Five Essay Prompts for Breaking Bad 5×9: ‘Blood Money’

Spoiler! Walter White joins Duck Dynasty!

Spoiler! Walter White joins Duck Dynasty!

These questions regard last night’s episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.
1. People love Stephen King because of how well his stories translate into TV mini-series, right? Seeing as how Dean Norris plays City Councilman “Big Jim” Rennie on Under the Dome, how likely is it that it’s actually Hank in the witness protection program and storing up propane in order to blow up Walter White? Some things to consider: Big Jim’s son is named Junior; the lack of meth addicts currently living under the dome.

How likely is it? Not likely at all, of course. Among other problems, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, and those in witness protection are not allowed to hold public office. But is it fun to imagine? Hell yes. The idea of Hank slowly becoming more and more Walt-like as he gains political power in the small town Witsec put him in is awfully attractive. Whatever illegitimate purpose he has for all that propane, it sure starts seeming awfully similar to a train full of methylamine. And assuming Junior has somehow miraculously overcome his physical condition, it isn’t that much of a stretch to see him likewise going from sweet kid to full-fledged psycho, especially after being traumatized by his father’s duplicity and probable death. And not knowing this back story may help others trust him enough to give him a gun and a badge. Then, what if Walt actually survived, and has in the intervening years become a genius supervillan? Maybe he’s tracked down Hank, and the dome is something he’s cooked up in his lab as revenge for exposing him. Or maybe it is the ghost of Marie manifesting itself as a protective barrier around her husband. (Nah, it’s not nearly purple enough.)

2. The title of the episode is “Blood Money,” and throughout the series, we’ve seen cold cash cause nothing but problems. At this point, Jesse is just trying to give bags of cash away, and Skyler is still fretting over how to launder the loot Walt made. Is it true that “Mo’ Money = Mo’ Problems,” or have other events negated that? (E.g., Walt being able to afford hits on all of Mike’s guys last season?)

The best moment in this episode (which, true to form, had a lot of great moments) comes when Jesse quotes Walt back at himself about how this is blood money, and Walt stutters and then admits that yes, he said that, but only to win an argument. In that moment, Jesse’s face flashes with the disgusted realization that Walt’s words have never meant that much.

But the fact that the phrases he uses to describe the money change so readily reflects the way Walt thinks about money. To the scientist, money, like anything else, is neutral. It can be used for good or bad, but in itself it is neither. For Walt, money laundering is pretty literal: he’s not just making it legitimate income, he’s washing away its connection to the crimes he had to commit to get it. Thus his advice to Jesse: stop dwelling on the past, move forward, enjoy your wealth.

Of course Jesse can’t hear this. His approach to money is purely emotional, whether it is buying cool stuff to feel cool, buying his parents’ house to get his revenge on them, or giving it away when he feels it is tainted. Of course he remembers Walt calling it blood money long after Walt has forgotten saying it; the phrase resonated perfectly. He has made no attempt to launder the money beyond what Saul did at the outset, because it can’t get clean for him no matter how legit it becomes. Which just makes one wonder: will giving the money away also help him clean the blood he sees on his hands? For Jesse, what is the next step toward forgiveness?

3. While “Look it up, it’s science, bitch!” could be the tagline for the entire show, I don’t really buy Jesse’s friends knowing that much about Star Trek: The Original Series. It only ran for three seasons in the late ’60s, which I’m assuming makes Badger and Skinny Pete too young to have caught it. And unless it was recently released on Methflix or something…I just don’t believe that these two are super nerds. But Vince Gilligan never writes anything without having complete intention, so what are we to make of B and SP’s new expertise in dissecting old television shows’ science logic, especially as it pertains to blackberries and blueberries, or whatever?

First off, Badger and Skinny Pete, like Jesse, aren’t just meth-heads, they’re stoner meth-heads. They may do speed sometimes, but they are constantly, constantly smoking weed. Which is why I totally buy that at some point, the two of them just chilled out on one of their parents’ couches and mainlined all of the ’60s Star Trek episodes while snarfing taquitos, and then were able to drill down deep into the mythology later while in the grip of meth-borne obsessiveness.

What is more interesting about their insane ravings is just how many ways one can spin out the theme of their discussion. First of all, Badger narrates his own “script” for the show (for the original cast, and therefore for a show that has been off the air for decades), but instead of seeking out new life and new civilizations, he has the crew of the Enterprise engaging in a pie-eating contest. It is this weird moment in which Badger pretty much explicitly acknowledges that he is the comic relief in his own story, and, particularly judging from Jesse’s face, that it is a role that simply isn’t working anymore, not for Jesse, and not for us as the audience. Breaking Bad is in its home stretch, and the part that humor plays is necessarily waning.

Then there is the fact that they are discussing the transporter, this amazing, extremely useful science fiction technology, but all Badger’s characters are doing with it is cheating at pie-eating. Like Walt’s amazing talent for chemistry that he only used to make meth and money. Or that money itself, which sits in a storage locker unable to be used for anything except in very small laundered amounts. We see what happens when Jesse tries to use his unusable money to do some good–he can’t, and he ends up feeling like someone transporter-beamed his guts into space.

Most crucial, vis-a-vis Jesse, though, is Skinny Pete’s theory that every time a character is beamed somewhere, he dies and is resurrected, as his molecules are split apart and then put back together. As SP says, you’re no longer the same person on the other side. (Pete doesn’t know it, of course, but he’s paraphrasing Ulysses: “Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now.”) While Jesse sits there and stares into space. Jesse may think he’s having a crisis of conscience, but it’s worse than that. He’s having a crisis of identity. Walt has systematically taken him apart and put him back together again, and Jesse, not the same person, has absolutely no idea who is he now. Of all the vectors of this show’s final season, this is the spookiest: Jesse wandering around his own life like a ghost who has forgotten how to be human.

4. We’ve seen two flash-forwards now: In the season premiere, when Walt was buying the guns, and now when he drives back to his old house. There have been some interesting theories on what might have happened, based on what we’ve seen so far, and the most disturbing one was the idea that Walt has killed Skyler. Do you buy it?

The closer Walt and Skyler’s goals seem to align, the more she seems to forgive him and just want their life to go back to normal, the more she shrugs and almost smiles when he suggests buying another car wash, this theory seems to impose itself more forcefully. The abandoned house in the flash-forward, with “Heisenberg” painted on the wall, revealing that his crimes are totally known and have been for some time, drives it home. Skyler loves her home, and it is hard to imagine her leaving it peacefully, no matter what has happened.

That said, Walt killing Skyler seems a bit too pat, too tied-with-a-bow for a show this sophisticated, and I’d like to advance an alternate theory: Walt ends up pinning the entire thing on Skyler as the mastermind behind it all. She controls the money, and she has been just complicit enough that it would be entirely plausible. This is more in keeping with the overall arc of the show, in which Walt always strives to make everyone think he’s the good guy, no matter what. But Walt has always maintained that everything he has done has been for his family, and he seems to believe this, or at least to want to believe it. If the final step in his transformation were simply killing his wife, he’d just end up a tragic figure. But if–when his back is up against the wall and he has to decide between saving himself and saving her–he betrays her, and thus has to admit that this was always about him, that would be Walt truly becoming the monster he has always been.

5. We don’t know much about Bob Odenkirk’s spin-off, but is it plausible it takes place in New York, considering the building I passed last night?

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Saul is too conscious of branding (“s’all good, man”) to dilute his name by further changing it, not to mention the potential confusion with one of New York’s largest real estate developers. What’s more, it is very difficult to imagine him moving to a big city. Saul’s whole shtick is predicted on the idea that he is a medium-small fish in a small pond. He left some big city (Chicago, judging by his accent) and moved to a smaller one populated by rubes he can manipulate.

On the other hand, rumor has it the proposed spinoff will be more like a half-hour sitcom than a drama, and you can’t very well set a sitcom in Albuquerque, can you?