Breaking Bad series 5 episode 12: Brimming with colourful metaphors, and, is Breaking Bad still good?

Jesse suffers a crisis of confidence - he's not the only one.

WARNING: This blog is for people currently watching Breaking Bad series 5, part 2. It contains spoilers.

There are only four episodes of Breaking Bad left. The first four episodes of series 5, part two, have been so densely saturated with Things Happening, there has been little room to breathe. Unlike the first couple of series, there has been little time spared for characterisation, for dialogue without an instrumental or episodic purpose. Although I'm sure calamity is headed Walt’s way, he has avoided it so many times, in such spectacular fashion, my suspension of disbelief has been stretched to the limit.

Watching each episode run hot and cold in three perfect chunks (unlike HBO, AMC runs adverts), the show’s epic moral vision appears to have fallen short in certain ways. Perhaps it’s because I’m taking notes and watching Talking Bad to supplement my habit, but I feel as though I’m with the writing team as they run through a list of edgy adventures for Walter White and Co. There is little introspection, or psychology left: Walter Jr is no longer the stroppy teen with friends he's desperate to impress, but a puppy-dog-eyed emotional sponge who wobbles his lip and makes the pretence of tears. Saul is a clown. We know that Scarface is our end point, and my eyes are still riveted to the screen, but to really make the last four episodes count I hope they provoke us a little, turn down the melodrama (stop focusing on “winning” and “losing”), and when a deeper sense of chaos is in place, let rip.

When Walt and others die, and die they shall, I still want to care about it.

Walt and Walter Jr share a moment by the hotel pool. Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC.

The Albuquerque sun has thawed Walter’s gun. He has become an intruder in his own home (again), and discovers that Jesse has drenched the living room in gasoline and fled. After hiding the pistol he pulls a coke-smothered disc from Saul’s car - note the number plate: LWYRUP - and tells Huell to call by Walter Jr’s school and the car wash to find his former partner.

On the phone he tells Jesse he’d like to “talk”, explaining that he wants to “fix things”, and signs off by saying “Be safe”. Everything he says sounds like a gangster metaphor, something Skyler later comments on: “Just to be clear, these are just euphemisms?” But Walter appears to be speaking sincerely. He seems - remarkably - shocked that anyone could think that way of him. He chastises Saul bitterly, not just for his suggestion that Jesse might be an “Old Yeller type situation”, but for his fruity language. Eeesh, such a materialist. But by the end of the episode when Jesse believes a very Heisenbergy-looking Walter has hired a goon to kill him at the shopping plaza, we begin to wonder ourselves. He hadn’t, it turns out, but you never know.

"I'm coming for you - next time I'm gonna get you where you really live". Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Marie, it turns out, has been researching poisons on the internet. She blubs to her psychiatrist, and is frustrated when he becomes interested in the details of her story. Meanwhile her sister has also taken to violent thinking, telling Walter: “We’ve come this far, for us, what’s one more?” after he argues that Jesse can be reasoned with. Over at Hank’s house - I notice Hank is a Deadwood fan, nice - two unlikely partners are united by a common enemy. Jesse tells them everything, but they still lack physical evidence. When Hank and Gomie suggest Jesse tries to get Walter to confess on tape by wearing a wire, he spits back that they don’t understand, and that Walter is “the devil”, an idea I like very much.

Hank is furious when Jesse fails, deciding instead to call Walt and threaten him, “I’m coming for you - next time I’m gonna get you where you really live”. But Jesse has a plan. He has decided there is a better way, but then, so has Walter. The episode closes with Walt calling Todd, and telling him: “I think I might have another job for your uncle”.

Halfway through “Rapid Dog” Walt nonchalantly burns two of the show’s longest-serving characters. In the car with a bandaged Saul Goodman (“I never should have let my dojo membership run out”) and henchman Kuby, Walt suggests they look for his friends, “Beaver and whatsisname”. That’s Badger and Skinny Pete, Mr White. And they’ve been busy, as Kuby reveals: “For three hours, all he talked about was something called Babylon 5.”

Next up: “To’hajiilee”.

Ice cold - the devil himself, Mr White. Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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