It has been nearly a year since “Breaking Bad” was last on the air. Yet Sunday’s (Aug. 11) return, “Blood Money,” erased those 49 weeks with an episode that threw the audience immediately — or rather, almost immediately — back into the fraught situation created when Hank was looking for something to read in the bathroom.
What follows is an episode whose job is mostly to set the stakes for the final run, but which does so with such confidence in its direction that it makes something as outwardly simple as a living-room conversation practically snap with tension.
After another tantalizing flash-forward*, “Blood Money” belongs to Dean Norris, as Hank is almost knocked over after connecting the dots that his brother-in-law is Heisenberg. He manages to keep it together long enough to get out of the house with Marie, then suffers a full-blown, car-wrecking panic attack on the way home. The range of emotions that plays over Hank’s face in those moments — rage, disappointment, frustration, maybe even a little fear — is a sight to behold.
(*Not that anyone was expecting a happy ending, but the second jump ahead to Walt’s 52nd birthday — he’s wearing the same clothes as in the opening of “Live Free or Die” — shows just how much is going to fall apart in the coming months of Walt’s life. He returns to his empty, condemned house, whose drained pool has been taken over by skateboarders and whose chief interior feature is a giant “Heisenberg” spray-painted on a wall. One thing still there? The vial of ricin he taped to the inside of an outlet plate. Yikes.)
Norris and Bryan Cranston manage to top that, though, with the tour de force scene that closes the episode. Walt has put two and two together about his missing Walt Whitman book and, having pulled a GPS tracker off of his car, confronts Hank — earning him a (very deserved) punch in the face. Walt then informs Hank that his cancer has returned — as we’ve already seen, thanks to shots of him hooked up to a chemo drip and then retching in the bathroom while Skyler and Walt Jr. make small talk over dinner. Here’s the remainder of their exchange:
Hank: Good. Rot, you son of a b****.
Walt: I want to beat this thing, I do. I’m back on chemo and fighting like hell. But the truth is, in six months you won’t have someone to prosecute. Even if somehow you were able to convince anyone I was capable of doing these things, you and I both know I would never see the inside of a jail cell. I’m a dying man who runs a car wash — my right hand to God, that is all that I am. What’s the point?
Hank: Have Skyler bring the kids here, and then we’ll talk.
Walt [hardening]: That is not going to happen.
Hank: I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.
Walt: If that’s true — if you don’t know who I am, then … maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.
They’re essentially at a standoff as the episode ends: Hank knows who Walt is but as doesn’t yet have enough evidence to make a case, and Walt has made the very practical (and also very manipulative) point that by the time Hank would make a case, Walt could very well be dead. Obviously something gives between now and Walt’s birthday, but neither man has an obvious next move right now, and it’s fascinating to see.
The something that gives could well be Jesse, who is even more guilt-ridden now that he’s holding $5 million in cash from Walt than he was when he walked away. Saul and Walt manage to dissuade him from giving the money to Mike’s granddaughter — he knows, even if he doesn’t know, Mike’s dead — and the family of Drew Sharp (the boy Todd shot in “Dead Freight”). But he ends up literally throwing the money away, tossing wads of cash on strangers’ doorsteps. Walt better hope the money isn’t traceable — and we can only hope the remaining seven episodes live up to everything “Blood Money” delivered.
Other thoughts on “Blood Money”:
- Walt firmly believes he’s out of the business, and Skyler obviously wants to believe that too, which would explain her fierce reaction to Lydia showing up at the car wash. From what Lydia says, there are some quality-control issues in the remaining operation, but Walt doesn’t want to hear it and Skyler all but picks Lydia up and throws her out. That hardly seems like the last we’ll see of her, though.
- Badger and Skinny Pete provide the comedic highlight of the episode with their discussion of “Star Trek” and Badger’s pie-eating contest script for the original series. “You’re missing the best part!” he complains when Jesse gets up to leave.
- Creator Vince Gilligan told Zap2it that Cranston, who directed the episode, shot the flash-forward scene first — which meant having to make the exterior of the Whites’ house look that terrible before returning it to its normal condition to do the present-day scenes. That is some fancy logistical footwork on the part of the “Breaking Bad” crew.
- The episode was dedicated to Kevin Cordasco, a 16-year-old from Calabasas, Calif., who lost a nine-year fight with neuroblastoma earlier this year, but not before helping raise thousands of dollars for cancer research.
What did you think of “Breaking Bad’s” return?