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Breaking Bad - 5.09 "Blood Money" - Review & Discussion

So I guess W.W. doesn't stand for Willy Wonka after all, huh Hank? Breaking Bad is finally back with the second half of its 5th and final season which kicked off last night with "Blood Money". Going into the season it seems like the writers have set up the last batch of episodes as an epilogue, a true finish to the story that the first four and a half seasons set up. When we last saw Walter White he had vowed to abandon the meth business in order to make things right with his wife Skyler and get back to a normal life with their kids, just as Hank finally seemed to catch on to the fact that he'd been chasing after his brother-in-law all along.

The opening sequence is a continuation of the flash-forward that opened the fifth season premiere - we're on or around Walt's 52nd birthday, sometime after purchasing an M60 Machine Gun from Lawson (from whom he'd earlier purchased his first revolver) and Walt arrives back to his house. It's trashed and vacant inside, HEISENBERG spray-painted across a wall, kids using the pool in the backyard as a skate park. Walt retrieves the vile of ricin he had once hidden behind an electrical socket in his old bedroom and prepares to leave. The scene features probably my favourite shot of the entire episode, as Walt gets a glance of himself in the broken and dirtied mirror in his old bedroom. His reflection is distorted and muddy, and he seems to study himself as intensely as the audience does for a moment. Once he exits the house, his neighbour Carol catches a glimpse of Walt and screams in horror. Clearly the secret's out.

But that's all we get of future Walt, and now we dive right back in to where we left off last time, with Hank exiting the bathroom in a sort of state of shock, Leaves of Grass in hand. I'm glad the White family home is still intact, at least for a little while. The final season just wouldn't feel right without a few dozen awkward breakfast scenes tossed in around the family table. Hank makes a quick excuse for an exit, and while Marie, Skyler and Walt continue with their small talk out to the car, Hank is seething mad. On the way home, he crashes into a lawn, and when we see them again after three hours spent in emergency, with a heart-attack ruled out, Hank forbids Marie from telling Skyler what happened. In his workspace in the garage Hank pulls out the copy of Leaves of Grass he grabbed from the White bathroom and compares the inscription to hand-writing in copies of Gale's notebook. It's a match. I couldn't be happier with the speed at which this story is progressing, especially after extended periods during the third and fourth seasons that felt a lot to me like too much back-and-forth, with clues dangled in front of Hank only to have them conveniently swept away. With only seven episodes left after this one I suppose it was inevitable, but the payoff here just feels fantastic.

Something else I quite liked about this episode came through first in the next scene, as we see Walt and Skyler at the carwash. The simplicity of the earlier seasons seemed to be very present in this episode, with no cartels to run from and no extended badass heist scenes. Don't get me wrong - I love the badass heist scenes, but there's something special about an episode that can focus almost entirely on character and forego all the eye-candy. Walt and Skyler are civil with each other here, almost normal, and they discuss the possibility of opening a second location to launder cash a bit quicker. Any semblance of a normal life is quickly shaken, though, as Lydia shows up at the car wash begging Walt to give her a 'tutorial' - her meth just isn't cutting it. He does his best to brush her off, but it's Skyler who catches on and scares Lydia away. "Get out of here, NOW. Don't ever come back here", she tells Lydia, stone-faced, giving her best Carmela Soprano. "Do you understand me? GO." And she's gone, though I doubt we've seen the last of Lydia. Walt watches on and I can't help thinking he's a bit little turned on. I like badass Skyler.

When we pick up with Jesse he's totally zoned out of what's easily the most hilarious conversation of the episode, as Badger and Skinny Pete are getting high discussing the intricacies of life in the Star Trek universe. My favourite line of the episode comes here, courtesy of Badger: “I ever tell you about my Star Trek script? Yeah, I gotta write it down, is all.” HAH! I'd pay handsomely to read that. Not quite as handsomely, though, as Jesse is willing to pay to try to alleviate his guilt. He shows up at Saul's office with two duffle-bags filled with $2.5 Million which he instructs Saul have delivered to Kaylee Ehrmantraut (Mike's granddaughter) and the parents of the boy who was shot for potentially witnessing the railroad heist. Saul knows it's not a good idea, and when Jesse leaves, he contacts Walt, who we see receives the call from chemotherapy sessions. Has Skyler gotten her wish? Looks like the cancer is back.

Walt shows up at Jesse's place (now sadly missing Badger and Skinny Pete) carrying the two duffel-bags he had left with Saul. This scene is phenomenal, from the writing, to direction, to the performances of both actors here, especially Aaron Paul. Jesse can't look Walk in the face as his former partner tries to talk him into keeping the money. Walt just comes off so dirty here, and you can feel the disgust as Jesse listens to him talk, but takes nothing at face value. "She needs someone to look after her" he responds, holding back tears, when Walt asks why Kaylee would be getting the money when Mike is completely capable of supporting her. "I think he's dead, and I think you know that." Jesse rations that Walt could have never gone after Mike's men without a worry had he not known Mike was out of the picture, though Walt tries his hardest to convince him otherwise. Later, while sleeping in his car Jesse is approached by a homeless man asking for some "spare change". Jesse hands him a wad of cash, and then drives around the neighbourhood throwing stacks of bills out the window sort of like a crazy meth-head Robin Hood.

Back at home in the not-yet-destroyed White dining room, the whole family is having dinner. Walt excuses himself and we pretty much get confirmation of what we saw briefly earlier: the cancer is back. Walt is hiding it from his family, clearly, as he runs the water while he gets sick, and pulls his pills out from where they seem to be hidden under the sink. As he's on his knees, we get a shot showing the top of the toilet, sans Leaves of Grass, while Walt's head is in the bowl. But soon he notices too, and after searching high and low he begins to question Skyer over Hank's mystery illness (he had to cancel bowling! and hasn't been to work all week!). Well Walt catches on a lot faster than Hank does, and outside he discovers a tracker underneath his car, so the next day he's over at the Schrader house, not quite guns a'blazing but certainly not subtle either. After some brief back and forth, while Hank tries to scurry away evidence from the Heisenberg case that he's been going over, Walt reveals the tracker.

This is it. Hank closes the garage door. The men stare at each other so intensely you think the show could end right there and then bam, Hank punches Walt out. "It was YOU!" he screams as he continues to beat on his brother-in-law. It felt so damn good to see Hank have the upper hand for once and not be the blind guy getting strung along. Walt continues to play dumb though, and eventually reveals what we already know. "My Cancer is back." he says. "Good," Hank replies, "Rot you son of a bitch." Walt keeps up his act as Hank suggests he will talk only once Skyler and the kids are safe and out of Walt's house. "I don't even know who you are" Hank tells him. And so, Bryan Cranston transforms suddenly from broken down and pleading to vacant-eyed terrifying as only he can in this role: "If you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”

So there we have it. Seven episodes left, and I've probably got more questions now than when last season ended. Most notably, who the heck do I root for here? Walt is our antihero no doubt, the true centre of the show, and our protagonist in a typical sense. But Hank is just trying to catch the bad guy. Does the fact that Walt's cancer is back change anything? Does he deserve to go out quietly and uncharged? What we saw last season proved without a doubt that Walt's drive to cook meth had gone far beyond his original justification of leaving his family with enough money to live comfortably, but Hank bringing him to justice now, as Walt said, would do little more than destroy his family at this point. So what do you think? Who are you rooting for, and where's all this headed? Will Hank out Walt, or someone else? I'm definitely up for discussion in the comments & I'll see you back here next week with a recap of 5x10 "Buried".

You can also catch me on twitter here.

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