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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Orhan Pamuk's The Red-Haired Woman is playful and unsettling

At times, the novel seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past.

When cultures collide or begin to merge, what happens to their myths? In Orhan Pamuk’s psychodramatic and psychogeographic tale of fathers and sons, the protagonist Cem mentally collects versions of the Oedipus story from across Europe – Ingres’s painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx hanging in the Louvre, Gustave Moreau’s work of the same name, painted 50 years later, Pasolini’s film adaptation, Oedipus Rex. But he also fixates on the epic poem “Shahnameh”, written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi; and in particular the story of Rostam and Sohrab, a reversal of the Oedipus story in which father kills son rather than vice versa. As Cem and his wife travel the world’s libraries to inspect copies, what they learn is “how ephemeral all those ancient lives had been”.

Nor is Cem immune to the act of readerly projection. “Like all educated Turks of my father’s generation,” Cem tells us, “what I really hoped to find on these trips wandering the shops, the cinemas, and the museums of the Western world was an idea, an object, a painting – anything at all – that might transform and illuminate my own life.”

Cem has more reason than many to seek clarification: his own father has been absent – whether for reasons of underground political activity or romantic complications is, for a long time, unclear – for most of his childhood; he and his mother become impoverished and, as he tells us at the very beginning of the novel, his dream of becoming a writer yields to a life as a building contractor. But these matter-of-fact bare bones are deceptive, for what unfolds is a far more fabular account of a life gone awry.

Even beyond his father’s departure, Cem’s life is shaped by his teenage apprenticeship to Master Mahmut, a well-digger of great renown. It removes him from his protective mother’s sphere of influence and immerses him in a world at once simple – long hours of physical labour – and highly skilled. As his and Master Mahmut’s quest for water on a patch of land slated for development runs into difficulties, so their relationship – boss and employee, craftsman and disciple, quasi father and son – becomes antagonistic, beset by undercurrents of rivalry and rebellion. Before too long (and avoiding spoilers) matters come to a head.

Throughout, their story gestures toward the fairytale, as underlined by Cem’s irresistible attraction to a travelling theatre troupe performing satirical sketches and classical scenes in the town near their excavation, and to the red-haired woman of the title. But Pamuk, in the style that characterises much of his work, fuses this material with political and social commentary. Over the three or four decades covered by the narrative, which takes place from the mid-1980s to the present day, the landscape of Istanbul and its surrounding areas literally changes shape. Residential and commercial developments spring up everywhere, many of them courtesy of Cem and his wife Aye, who have named their business after Shahnameh’s murdered son, Sohrab. Water shortages belie the sophisticated nature of these new suburbs, which eventually begin to form an amorphous mass.

Cem is preoccupied by the differences between Turkey and Iran, the latter seeming to him more alive to its cultural past. Turks, he decides, “had become so Westernised that we’d forgotten our old poets and myths”. While in Tehran, he sees numerous depictions of Rostam and Sohrab, and finds himself stirred:

I felt frustrated and uneasy, as if a fearful memory I refused to acknowledge consciously might suddenly well up and make me miserable. The image was like some wicked thought that keeps intruding on your mind no matter how much you yearn to be rid of it.

The extent to which individuals and societies suffer by not keeping their mythic past in mind is Pamuk’s subject, but it becomes more ambiguous when different stories are brought into play. What is the significance of a son who kills his father in innocence rather than a father who kills his son? Which is the more transgressive and ultimately damaging act and should both killers be regarded as guiltless because they knew not what they did?

But, as its title is perhaps designed to suggest, these accounts of fathers and sons omit a key element of the family drama: if paternity becomes a focus to the exclusion of all else, maternal energy must find an alternative outlet. As this strange, shifting novel edges to its conclusion – becoming, in its final act, a noir thriller – that energy makes a dramatic return, changing not only the story but the entire narrative paradigm.

The Red-Haired Woman is a puzzling novel; its intentions are often concealed, and oblique. At times, it seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past; it moves forward by indirection, swapping modes and registers at will. Playful and unsettling, it reprises some of Pamuk’s favourite themes – the clash between the past and the erasures of modernity, so charged in a Turkish context, and the effect on the individual’s psyche – without quite reaching the expansive heights of some of his previous novels. It is, nonetheless, an intriguing addition to his body of work. 

The Red-Haired Woman
Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Ekin Oklap
Faber & Faber, 253pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem