Blood Money

Yep, you get to suffer through a couple of months of Breaking Bad posts. What did you expect, though?


“I need you to believe me,” Walter White tells his erstwhile partner Jesse Pinkman after returning two massive duffel bags of $100 bills — five million dollars in total, the blood money which gives this episode its title — to the younger man, who had tried to give it to families of the duo’s misdeeds. His magnanimity was a foolish act, as Walt and their lawyer Saul both point out, but it came from a good place: Jesse’s genuine sense of remorse for all the havoc he’d help inflict on innumerable innocent lives over the past year of brewing methamphetamine.

Walt, on the other hand, gives no indication of regret. Sure, he’s “out” of the business, as he promised his wife Skylar, but only because they’d managed to accumulate so much wealth through the drug empire he’d built, borrowed, and stolen they’d lost the ability to count it. They’ve accumulated a sum that will take decades for the two of them to launder their carwash business. But Walt seemingly has no regrets for his actions, even as he assures Jesse that their former collaborator Mike couldn’t possibly be dead — though of course he’s dead by Walt’s own hands — and insists on being the beneficiary of Jesse’s good faith.

But Jesse is clearly beyond good faith. He may be beyond everything. Dead-eyed and weary of the world, he buckles beneath the burden of so much money acquired through such dark means. Unable even to hand over the money to those whose lives and families he helped destroy, he ultimately resorts to simply driving down the street in the dead of night, throwing stacks of benjamins into people’s yards. The phrase “blood money” calls to mind Judas Iscariot, and while simply tossing his proverbial silver pieces into the night might seem less self-destructive than Judas’ choice, in the end he may have hanged himself all the same. Surely someone will take notice of Albuquerque’s sudden rain of cash, and Jesse’s fingerprints are all over it.

Of course, Judas’ payment was for betraying his mentor. Contrarily, Walt is the one who has betrayed Jesse, repeatedly, and this money is meant to soothe whatever ragged conscience still exists in Walt’s vestigial soul. Walt has secretly had a hand in the deaths of the closest people to Jesse, and it seems that as long as Jesse accepts his payoff he can feel good about himself. But he’s so smug, so insistent on simply convincing Jesse to accept him as right and righteous, he seems oblivious to the burden hatred and realization in Jesse’s expression. There’s no way Mike could be alive, Jesse must realize; Walt (whom Mike wanted dead) could never be so calm if he were.

The epiphany that Mike really must be dead — and who knows what else Walt has lied about? — crushes him. You can see him shrinking in his seat, burdened by its weight. He stares glassily into space. He wanders the night. He flings money into the void, tears streaming down his cheeks.

On the other hand, Walt’s brother-in-law, do-gooding DEA agent Hank, is galvanized by his own realization of Walt’s enormity. Where Jesse stews, Hank springs into action, so tightly wound that he nearly gives himself a heart attack. Rethinking the Blue Sky meth equation with the uncertainty of Heisenberg replaced by Walt as the variable, he spends the week poring over case files and refreshing his memory of all that has happened in the name of Blue Sky.

Hank may be many things — obsessive, dismissive, obnoxiously fratboyish — but subtle isn’t one of them. Any possibility that Hank would play a game of cat-and-mouse with Walt, baiting him to incriminate himself, is quickly dashed when Walt confronts Hank about the GPS tracking device he’d attached to Walt’s car. Hank makes it clear he has no interest in drawing things out by leaping at Walt and punching him square in the face. Wild-eyed in fury, he beats on his newly revealed nemesis with both words and fists, reciting Heisenberg’s most grievous crimes in an almost incoherent blur. It’s the confrontation that’s been brewing since Hank obliviously drove up to Don Salamanca’s desert home, and time has only made it more intense.

And yet, by giving Walt a moment to regroup, Hank loses his upper hand. Walt has kept himself alive through seemingly impossible situations with a combination of words and improvisation thinking, and those skills serve to do the trick here, too. Despite the rage behind Hank’s brutal attack, Walt nevertheless turns the tables, ending their encounter by being the one to issue a warning to the other man.

