character actor Robert Forester. (Yep, I tried it out. You’re welcome.) Forester plays the fantastically no-nonsense shop owner whose name is never revealed, but whom we’ll just call Mr. Hoover for now. Mr. Hoover pulls his van into the shop, and Saul exits. Saul’s instructed to stand in front of a blue screen, and gets his picture snapped for a shiny new Nebraska license. Mr. Hoover tells Saul that he’s going to need to stay in hiding in the basement of the store until he can finalize the relocation, but he’s going to have a bunk mate.
Meanwhile, Marie's driving back home with Hanks old boss, and he's saying that they’ll find Hank. They get to the house, and SURPRISE!... it’s been broken into. As the agents walk through the house, Jesse’s confessional voice over plays over the wreckage….
Cut to Nazi hideout. They’re having a grand old time watching the confession tape, beers and cigars in hand. Quite frankly I’m surprised they weren’t munching on a bucket of popcorn. They fast forward to a bit where Jesse talks about Todd killing the kid during the Great Train Robbery. Jesse names names. Specifically Todd’s name. And Uncle Jack doesn’t take too kindly to rats. He storms outside with his gun, when Todd stops him. He rationalizes with his Uncle about continuing to cook meth, when Jack realizes that Todd is sweet on Lydia. Jack chortles and says that even though Lydia is so tight that she probably has a “woodchipper for a coochie”, “the heart wants what the heart wants” and lets his nephew’s meth monkey live another day.
Back at the vacuum store, Saul and Walt are having a little sleepover. Walt’s still barking orders at Saul, demanding a list of 5 mercenaries. He sounds very businesslike as he says he’ll “pay top dollar” for their services. He wants Jack and his Nazi gang dead.
Saul stops Walt and proves his mettle as he runs down what will happen if Walt turns himself in. He tells him if he cares about his family, don’t leave. Because if he leaves, the DEA will go after Skyler. All of their assets will be frozen, the house and condo gone. Getting any money to them will be impossible. Besides, how much time does Walt really have left? Saul advises him to spend the rest of his days in prison. Walt’ll be a celebrity there anyway, akin to Dillinger, legend secured. Saul is truly an excellent criminal lawyer. This is spot on, rational advice. But Walt says no.
Mr. Hoover pops his head in and tells Saul it’s time to go. Walt objects saying that Saul is coming with him. He tries to intimidate Saul one last time, backing him into the cinderblock wall, and it initially appears to be effective. Saul flinches as Walt intones a line from a previous episode. “What did I tell you? It’s not over until….” but he can’t finish. He breaks into an involuntary coughing fit, falling to the cot. Saul looks down with pity at Walt, and says, “It’s over” as he walks out.
At a meeting with many lawyers, Skyler’s got a case of the Wah Wah Charlie Browns. Even though what the lawyers are saying is muted, she states to the lawyers that she’s acutely aware she’s in terrible trouble, unless she gives Walt up, but she can’t. She doesn’t know where he is. The team of prosecution lawyers seems to believe her, but implore her to think about it, discuss with her lawyer and rack her brain to come up with something they can use. Or else. Oh poor Skyler, if you could only call Saul…..
That night, Skyler is at home, chain smoking and staring out the window. She hears Holly cry and goes to the bedroom. Three men in black ski masks accost her. One is Todd. She pleads with him to not hurt the baby. Todd says that they have respect for Walt, but they just don’t want her to talk about Lydia, “the lady that came into the car wash with black hair”. In all likelihood, Skyler had probably forgotten about Lydia, but she promises not to talk about her, and the ski mask trio leaves.
The next morning, Todd meets with Lydia, all giddy like he’s on a date. He’s disappointed when she goes to sit at the table behind him, but has too much respect for her to just go over and sit like Mike did, or to arrive late like Walt. Todd tells her that he “threw a scare into” Skyler, and that he guarantees there aren’t going to be problems. Lydia gets frustrated, and uses dated relationship speak, saying that they “need to take a break”. The break lasts all of three seconds until she hears that Todd’s latest 50 lbs are 92% pure, courtesy of Pinkman. Todd reaches longingly towards Lydia’s chair, saying that he thinks they make a good team. Lydia doesn’t seem to care much about Todd, but that 92% has got her all hot and bothered, fingertips grazing her lips. Aww isn’t unrequited sociopath love just the creepiest?
On the other side of the country, Walt crawls out of an empty propane truck. Mr. Hoover says “Mr. Lambert, welcome to New Hampshire.”
They go inside a small cabin, and Walt hauls his money barrel in. Cabin contents include canned food, frozen meat, an old tube TV with two copies of a crappy movie. No internet, no phone. It’s clearly hell frozen over. Walt didn’t expect this. Mr. Hoover tells Walt that he’ll be back in a month with supplies, but until then he shouldn’t leave the cabin.
Once Mr. Hoover leaves, Walt goes inside and stuffs his parka with as much money as he can, and pops the ole Heisenberg hat on. He starts down the road, and in a striking shot, his black hat and weary face contrast starkly against the white snow. As he reaches the perimeter fence of the property, his body is seized by a coughing fit. He wistfully stares down the snowy road, whispering, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow.”
Back in his cell, Jesse has picked the lock on his handcuffs with a paperclip but quickly slumps back onto his mattress as he hears someone coming. Todd lowers down some ice cream (shades of ‘it puts the lotion in the basket’) as a reward for the 96% batch that Jesse cooked that day. Todd talks with Jesse as if they’re friends, and it appears as if he has a true level of respect for Jesse and his abilities. Jesse senses this and requests that Todd leave the tarp off of the cell so that he can see the stars. Todd obliges, and says Goodnight to Jesse.
