TV Talk: BREAKING BAD 5.05 “Dead Freight”

A train job ends in tragedy.

Follow along our Breaking Bad Season 5 TV Talk here.

I've said it before: Breaking Bad is the story of inevitability. This week Jesse intervenes multiple times to prevent the impending murder of a handful of would-be victims. First he urges Mike to hear Lydia out rather than kill her, then he refines Lydia's plan so they can knock over the Methylamine Express without killing the crew. Jesse seems to spend most of his time these days scrambling to keep everyone safe from the fallout of the ever-expanding mushroom cloud that is Walter White. Lately he's moderating arguments between Walt and Mike, offering to sacrifice his own money to keep Walt happy and using long-neglected brain power to establish zero-casualty heist plans. And then, in the final moments of this week's episode, as Jesse celebrates a successful train job with his customary "YEAH BITCH!", a kid on a dirt bike is killed...and there's nothing Jesse can do to stop it.

"Dead Freight" gives us our second heist episode of the season, with the Bald Trio plotting to knock over a train after learning that the DEA has, in fact, started tracking all of Lydia's methylamine. Lydia realizes her ass is on the line and Mike is just itching to kill her, so she comes up with a solid plan to procure the crew one thousand gallons of methylamine on the sly. And I'm glad - I like Lydia. I like the character, as uptight and weird as she is, and I really like Laura Fraser's performance. She adds an interesting dynamic to the group and I'm not ready for her to die yet. But while she provides the specs and the intel, it's Jesse who perfects the train caper plan. Jesse who, once again, must play peacekeeper between the relentlessly bickering Walt and Mike. Jesse who ends up lying on the train tracks as a locomotive speeds off inches above his face, with Walt on the sidelines like a cartoon villain, practically twirling his old-timey mustache in glee.

Todd (Landry!) seems to be something of the anti-Jesse. Jesse has always been a reluctant villain; Todd revels in villainy. At first I thought Todd was a DEA plant, so wholesome his face yet eager his actions. Last week, he discovered and disabled the nanny cam. This week,  he prompts Walt and Jesse to open up about their plan through flattery, gushing, "You guys thought of everything!" Walt and Jesse even use their names around Todd, rather than being simply "Yes sir" and "No sir" to him as Mike suggested. I thought Todd was a particularly adept spy for the good guys, earning Walt's trust and learning the intricacies of their operation. But no, Todd's enthusiasm masks nothing but ruthlessness, and it wouldn't surprise me if Walt began to value the new kid in class more than the man who gave him a watch on his 51st birthday.

See, Jesse is a crook with integrity. Mike, too, despite his casual willingness to kill. He showed a little sexist chivalry when it came to Lydia a couple of weeks ago, and he's unwilling to kill or stiff the guys on Gus' former team. But Walt? Walt is a thief without honor. Sure, he shows loyalty to Jesse; he even appears to love Jesse. But it's for all the wrong reasons. He loves Jesse because Jesse's on his side, Jesse admires him, Jesse buys him beautiful watches on his birthday, flatters his over-extended ego and still calls him Mr. White after all they've been through. But once Jesse discovers that Walt poisoned Brock, once Jesse no longer establishes himself as firmly Team Walt, then Walt will bury him. And Todd is right up Walt's alley, waiting with zealous anticipation to be Walt's right hand crook. 

I don't care what happens to Walt. I don't care what happens to Skyler or Hank or Marie or Mike or Walter Jr. or even Holly. I mean, I'm interested, but I'm okay with things turning out horribly for everyone, even that chubby, pink little baby. Even Mike's granddaughter. Fuck 'em all. I just want Jesse to escape relatively unscathed. I know that's unlikely, but I want to officially voice my request anyway. Please let Jesse be okay. Please let his ending be the happy ending, or as happy as anyone mired in the web of Walt can be.

"Dead Freight" is a marvelously structured episode, written and helmed by first time director (of anything, according to IMDb) George Mastras, who has written and produced several episodes of the show. I love the way the episode was paced, the delivery of the reveals. While last week's episode "Fifty-One" was gorgeously directed by Rian Johnson (who has framed some of the most stunning shots on this show), it wasn't what one might call a fun episode. It was brilliant, possibly one of the show's finest, but it's nice to have a break from that taut family drama with a mostly action-packed heist episode this week. 

We did, however, have some family drama in the form of an annoying Walter Jr. (who manages to annoy me whether he's worshipping or rebelling against Walt) and a rehash of last week's argument about keeping the kids out of the house. While most of the blood has been drained from that fight by virtue of watching it two weeks in a row, I'm glad to see Skyler shake herself from her stupor and stand up to Walt. I can't ever agree with Henri that Walt's in the right in this dynamic, or that the surely devastating consequences to come will be more her fault than his. I feel Skyler has done her best in a terrible situation, and I think that she's right: Walt's family will never be safe as long as he invests in a life of dangerous crime. 

But what I find a little tiring about this argument is that I don't think the kids are particularly safe at Hank and Marie's, either. None of them are safe. Skyler is fighting Walt in order to achieve what can only be a fleeting solution. But as she said last week - it's the best she can do. It's all she can do as long as she continues to be Walt's hostage. She will just wait it out, praying for the cancer to come back and eat him from the inside out. 

So yes, we had a taste of the sad White family opera this week, but mostly "Dead Freight" offers a bit of levity near the middle of this final season. Until, that is, Todd draws his weapon and murders an innocent kid without hesitating - a solution that is hardly a solution, as a dead kid draws more unwanted attention than a chatty kid. 

We can't ever take a breather on Breaking Bad, because tragedy will always strike when we least expect it. It's inevitable.