But the show’s cold opening — the long-awaited continuation of season five’s flash-forward — reminds us that while Walt may excel at wriggling out of deadly situations with his slippery words, he’s in far over his head. Short-sighted, complacent. He sees Hank as a threat, but appears completely oblivious to the dangerous potential of Jesse on the brink of a meltdown… despite the fact that he’d gone to great lengths to protect Jesse from Gus Fring for fear that the younger man’s previous breakdown would endanger their drug operation. He seems to think he can simply walk away from his kingpin duties and brush off his notoriously high-strung former international contact Lydia with no repercussions, when it’s clear her life hangs on his cooperation.

While Hank and the DEA may seem to represent the most obvious threat in Walt’s mind, the flash-forward makes it clear that whatever sent him packing all the way to New Hampshire only to return home to retrieve the series’ most prominent Chekhov’s gun — the capsule of ricin he created back in season one — with a squad assault weapon in tow wasn’t the DEA. Generally, the government doesn’t loot a house and spraypaint its resident’s secret criminal alias all over the walls.

So the question now isn’t, “How will Walt’s life end?” but rather, “Who will do him in?” And, “What other innocent lives will he destroy in the process?” (And, “Will he really do the cliché Scarface thing and go down guns blazing?”) What Walt has always wanted more than anything in the world is to be right, but it’s all gone too far now, and no amount of insisting others take him at his word will change that.

10 thoughts on “Blood Money

  1. I’m new to this show, but I suspect that Walt will spend the rest of his life in prison, or at least a prison hospital, and he’ll ultimately meet a lonely and humiliating end (a camera panning out from a still, solitary figure lying on a hospital bed? Who knows).

    I also believe there will be an episode, possibly two, that functions as an epilogue, detailing what happens to the White family and Jesse Pinkman in Walt’s absence. I foresee a definite resolution, even if it’s not a comfortable one. Pinkman DESERVES a better future than most of the other characters, but maybe the writers will throw a wrench in the works and kill him for some added emotional gravitas.

  2. I wonder if we’ll find out what exactly happened to cause Walt to split from Grey Matter. It’s probably pretty inconsequential as far as the big picture goes, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t one mystery I’d like solved.

    • Based on the flashbacks, I get the impression Walt and Gretchen had a little something going on. Given Walt’s pride, it’s pretty safe to assume he would have left the partnership when she ended up with Elliott.

      • It almost certainly is something like that, though if I remember correctly Gretchen mentioned in her last appearance she and Walt were enjoying some holiday weekend at her parents house and out of the blue Walt packed up and left without a word. Also, the sheer obviousness of the answer being a jealous control freak move from Walt, while certainly indicative of his hubris, kind of makes me wonder if it isn’t something else exactly beause it is so obvious…

  3. I didn’t even bother reading this post before asking: does it contain spoilers for the new episode that I haven’t seen?

  4. Walt can’t handle the idea of being exposed to his family (sans Skyler). It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Walt Jr finds out.

  5. I love when people try to figure out how a story will end. They are always predictable and never right. :P

    That said, I am absolutely along for the ride. I have complete confidence the creators will give us a great story, if not a great “ending”.

    • Yeah, I don’t want to try to guess, because where’s the fun in that? Either I’m wrong, or I spoiled it for myself.

  6. This show is such a treat to watch. Yes, it’s heavy, dark and plumbs the depths of some really nasty behavior, but the sheer artistry of it all! Such a treat.

    I enjoyed how this episode was, in many ways, a microcosm of the Walt’s entire character arc. Not counting the cold open we start with a family man who wants to run a successful car wash, progress to the controlling, self-righteous Walt (“I need you to believe me!”), and by the end of the episode Heisenberg is back in full force (“If you’re not sure who I am, you might want to think about treading lightly.”)

    Jeez. The final scene. Jeez Louise. Can’t wait for this Sunday.

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