"Breaking Bad" -- "Dead Freight": The Great Train Robbery
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"Breaking Bad" — "Dead Freight": The Great Train Robbery

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | August 13, 2012 | Comments ()


I've been thinking for a few weeks about what it means to want Walter White to succeed. It's not quite that we're rooting for him, but it's also not like we're watching with the hope that he'll turn over a new leaf and everything will be OK. We're invested in the story, but we're not always prepared for what that means.

It's extremely hard for a TV show to turn someone into a real villain, and even harder to keep from pulling any punches. Omar Little on "The Wire" wasn't a good man at all -- he was a stick-up man and frequent murderer -- but he was also colorful enough that viewers grew attached to him. You know what he's doing is wrong, and it's not a life you'd ever wish on yourself, but at the same time, you like him a little. He's funny, and fun, and undeniably charismatic. We tell ourselves it's OK to like him, and we don't quite think about how that affection connects to who he really is.

The stunning thing about "Breaking Bad" is it makes you ask those questions. Walter White is not a colorful or pleasant man. He's not an antihero, or a gangster with flair, or some shotgun-wielding stick-up boy trying to beat the streets the only way he knows how. It's not all in the game for Walter. This is what it does to a person to do these things. He's not glamorous or godlike, and his rationalizations are exactly the bullshit Skylar says they are. He's willing to lie in unconscionable ways to get what he wants, and it's impossible not to be indicted along with him. Because the truth is I wanted him to get away with the heist on this week's fantastic, riveting episode, "Dead Freight." I didn't know how they'd pull it off, and I was stunned by the ending, but I still wanted Walt to make it out. Everything about the way I live my life says I should hate this guy, and if we as viewers met the character like this, we'd recoil in disgust. But we knew him when he was weak and craven, willing to break the law to just save his family. And we've stayed with him every step. I love this show, but I'm not done processing how I feel about loving it.

I reasoned a few weeks ago that Todd would play an important role this season simply because you don't cast an actor at Jesse Plemons's level for a throwaway part. I was right, but I had no idea the horror he'd visit upon the story. None. The cold precision with which he murdered that boy was revolting, but it's something Walt brought on himself. This is the business he's chosen, after all, and like the man said, when you play in dirt, you get dirty. The killing was a gut punch and shocking narrative twist. I'd been worried that Walt's greed at cutting the heist so close would mean Todd would be discovered, or possibly hurt while getting off the train. But this? I could never have guessed. I would never have imagined.

Director George Mastras, also credited as the writer, choreographed the episode to perfection. I barely breathed for the last 20 minutes. He trotted out every possible thing that could've gone wrong -- an unplanned civilian at the train crossing, a slower-than-expected transfer of chemicals -- and he kept upping the tension one amazing beat at a time. Dave Porter's pumping score made things even more tense. The sequence was like a miniature masterclass in how to shoot a heist. The rest of the episode was just as gorgeous, too. The wide desert shots, especially of Walt, Jesse, and Mike walking away from camera down the tracks, felt like something out a classic Western. I also loved the way Mastras really played up the visual difference between Walt's and Jesse's homes -- dark, grimy places defined by shadows -- and the bright, sunlit space occupied by Hank and Marie. The warehouse basement where Walt interrogated Lydia was similarly dank and grown over. There was a nice tonal meeting when Walt visited Hank, and his office got a little darker as the shades were drawn. Walt brings that darkness with him like a cloud now, no matter where he goes.

The murder that capped the episode was, perhaps, inevitable. Lydia came a hair's breadth from being killed herself, and Mike warned that the only successful heists are those that don't leave any witnesses. But it's probably the most heinous killing we've seen on the show to date, and that's really saying something. This was the murder of a child to get away with a heist to make and distribute drugs. It's stomach-churning, but it's not as if it will change Walt's mind. These things are awful, Walt will tell himself, and he'll probably believe it. But he won't stop. That's what makes it so hard to look away.

Best comic moment: Hank referring to Walt Jr. as "Emo McGee." Props to Marie for sticking with the whole "Flynn" thing, too.

• Tell me I'm not the only one who heard Lydia's description of dark territory and thought of Steven Seagal, Eric Bogosian, and a young Katherine Heigl.

• Pro tip: If Jesse Plemons shows up on your show, you know someone's about to get got. Do not get in Landry's way.

• Walt's tearful confession to Hank about Skylar had me on the fence. Could he really feel these things?, I wondered. Even a little? What's his endgame here? But to see the way he wiped the tears away and instantly set to work bugging Hank's office was jaw-dropping. "You bastard," I said out loud to the TV. (My dog looked at me funny but got over it.)

