Recap: 'Breaking Bad' Episode 5 'Dead Freight' Will Leave You Speechless

Television
by Cory Everett
August 13, 2012 11:05 AM
17 Comments
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The opening teaser on “Breaking Bad” has proved to be one of the most elastic and effective storytelling devices used on the show. First utilized in the pilot, the opening plunged viewers into what appeared to be Walter White’s desperate final moments before spending the rest of the episode going backward to find out exactly how we got there. During the second season, the show used the opening minutes to tease out a season long mystery and most recently, the Season 5 premiere introduced "Walt 52," perhaps the most intriguing glimpse into the future thus far. But there is something special about this week’s enigmatic opening, seemingly unconnected to anything else on the show, where you keep waiting for something to happen and it never does.

We just see a boy riding his dirt bike around in the desert who stops to pick up a tarantula. Without knowing exactly where or when this might be taking place, your mind starts racing to put together the puzzle. (Is this a flashback? Or flashforward? Will he come upon some bit of damning evidence?) But before you can find an answer, it cuts to the opening credits so quickly you’ll completely miss the faint sound of a train whistle in the distance. By the time the episode circles back to the boy, you’ve probably completely forgotten about him. But that doesn’t make his tragic fate any less of a punch to the gut. This is the genius of “Breaking Bad.”

Like the Season Premiere, “Dead Freight” also centers around a heist. This time Walt, Jesse, Mike and (because an extra man is needed) Jesse Plemons' Todd must lift a large quantity of methylamine off of a stopped train without the train ever knowing it was robbed. But as rules of heists go, no matter how much you plan, something unexpected will always come up to throw a wrench into the mix. Who wants to see a heist that goes exactly to plan anyway? As if on cue, as the crew are siphoning the methylamine, a good samaritan stops by to help things along. As the train begins to pull away, Walt ignores Mike’s requests to abort the mission, once again asserting his determination for finishing the job at all costs.

This is the same resolve that led him earlier in the episode to sell out his brother in law by planting a bug in Hank’s office. The brilliant thing is that not only does Hank fall for this routine but so do we. But unlike Hank, we should know better by now. We’ve seen Walt lie and manipulate time and time again but when he comes crying to Hank about marital troubles, we still want to believe him. Hank almost walks in on Walt planting a listening device in a picture frame on his desk -- which means he’s sure to put the pieces together later on when that device is discovered -- but Walt still pulls it off.

As it turns out, Lydia did not plant the tracking device on the methylamine. She may still be up to something but for now we have to believe that she’s smart enough to know that fucking with Mike was not a good idea. She gets to live, for now. The other female on the show who poses a threat to Walt currently is Skyler, whose stunt last week temporarily won her the upper hand. This week, Skyler lays it out for Walt. She know’s at this point she’s basically his “hostage” and offers, “I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” in exchange for his promise that the kids stay away. Still, even with this deal in place it’s unlikely that Skyler will be able to keep up her end of the bargain for long.

Walt may be thinking a few steps ahead of those closest to him but his actions are becoming increasingly careless. He wants to be (if not caught then at least) recognized for his work. His recklessness during the train heist put both Jesse and Todd in danger but thus far his hubris has been rewarded as the methylamine robbery is pulled off successfully. But the celebration is short-lived as they’re interrupted by the boy on the dirt bike from the show’s opening. At first they stand there stunned, even Walt and Jesse aren’t sure exactly how to proceed, but before they can speak up Todd takes action and shoots him. It feels like a punch in the gut to both the audience and Jesse, whose expert planning may have saved the lives of the train conductors but couldn’t save this boy from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

During Todd’s introduction we wondered exactly what his role would be on the show, since you don’t cast a recognizable face like Jesse Plemons and just stick him in the background. So knowing that he’s going to impact the core group somehow, we wondered if he might have been an undercover agent working with the DEA but this obviously puts those suspicions to rest. Now we wonder if he might be Jesse’s undoing. Jesse is burdened with a conscience that Todd doesn’t seem to have. It seems possible that Walt may find the do-whatever-is-necessary Todd to be a more suitable partner. Might Todd be called on to take care of Jesse if he becomes a problem down the line? It wouldn’t surprise us.

