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.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.