“Blood Money” kicks off the second half of Breaking Bad’s final season with probably the most startling pre-title sequence in the show’s history, which, as fans will know, is saying something. A car idles along a suburban street as skateboarders glide and swoop up and along a steep curved, paved surface. A gaunt, bearded Walt (Bryan Cranston) climbs out of the car and opens the trunk, revealing the huge gun he purchased at the beginning of the season. The audience knows, then, that they’re witnessing another provocative glimpse of the near future that directly anticipates whatever end awaits American TV’s most dangerous and formidable ex-chemistry teacher. Walt enters the hollow shell of a home, and the camera follows him as he makes his way through the rooms, which are littered with trash and riddled with graffiti. We see that someone, most prominently, has spray-painted “HEISENBERG” across what was once a living room wall and it becomes clear: This was once Walt’s house, and the skateboarders are enjoying themselves in what was once his pool.
So now we know this much for sure: Walt’s original aim, which has become an increasingly pathetic joke of a pretense as the series has progressed, has most certainly failed. His original desire to maintain his home and provide for his family has decidedly eluded him, and apparently everyone in the community will soon know his true identity as the vicious meth kingpin who bombed a nursing home and orchestrated a series of criminal assassinations, among many other atrocities. As the first half of this season made abundantly clear, Walt’s schemes are winding down and everyone in his orbit is now scrambling to survive and preserve a bit of their (perhaps always illusory) decency.
Unsurprisingly, given the amount of time that’s elapsed since Breaking Bad last aired, “Blood Money” is primarily intended to remind viewers of where things were left off in Walt’s beleaguered present. Not much happens in terms of narrative, but the atmosphere is darker and more oppressive than even before. This episode is a slow, slow burn and creator Vince Gilligan and his talented collaborators go to considerable lengths to establish the steep price of Walt’s ever-escalating misdeeds. Jesse (Aaron Paul) craves penance and repeatedly attempts to dole his money out to the families of Walt’s various victims. Failing to complete those transactions, he presses a huge wad of cash into the hands of a homeless beggar who shoots the flailing young man a doubting look that encapsulates the doomed futility that hangs over the entire episode. Eventually, Jesse is reduced to driving aimlessly around, tossing balls of money into the streets, hoping, perhaps, that someone might happen upon some of the cash and get something cleansing or redemptive or useful out of it.
At least Jesse possesses the constitution for guilt, however slim a compensation that may be for the lives he’s helped to ruin or altogether extinguish. Walt, on the other hand, is still aggressively in survivor mode, bearing greater resemblance to a deadly caged animal than a husband and father of two, and his desperation and pointed lack of remorse are truly chilling. Walt’s slipped so far into psychopathic self-regard that he can barely even bring himself to fake concern for others out of strategic necessity. He assumes a classic position of penance once in “Blood Money,” but it’s staged as a sick joke: He kneels, but at the toilet while coughing violently as his cancer threatens to return.
And, of course, there’s Hank (Dean Norris), who discovered Walt’s secret identity during last year’s cliffhanger. Hank has mostly cut himself off from Walt, exaggerating a stomach illness (which, coupled with Walt’s cancer, helps to affirm and symbolize the show’s escalating moral outrage) so that he can reexamine a year’s worth of police evidence to explicitly finger Walt as Heisenberg, which leads, at the episode’s end, to a portion of the confrontation we’ve been awaiting for years between Walt and Hank. Walt, suspicious, particularly after finding a bug under his car that he knows Hank has used for investigations in the past, visits his brother-in-law’s home and corners him in the garage in a moment that has the suspense and stature of a classic western. Walt and Hank make an attempt at role-playing platitude and banality at first, but the illusions soon collapse to reveal the beginning of the open war between the violator and the enforcer. Walt, finally, in his passive-aggressive fashion, hints to Hank that he might want to tread lightly.
“Blood Money” ends with the definitive breaching of the final taboo. As twisted as Walt has become over the years, he has always more or less respected the sanctity of his family, even when fighting with Skylar for domestic control. But Walt’s blanketed verbal threat on Hank’s life fully severs any ties between Walt, the chemistry teacher and family man bravely struggling with cancer, and Heisenberg, the blossoming drug lord and madman. The remaining seven episodes of this terrific and one-of-a-kind series promises to be a long, rich, and fitting descent into hell.
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