Frame-By-Frame: Breaking Bad S5E9 – Blood Money

SPOILER WARNING: This recap, as we’re sure you expect, contains spoilers if you haven’t seen the episode which aired Sunday. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read further — watch the episode and come back. No saying we didn’t warn you!

Give Vince Gilligan credit. Just as you think you’ve got his show and its characters figured out, that there’s nowhere they can go and still surprise you, he finds a few new ways to turn a screw and prove the rules of TV as we know it no longer apply. Forget waiting for multiple episodes of the final season to tick by before we get our confrontation between Walter and Hank. By the time we fade to black punches have been thrown, accusations made which cannot be taken back, and with cards laid upon the table there’s no turning back.

The ball’s in Hank’s court. Where exactly does he want to be when all’s said and done in seven episodes? He could be the DEA hero, bringing in Heisenberg cancer or no, putting him on trial Whitey Bulger style to show that ultimately crime doesn’t pay. But to do that he’ll have to be willing to expose his many failures to clue in on what’s been hiding right under his nose all these years, while destroying his entire family as he does it.

“You don’t give a shit about family,” he sneers at Walter in the show’s final moments. But Hank has shown through the years that he, above all else, does. And to be the man who plays hero to the rest of the world while shredding the lives of his loved ones, that’d be a tough pill to swallow.

Hank, however, has more reasons than just about anyone to take this case personally. Since the very beginning Walter has operated right under his nose, and more than anything has found ways to actively thwart Hank’s investigations, while putting the man’s life directly on the line. Were it not for Walter’s interference, Hank certainly wouldn’t have attacked Jesse, meaning he wouldn’t have gone into the attack by the Cousins unarmed. He certainly wouldn’t have been on the Cartel’s radar — without Walter’s involvement with Tuco, there never would have been a south-of-the-border showdown.

It makes sense then that Hank’s reaction to his mid-season revelation that Walter is Heisenberg would be slow-burn rage developing into a full-throttle panic attack. But unwilling to step back and take things slow, he guns for real hard-core evidence that his theory is the correct one. It barely takes a day for him to rediscover the video footage of the season one methylamine heist, compare Gale’s handwriting to the note at the front of Leaves of Grass, and find the sketch of Heisenberg which was among the Cousins’ belongings. All this is enough to warrant bugging Walt’s car, which in turn brings about the surprise third-act confrontation.

But that was only the icing on the cake of what was an astonishingly solid piece of television writing. Jesse has taken Walter’s “blood money” comments from last season to heart, and can’t bear to spend the money. He can’t put the past in the past without admitting that he then cannot be redeemed from what’s been done. Saul thwarts his attempts to give half his money to Mike’s granddaughter and half to the parents of the dead boy who witnessed their Great Train Robbery. So, in a wrenching scene, he’s reduced to frantically throwing the money in $10,000 bundles randomly around the city, each pitch attempting to assuage his guilt while ridding him of the money which symbolizes everything wrong about his life. Even then you can see it in his eyes — he knows Walter is right. The past is the past, and Jesse clearly sees no future worth living.

At the very least, Jesse is aware that there’s no way Mike still walks among the living. Were that true, he opines, there’s no way Walt would have dared execute those ten witnesses. Walt tries to exercise his Heisenberg Mind Trick on his partner, telling him more bullshit lies while saying he needs him to believe the “truth” that Mike lives. “Like you said,” Jesse blows him off. “Mike’s alive.” Again, however, the truth shows in his eyes.

Walt, meanwhile, has nothing to do but try to live a normal life while continuing to launder his incredible stash of drug money. It’s odd to watch him negotiating the rearrangement of various air fresheners for maximum profitability while wishing customers an “A1 day.” But we get a glimpse of his cold, calculating drug-lord power when Lydia comes in and all but begs him for her life. Walter’s stare echoes the kind of brutal detachment we’ve seen from Fring when he’d outmaneuver Walter from behind the Pollos Hermanos counter. The quality of her meth has declined to below seventy percent without his expertise at the helm, Lydia argues, begging him to return and save her hide: “You’re putting me in a box,” she says, shaking. “You know what that can mean.” No matter. Walter tells her it’s no longer his concern, and when Skyler figures out who she is, she orders Lydia off the property: “Get out of here and never come back.”

We know from the pre-credits sequence, a brilliantly post-apocalyptic view of the White residence as seen through future-Walt’s eyes, that there’s nothing good coming from these final seven episodes. At the very least his family is gone, the house is locked behind a fence, abandoned, with a drained swimming pool turned into a neighborhood skate park. Inside, the name “HEISENBERG” is scrawled in huge yellow letters, and when Walter sees his neighbor Carol, she all but collapses, dropping her bag of oranges in a perfect Godfather-esque portent of doom. We know Walt has the ricin, but what power it still holds remains to be seen.

In the end, Walter has made his choices. There’s little control he has left to exercise beyond making threats. Hank, however, has no easy answers in his quest to bring Heisenberg to justice while still finding some way to salvage his family’s honor. His is the true hero’s journey, and now that we’ve finally had the Walt / Hank confrontation, he’s the one whose choices are going to determine who pays the biggest price.