They sure montaged the hell out of this one, didn't they?
Walt's effortless rise to the top of an Albuquerque meth empire (oh, and let's not forget a franchise out in the Czech Republic) is served up as one of two outcomes of Mr. White's five-season criminal career in "Gliding All Over." And in the other outcome, he's out, done with it all, reconciled with his family, and at this point, I was almost convinced Vince Gilligan and this week's director Michelle MacLaren were hitting us with An Occurrence At Owl Creek for the meth trade given how easy things seemed to go in the back third or so of this episode. And then we got a hint of yet another outcome still, with Hank finding the copy of Leaves of Grass in the White family bathroom (the episode gets its name from one of the American poet's works).
Would Walt have really kept the book after Jesse killed Gale? I'm assuming some mix of pride and sentiment made him do it, but it seems just as unlikely as Mike not securing Walt's feet back in "Buyout."
I'm so hung up on the point because it's one of motivation, and the recurring question of Walt's motivation for getting into the drug business is one of the driving forces of Breaking Bad as a series--and there's a troubling lack of motivation throughout this episode in some of the key bits that put me off of enjoying it as the last big gasp for the series until next summer.
I did appreciate the clear line between Walt's bit about wanting to be in the "empire business" causing him to spare Lydia (although I'm not sure how he planned to poison her with the ricin if that meeting had gone another way, and likewise, he's reached a point now where snuffing out nine witnesses in a Federal investigation is nothing. And with that sequence, I was actually convinced that the last of Walt's humanity died with Mike on the side of the river, but as we see later, that's not quite the case.
You see, between Skyler's motivation to be safe with her family again, a pile of money (any geniuses out there who might have thoughts on how much she has stashed away), and what looks like the return of his cancer, Walt's motivated near the end of the episode to let go of the business and be a family man again, and when we see him in the kitchen, standing behind Skyler, telling her he's out, it's the first time in a while that we've seen him as wholly human (and not just equivocating or reacting out of guilt or something). Arguably, the same could be said of the bathroom scene after he's punched in the paper towel dispenser, but we've seen plenty of Walt's anger in the last few weeks--but with the kitchen scene it feels like the first time that we've seen him show love, affection, and tenderness in a scene.
Now, I don't know that Skyler would necessarily be motivated to stay with Walt after essentially being terrified of him, nor am I really sure she would trust him to be completely out of the business, but we can chalk part of that up to the decision of Gilligan and company to skip over the tricky part of Walt extricating himself from the drug trade, what probably would have been an exciting story in and of itself (who's in charge now--Todd? Lydia?).
So after approximately a year, Walt's back with his family, the cancer's back, he's rich beyond his wildest imaging, and thanks to a book, he's probably going to spend next season under investigation by the DEA. Speaking of motivation again, would Hank really crack open the pages of a copy of Leaves of Grass no matter how poor the rest of the bathroom reading material was? And again, would Walt, the man who's become a pro at putting bodies into barrels, at meticulously covering his tracks, at cutting off any ties that could possibly implicate him in the business, would this man keep a book that directly links him to a murdered meth chemist?
I'm troubled by this, but at least now we have a piece of the puzzle that's going to lead Walt across the country in the flash forward from the first episode: he's in trouble and next season is going to be all about how he's going to come out from under it (if he even can). A couple of things, and then I'll open it up for discussion:
- In the season opener, Walt was using an assumed name and had grown out all of his hair. He's likely a fugitive at that point, but if that's the case, would he even show his face in public?
- How would Skyler and Walt launder the remainder of the money? She says that even if they opened 100 car washes, they'd never be able to justify it. I'm really just leaving the question out there for anyone with thoughts.
- We got out of this half of the season without anyone in Walt's family or any of the principal cast dying (okay, besides Mike, but he hasn't been around since the beginning). I think Breaking Bad is at its core of moral show (bad things happen to bad people--or at least the people around them) so I'm guessing someone close to Walt's going to meet their maker by the end of the series.
- What happened to Lydia? To Todd? What about the Arizona dealer we met in "Buyout?" I need to know what's happening with these people!
- Outside of his one scene with Walt, there was a surprising (albeit appropriate, I guess) lack of Jess this episode. It was essentially Walt's episode, but given how we've seen Mr. Pinkman evolve over the last four and a half seasons, I was a little disappointed in not seeing more of Aaron Paul this week (but that would have been excessive, I think).