When Breaking Bad left us before the midseason break, the question wasn’t whether Walt would realize that brother-in-law/DEA officer Hank was onto him, but when that would happen. And then, the logical follow-up: Would TVLine reimburse me for my season-long Valium prescription? Because I would certainly need it if the back half of the season were as teeth-grittingly tense as the first half.
But the AMC drama’s midseason premiere surprised me by wasting no time and dealing with its biggest dangling plot point straightaway – not to mention letting us in on whether or not Walt’s cancer is back. Questions answered, plot forwarded… so why am I not whooping “Yeah, bitch!” in my best Jesse voice? Probably because I am so very afraid for (in no particular order): the aforementioned Mr. Pinkman, Hank, Skyler, Saul, Flynn (or whatever he’s calling himself these days), little Holly, Skinny Pete, Marie, Kaylee Ehrmantraut, Lydia, Lydia’s kid, skittish neighbor Carol, the guys who dry off the cars at A1, the people of Albuquerque and Marie’s purple shag rug.
Hold me, TVLine Nation, as we address the beginning of the end in “Blood Money.”
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I’M FEELIN’ 52 | Like the first episode of this season, this week’s installment begins in the future, on or near Walt’s 52nd birthday. He drives the junky sedan he got from that guy at that place down his street and parks it in front of his house, which has certainly seen better days. The property is abandoned, covered in graffiti, generally unkempt and surrounded by a locked chain-link fence. Walt grabs a tire iron and shimmies through a gap in the perimeter, then enters his former home. It’s empty, save for two things: a huge yellow “HEISENBERG” spray-painted on an inside wall and the vial of ricin he retrieves from its hiding place in the master bedroom wall socket. (Nice distorted reflection shot in the messed-up mirror, production team.) There are kids skateboarding in the dried-up in-ground pool out back; he leaves them alone. The only person who seems to notice Walt’s existence is his neighbor, Carol, who drops her bag of groceries in shock/fear when he says hello.
And then, just like that, we’re back in the bathroom with Hank, who is having a really hard time trying to wrap his mind around the connections he’s just made. He exits the loo and stuffs Leaves of Grass into a bag, then rejoins the group just as Marie is playfully telling Walt, “You are the devil!” (Nice.) Hank feigns illness but doesn’t have to do too much pretending; he seriously looks like he’s going to be sick at any moment. In the car on the way home, Marie natters on about nothing, and her voice fades to silence in the background. I know we’re supposed to think that this means Hank is fixated on his brand new suspicion, but he’s married to Marie, for God’s sake: For all we know, this could be his typical response to her inane prattle. As full realization hits him, he swerves and drives up onto a stranger’s lawn, gasping and blinking like a catfish flung up on the riverbank.
At home – and after an ER doc says he hasn’t had a heart attack – Hank pulls himself together. In his workshop, he compares the handwriting in Gale’s notebook to the inscription in Walt’s book and confirms what we already know: They’re an exact match.
HAVE AN A1 DAY | We next find Skyler and Walt running their business, dressed like they just stepped out of the pages of J. Crew. (All I’m saying is, there’s a lot of “oatmeal” knit going on there.) He’s like, “What do you think about moving the air freshener display, and hey, while we’re at it, why don’t we buy another car wash so we can more quickly launder my ill-gotten cash?” Though his tone is genial and an on-the-fence Skyler says she’ll consider it, we all know that they will buy another car wash – because that’s what Walt wants to do.
Just then, Lydia shows up to hiss that the quality of the meth she’s moving is at “68 percent and falling.” Walt doesn’t care. “I left a viable operation. The rest was up to you,” he says quietly. She nervously asks him to come back for a “tutorial,” because she’s in big trouble if she can’t produce the premium product for which he’s known. Walt? He could give a franch. And as he modulates his voice between the ultra-cheery, customer-service patter and Heisenberg’s menacing growl, we get to see both halves of his character in action simultaneously. It’s mesmerizing. As Lydia leaves, Walt tells his wife just enough to propel her toward the skittish brunette and warn her never to return.
TO BOLDLY GO | Jesse is hanging out with Skinny Pete and Badger, but he’s not getting one-tenth the enjoyment I am out of their stoned debate about Star Trek transporter theory. For the record, Pete is pretty anti. “Why do you think McCoy never liked to beam nowhere? Because he’s a doctor, bitch! Look it up: It’s science.” (Ha! Side note: That is my favorite line in the scene… until Badger says “I ever tell you about my Star Trek script? Yeah, I gotta write it down, is all.”) As the guys go on about an interstellar pie-eating contest (“Spock has total Vulcan control over his digestion!”), Jesse leaves with the duffel bags of money Walt gave him in the previous episode.
He winds up at Saul’s, where he instructs the crooked lawyer to give half of the $5 million to Mike’s granddaughter Kaylee and the other half to the parents of the boy Todd shot by the railroad tracks. Saul infers that Mike is no longer with us but, calling the giveaway “a bridge too far,” counsels Jesse not to part with his cash. Jesse doesn’t care what Saul thinks. Once he leaves, Saul knows what he has to do: Better call Walt!
I WANT TO BELIEVE | When Heisenberg answers his phone, we see that he’s hooked up to an IV full of chemotherapy drugs: Yep, the cancer is back – but, as we later learn, no one knows yet. Post-treatment, he brings the bags back to Jesse and calls his plan to give it away “nonsensical.” Jesse won’t look at his former mentor, who takes an avuncular tack. “Son, you need to stop focusing on the darkness behind you. The past is the past,” Walt advises. When he asks why Jesse wanted the money to go to Kaylee, it’s clear that the younger man is holding back tears. (Dear Aaron Paul: You are killing both it and me in this scene. Good job.) “She needs someone looking after her,” he monotones, having put together that Walt wouldn’t have killed Mike’s crew without taking care of its boss first. “I think he’s dead, and I think you know that.”
Walt denies all, spinning a story that ends with “Jesse, I need you to believe this. It’s not true. It’s just not.” Jesse, I need you to make Walt believe that you believe him, because I heart you. Pinkman totally doesn’t buy his old boss’ story, but he acts like he does, and I’m sure Walt cockily thinks he’s gotten everything back under control. But that’s probably not the case, seeing as how Jesse later drives around a neighborhood, lobbing bundles of bills out his driver-side window like they were the early edition and possibly having a nervous breakdown in the process.
I KNOW YOU KNOW | When the chemo kicks in, Walt hotfoots it away from the dinner table and surreptitiously pukes in the bathroom. (Props to him, because I can’t toss my cookies without everyone in a four-block radius becoming aware.) As he’s praying to the porcelain god, he looks up and notices that the Walt Whitman poetry book is missing. He couples that with Hank’s odd behavior at dinner and the tracking device Walt finds on his muscle car’s undercarriage, and it’s not long before Walt arrives at Hank’s place and catches him re-examining all of the evidence from the Heisenberg case. They’re both completely busted.
Hank plays it cool just as long as it takes to lower the door of the garage, where he’s set up the re-investigation. Then he punches his brother-in-law and cries, “It was you!” Game ON, Breaking Bad! The men grapple. “I swear to Christ,” Hank vows, “I will put you under the jail.”
The whole time, Walt plays like he doesn’t know what Hank is talking about – and then he drops the C-bomb. “My cancer is back,” he offers. “Good. Rot, you son of a bitch,” Hank whispers, adding that he doesn’t even know who Walt is and that, once Skyler and the kids are safe with him and Marie, he’s willing to talk. That’s when it gets really, really, Valium-would-be-nice-now scary.
“If you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly,” Walt says, Bryan Cranston somehow managing to be frightening even as his eyes pool with tears.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!