Breaking Bad recap: The Great Train Robbery

Jesse plots an elaborate heist in an attempt to fix the methylamine problem; things take a dark turn
Ep. 05 | Aired Aug 12, 2012

SMASH AND GRAB JOB Jesse Pinkman: crystal meth co-kingpin, criminal-tactical genius, really good at yelling "Noooo!" in slow motion.

Ursula Coyote/AMC

There are two main species of Breaking Bad opening sequences. On one hand, you have the non sequitur scenes that build to twist punchlines: Think of the season 3 premiere, with the homicidal cousins crawling on the ground and sticking a picture of Heisenberg on the shrine wall; or think back a few episodes, when German ketchup tasting session unexpectedly climaxed with bathroom electro-shock suicide. On the other hand, there are the sequences which almost play as separate mini-movies, establishing a tone that carries on throughout the episode: Think of last week's cool-car montage, or season 2's monochromatic flash-forwards, or the great Heisenberg mariachi number. Sometimes, the opening sequence can feel like a little bit of both: The unexpected sight of Walter celebrating his 52nd birthday, with hair and a new drive's license, already felt plenty apocalyptic before we saw the gun in the trunk.

The opening scene of last night's Breaking Bad seemed to be building to a punchline. We saw a kid driving his little motorcycle over the wide open New Mexico landscape. We'd never seen this kid before. He saw something and stopped his bike. (If you're like me, you were ready for the kid to find anything: blue meth, the decapitated head of a main character, a potted plant helpfully labeled "Lily of the Valley, have a bite!".) But no. He picked up a tarantula, and put it in a glass jar. In the distance, he heard a train whistle. And he rode away.

It wasn’t the last time we saw that kid, alas. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Big things are happening for Big Hank Schrader, who was unpacking in his new office. Walter swung by to congratulate him. "Being boss is it's own kind of grind," Hank said -- something that Walt, who recently experienced his own promotion, can probably relate to. (Aside: One of the best running jokes of Breaking Bad is how Walt's ascension in the criminal underworld mirrors Hank's rise through the ranks at the DEA. That was even true in season 4, when they were both -- in their own way -- lone voices in the wilderness trying to take down Gus Fring. End of Aside.)

But Walt wasn't just stopping by to say hello. He needed to talk to Hank, man-to-man. "Skyler doesn't love me anymore," said Walt. "She thinks I'm a bad influence on the kids." The camera lingered on his face as he started crying. I loved the shot of Hank, fumblingly trying to offer advice as he closes the blinds of his office. "I'm gonna get a cup of coffee!" announced Hank. "You want coffee?"

The second Hank walked out of the office, Walt sprung into action. He planted some kind of device on Hank's computer; he also put a bug in the frame that held a picture of Hank and Marie. Some people might say that Walt was outright faking his emotional outburst, but the way Bryan Cranston brilliantly played it, I think it was a bit more complicated: Walt allowed himself brief access to his genuine emotions (sorrow, guilt, loneliness) and then shut them off when they were no longer necessary.

The bug planted, Walt joined the other two members of the Baldheaded Power Trio for a jaunty interrogation of Lydia. Mike gave Lydia helpful instructions, ending every instruction with the phrase, "If you don't, I'm going to pull out my pistol and shoot you in the head." (When he asked Lydia to repeat the warning, she said, "You're going to pull out your gun and shoot me." Mike, with the second most hardboiled line of the night: "It's a pistol. Not a gun.") Lydia called Hank and asked him about the tracker bug on the methylamine container.

Hank didn't know about it -- which seemed like proof that Lydia planted it. Mike wanted her dead. Jesse wanted her alive. Walt broke the tie for execution…but just then, Hank called those numbskulls in Houston and found out they'd stupidly planted the tracking device. Hank slapped his forehead. Classic Houston move. "Dammit, Houston, you're out of your element!" he was probably thinking.

Mike still wanted Lydia dead. But Lydia caught Walt's attention when she offered up some methylamine: "I'm talking about an ocean of the stuff."

NEXT: Some thoughts about the nature of Lydia

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