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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a drama about Walter White, a chemistry professor who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He enlists the help of his former student Jesse Pinkman to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. AMC 2008-???

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Viewer
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Episode 5 - Dead Freight

12 January 2014

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Hank moves into his new office and Walt pays him a visit. Walt plants a bug and he, Jesse and Mike test whether Lydia is telling the truth about the tracked barrels. Mike still wants to kill her so she suggests another source of methylamine – a freight train. Jesse suggests the plan and Walt works out how they can stop a train and siphon off some methylamine, replacing it with water. The plan goes successfully until a kid riding his dirt bike shows up and catches them in the act.  

The Good: I liked this a lot on the surface. Let’s get to the non-heist parts first. I enjoyed seeing Walt once again use some of the truth to his advantage by weeping to Hank that Skyler doesn’t love him anymore. Hank’s acting was terrific as he tried to avoid dealing with a sobbing man and sought comfort in coffee instead. I liked the touch that Walter Jr was styling himself as Flynn again as a small rebellion against his parents actions. Skyler’s argument about keeping the kids out of harm’s way made absolute sense and foreshadowed the episodes closing moment directly.

Breaking Bad verges on self parody with the obscure nature of its teaser scenes. This one, with a child riding his bike in the dirt, paid off very directly in a way which gave the episode a great and terrible climax. No matter how clever Walt and Jesse think they are there will always be unforeseen problems. And as Skyler warned, children will be sacrificed to keep the business secret. I assume this will be the pivot on which this mini-season turns.

Before the boy showed up the heist was typically clever and tense. Once more we see the hubris of Walt and Jesse as they grin at being told they had thought of everything. The drama was simple and clear as Saul’s man once more did the dirty work and played dumb for the train drivers.

The Bad: There’s a line of believability on every show and it’s different for every person. Although I am an arch nitpicker there are plenty of ridiculous stories on TV shows that I have bought hook, line and sinker. For me the train heist was a step too far and called into question the believability of the people I was watching. I have no problem buying that Walt would think he could rob a train. At this point I think Walt wants to prove to anyone who knows him that he is a genius who can overcome any obstacle.

But I don’t see that in Jesse and especially not in Mike. I am glad we have the excuse of the nine guys in prison needing to be paid off as it does explain Mike’s willingness to cooperate with Walt at all. But after Mike explains how they can keep production rolling I just don’t see why he would agree to a plan that was so insanely risky. To both take something from the train while also pumping water into it involves so many moving parts that it feels like Mike should have refused to go along with the scheme.

I also became uncomfortable when Jesse and Todd had to undo bolts and turn wheels on a train that they had never seen before. I don’t believe they would have had that level of knowledge nor the competence under pressure needed to pull it all off. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the methylamine was neatly far back along the train where it could be stolen from under the bridge.

As the whole package came together I couldn’t escape the feeling that this plot was less about the characters and more about the producers living out a fantasy of directing a Western in addition to a gangster story.

The Unknown: I was uneasy about Walt bugging Hank too. I think there has been a steady trend away from the fear of being caught and toward plot expediency. It was certainly very convenient that the Houston police department could be heard on the bug admitting to planting the trackers just before Lydia was scheduled to be killed.

Similarly why was Jesse the one to suggest the siphoning plan? As with his suggestion of magnets (501) it felt like the writers didn’t want to leave him out rather than logically flowing from his body of knowledge.

I think it’s also worth saying that the death of a child was the major plotline at the end of season three (when Andrea’s son was killed). The circumstances were different of course but the emotions evoked were diluted slightly as a result. I hope the writers address why Todd was so willing to commit murder in that moment. He seems like an ambitious guy (from his willingness to help out) but we only know him as a burglar not a hardened criminal. Yes his orders were clear but crossing that line is a different thing altogether.  

I found it interesting that Jesse celebrated at the success of the heist instead of being mad at Walt for not pulling the plug sooner. I suppose Walt would justify it by saying that unless they rebalanced the weight they would get caught but once more he was exposing them to unnecessary risk. Mike though will look very weak if he doesn’t at least yell at Walt for ignoring his warnings.

Best Moment: I’m someone who gets wrapped up in a plot to the point where I had forgotten about the kid with the spider. His return made perfect sense and I had heard the train horn in the tease sequence. However I thought it came together really nicely to give you that “Uh oh!” moment that the show was going for.

The Bottom Line: This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed with Breaking Bad’s logic. Once again it was a specific incident rather than actions which undermine the whole show. If next week we are back to character interactions and recriminations over what occurred I’m sure I will get wrapped back up in the story.