Every week, Vince Gilligan and co. have to figure out how to outsmart an audience that gets savvier with each passing episode. Once you’ve caught on to a particular storytelling trick, you can usually start to spot one before the writers might intend, so credit the writers here for continually staying ahead of their viewers without ever losing a grasp on the characters. As a fan of “Lost,” I could always weather the dangling mysteries but could never stomach when the characters suddenly did something for the sake of story that seemed completely not in their character. Thankfully that has never been the case here. Gilligan has an infallible understanding of his characters and is determined to follow them for better or worse. [A-]

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17 Comments

  • voxleo | August 16, 2012 12:10 AMReply

    Or maybe the paragraphs WON'T take.

    Oh well.

  • voxleo | August 16, 2012 12:09 AMReply

    (one more time, maybe the PARAGRAPHS will take?)


    SPOT ON!! Captures everything about this great show exactly!

    I DID miss the train whistle at the open and experienced the precise mental rundown of possibilities of who that boy was and what that spider was for and after all that exercise of mental gymnastics, of course, promptly forgot about him completely anyway by the time I got involved in the heat of the heist. And then, of course, barely have time to connect the dots at the end of it all before that sucker punch hits.

    It is amazing how much conversation and speculation follows the show online. And even more amazing that despite some truly great insights and ideas and wild notions put forth in speculation about what's coming next, the writers STILL manage to leave us in slack-jawed surprise! I actually love solving puzzles and figuring out but they have just got me flat out beat with this show. They have done a marvelous job of remaining unpredictable - so much so that I have begun to see each episode as an exercise in "Holy s***, I didn't see THAT coming... NOW what?" while still not resorting to the blatantly absurd plot device that leaves you scratching your head or just rolling your eyes because people do stuff that they just wouldn't or shouldn't do, or at least not if they are of THIS space/time/dimension of reality (*cough* PROMETHEUS *cough, cough*)

    These guys have given the proper respect to their audience, and it would appear to be one of pretty high thinking caliber at that, so it's no mean feat to keep us guessing the way they have. I finally gave up and gave in to the experience. I've accepted that watching BB is like the first time you ride Space Mountain - trying to squint into the darkness to prepare for what might be coming is largely a futile effort. It's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride!

    Especially since they haven't insulted our intelligence with some cheesy Deus Ex Machina type stuff or the outright absurd. I trust them to do it right. Even with how far away we have come from the pictures of each character at the beginning to where we are now, the way they've been moved and changed by the repercussions of each choice has been very palatable without going south of what would ring true.

    It's been a solid journey - actually more like a journal or a character study, really - that connects the dots and fills in the blank spots when you look at someone you think you know at two spaces of time in their life and can't fathom how on earth they ended up so far away from where they had been. It is that distance of time that we don't see what happens to them and the choices they make which make that difference so unfathomable. I mean, one can see where the things have gone off center by tracing the path instead of tuning in at every odd or other time and just seeing the stark change without the catalysts.

    Makes me think about why it is so hard for people to get along sometimes because we just don't know what it is to walk in their shoes. Would Skyler really have been so surprised and rattled by what Walt has become if she and Walt hadn't already had some distance between them? What if they had been more involved in repairing that rift when the space was so much smaller, could it even have ended up the same way?

    I will very much enjoy letting them show me whatever they will in bringing the series to a close. Since they have had ample time to prepare and have earned my trust through staying the course to avoid those "wtf?" cop out choices even when they were unsure of where the whole thing might go, or for how long, I think it will most likely satisfy. I have real hope that it may do more than that and actually thrill.

    Or maybe be kinda like watching the people in the airport at the baggage claim when someone waits and waits for a bag that never comes down the ramp but even as the crowd is smaller and smaller as they claim their things and go, bits and pieces of what had been inside it start to trickle in amongst the other duffels and cases. You see a bit of blue or a balled up tshirt and think, "oh no, someone's luggage must have broken open, what a shame." It isn't till you recognize your favorite sweater in an untidy heap with your jeans and one of your shoes as they sort of get mashed onto the conveyor going by that you realize with dawning horror that it was yours.

    Whatever the end brings, they have successfully demonstrated just how many things can contribute to someone good "breaking bad." Walt has already arrived at the destination, and all that remains is to see what transpires as the folks around him start to realize that. We will watch as the other shoe drops and people start putting things into place. Now that he has stopped questioning himself, he will be the center of the storm where it may seem like Walt stays still and everything else moves around him from the whirlpool effect.

