Monday, August 13, 2012

Meth Monday No.4: "Dead Freight" (5.05)

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another Meth Monday! As always, this is being written as if you've seen last night's new episode of Breaking Bad, "Dead Freight," and believe me, if you haven't, you don't want to get spoiled on this one, so: !!SPOILER ALERT!!

So there's this kid, see...

With "Dead Freight" (5.05) Vince Gilligan & Co. once again prove that they're willing to break all of the rules to give the viewer some incredible TV. The episode's cold open is apparently completely random. Who is this kid? Why's he out messing around on his dirt-bike somewhere in the wide open scrub desert of (presumably) New Mexico? Besides gathering tarantulas, I mean. Perhaps most befuddling, what in the hell does this have to do with anything?

Those familiar with the show were probably as confused as we were, but also reassured by 4 season where Gilligan & Co. have often used circular episode structures where the cold open is tied directly in to the final scenes of the episode. So too with "Dead Freight." After the kid has safely stowed his spider, remounted his bike, and carefully strapped on his helmet, he turns to look towards his left as he hears the sound of a train horn, and then heads off. The train horn in the background is simply brilliant, and chilling to hear upon rewatching the cold open after seeing the entire episode. It turns out that the kid and the tarantula have a lot in common. Both of them just happen to be in the wrong place at wrong time. The tarantula's just going about it's spidery business when this kid just scoops it up and shoves it into a jar. The kid's just poking around outside riding a dirt-bike, collecting bugs, and checking out all the stuff that is inherently interesting to preteen boys. Only he comes across three guys with hoses dancing around under a small train trestle in the middle of nowhere - and he gets killed for it.

Jesse's careful scheme, his (and, somewhat surprisingly, Mike's) reluctance to kill innocent people, has just blown up in everyone's face. Keep in mind that Jesse has a real problem with hurting kids. Remember the redhead in "Peekaboo" (2.06), or his emergence as the moral center of the show in "Half Measures" (3.12)? And let's not forget how torn up he was about Brock potentially being poisoned by ricin in "End Times" and "Face Off" (4.12 - 13). To Jesse (and to most decent people) using, abusing, or killing children is simply unconscionable. It is a line Jesse has never crossed, and a line which has led him to throw everything away in an effort to punish those who would do such a thing. Jesse is going to have a REAL problem with this. Walt? Well, likely, not so much. Remember the Lily of the Valley. This is also a straight-up, unabashed murder of an innocent child, which should be completely un-rationalize-able, and which for Jesse will be. For the viewer it was made even more effectively horrific by the shooter being Todd, played by Jesse Plemons, who audiences are most familiar with from his role of Landry Clarke, the ultimate good guy. This is an exquisite use of an audience's blurring of the lines between a given popular character portrayed by an actor and the actor himself to help subvert the viewers' expectations and make a shocking scene even more so. Just brilliant TV. Again.

So what now? The methylamine has been secured with no one the wiser, but a child is dead. Murdered in cold blood. There's no hiding that, no way to avoid an investigation. And there's Jesse, who was willing to buck Gustavo Fring over the use of children in his business. Finally there's Walt, and by now the viewer knows that Walt is not likely to stop at anything to achieve his ends, amorphous as they may be. In a curious way, Season 5 has been a far more uncomfortable and uncertain season for the viewer. Up until now there has been a "Big Bad" of some kind: Cancer, Tuco, Gus. Now however, the Big Bad is Walt, and the audience, which to a greater or lesser extent has been rooting for Walt throughout the series, is increasingly being forced to acknowledge that he is now the Bad Guy.

We've been rooting for evil for almost 5 years now. See how easy that was? Makes "man's inhumanity to man" a little bit more comprehensible, doesn't it? It also forces us to realize that we are complicit. We wanted Walt to get this far, we've been rooting for him, and now at least a little of that kid's blood is on our hands as well. Good luck washing it off.

See you next week.

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