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  • The DEA would surely check on their trackers. Wouldn't they realize something was up when they found a barrel missing but the tracker still there? Hank expected Gus' car to move; Gus left the tracker on the car when he drove home, and took it off to go anywhere else.

    Posted by Matt E, 12/01/2014 10:54pm (6 years ago)

  • Sadly the show vacillates from being brilliant to being silly. The whole reason for doing the heist was because the Methlamine at the warehouse had a tracker and they did not want to move it to the cooking site. Why didn’t they do what Gus did with Hank’s tracker and remove it and leave it on the shelf. Couldn’t agree more about Hank not pursuing Jesse especially after that rather silly scene when Jesse was in the RV and Hank was called away by a bogus emergency call. Just hope the remaining Eps of Season 5 regain some credibility.

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by Robertinspain, 12/01/2014 9:46am (6 years ago)

  • Dear TV Critic

    I really enjoy your podcast, but I can't say it doesn't make me shout at my car stereo sometimes. I always feel my jaw tightening a little as your "the Bad" section starts up. 

    If I may be so bold, I'd say that your main problem, and that of nitpickers in general, is that you basically don't really understand how to watch TV or experience a text in general. 

    It is fashionable among many podcasters and critics to make frequent mention of "suspension of disbelief" while leaving out the most important part of the equation; it is properly the WILLING suspension of disbelief that is the mission and our responsibility as viewers. 

    Of course suspending disbelief requires imagination which leads me to surmise that those who nitpick excessively may be possessed of rather dull imaginations. 

    To wit, regarding your dubious reaction to Jesse and Todd's fluid competence with the siphoning operation, rather than telling myself that that's not believable, I asked myself, somewhat subconsciously, what took place offscreen to explain their dexterity? Certainly the author can leave certain details to the viewer. 

    My mind immediately went to work filling in visions of them practicing at Old Joe's junkyard on some old derelict tanker. How is that not plausible? It's almost certain that they visited there in the course of assembling their equipment and it is quite common, in fictional media at least, for criminals to practice their skills or rehearse for complex operations. I mean, that is an absolutely easy gap for one's imagination to fill in and thus nourish the state of disbelief. It would greatly please me if you could take that notion to heart. 

    I guess I would probably be dismissed as a "fanboy" by less a gentleman than The TV Critic, and perhaps I may be that. Breaking Bad is the best TV show I've ever seen and there has never been an episode that I'd rate below 80 on a 100 scale. It consistently amazes me. But I truly believe that it's less a product of fanboyism than it is simply my holding up my end of the poetic faith between author and audience.

    Anyway, please forgive my directness. I have some objections to your method, but I remain a fan. 

    DrZin

    Viewer score: 94 / 100

    Posted by DrZin, 18/08/2012 8:21am (7 years ago)

  • I'm still playing catchup with your reviews. Tremendous to hear you criticism of dead freight. As usual an oasis in a dessert of fanboy casts. Season 5 has been a serious step backward for the show as far as I'm concerned, but I have to admit I enjoyed Dead Freight. Folks are making great points about the implausibility of the caper, but I somehow uncharacteristically ignored most of them. I have more of a problem with the wooden mainstreaming of the characters this season. Walt's Mr Chips transition, once smooth, is now over-the-top unbelievable as he's redlining his performance as a sophisticated Tony Montoya. Skyler's adult onset hysteria, Jesse's new Mensa status and Mike's continued waffling are all contributing to weaken the show.

    Hank is doing a great job and he and Lydia (of all people) are really carrying the freight. Bring back skinny Pete and Badger.

    Viewer score: 75 / 100

    Posted by dbates, 17/08/2012 3:29pm (7 years ago)

  • I have to agree this one stretched my skepticism to nearly the breaking point. It is feeling like the writers have gotten into comic book territory and are having so much fun playing Jesse James they've lost the previously gripping sense of reality that made me love this show so much. I can only hope this improves and doesn't become yet another show that falls apart in season 5.

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by Nono Ono, 16/08/2012 7:14am (7 years ago)

  • I saw several parallels to Sam Peckinpah's western film "The Wild Bunch" in this episode which make me wonder if they were intentional. In that movie there was an elaborate train heist, much like the one orchestrated by Walt and his crew. There is also the use of insects as metaphors for the larger story at play. Peckinpah’s film opens with a group of children witnessing a scorpion being eaten by ants, which foreshadows the eventual fate of the films anti-heroes. In this week’s episode, I think the tarantula in the jar was meant to represent the inflated self-delusion Walt is experiencing as a result of becoming a drug king pin. Though a large and menacing insect, the tarantula is trapped by the imperceptible walls of the jar that surrounds it. Walt may feel like the meanest and smartest drug dealer in town, but his ego and sense of self-aggrandizement blinds him from the fact that he too is trapped.
    As always, thanks for the great podcast and reviews.
    Roberto Suarez
    Portland, OR

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by Roberto Suarez, 15/08/2012 8:35pm (7 years ago)

  • I just think Walter White is less interesting this season. His transformation into a Scarface type bores me. The conflicts between him and Skyler are less "real" than before. In fact, all the relationships between the main characters feel less interesting, real, unpredictable. You can only reinvent yourself to a certain point I guess, but the main problem for me is that the whole story now feels more written than lived. Still the greatest show out there though...