    Thanks so much to A&E for giving us some thing we've been craving as an audience for a long time now - a proper EFFORT and creative THINKING bit of work, not just something reheated and reworked of what was proven popular before for a profit. Good product for the sake of good product is what makes GREAT. (Remember, like how Sony USED to be?)

  • voxleo | August 16, 2012 12:06 AMReply

    SPOT ON!! Captures everything about this great show exactly!

    I DID miss the train whistle at the open and experienced the precise mental rundown of possibilities of who that boy was and what that spider was for and after all that exercise of mental gymnastics, of course, promptly forgot about him completely anyway by the time I got involved in the heat of the heist. And then, of course, barely have time to connect the dots at the end of it all before that sucker punch hits.

    It is amazing how much conversation and speculation follows the show online. And even more amazing that despite some truly great insights and ideas and wild notions put forth in speculation about what's coming next, the writers STILL manage to leave us in slack-jawed surprise! I actually love solving puzzles and figuring out but they have just got me flat out beat with this show. They have done a marvelous job of remaining unpredictable - so much so that I have begun to see each episode as an exercise in "Holy s***, I didn't see THAT coming... NOW what?" while still not resorting to the blatantly absurd plot device that leaves you scratching your head or just rolling your eyes because people do stuff that they just wouldn't or shouldn't do, or at least not if they are of THIS space/time/dimension of reality (*cough* PROMETHEUS *cough, cough*)

    These guys have given the proper respect to their audience, and it would appear to be one of pretty high thinking caliber at that, so it's no mean feat to keep us guessing the way they have. I finally gave up and gave in to the experience. I've accepted that watching BB is like the first time you ride Space Mountain - trying to squint into the darkness to prepare for what might be coming is largely a futile effort. It's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride!

    Especially since they haven't insulted our intelligence with some cheesy Deus Ex Machina type stuff or the outright absurd. I trust them to do it right. Even with how far away we have come from the pictures of each character at the beginning to where we are now, the way they've been moved and changed by the repercussions of each choice has been very palatable without going south of what would ring true.

    It's been a solid journey - actually more like a journal or a character study, really - that connects the dots and fills in the blank spots when you look at someone you think you know at two spaces of time in their life and can't fathom how on earth they ended up so far away from where they had been. It is that distance of time that we don't see what happens to them and the choices they make which make that difference so unfathomable. I mean, one can see where the things have gone off center by tracing the path instead of tuning in at every odd or other time and just seeing the stark change without the catalysts.

    Makes me think about why it is so hard for people to get along sometimes because we just don't know what it is to walk in their shoes. Would Skyler really have been so surprised and rattled by what Walt has become if she and Walt hadn't already had some distance between them? What if they had been more involved in repairing that rift when the space was so much smaller, could it even have ended up the same way?


    I will very much enjoy letting them show me whatever they will in bringing the series to a close. Since they have had ample time to prepare and have earned my trust through staying the course to avoid those "wtf?" cop out choices even when they were unsure of where the whole thing might go, or for how long, I think it will most likely satisfy. I have real hope that it may do more than that and actually thrill.
    Or maybe kinda like watching the people in the airport at the baggage claim when someone waits and waits for a bag that never comes down the ramp but even as the crowd is smaller and smaller as they claim their things and go, bits and pieces of what had been inside it start to trickle in amongst the other duffels and cases. You see a bit of blue or a balled up tshirt and think, "oh no, someone's luggage must have broken open, what a shame." It isn't till you recognize your favorite sweater in an untidy heap with your jeans and one of your shoes as they sort of get mashed onto the conveyor going by that you realize with dawning horror that it was yours.

    Whatever the end brings, they have successfully demonstrated just how many things can contribute to someone good "breaking bad." Walt has already arrived at the destination, and all that remains is to see what transpires as the folks around him start to realize that. We will watch as the other shoe drops and people start putting things into place. Now that he has stopped questioning himself, he will be the center of the storm where it may seem like Walt stays still and everything else moves around him from the whirlpool effect.

    Thanks so much to A&E for giving us some thing we've been craving as an audience for a long time now - a proper EFFORT and creative THINKING bit of work, not just something reheated and reworked of what was proven popular before for a profit. Good product for the sake of good product is what makes GREAT. (Remember, like how Sony USED to be?)

  • MASTER OF PUPPETS | August 13, 2012 6:10 PMReply

    "We’ve seen Walt lie and manipulate time and time again but when he comes crying to Hank about marital troubles, we still want to believe him." Do you even watch the show? Do you realize how stupid this sentence is? Walt is a monstrous puppet master, how can you possible say you "still want to believe him?"

  • RIDE THE LIGHTNING | August 14, 2012 7:41 AM

    Because Walt's story was actually true! He was opening up to Hank about his marriage and trouble with Skyler in a way that seemed honest and genuine. But of course he wasn't for real! He's Walter White! The writer says he "wants" to believe Walt, not that he really did.

  • TXT | August 13, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    The episode was good, but the ending was illogical, included only for its shock value -- something this show thrives on -- just like when Walt ran over that guy in season 3. Since when is the Jesse Plemmons character allowed to shoot people? Walt's transition from mild mannered chemist to kingpin, by the way, has never been believable to me. I also found it difficult to believe they knew EXACTLY what tools they would need for the train heist and were skilled and knowing enough to remove all components, get done what needed to be done, and replace them so quickly -- like they were exhaustively trained technicians. I guess we're supposed to believe Lydia had blueprints for the container? Right. I continue to watch, though

  • BB | August 14, 2012 12:58 PM

    Don't be so surprised that they knew what tools were needed. I was thinking the same thing because I do industrial work for a living. It was spot on. These containers are very universal and it would not be difficult to know what needed to happen to have this go down smoothly. Todd climbed up there with a tool belt on which tells you he was prepared to improvise if needed, but all you are looking at is a few bolts that are quickly removed with that type of rattle-gun.... Jesse's role was even simpler - clamp a 4" pump hose and adapter to the bottom of the tank, let walt do the rest. . . we are talking about a task that is meant for the lowest of the low caliber manual laborers..... I was really hoping to catch some sort of mistake in this scene but it was really well done.... Sorry for the long winded reply lol... Best episode in 5 seasons, hands down.

  • RIDE THE LIGHTNING | August 14, 2012 7:43 AM

    Yeah I have to agree with Chris below, why do you think any character is "allowed" to do anything? Do you mean, did he have permission from Walt? Who knows! But I bet that will be addressed in the next episode. Nothing's over...

  • Christopher Bell | August 13, 2012 6:45 PM

    1. "the ending was illogical"
    -It's illogical that they'd be caught by a random passer-by?
    2. "since when is the Jesse Pemmons character allowed to shoot people?"
    -....?
    3. "I also found it difficult to believe they knew EXACTLY what tools they would need for the train heist and were skilled and knowing enough to remove all components"
    -I'm sure there was research done, but there's only so much time in an episode. Plus, isn't the actual robbery more interesting to most audiences?

  • PubbyPab | August 13, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    Excellent article, by the way!!

  • PubbyPab | August 13, 2012 3:12 PMReply

    " ... even Walt and Mike aren’t sure exactly how to proceed ... "

    Just to nitpick: Mike is not with the other three fellows when the dirt bike kid shows up. He's still behind the trees near the railroad crossing. He may be watching the whole thing go down through his binoculars, but he remained unseen during that scene.

  • RATIO | August 13, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    I literally laughed out loud when I read this comment. I salute you!

  • RATIO | August 13, 2012 1:03 PM

    Where'd the comment go?? Screw censorship

  • AS | August 13, 2012 11:54 AMReply

    Another phenomenal episode. The show just gets better and better every week.

  • T. Carlson | August 13, 2012 11:23 AMReply

    The boy in the episode is my best friend's son, Sam Webb, an Albuquerque local where they film Breaking Bad. And FYI it was him doing all the dirt bike riding (no stunt double) and he got to keep the tarantula!!

  • T. Carlson | August 17, 2012 1:24 AM

    Lol, what's funny is Sam loves motorcross and it is not unusual for him to be riding in the desert like that....thankfully never near crime scenes in real life! There were actually 3 spiders used for the shoot and were trained for 3 months leading up to the episode. He kept one named Pepper. And yes, he is alive and well and started school today. But I can't tell you his fate in this next episode, you will have to watch this Sunday!!

  • Cleetus | August 13, 2012 3:03 PM

    Why was your friends son snooping around that crime scene? I hope he's OK after getting shot! Tarantulas are creepy...

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