Breaking Bad series 5, episode 13: Don't skimp on family, that's what I always say

Low on dialogue, heavy on artillery.

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

Last night’s episode of Breaking Bad was light on dialogue, heavy on artillery. In the prologue Lydia whines about the colour of the crystal meth Todd is cooking. “Blue is our brand,” she explains. After she leaves the rusty hanger where the Nazis - I’m just going to call them Nazis – have been busy getting their product up to 76 per cent purity (“That dude who looked like Wolverine, he couldn’t even crack 70”), Todd reminds us of his creepy, adolescent chivalry from “Buried” and rubs his thumb against the lipstick marks Lydia has left on her mug of tea. Yikes. Todd then receives the call from Walt that closed last week’s episode, asking for his uncle’s help: “Just one target, not currently in jail: Jesse Pinkman.”

Hank and Gomie rail at Jessie – “Timmy Dipshit” – but are intrigued by his plan to corner Walt where he really lives. First they fake Jesse’s death using a packet of gooey supermarket meat and trick Huell into thinking Walt’s been on a killing spree, and that he’s next. Using the bare information they have they trick Walt into revealing the location of his buried barrels of cash. Cue a very green-screen road race out to To’hajiilee, the Indian reservation where Walt and Jesse first cooked and where the White family treasure is buried, along with a series of dopey confessions from Walt: “Remember when I ran over those gang bangers!” etc. etc.

"You're the guy off our billboard!" Photograph: AMC.

Meanwhile Walter Jr is learning the family business, taking cash and telling people to have an A1 day. There is a priceless moment when Saul approaches the counter, battered, swollen and deflated, and Walter Jr is overwhelmed by celebrity. “You’re the guy on our billboard!” he shrieks. “Better call Saul,” Goodman obliges. Just at that moment Walter – I think purely for the comedy value – appears at the door and looks utterly flabbergasted. Saul, as ever, makes a classy exit: “Don’t drink and drive kid, but if you do, call me…”

Walter’s plan to have Jesse killed shows just how corrupted his definition of “family” has become. “Jesse is like family to me,” he says, explaining to Todd’s uncle Jack that he wants a quick and painless hit. (Great response from Jack: “Don’t skimp on family, that’s what I always say.”) Walt attempts to lure Jesse by showing up and Andrea and Brock’s house, but Hank intercepts the phonecall and puts a stop to the plan: “Nice try, asshole.”

To'hajiilee - not Breaking Bad's equivalent of yippee-ki-yay but an Indian reservation. Photograph: AMC.

The final ten minutes of the episode became a protracted showdown, first between Hank, Gomie, Jesse and Walt, then between the four of them and the Nazis, who show up despite Walt’s telling them not to come. Hank’s phone call to Marie was a klaxon call to herald his demise, but I’m not so sure... After some of the worst misses in television history, nobody has been hit and everything is to play for. I thought at least Gomie would have taken one to the shoulder, but the bullets keep flying, and Walt and Jesse are caught in the firing line.

Next week: "Ozymandias".

Walt makes an appearance at breakfast - and is rightly treated with suspicion by Brock. Photograph: AMC.

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

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Man in the mirror-ball: Simon Armitage's The Unaccompanied

With this mature, engaging and empathetic work, the poet softens the pain of passing years. 

The Unaccompanied, by Simon Armitage
Faber & Faber, 76pp, £14.99

“The centuries crawl past,” Simon Armitage notes in his new collection, “none of them going your way”. After a decade of acclaimed travelogues, transgressive prose poetry, and above all translation, Armitage has combed those centuries to produce innovative versions of ancient and medieval texts: Pearl, The Death of King Arthur, Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Georgics. In The Unaccompanied he returns, refreshed from his sojourn in the past and bringing the classics with him; in the book’s dystopian present, in “Poundland”, Odysseus meets the ghost of his drunken comrade Elpenor not in the Underworld, but “slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Products display”, the poem’s pseudo-archaic English underscoring its ironic rewriting of Homer. Meanwhile, the protagonist of “Prometheus”, holed up in a post-industrial wasteland, sees his father retrieve not fire, but a Champion spark plug.

To lighten its nightmarish visions, The Unaccompanied offers the same beguiling playfulness that has characterised Armitage’s verse from his 1989 debut, Zoom!, to the “Merrie England” of Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid (2006). “Tiny”, for instance, reads like an old-school Ladybird Book (“Simon has taken his father, Peter,/to the town’s museum”) and “The Poet Hosts His Annual Office Christmas Party” makes a mischievous nod to Yeats. As ever, there are pinpoint references to popular culture; in “Gravity”, it is the “six-minute-plus/album version” of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” that plays on the stereo in the sixth-form common room. Yet Armitage’s concern for the socially excluded – the “skinny kid in jeans and trainers” from “The Ice Age” to whom the poet offers a spurned coat, “brother to brother” – burns unabated.

This collection articulates a new anger that is more personal, a lament for individual mortality, the sadness of time moving on too far and too fast. In “The Present”, the poet attempts to take an icicle home to his daughter:

a taste of the glacier, a sense of the world

being pinned in place by a
diamond-like cold

at each pole, but I open my hand

and there’s nothing to pass on, nothing to hold.

Armitage’s fluid poetics are pitch-perfect and his imagery remains incisive. The bare winter larch trees become “widowed princesses in moth-eaten furs”. In “Poor Old Soul” an elderly man sits, “hunched and skeletal under a pile of clothes,/a Saxon king unearthed in a ditch”. This is the measured poetry of late middle-age, in which only the promise of more loss fills the “white paper, clean pages”. In “Kitchen Window”, the poet’s mother taps the smeared glass before she falls away “behind net curtains” and then further “to deeper/darker reaches and would not surface”. “Emergency” (published in the NS in 2013) could almost be his audition for Grumpy Old Men. “What is it we do now?” he asks as he details the closed banks, and pubs where “tin-foil wraps/change hands under cover/of Loot magazine”. W G Hoskins’s gentle topological classic is referenced in “The Making of the English Landscape”, though a very different country is seen at dusk from a satellite:

like a shipwreck’s carcass raised on a
sea-crane’s hook,

nothing but keel, beams, spars, down to its bare bones.

In “Harmonium”, the poet’s father – who, in 1993’s Book of Matches, berated him for having his ear pierced – helps his son lug an unwanted organ from their local church and reminds him “that the next box I’ll shoulder through this nave/will bear the load of his own dead weight”.

Armitage’s poetic world is instantly recognisable, always inclusive. We know the faded ballrooms that turn into even sadder discos in “The Empire”. Or the clumsy children’s shoe fitter of “The Cinderella of Ferndale”, who leaves her own footprints of disappointment. As the poet stumbles on a farmers’ fancy-dress parade for a breast cancer charity in “Tractors”, the slight incident bleeds into the universal shock of diagnosis: “the musket-ball/or distant star/in your left breast”. Critics often cite Philip Larkin as an influence on his work, but Armitage’s highly tuned sense of such “mirror-ball” moments – small but refracting repeatedly across time and lives – is all his own. Thankfully, with this mature, engaging and empathetic work, he is back to record them for us, softening the pain of passing years. 

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. “Letting Go: Mourning Sonnets” will be published by Agenda Editions in July

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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