Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Breaking Bad - "Blood Money" Review

"I need you to believe this."


The best show on television, and indeed one of the greatest in history, is finally back for its final act and I feel like a school boy.

It seems like forever ago I was watching with anticipation as Hank finally took the revelatory shit we've been waiting half a decade for. The immensely satisfying slow burn of season five's first half had reached its climax, and now all there was to do was to wait for the final spark.

"Blood Money" was that spark. The episode that officially rounded the last bend and let us know, definitively, that we are in the final stretch, and that said stretch is going to be a fucking ride.

First off, I'm extremely relieved to see that, as per usual, Breaking Bad knows which cards to hold and which to play at the right time. A lesser show would have waited for Walt and Hank's ultimate showdown, but Vince Gilligan knew that was an inevitability that would have only become frustrating at this point in the narrative. The same could be said for the flash forwards, another of which opened "Blood Money", complete with a dilapidated White residence and vandalism in the Heisenberg vein. Normally when this show decides to break linearity, it is much more obtuse (the teddy bear in season two) so that it's impossible to even discern what it means until it all finally connects at the end (the child in "Dead Freight"), so I have to say seeing such a blatant version of it kind of threw me a loop for a second, until I realized why they were doing it.

A story such as this can only end so many ways, and how ever well-executed and satisfying that ending may ultimately be, there will be plot points and twists along the way to that goal that could be considered obvious or even rote. For instance, we know Walt is going to be exposed. The story wouldn't make sense if he wasn't. We know there will be a final battle of wits between Walt and Hank. The story demands it. Vince Gilligan is smart enough to be able to separate these moments from the fresh and innovative ones we won't be able to see coming in the show's endgame and prioritize them accordingly. That final scene in the garage was not only amazingly executed, but very deliberately played early enough so that the show could spend the precious little time it has left fleshing out the parts of the story that actually matter rather than reverting to cheap parlor tricks and attempted misdirection that a lesser series would. These final episodes are not so much about what happens, but how it happens, and that will determine the quality and lasting resonance of the series, and its comforting and not the least bit surprising that the writers realize that.

There's really not much more there is to say about this episode. It did absolutely everything it was supposed to do, executed to enthralling perfection. The highlight for me was Walt's conversation with a distraught Jesse. Watching him say "I need you to believe this" was such a lovely and morbid spin on a platitude that we are so used to associating with an honest, tortured soul pleading for acceptance, and given how good Bryan Cranston is at selling it makes it all the more chilling. But you could tell that Jesse didn't believe him, or at least he no longer had the energy to care. To him, the point of no return passed along time ago, and the time for sifting lies from truth has devolved into somehow finding a respite from past indiscretions. Some kind of peace for someone with such blood stained hands.

One of the things that amazes me about this series was how it was successfully able to implement the transformation of Walter White. No matter how shitty or unsympathetic he becomes, we are still glued to this story. I think the main reason for that is that although we can no longer sympathize with Walt, his character is so fully realized that we understand why he does the things that he does, which keeps us invested, albeit in a different way. Its all about relatability, however it may come.

The other reason is Jesse. I imagine towards the tail end of it all we will start to see the remaining sparks of humanity resurface from a desperate Walter White, but make no mistake, Jesse is the heart of this show, and his quest for redemption is what will pluck our heart strings the hardest. I have to say, I don't see a version of this that ends well for him.

We also got the final confirmation that Walt's cancer is back. We didn't need it, since the show has been so good thus far at telling a visual story and keeping exposition to a minimum. And that final scene was just perfect, with writing that made an inevitable scene all the more memorable. "Blood Money" made it perfectly clear that every wall is closing in on Walt all at once, and it's just a matter of time. Hank may have to tread lightly, but this series certainly won't.


91% = **** = "Masterpiece"


-VMA

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