• AMC had the hashtag "#BreakingBad" on screen for a while during the cold open, though it mercifully went away. I've never logged onto their site for the simulcast experience, either. As I've said, it's not my bag, but has anyone else done it?

• It's hard to believe, but there are only three more episodes before the show goes away for another year. I know I won't be ready.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Justin Kuhn


    Hell yes. I keep waiting for the McNinja movie to be announced somewhere.

  • JoJo

    Omar was likable because he was virtuous. Walter is not virtuous and the reason we watch him is because we want to see what he's going to do next.

  • david
  • gunnertec

    Technical quibble: I kept wondering if the water that the gang was adding to the tanker would dilute the methylene that they were extracting simultaneously. Would they be taking out water as they were putting it in, in other words. Any chemists here know if the lighter weight water would stay on top of the chemical? I guess the purpose of my wondering is wouldn't Walt want unadulterated methylene?

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    The biggest difference between Walt White and Omar Little is one simple phrase: "A man's got to have a code." Walt White most certainly does not have a code.

  • MRS

    I guess I'm alone in this, but something about this episode was off for me. There was something in Walt's crying to Hank scene that I didn't buy. Maybe it was Walt's sudden ability to act in a certain way, which makes him look weak. Something he has avoided doing, often to his own detriment. Even when he is trying to cover his tracks with his lies there is a desperateness to the way he will ramble on. He didn't do that this time.
    It's just a small thing, but it bugged me. Even though the rest of the episode was flawless and the ending so insane and unexpected.

  • Chrispeare

    I wouldn't be surprised if the bullet hit the glass jar and the boy ended up being completely fine.
    Which is probably the worst case scenerio.

  • briaN

    They show the jar in tact after the boy hits the ground.

  • Chrispeare

    Oh. I must have missed that part. Never mind.

  • junierizzle

    Wow. Just saw it. I cant believe where the show has gone. I knew the kid would show up at the end but I figured he would discover the barrels. It looked like something was sticking up from under the ground in the beginning. I never thought the kid would go down like that.

    I'm actually rooting for Jesse. I don't root for Walt. He is kind of like The joker. You know what he is doing is bad but the performance is riveting.

    I think Walt and Jesse mewed up by boy letting Mike kill Lydia. Them letting her live has led to the death of a kid. But no, Walt couldn't wait until some more methlamyne(I'm sure I misspelled it) came around.

    And I totally thought of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Add it to the list of sequels that are better than the original.

  • RilesSD

    Nice. Said this after the Laughing episode last season and the finale...Walt is the Joker, Gus was Two-Face and Hank is the ultimate detective, Batman.

  • junierizzle

    *messed up by not letting Mike kill Lydia.

    Also, Mike is right she is going to bring them down.

  • thenchonto

    Holy f*ckopotamus - I'm pretty convinced Todd is a terminator. Also, I'm pretty sure that kid was the same kid who's been playing the younger Sean on recent seasons of Psych, which makes me all the more traumatized. I'm going to go hug my tarantula and sob,

  • Would you believe this is the first time Mastras ever directed an episode of TV? It's true! Talk about a baptism of fire. Mad props to the editor.

    What a gut-punch of an ending. I love a great heist film, then BOOM!

    And Walt didn't even flinch. There is no more Walt. Only Heisenberg.

    Jeez, what a great show.

  • No mention of Hank being the great prophet? He mentions Heat early in the episode, then Todd acts out Heat (as Waingro) later in the episode. Love it when BB does that.

  • brdkelli

    Give it up for the cold open. I spent the beginning questioning the parentage of someone who gives a kid that young a dirt bike (what if he crashes and can't get back? I'd never know!), to frantically going through my memory wondering if there was a human skull or bag of blue to be found in the desert. The heist completely made me forget about the kid which made his appearance even more gut jolting. Damn, THIS show.

  • yocean

    I did expect the kid to see them or show up when I connected the cold opening is the same dessert they are doing heist and the train noise in the cold open but that? That ending with Todd shooting the boy in cold blood? I did not see that coming at all. My take of that was him listening more to Walter asking him if he is sure he understands when Jesse says "no once can know." He is Walter's man now.

  • $27019454

    I JUST started watching this on Netflix streaming. It's INSAAAANE!! I stay up way too late back-to-back-ing episodes and I am into season 3. So I clicked on this out of the blue, not really wanting to be spoiled, but curious if the show sustained it's greatness through the current season.

    Uh...sounds like it doess. It's to hard to watch, but I cannot look away! It reminds me very much of the Sopranos in that the main character is bad evil and loathsome, but for some reason I am invested in him and am worried for him so very much. And, at least at Season 3, I really like Hank.

