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 Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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How Ken Loach's radical vision won him a second Palm d'Or

In Loach's films, authenticity is everything, and when his quest for realism pays off, there's nothing as raw in all of cinema.

On 22 May, at the age of 79, Ken Loach became the first British director to win the top prize twice at the Cannes Film Festival. His previous Palme d’Or, in 2006, was for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatised the British occupation of Ireland and the origins of the IRA. This time, he won for I, Daniel Blake, the story of an ailing carpenter wrongly declared fit for work by the callous UK benefits system. No wonder Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, could issue only the most grudging acknowledgement, alluding vaguely to “Brit success!” in a tweet that failed to mention either Loach or the film.

The actor and Cannes jury member Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, called I, Daniel Blake “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul”. It was an incongruous delight to see Loach posing before swarms of paparazzi. He usually disdains such frivolities; he might be red but he’s hardly red carpet. “As a film-maker, you’re forever involved in things that constantly inflate their own importance,” he once complained. Artifice, hyperbole and celebrity hold no appeal. Even film-making itself is full of irritating impediments. “If Loach could make a film without a camera, he would,” said Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with him on Fatherland (1986).

Authenticity is everything. Unusually, Loach shoots in sequence, even if it requires moving back and forth at great cost between locations. In the days of celluloid, he would forfeit much of his fee to buy more film stock so that his beloved improvisations could roll on and on. When I visited the set of Carla’s Song near Loch Lomond in 1995, Loach gave the actor Robert Carlyle a good-natured ticking off for speaking to me between takes. “I’d rather he didn’t talk to anyone,” he said, “because then he’ll start thinking about things in terms of technique and who he really is, and it’ll all become conscious.”

When the quest for realism pays off, there is nothing as raw in all cinema. Think of the chilling attack on a family home by loan sharks in his 1993 drama Raining Stones, one of the films that began his most successful period, or the climax of Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC in 1966 and arguably his most groundbreaking film. As Cathy (Carol White) has her children taken off her by social workers and police, Loach films the entire traumatic episode in a wide shot with a hidden camera to preserve the reality. The movie led directly to the founding of Crisis.

Conversely, Loach at his worst can be one of the most simplistic sentimentalists out there. The characterisation of the salt-of-the-earth heroes in recent films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Route Irish, or the pantomime-villain Brits in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, shows what happens when action is overpowered by agenda.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Loach read law at Oxford but became seduced by theatre directing and acting: he was in a revue for which Dudley Moore composed the music, and understudied in the West End in One Over the Eight. He joined the BBC in 1963, where he brought extra earthiness to Z-Cars before finding his ideal outlet in The Wednesday Play slot that went out after the news. “We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news,” he said. He made ten TV films under that banner but it was with his second movie, Kes, in 1969, that he took flight, proving that the gritty and the lyrical need not be mutually exclusive.

His politics was fully formed by this point. Though he has rejected claims that he is Marxist or Trotskyist, he admits that the analysis to which he turned after his disillusionment with Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s was a Marxist one. “The idea of a class analysis was the one we identified with,” he said of himself and his collaborators the producer Tony Garnett and the writer Jim Allen. “What we realised was that social democrats and Labour politicians were simply acting on behalf of the ruling class, protecting the interests of capital.”

This stance was consolidated by a series of run-ins in the 1980s, when he saw his work banned and thwarted by political forces. The transmission of his four-part 1983 television documentary Questions of Leadership, which asked whether the trade union leadership was adequately representing its members’ interests, was delayed and blocked by Labour string-pulling. Which Side Are You On? – a documentary about the miners’ strike – was rejected because of footage showing police violence.

Since his full-time return to cinema in the early 1990s, acclaim has eclipsed controversy. Even if he had not won a Palme d’Or, his stamp is all over other directors who have won that award in the past 20 years. The Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) have never hidden their debt to him, while recent winners such as Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Cristian Mingiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) exhibit his mixture of directness, compassion and realism.

If there is anything that defines him, it is his fight, which has made it possible for him to remain one of cinema’s angriest and most effective voices. “In the long term, I guess I’m optimistic because people always fight back,” he said. “The reason to make films is just to let people express that, to share that kind of resilience because that’s what makes you smile. It’s what makes you get up in the morning.”

“I, Daniel Blake” is released later this year

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad