Written by Peter Gould (Previous Episodes: “A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal,” “Bit by a Dead Bee,” “Better Call Saul,” “Caballo sin Nombre,” “Kafkaesque,” “Half Measures,” “Problem Dog,” “Salud,” and “Hazard Pay”)
Directed by Bryan Cranston (Previous Episodes: “Seven Thirty-Seven” and “No Más.”
The final season of the greatest television series in history kicked off its second half yesterday with “Blood Money,” an episode that continued the basic format of the first half of the season: a hint of a strange future followed by Jesse dealing with the emotional fallout of recent events and Heisenberg dealing with the physical and professional (for lack of a better word) fallout.
Once again, we open in the future, with the behaired Walter White and his old car with a machine gun in the trunk. It was a tense, scoreless sequence as he drove up in front of what turned out to be the remnants of his old house, squeezed through a temporary chain link fence and walked inside, then took out the ricin capsule he had placed in the electrical socket long ago, and returned to his car. The quiet of the scene, the added tension of knowing that there is a machine gun in the trunk (which he opened twice), and its air of mystery gave it a tension that it could easily lack.
This scene gave us some further clues about Heisenberg’s future. The house has been surrounded by a fence but has been empty long enough for vandals to get inside and spray paint, including one who has painted “Heisenberg” in bold, yellow letters across one wall. It has been emptied out completely (even the kitchen island was missing) and has become a run-down, dilapidated shell of what it once was. And then, Walt/Heisenberg’s former neighbor, Carol, sees him, and is utterly terrified, telling us that Heisenberg’s identity is even known to those in the area who are not part of the business or law enforcement. We already knew that he was not going to be able to keep the secret once Hank found out (Hank is too smart and tenacious to let that happen.), but now we know that his identity has become public knowledge.
Throughout the rest of the episode, we are moving back and forth between two plot threads: Heisenberg and Hank dealing with the consequences of Hank’s discovery last episode in one thread and Jesse still reeling from the consequences of his actions in the other.
Jesse’s plot thread, while it gives Aaron Paul a good showcase for a performance that was long overshadowed by Bryan Cranston’s lead, has grown rather stale at this point. We’re watching Jesse wallow in self-pity and remorse, seeking a way to rid himself of the title “blood money.” He turns to Saul for help, but Saul runs to Heisenberg, unwilling to cross his dangerous top client, and so Jesse finally, in desperation, turns to literally throwing the money at houses in a poor neighborhood. In isolation, it’s not a bad sequence of events for showing Jesse’s despair, but at this point we’ve basically spent the last year and a half just watching Jesse go through these same feelings of despondency, with only a brief interlude of cogency. It’s still sad, but it’s starting to wear, at least for me.
Meanwhile, in a surprise for me, it turns out that Walt was actually telling the truth and is out of the business. He has been out for a month, having turned the operation over, and even refuses entreaties from Lydia to rejoin the business as its quality control fails without him. He and Skyler are running the car wash, successfully, and considering adding a new car wash in order to launder the money more quickly. Even their relationship appears to be in a much better place than it has been since the first season, as they are able to discuss business dealings without issue and Walt can tell her who Lydia is and Skyler’s reaction is to help get rid of her.
However, of course the centerpiece of the episode is what the hell Hank does when he comes out of that bathroom. In a really nice sequence that used some unusual auditory and visual tricks that emphasized what a weird situation this was for Hank, he walks out, hides the book in Marie’s purse, and makes up a plausible excuse about feeling ill–while looking like he’s considering just punching Walt in the face–before taking his wife away from the man he now knows to be the most dangerous meth cook he’s ever encountered. It was a bit surprising to me that he decided not to tell anyone at work, since even though Hank has always been a lone wolf of an investigator, he’s probably now rendered the book, which is the only evidence he has, inadmissible in court and he’s now opened himself up to an attack from Heisenberg that would end the entire investigation. However, it wasn’t really out of character for the bulldog that is Hank Schrader to decide to do his own investigating, hide it from everyone until he’s certain, and figure everything out on his own while not even considering the danger in which he has placed himself.
The biggest surprise; however, was that the Hank/Walt confrontation happened so quickly. It’s an interesting confrontation, especially considering that it begins with Hank so predictably punching Walt in the face. Walt is clearly confused by the interaction, switching back and forth between his persona as Walt and his persona as Heisenberg as he attempts verbally to fight off his brother in law. However, it ends with a standoff, as Walt suddenly tells both Hank and the audience that his cancer is back. There were hints for us earlier, most notably his vomiting earlier in this episode that so clearly harkened back both to Gus Fring’s making himself vomit in Mexico and the early days of the series when Walt’s chemo caused him to spend so much time in that bathroom and his calling Saul during what appeared to be a chemotherapy treatment, but this is apparently the first Hank knows about it. It says a lot about Hank, though, that his reaction is, “Good. Rot, you son of a bitch.” When he receives not sympathy, Walt turns back into Heisenberg, saying that he will not survive to spend time in prison and finally threatening Hank, warning him to “tread lightly.” Hank stares back at him, and there is simply no resolution at this point, and it’s difficult to see where this particular confrontation is going.
Visually, Bryan Cranston does by far his best work in the show’s history here. His earlier episodes were a bit overly showy, loaded with odd camera angles and weird color choices that seemed to be there to draw attention to the director rather than advance the plot, but this time he seems perfectly in line with the show’s normal visual tone, and his unusual touches–like the sequence of Hank walking out of the bathroom–are perfectly suited to the show.
Overall, this episode was a strong opening to the end of the series. I feel a little bored with Jesse’s antics at this point, but I trust Vince Gilligan and company to take it someplace interesting.
- Remember when Mike said that Lydia was dangerous and “deserved to die as much as any man [he’d] ever met?” Walt clearly still does not think so.
- 68% is pretty far to fall in a month of his being out. I would guess he left the chemistry in the hands of Todd, but he seemed to be very studious of the master Heisenberg before, so it seems strange that he would have let the standards fall so far.
- I still have no clue why he would need the machine gun, and feeling like he needed the ricin is even weirder. It has to be some sort of confrontation with Lydia and her associates, because nothing else makes sense, but why on earth did he end up having to come back for that instead of just living out his days wherever the disappearer sent him?
- There is a lot of plot to get through in the last seven episodes, especially since one would expect at least one full episode dedicated to what happens after the future openings we’ve seen. My guess is that he is able to buy enough time from Hank to get to use the disappearer but doesn’t kill Hank, leaving the case hanging over Walt as he escapes. However, Lydia is unhappy about the quality she is getting and forces Jesse into the business. Walt somehow finds out about Jesse’s position and goes back to save Jesse, hoping that it will be a final act of redemption. That’s my best try for now.