Taking a closer look at Dead Freight: Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 5
“Nothing stops this train“, proclaimed Walt in the previous episode. Unless of course he literally wants to.
At the core of what drives Breaking Bad is the notion of change and subverting expectations. Much like how each episode or scene can shift gears from family drama to black comedy to crime thriller, characters are in a constant state of flux or to use an analogy, a train barreling down the tracks. The show is “about transformation. It’s about a main character turning himself from a good guy turning himself into a bad guy. To that end, transformation should always be on-going,” executive producer Vince Gilligan said in a podcast and interview here.
Gone are the times of driving around in the RV or ‘Crystal Ship” as Jesse Pinkman nicknamed it. Nowadays, more heavy matters weigh Jesse down in “Dead Freight”, who is an unlikely moral anchor as he and his partners play god; deciding the fate of Lydia and two innocent crew members aboard a train they plan on robbing. As they head further into dark territory the implications of their moral dilemmas change from shades of grey to black and white, at least for Walt and Mike. As Mike puts it, ” Bottom line…. there are two kinds of heists. Those where the guys get away with it. And those that leave witnesses.”
Due to the costly investment of setting up their current operation and hazard pay obligation, Walt does not want to revert back to their original and less profitable precursor pseudoephedrine. Mike tells Walt, “You broke it, you pay for it.” However, Walt is unwilling to accept any responsibility for his actions and is adamant in proceeding with the train heist despite the risks and potential loss of innocent lives. The bickering ensues until Jesse comes up with the idea to steal the methylamine from the train without anyone knowing it was robbed.
The initial idea for the heist came from Lydia and it saved her life. In a twisted turn of events, a wiretap in Hank’s office revealed that the GPS tracking device on the barrel of methylamine was hastily planted by the Houston Police Division and not Lydia as Mike assumed last episode. Even with her innocence proven, she is still a major liability and threat having confessed to putting a hit on Mike and other men. Both Mike and Walt agree to end her life until she proposes a scheme to steal an ocean of methylamine and provide the necessary intel to pull the heist off successfully.
As much as Walt has manipulated everyone on the show and I’m aware how devious he is, I can’t help but feel that like an unwitting victim at times. In “Hazard Pay”, after cooking up a batch of meth in the tented house, Walt chums it up with Jesse while watching the Three Stooges. I initially thought Walt was expressing care or respect for Jesse but it was only a ploy to convince his partner to break up with Andrea. In this episode, when Walt pays a visit to Hank I thought he was just trying to smooth over Skylar’s strange pool stunt. I didn’t buy his emotional breakdown; however, it was a surprise to me he would be brazen enough to bug Hank’s office with DEA agents outside the door.
On the home front, Skylar has devolved from expectant mother to money laundering accomplice to a prisoner in her own house. With limited options, she’s makes a Faustian bargain to be an obedient subject to his royal heinous in exchange for her children’s well-being. Although having baby Holly and Junior live with her sister may be a victory of sorts for Skylar, I can’t help but feel something tragic is going to occur. I usually don’t speculate on what might happen but it feels as though the pieces are being carefully positioned to set up a major shocking event. As Hank gets closer to figuring out the identity of Heisenberg, he and the people in his proximity are in mortal danger. As meticulous as Walt is, he has become increasingly reckless; thriving on the adrenaline rush no matter what the cost or collateral damage.
Walt’s precision and attention to detail is evident in the plan to rob the train. He has every angle covered from the density of methylamine versus water to the amount that can be siphoned off and still be passed off as a dilute batch. When Jesse explains to Todd, “No one can ever know this robbery went down”, his intention was for Todd to never speak of this crime to anyone. Jesse’s words would take on a drastically different meaning by the end of the episode. “You guys thought of everything” says Todd as Walt and Jesse grin from ear to ear. Well not quite everything because a good samaritan and innocent bystander throw a major wrench into their plan.
A motorbike traverses across the desert landscape. He’s just a curious kid looking for some little critter to put in his jar. He stops to pick up a tarantula with his bare hands. What might not be common knowledge is that despite being a dangerous predator the bite of a tarantula is generally not lethal to humans and the spider may die if dropped from a low height. The kid puts the tarantula in the jar and the jar in his jacket’s inner pocket. He rides his bike until he stumbles upon three predators of a different nature. One of them takes out a gun and pulls the trigger. The jar drops out of the pocket but the tarantula can’t escape.
On Breaking Bad nothing stays the same and nothing is as it seems. For some of us, our expectations were subverted when Lydia was revealed not to be responsible for the tracking device, when Walt’s emotional confession was just a ruse to get Hank out of the office, or when a careful plan to prevent any loss in life results in tragedy. What’s the difference between fate and inevitability? Or karma from consequence if the final moments of “Dead Freight” don’t trigger a crisis of conscience for Walt? Is this child’s death the first of many important events that lead to the opening scene in “Live Free or Die” where Walt is spending his birthday alone at Denny’s and purchasing a machine gun?
• ‘Best Quotes from the Episode’
Skylar: “I’m not your wife. I’m your hostage.”
Mike: “Everyone sounds like Meryl Streep with a gun to their head.”
Skylar: “Out burying bodies?” Walter: “Robbing a train.”