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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Uncommon People sweeps you along as if you were trapped in a mosh pit

Author David Hepworth has acquired deep reservoirs of knowledge, and a towering stack of anecdotes.

First, a warning. It is perhaps best not to tackle David Hepworth’s work if you are the argumentative sort. He presents the central themes of his books in a manner that does not encourage discussion or debate: for maximum enjoyment, you should allow yourself to be swept along as if trapped in a surging, front-of-stage mosh pit.

Having argued persuasively in his last book that 1971 was the definitive year in the history of rock, Hepworth now takes as his theme the death of the rock star, killed off, like so many things that we thought would be part of the landscape for ever, by the arrival of the “mystique-destroying internet”. The end of physical product – Hepworth comes from a generation that spent hours gazing lovingly at album sleeves, seeking clues about the lifestyles and personalities of the performers – and the arrival of social media were the primary factors that led to the extinction of this breed of people whose names once formed the world’s cultural lingua franca. We still have global superstars in pop music but, he argues, the likes of Adele, Justin Bieber and Kanye West are not rock stars, whatever the last of these may think. Music has become “just another branch of the distraction business”.

Starting with the day Little Richard recorded “Tutti Frutti” in September 1955, Hepworth leads us through the next four decades, choosing one significant day – often only important in retrospect – each year in the life of an artist. Some obvious candidates (Bob Dylan, the Beatles) make more than one appearance, but there are some surprising inclusions, too. It is typically provoking of Hepworth to bring the curtain down on the rock era as early as 1995 and make his last subject not Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher but an American software nerd. Marc Andreessen, the developer of an early web browser, helped to usher in an age in which “smart young people looked on and dreamed about being tech stars in the way the previous generation had dreamed about being rock stars”.

The last man to measure up to Hepworth’s rock star definition was Kurt Cobain, who killed himself in 1994. Cobain was a fan who unwittingly and unwillingly became an icon and could not cope with the consequences. His suicide note was “like a reader’s letter to a music paper”.

Though Hepworth writes with conviction, his manner is not high-handed or dictatorial. He is not a rock historian in the mould of, say, the Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick or the Beatles chronicler Mark Lewisohn: you are not lost in admiration at the weight and depth of his research. In a lifetime’s devotion to the music and several decades as a journalist and TV presenter, he has acquired deep reservoirs of knowledge and a towering stack of anecdotes. He deploys this weaponry wisely and writes in an easy, fluid style. If he ever turned his hand to thrillers, you can bet they would be page turners.

The best chapters are those in which Hepworth’s choice is surprising, or he approaches it tangentially. His subject for 1978, for instance, is Ian Dury, whose album New Boots and Panties!! sold in its hundreds of thousands, making Dury – disabled after contracting polio as a child – one of the most unlikely success stories in pop. Dury was a complex character who could, like so many of the book’s subjects, be deeply unpleasant. “He had managers,” Hepworth writes, “but he did the manipulation himself.” Earlier in the decade, Hepworth revisits David Bowie’s fabled final Ziggy Stardust show at Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, at which the singer announced, rather prematurely as it turned out, his retirement as a performer. It is a typical Hepworth flourish to reveal that the gig was not sold out and that the tour had been losing money. Occasionally, a chapter works less well because anyone with a reasonable rock library or access to BBC4 will know, for instance, that Bob Dylan was largely a self-created persona, that Brian Wilson had a breakdown under the pressure of sustaining his genius or that the launch of the Apple corporation in 1968 marked the beginning of the end for the Beatles.

But he is adept at identifying a watershed moment: the growth of teenage consumerism in 1950s America being an essential component of the birth of rock’n’roll; the making of the Beatles coming at the moment they recruited Ringo Starr; Live Aid launching the era of the now-ubiquitous outdoor mega-events; rock wrestling with its midlife crisis in the late 1980s.

On the odd occasion, the idea begins to flag in a way that did not happen in Hepworth’s 1971: Never a Dull Moment – 40 years being a trickier time span than 12 months. But you stick with the book because Hepworth is an inspired phrase maker. He is witty on the seamier side of touring (“They say the only touring musician who doesn’t want sex is the touring musician who’s just had some”), wise on Elvis Presley at the time of his death (“Nobody took being the King more seriously than the King”) and wince-inducingly sharp on Madonna in her early-1990s pomp: “Publicity was not a by-product of what Madonna did, it was the product itself.”

Uncommon People: the Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
David Hepworth
Bantam Press, 368pp, £20

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder