Walter White is a cockroach. Breaking Bad‘s second-half fifth season premiere, “Blood Money,” is a perfect summary of the retired drug kingpin’s unbeatable survival skills: sociopathy, cunning, emotional manipulation, meticulousness, and violence – or at least the threat thereof. Even with the return of his cancer, the apparent front-page news of his crimes, and the likely target on his back (it’s probable that one of the ten thugs he had stabbed in prison have vengeful family members), Walt is seen alive and free in the future, covering his tracks by recovering a vial of ricin, while his house, the symbol of everything he had worked and sweated and killed for, sits rotting and condemned, picked at by teenage vultures.
This was a flash-forward much more compelling than that of the fifth season premiere’s birthday breakfast, mostly because it suggests Walter’s imminent notoriety. The legend of Heisenberg will extend beyond the narco-corridos, which means the truth will come out: Walt will leave behind a trail of poisoned lives, including those of his somewhat guilty wife, his college-bound son and baby daughter, his inept-looking DEA brother-in-law, and his former accomplice. It’s a vision similar to the chilling end of The Shield, where survival becomes its own form of prison.
But back to the present. Having quit the meth-and-millions biz, Walter tries his hand at the Gus Fring life. In a pale gray sweater and khakis, he’s the very picture of modesty, though he’s undoubtedly slaking his monstrous ego by being the one to get away with it. In a jarringly gentle scene, the former car-washer calmly discusses with Skyler – who seems much too comfortable with laundering blood money – the positioning of the air fresheners. When Lydia, that walking bundle of nerves and high-functioning incompetency, drops by to ask for help with quality control in the industry Walter left behind, he and Skyler drive her away. It feels like a matter of time – and a very short time at that – before Lydia squeals on Walter, whether out of fear, in retribution, or as part of a plea bargain, if only Hank could find her.
The long-awaited showdown between Walt and Hank finally happens in Hank’s garage, surrounded by evidence of Walter’s crimes and cover-ups. Hank gives his brother-in-law a much-deserved punch in the face and confronts him with several misdeeds: ruining Hank’s investigation into Fring’s laundry, killing Fring and his henchmen, pretending Marie was in the hospital. (Now that the cat’s out of the bag, how much further until Hank realizes Walt handed him over to the twins and got him nearly crippled?)
Walt’s response is Heisenbergian: he disingenuously appeals to Hank’s sense of family loyalty and compassion (“I’m back on chemo and I’m fighting like hell”), but can’t help taunting (“you and I both know I would never see the inside of a jail cell”), and threatening him (“If you don’t know who I am maybe your best course would be to tread lightly”).
Hank is just now meeting Heisenberg, but Jesse is already well acquainted with that megalomaniac. Upon seeing Walter darken his door, Jesse doesn’t care to hide his unadulterated disgust, nor his assumption that his one-time father figure whacked his friend Mike. “The past is the past…There is nothing us for us to do but try to live ordinary, decent lives,” Walter spins, but, of course, Jesse has never been the type to simply get over things. Not to be uncharitable to Jesse, who’s endured so much loss throughout Breaking Bad’s previous five seasons (alternative title for the series: Breaking Jesse), but his catatonic brooding has become tedious to watch, even when the writers jazz up his scenes with Star Trek fanfic involving a pie-eating contest.
Jesse may have signed his own arrest warrant when his guilt over Mike and Drew Sharp’s deaths – and his inability to convince Saul, he of the Hello Kitty burner phone(!), to distribute his blood millions to Mike’s granddaughter and the train-robbery boy’s parents – lead him to throwing bricks of cash around Albuquerque like God’s own paper boy. (Maybe he should look into Kiva?) His desperate step toward redemption should attract police attention, and their first question will be where he got all that money.
Jesse’s weakness has always been his inability to invest his money and his time wisely; unlike the dirty Whites, he can’t give away his millions fast enough. Nor does he know how to while away his days without wallowing guilt. He and Walter make a fascinating contrast in post-crime life: how to return to the ordinary when the extraordinary has passed. With his delinquent past and gruesome family, Jesse has never really known how to live an ordinary life. Now it seems he never will.