    Viewer score: 55 / 100

    Posted by Noodles Araaonson, 15/08/2012 12:49pm (7 years ago)

  • My first time posting a comment and before I do, I want to say I'm always a little concerned with how nit-picky the reviews can be sometimes regarding things we don't get shown and have to take at face value as having happened. There simply isn't enough time in each episode for the writers and producers to show everything, so we have to take in good faith the implication that they did. If you drill down far enough you could unpack any tv show enough to show its flaws. I do enjoy the reviews but wanted to mention it as this is my first time commenting.

    With the train heist, BB came close to jumping the shark. We knew that Lydia would be able to provide Walt, Mike and Jesse roughly six hours lead time and most importantly the position of the car on the train that would be holding the methylamine and to have it be exactly in place over the bridge is a touch of good luck for the the guys and ultimately plausible. But to believe the vehicle stalled exactly on the traintracks boders on absurd, not to mention, I am sure the conductors are aware they are in a dead spot which would surely make them more suspisious. Throw in the noise a generator makes which had to have carried to the front of the train, the ease at which Jesse and Todd did their parts, it was unbeievable in my opinion. Too many moving parts had to come together too nicely.

    Maybe the writers were wanting to have some fun and to be honest, the show has been exceptional up to this point so I am willing to forgive.

    I find it interesting that Jesse has twice now come up with the answer to a problem, which would seem out of character for him. Makes me think there is some forshadowing going on here.

    I like that Skyler is back now and finally over her pity party. She is fighting back at Walt. She is no fool and sees right through him. You can see on her face the contempt she has. Their verbal sparring sessions between her and Walt are pure gold.

    I wonder if placing the microphone in the picture frame won't come back to haunt Walt and potentially be his downfall. Is Hank in a high enough position at the DEA that his office might now be routinely checked for bugs or other devices? Will someone accidentally knock it off the desk and break it open? Will Marie stop by Hank's new office to check it out and decide she doesn't like the picture and want to change it? I could see Marie doing that. If it is somehow eventually found, Hank is going to remember walking back in and seeing Walt holding it. The look on Hank's face when it all falls into place for him will be priceless. Hank will find out. There is no way Walt walks away from all this and doesn't get caught/killed. Scarface died and the writers keep dropping the scarface references. More forshadowing on how all this ends for Walt I think.

    I wish we saw more of Saul. He has disappeared from the show.

    Lastly I feel cheated by by having Todd shoot the kid. If this was going to happen, had to happen, to ramp up or show continued escalation, then having Todd do it was a cop out in my opinion. I can't explain it, but it didn't seem right that he was the one to shoot the boy.

    Anyways, your reviews are one of the first I read and the only one I podcast so despite my introductory rant, I enjoy your thoughts and insight from each review.

    On a side note, and as someone pointed out, in the states, a score below 70 is considered a D and while not failing, is looked upon as being bad...one step up from failure which is a score below 60. This might explain the confusion with your scoring system for us Americans.

    Viewer score: 75 / 100

    Posted by Corey, 15/08/2012 3:59am (7 years ago)

  • Strange! None of the podcasts have downloaded through my subscription. I came to check if you were putting them out Robin! I don't know if it's just me, or iTunes in Canada. I'll have to track them down! :)

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Nick "C.R.", 14/08/2012 5:22pm (7 years ago)

  • Best scene had to be Skyler and Walt discussing terms of her 'imprisonment'. Fabulous work from both Actors.

    If I had a bad column it would be that this heist seemd far to complicated to pull so quickly and seemed it should have included more lookouts or something. I also think sound carries in a desert environment and I am surprised that the Engineers wouldn't hear Walt's pump but I guess the train idylling could cover it.

    It was fun to see them use the same guy used in last season to shut down the car wash.

    It made sense that the boy would be drawn to the stopped train but I really hoped it wouldn't end with him shot. Well, it is all about "Breaking Bad" afterall.

    The ending underscores Skyler's concerns for her children. You just know Jesse will be either unhinged or hardened by this turn of events.

    Can't wait for the next episode.

    Viewer score: 78 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 14/08/2012 1:01am (7 years ago)

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