  • TheAggroCraig

    We are all very pleased to know that you're enjoying the show, I mean that. I really do. Which is why I feel I must say, with love, get the FUCK out of here before someone even accidentally spoils something. You deserve the chance to go in blind just like the rest of us.

  • Green Lantern

    Glad you are watching and enjoying "BB". It's worth the trip.

  • googergieger

    The thing about Walt is he is honest about what/who he is. I mean he lies to everyone else but he doesn't lie to himself. Hell he doesn't even lie to Skyler. He doesn't feel like he or his family are in danger. He is the king. He is untouchable. This is how he feels. He is honest about thinking this. He acts this way around everyone unless it benefits him to act differently. Like his act with Hank. Anyways it is this honesty that you almost find admirable. It is one of the better qualities a person can have. Total honesty.

    I won't go down the Skyler is talking b.s. road again because the argument of her feeling scared for her and her kids despite her not doing anything anyone would do if they were scared for themselves or their kids is a strong one.

    I will go onto speculation, though.

    I think Todd is going to be Walt's Mike. Todd has initiative and seems to admire Walt and that life style. Walt needs someone to do his dirty work and who he thinks he can control. Jesse won't cross certain lines, and while Mike is scared(begrudgingly respects?) of Walt, he will never be able to be controlled. I also think Walt will get Todd to deal with Skyler.

  • Slutface

    I'm thinking Walt will replace Jesse with Todd. Todd being the one to take out Jesse.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Well, I DID wonder out loud what the hell the spider-collecting kid would have to do with anything. I'm sorry I asked.

    Bit of a non-sequiter, but it struck me last week that if they ever make a movie version of Dr. McNinja, Aaron Paul would make a PERFECT Dark Smoke Puncher.

  • George Horatio

    The ending was so masterfully done as to the sound too. All I was thinking was that Walt should turn off that damn loud generator, and the moment he does you still here that droning sound of an engine. Awesome.

  • Weck

    Definitely the most shocking gut-punch BrBa moment since Heisenberg full-measured Gus's two dealers with his Aztek.

  • Ted Zancha

    I freaked the hell out in that final moment. I honestly thought Landry was an undercover cop. I even thought his wave back to the kid was an innocent thing. Man, this show is going to dark places and its making for some damn riveting television.

  • John G.

    I had the same thought. I thought a badge was coming out, then Blam!

  • dizzylucy

    Wow, just when I thought last week's Walt/Skylar showdown would be the highlight of the season...THAT happened.
    The show sure knows how to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster. All the tension of the train heist, the celebration of the success, and then BAM!
    Poor Jesse. This is going to eat him alive.

  • Poor, poor Jesse. He wants to be good in a bad, bad world.

    Still, the scorpion and the frog....

  • The scene in Hank's office. I think Walt really does feel those things. Not deeply, but to some extent. That is how he knew that Hank would respond. There is some basis in truth there.

  • Preston Broadus

    jesse's whole motivation for staying at the game, at this point, just shouldn't be there.

    jesse's been so affected by collateral damage to children that if he doesn't discontinue his involvement my love affair with his character may lessen.

  • schrome

    Todd: You guys thought of everything!

    Well, I don't think any of us thought that was how it would end. What a phenomenal episode!

  • MikeRoorda

    Knowing that the show tends to build in a slow burn towards an explosive ending I was saying to myself during the heist scenes "I wonder how much more can go Walt's way before it all starts to fall apart. So far we've seen everything go his way every time, that kind of luck can't last, especially if he will be living in NH and buying a heavy machine gun in a year's time."

    I was expecting something with the heist to go awry. They wouldn't pull it off perfectly or something would lead to their eventual discovery. I knew there was going to be some dark turns this season, but that one took me by surprise. I know sometimes there's dark episodes of this show, and I can generally watch them and walk it off. This one feels like it may walk besides me for longer than usual.

  • Stacey Bryan

    Todd = Master of the Full Measure. I guess he just took Jesse's words that "no one know about this heist" to heart. He is a damn good listener, that Todd.

  • POINGjam

    That was a good mislead. They had to have intended for us to see Landry Clark considering how much the FNL and Breaking Bad audiences are likely to overlap. "Oh no, is Landry gonna hurt himself? How will he play football if he messes up his hand?"

  • SchmidtUltra

    My head is still spinning from that ending. Such a great build of tension with the heist, a few short seconds of calm, and BAM!

  • Sam

    Knowing Jesse Plemon's career as I do I can only assume nobody will mention the fact that he killed someone ever again and it will be seen as the one really strange subplot in an otherwise amazing show.

  • I gasped.

    Chekhov's tarantula?

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