TV Club

Breaking Bad recap: “Dead Freight”

According to Google Maps, the tracks check out.

Breaking Bad Season 5.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad

Photo by Frank Ockenfels/AMC.

To agree with everyone, this was just a masterfully structured episode. The detail I particularly loved was Jesse blurting out—like Jesse James?—in response to the initial proposal that they rob a train. If we all remember Mike’s line on James, Walt, and Gus from a few weeks back, then surely Jesse does, too. That, along with his priceless “like the mafia?” response to the revelation that Lydia put out a hit on Mike was a nice reminder that Jesse’s not, at heart, the hardened criminal that Walt and Mike are.

I also liked that it was Todd who pulled the trigger and Todd who so admiringly exclaimed that Walt and Jesse had it all figured out. Here’s a guy who’s an enthusiastic criminal looking for the chance to break into the big time. He spotted the nanny-cam, he took the riskiest position in the train heist, he loves a good caper, and he’s willing to shoot on sight. Frankly, it seemed like an overreaction to me. A kid disappearing is going to raise a lot more law enforcement eyebrows than a kid’s uncorroborated and implausible story about what he saw out in the desert. It’s unlikely—as Walt explained—that anyone at Madrigal will be particularly upset about the missing methylamine, doubly unlikely that they’ll blame BNSF for it rather than the manufacturer, and triply unlikely that anyone is going to bother linking back some missing methylamine to this kid’s story. Still, the eager gangster is a great counterpoint to Jesse, the accidental criminal mastermind, and his two faux-reluctant mentors.

Emily, I thought the Walt/Lydia tête-à-tête made sense. Some excuse was given off camera. Whatever it was, it was a little dubious-sounding since we see Jesse enjoining Mike to trust Walt. Maybe Walt said the bad blood between Mike and Lydia was a distraction, so he needed to talk to her alone. That gave Walt the chance to further explore Lydia’s past efforts to kill Mike’s guys and perhaps lay the groundwork for a future alliance with her against them. 

I suppose it’s lowbrow of me to say so, but I do prefer watching Breaking Bad the meth-trafficking procedural than Breaking Bad the family drama. I even launched a procedural inquiry of my own into whether there is any such stretch of track like the one in tonight’s episode. Survey says—yes. The freight tracks hug I-40 through most of McKinley County (or, rather, the interstate probably hugs the old railroad right of way) except near Exit 39 where the tracks swing wide to fit a refinery complex between the interstate and the train. Then, so that through-running trains can pass by even if stuff’s being loaded at a refinery, a bypass loop swings even further north of the interstate and has an at-grade crossing with County Road 27 about a mile north of Coolidge, where the truck stunt could have been pulled. It all checks out—genius. But then the Skyler plot drags us back into Tediousville.

This time, though, Skyler’s course of action makes an admirable amount of sense. The plan per se doesn’t add up—obviously the kids can’t live with Hank and Marie forever. What’s more, it’s not really clear why having the kids live across town with their aunt and uncle makes them any safer. Someone looking to get leverage or vengeance on Walt still has every opportunity to harm or threaten them. But Skyler’s focused her angst on a clear and seemingly accurate critique of Walt-as-Heisenberg.

The story he tells himself is that this is for the good of his family. But at this point Walt’s meth cooking and Skyler’s money laundering mean the family has enough money for a decent middle-class existence. Going for more at this point objectively endangers them. Walt can be as macho about it as he likes, but there’s simply no denying that even the most talented drug kingpin is in a more precarious position than the proprietor of a car wash. If Skyler can get Walt to focus on that point—the safety of his kids—then they’re back to making progress.

Conversely, a more tethered Walt might ask Skyler what she thinks he should do. Turn themselves in and have the kids sent into foster care? Just quit and hope Mike’s guys don’t turn them in? Or save up enough money to collaborate with Lydia on hiring some prison guards to murder nine more guys and then finding some way to off Mike? Doing that and then shutting down the business is probably the best choice for the kids. But it hardly comports well with Skyler’s post-Beneke spurts of moral outrage at the seamy side of the meth trade. That’s the conversation I’d like to see the Whites have. They both sincerely love their children, and they both claim to want what’s best for them, but neither is really looking squarely at what actually would be best for them—a final bloodbath, a retirement, and a divorce.

Now, here’s a question I was debating with friends recently: Are we ever going to get more Gray Matter backstory? Figure out what the deal was with Gretchen and Elliot? I hope so. Since Walt-in-the-present has become so dislikable, I’m more curious than ever about Walt-back-in-the-day.

We’ve got a Good Samaritan on the scene,