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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High explosive, damp squibs: the history of bombing raids

Governing from the Skies by Thomas Hippler examines the changing role of aerial bombing.

Bombing from the air is about a hundred years old. As a strategic option, it eroded the distinction between combatants and non-combatants: it was, Thomas Hippler argues in his thought-provoking history of the bombing century, the quintessential weapon of total war. Civilian populations supported war efforts in myriad ways, and so, total-war theorists argued, they were a legitimate object of attack. Bombing might bring about the collapse of the enemy’s war economy, or create a sociopolitical crisis so severe that the bombed government would give up. Despite efforts to protect non-combatants under international law, civilian immunity has been and continues to be little more than an ideal.

Hippler is less concerned with the military side of bombing, and has little to say about the development of air technology, which, some would insist, has defined the nature and limits of bombing. His concern is with the political dividends that bombing was supposed to yield by undermining social cohesion and/or the general willingness to continue a war.

The model for this political conception of bombing was the colonial air policing practised principally by the British between the world wars. Hippler observes that the willingness to use air power to compel rebel “tribesmen” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa to cease insurgency became the paradigm for later large-scale campaigns during the Second World War, and has been reinvented in the age of asymmetric warfare against non-state insurgencies: once again in Iraq and Afghanistan – and, indeed, anywhere that a drone can reach.

The problem, as Hippler knows, is that this type of bombing does not work. A century of trying to find the right aerial platform and armament, from the German Gotha bombers of 1917 to the unmanned missile carriers of today, has not delivered the political and strategic promise that air-power theorists hoped for. Air power is at its best when it is either acting as an ancillary to surface forces or engaged in air-to-air combat. The Israeli strike against Arab air forces at the start of the 1967 war was a classic example of the efficient military use of air power. In the Second World War, the millions of bombs dropped on Europe produced no social upheaval, but the US ­decision to engage in all-out aerial counterattack in 1944 destroyed the Luftwaffe and opened the way to the destruction of Germany’s large and powerful ground forces.

The prophet of bombing as the means to a quick, decisive solution in modern war was the Italian strategist Giulio Douhet, whose intellectual biography Hippler has written. Douhet’s treatise The Command of the Air (1921) is often cited as the founding text of modern air power. He believed that a more humane way to wage war was to use overwhelming strength in the air to eliminate the enemy’s air force, and then drop bombs and chemical weapons in a devastating attack on enemy cities. The result would be immediate capitulation, avoiding another meat-grinder such as the First World War. The modern nation, he argued, was at its most fragile in the teeming industrial cities; social cohesion would collapse following a bombing campaign and any government, if it survived, would have to sue for peace.

It has to be said that these views were hardly original to Douhet. British airmen had formed similar views of aerial power’s potential in 1917-18, and although the generation that commanded the British bomber offensive of 1940-45 knew very little of his thinking, they tried to put into practice what could be described as a Douhetian strategy. But Douhet and the British strategists were wrong. Achieving rapid command of the air was extremely difficult, as the Battle of Britain showed. Bombing did not create the conditions for social collapse and political capitulation (despite colossal human losses and widespread urban destruction) either in Britain, Germany and Japan, or later in Korea and Vietnam. If Douhet’s theory were to work at all, it would be under conditions of a sudden nuclear exchange.

Hippler is on surer ground with the continuity in colonial and post-colonial low-­intensity conflicts. Modern asymmetric warfare, usually against non-state opponents, bears little relation to the total-war school of thinking, but it is, as Hippler stresses, the new strategy of choice in conflicts. Here too, evidently, there are limits to the bombing thesis. For all the air effort put into the conflict against Isis in Syria and Iraq, it is the slow advance on the ground that has proved all-important.

The most extraordinary paradox at the heart of Hippler’s analysis is the way that most bombing has been carried out by Britain and the United States, two countries that have long claimed the moral high ground. It might be expected that these states would have respected civilian immunity more than others, yet in the Second World War alone they killed roughly 900,000 civilians from the air.

The moral relativism of democratic states over the century is compounded of claims to military necessity, an emphasis on technological innovation and demonisation of the enemy. For all the anxieties being aired about militant Islam, the new Russian nationalism and the potential power of China, it is the United States and Britain that need to be watched most closely.

Richard Overy’s books include “The Bombing War: Europe (1939-1945)” (Penguin)

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times