Episode Title: "Blood Money"
Writer: Peter Gould
Director: Bryan Cranston
Previously on "Breaking Bad":
Despite his many failings, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) may be the most brilliant protagonist currently on TV. He’s certainly the darkest lead character on television, but his intellect has to be respected. However, one of Walt’s problems is that he has no respect for anyone else’s intelligence. Walt thinks that he’s so smart that no one can see through his bulls***.
Except Skyler (Anna Gunn) sees through it. So does Jesse (Aaron Paul). And now Hank (Dean Norris) has to come to terms with the man that his brother-in-law has become.
There are full spoilers ahead for “Blood Money,” so if you missed last night’s midseason premiere of “Breaking Bad” then you should probably skip this review or else the ricin will be used when you least expect it.
Once again, the “Breaking Bad” creative team gives us a glimpse of the ending in the opening flash forward scene. Fifty-two-year-old Walt returns to his old home, only to find it abandoned, boarded up and desecrated, with a few random teens using his empty pool as a skating rink. More alarmingly, the word “Heisenberg” is spray painted on the living room wall. And Walt’s former neighbor, Carol is terrified when she sees him. The only conclusion that can be made is that Walt’s activities as Heisenberg will not only be exposed, they’ll become publicly known.
The only reason that Walt came back to the house was to retrieve the ricin he hid in one of the electrical outlets. That ricin caplet is the proverbial Chekhov's gun of “Breaking Bad.” At some point, it will be used. Using Carol’s encounters with Walt in the present and in the future was a very clever way to tie the two time periods together, The only question about Carol is whether future Walt is so far gone that he’d harm her just for recognizing him.
Back in the present, Hank stumbles out of the bathroom because he found the Walt Whitman book that the late Gale Boetticher inscribed to Walt. It would be an understatement to say that Hank has trouble absorbing the fact that Walt is Heisenberg. On his way home with his wife Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt); Hank has a Tony Soprano style panic attack behind the wheel of his car. Although Hank has previously had similar panic attacks following his time in El Paso, Texas.
Hank’s investigation throughout the episode had a lot of callbacks to the earlier seasons of “Breaking Bad,” as we see a lot of familiar faces in his Heisenberg files. Hank even brings up the incident from season 3 in which Walt arranged to have Saul’s secretary call Hank with a message that Marie had been seriously injured in a car accident. Once Hank confirms that the Whitman book came from Gale, all of the surrounding mysteries of Heisenberg suddenly become clear.
Strangely enough, Walt is on his best behavior for most of the episode. His attempt to leave the drug world behind appears to be genuine. But Walt is charmingly clueless when it comes to running a car wash. Walt’s throwing himself into the business to fill the void in his life, but it’s Skyler who really seems to have the power in that location. Skyler is the one who already had an eye towards expanding the car wash franchise. And it’s Skyler who makes Lydia (Laura Fraser) drive off in a hurry when she tries to push Walt to revisit his former drug empire.
According to Lydia, “Ricky Hitler” aka Todd (Jesse Plemons), can only produce meth that is “68%” pure, compared to Walt’s 99% pure meth. Both Gale and Jesse could have probably come close to matching Walt’s results. But Todd is... kind of a moron. Yet Todd is a dangerous moron because he knows far too much about Walt and he’s the kind of idiot who will gun down a kid without even thinking about it. We don’t even see Todd in this episode, but it’s hard to imagine him running the mobile drug lab by himself.
Lydia’s desperate attempt to bring Walt back into the fold was amusing, because she never knows how to take no for an answer. Lydia’s interaction with Walt was almost a reversal of the scenes where Walt had to go into Los Pollos Hermanos to speak with Gus during season 4. This time, Walt had the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Jesse is falling apart from guilt, which is largely stemming from the kid that Todd killed. Badger (Matt L. Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) have a quick cameo at Jesse’s house as Badger shares his script idea for Star Trek that includes a pie eating contest between Spock and Chekov that ends badly with a transporter malfunction. It starts off as a stupid story, but the end result was oddly hilarious.
But not to Jesse. He takes the Star Trek talk as his cue to leave. Jesse tries to get Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to donate his entire $5 million share to Mike’s granddaughter and the parents of the kid that Todd shot. And like any good lawyer, Saul immediately betrays Jesse’s trust to alert his bigger client, Walt that their young “friend” is becoming a problem. The two takeaways here are that Saul loves his “happy endings” and Walt’s cancer is back.
Walt’s not above trying to use his cancer to gain sympathy from Hank later in the episode, but he attempts to keep the truth from his family this time around. Although Walt will probably not be able to hide those symptoms for very long. In the interim, Walt tries to play father figure to Jesse by returning the $5 million to him and attempting to convince Jesse that he earned the money. In response, Jesse reveals that he knows that Walt had Mike’s men murdered in prison... and that Mike is likely dead because Walt wouldn’t have crossed him while he was alive.
Walt actually tries very hard to convince Jesse that Mike is still out there, but the look on Jesse’s face shows that he’s not buying it. Unlike nearly everyone else on this show, Jesse has a conscience and he just can’t take it anymore. By the end, Jesse is tossing out stacks of cash all over Albuquerque. That could come back to haunt him, as Hank demonstrated that he remembers who Jesse is and how he is connected to Walt.
Which brings us to the main event: Walt vs. Hank. “Blood Money” didn’t waste any time building towards the confrontation that’s been coming since this series began. It’s astonishing that the creative team didn’t try to hold it off for at least one more episode, but the accelerated pace is one of the strengths of this show.
One of the weaknesses is that the show took a shortcut to making Walt aware that Hank was on to him. As stated many times, Walt’s a very smart guy. But it took some pretty big leaps in logic for Walt to figure out that the missing Walt Whitman book meant that Hank was on to him... and that Hank had tagged his car with a tracking device.
The confrontation between Walt and Hank makes this episode among the memorable in the series. The two men briefly try to pretend like nothing has changed, but Walt can’t keep himself from challenging Hank about the tracking device that he found and Hank just attacks him. Hank even brings up the time that Walt drove them straight into traffic just to keep him from Gus’ hidden drug lab. I love that the creative team never seems to forget those details.
Walt tries reasoning with Hank and pleading with him for sympathy. When that doesn’t work, Walt plays his trump card: his willingness to kill. Walt tells Hank to “tread lightly,” and it may actually be effective... for now. The opening scene showed us that this won’t end well for Walt and his secret is only safe for the moment. The thing is, taking Walt down may also spell the end of Hank’s career. Hank and Marie had to unknowingly take Walt’s drug money for his physical therapy. And Walt’s relationship with him will only make Hank look foolish or guilty.
Nothing in this episode feels like a wasted moment... although Badger’s Star Trek story came very close to annoying me. For the most part, this was a terrific set up for the remaining eight episodes of the series. It’s rare for a TV series to be this good throughout its entire run. If “Breaking Bad” can maintain that streak for just a few more weeks, it will have justifiably earned its place in TV history.