Jesse gets the cuffs off again once Todd is out of earshot. He does an expert balancing act on a bucket plus his wadded up blanket, and leaps up, grasping onto the grates. He monkey bars his way over to the latch and wiggles it free. (Jesse’s got some pretty diesel upper body strength. He should totally try out for the kidnapped meth monkey Olympics. Although I hear those judges from the Czech Republic can be persnickety about their percentage points.) He runs out, only to be faced with a barbed wire fence. He attempts to make his way over, but is stopped by a team of Nazis with a flashlight. Jesse begs for them to, “Do it! Kill me now! Get it over with because there’s no way I’m doing one more cook for you psycho fucks!”
Todd knows a way. He humble pies his way into getting Andrea to open her door and walk out onto the porch, saying he’s a friend of Jesse’s. Jesse screams from the truck in an attempt to warn her, but to no avail. Todd says, “just so you know, this isn’t personal” and swiftly shoots Andrea in the head. As Jesse sobs, Jack snaps at him to settle down, and ominously reminds him, “there’s still the kid”.
A few months after becoming Mr. Lambert, Walt waits on the edge of his property for Mr. Hoover’s monthly supply drop. The delivery this month includes a large stack of newspapers, a few cases of Ensure, a cornucopia of prescription glasses, and some intel about Skyler.
Hoover also brought chemo, and clumsily stabs around, trying to find a vein. Walt begs him to stay a little longer, offering 10 grand for 2 hours. Which begs the question – If there’s a barrel of money in the woods, and no one around to spend it with, what is it actually worth? At this point, I’m surprised that Walt hasn’t fashioned a Wilson-like buddy made of cash stacks to keep him company.
As Walt sleeps, his wedding ring slips off his finger due to his drastic weight loss and he immediately fashions a necklace for it out of twine. He empties the box of Ensure and stuffs it with money, finally making the move to hike out past the gate….in a cap much like the ones that Jesse used to wear….
Back in the ABQ, Junior is sitting in the back of the science lab in which his father used to teach. He’s paged by the principal, and she tells Junior that his Aunt Marie is calling. On the other end a lady that is decidedly not Marie hands the phone to Walt. As Walt explains himself, tells Junior that he wants to send money, Junior doesn’t hear the apology he expects. He becomes furious, screaming, “you killed Uncle Hank, you killed him!” Junior doesn’t care about the money, that gesture is not making anything up to him now, especially after Walt abandoned them. He screams at Walt, “why are you still alive?!? Why don’t you just die already?!?! JUST DIE!!!”
(Side note – Of note is the hockey game conspicuously playing in the background of this father-son convo. Because that magnificent genius Vince Gilligan doesn’t do anything by accident, I decided to google ‘breaking bad granite state hockey’, and stumbled upon this article. And for the first time ever in my life, Sports Illustrated provides a useful service to me.)
Walt hangs up, a broken shell. He’s truly lost his family, and any hope of getting them the money has been lost. He makes a second call from the pay phone, and in the one moment of trademark pitch-black BB humor in this otherwise downer of an episode, Walt asks to “speak to the agent in charge of the Walter White investigation.” When he’s asked who’s calling he says, “Walter White”, leaves the pay phone dangling off the hook and goes to wait for his capture on a bar stool.
As he sips his ‘Dimple Pinch’, something catches Walt’s eye as the bartender flips through the channels. It’s his old friends Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz. They’re atoning for their proximity to Heisenberg by basically denying Walt all of his legit contributions to the world. They say the only thing Walt contributed to their company is half of the name. Gretchen says that while Heisenberg may still be at large, the Walter White she knew is gone.
And as the police pull up to the rural shack of a bar, he is gone. Vanished, leaving only his half sipped drink on the bar. Cue twangy BB theme music. Fade out.
One episode left. I cannot wait to see what’s in store. In the meantime, I’ll end with a few random thoughts:
- Chemo and surgery basically gave Walt just enough time to truly and totally screw over his family. I’ll bet Skyler is kicking herself about ever having that family intervention back in the first season. She was really the only one pushing for treatment at the time….
- On the subject of Skyler, I feel that it’s becoming more and more clear that Walt feels he has made many difficult (and obviously misguided) choices in his life out of his unwavering devotion to her. Including perhaps leaving Gray Matter just before it became wildly profitable? Back in season two, episode 'Peekaboo' Gretchen says that Walt left her unexpectedly, out of nowhere, and then it appears that shortly thereafter he started up with Skyler, as he was still working at Gray Matter when he started to woo her. A flashback clarifying the situation is definitely on my finale wish list.
- Self imposed solitary confinement is certainly not better than the situation that Saul outlined for Walt at the beginning of the episode. As a Dillinger level celebrity in prison Walt would at least have regular access to medication, a social life, and a lack of gnawing conscience for letting his wife take the heat for his crimes.
- If last weeks episode served as the climax for what the entire series had been setting up, this episode felt like set up for the finale. Mr. Chips to Scarface means that flash-forward gun is getting used, but on who and how? Also – the ricin?!?
- Does anyone else think that Lydia might save Jesse? I’m holding out every hope that he survives the finale.
- Lastly, our Tighty “Mr. White”-y Watch has an unexpected entry. Walt did not surprise us with a switch to boxers, but we do get an extended scene with him in long johns. Still, it doesn’t count. Here’s holding out for a glimpse in the finale.