I’ve always had a theory that there are two types of TV viewers. The first type is made up of those who constantly try to stay ahead of a show by predicting where things are going and deciphering all probable outcomes in advance. Some, though certainly not all, of this type will gladly spoil themselves on future episodes if possible. Whatever joys they derive from a television series — be it strong acting, well-directed action, whatever — don’t necessarily rely on the element of surprise. The second type, however, is much more apt to just go with the flow and allow themselves to get caught up in each individual scene and moment of drama as they occur. “Figuring a show out” isn’t their modus operandi. And while badly-written stories, filled with inconsistencies, iffy character motivation and plot holes, will still prove to be a huge turn off, they’re more than content to let good storytelling wash over and surprise them without trying to stay two steps ahead.
Neither type represents a right or wrong way to watch TV, but I suspect that if you identify more with the second type, as I do, then you found yourself pretty blindsided by the neat little trick Breaking Bad pulled off Sunday night in “Dead Freight.” I’m not ashamed to admit that by the episode’s closing moments, I had forgotten all about the dirt-bike-riding tarantula-trapping kid who had starred in the cold open 40 minutes prior. It had already drifted out of my head, replaced by the tension-filled train robbery that consumed the entire second half of the episode. So to see him pop back up at the end, in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, and take what is presumably a fatal bullet fired by Todd, one of the crooked pest exterminators now on Walt’s payroll, was more than just a little jolt to close out the episode. It was a punch in the gut. The murder of children has been a topic covered before on this show, and it’ll be interesting to see the fallout from that next week, to learn if Walt still has a shred of his former humanity left or if Jesse is only one who mourns the poor child.
Up until those closing moments, however, this week was all about the heist. Whereas last week focused on the emotional drama of Walt’s crumbling family, “Dead Freight” returns to the calculated plotting of the magnet-happy season premiere. In the early goings of this final season, Breaking Bad has been playing around with the notion that Jesse is now the smart one of the group. That while Walt and Mike have been busy trying to establish themselves as top dog of their new meth operation, Jesse has been the one to keep his eyes on the prize. He’s the one who brainstormed that whole giant magnet plan in the premiere. And now he’s the one who comes up with a way to steal an “ocean of methylamine” from a moving train without anyone even noticing that it’s gone. (Love the smile Walt throws at Jesse when the plan starts coming together. It may be one of the few honest emotions Walt’s shown this year — that of a proud father figure.) Walt and company had been getting the stuff from Lydia at Madrigal, but they learn this week — through a bug that Walt had the chutzpah to plant at Hank’s new office — that the DEA were indeed the ones who planted the tracking device Lydia and Jesse discovered on the barrel. And it’s not just that one barrel that was bugged; it’s all of them.
Despite the fact that Lydia was telling the truth, Mike still wants to off her. So to save her own skin, she points them toward a train that’s carrying all the methylamine they’ll need for for the foreseeable future. Mike and Walt first envision a bloodier, wild-west version of the heist, but Jesse’s able to sell them on a more subtle plan that has them using a distraction to stop the train while they pump out the chemical. Walt even borrows an old Indiana Jones trick and replaces the methylamine with pumped-in water so the change in weight won’t set off any alarms once the train reaches its destination. It my seem like the perfect plan, but being this is Breaking Bad, you can assume things won’t go so easy. The heist itself is niftily directed by the episode’s writer, George Mastras, who ratchets up the tension as an unforeseen visitor threatens to derail the whole thing. Any good heist film should enthrall you with the complex machinations of the crime, and Mastras does a admirable job of pushing all of those buttons while working within a TV budget.
Besides for the heist and the big twist at the end, there’s not a lot else going on in “Dead Freight.” Walt admits to Hank that Skyler doesn’t love him anymore but then later seems to make a deal with Skyler that he’ll let the kids go in return for Skyler staying with him in whatever capacity he deems necessary. (So skeevy.) There’s also the usual talk about Mike’s guys who need to keep being paid to stay quiet. (Frankly, there’s probably been too much talk about these people this season, considering they didn’t really factor into the show at all until Vince Gilligan needed a reason for Mike and Walt to work together. But, okay, I’ll still go with it.)
Railway enthusiasts and Steven Seagal fans take note: Lydia not only knew the train’s schedule, she also knew the exact point along the route where the train would enter a “dark territory,” where all communication would be cut off from the outside world.
Judging from how natural Hank seems with Holly, I’d bet the big lug would make a pretty great dad.
Line of the night goes to Jesse: “It’s all about the weight, yo.”