Jesse Pinkman is found lying catatonic on a merry-go-round, spent from hurling bundles of cash onto the lawns and stoops of a blue collar neighborhood. As we saw in the scene with the homeless man in the previous episode, Jesse doesn’t just want to throw the tainted money away, he’s trying to redeem himself by giving the cash to people who need it.
Jesse’s breakdown is an indictment of Walt’s cold, pseudo-rational approach to life. Walt thought he could placate Jesse with money. What Walt didn’t realize that was that by taking away everything that really mattered to Jesse, he lost control of him. Jesse’s decisive break with rational thought came when he realized that Walt murdered his mentor, Mike. Since the beginning of Breaking Bad, Jesse’s character arc has been one loss after another. His aunt is dead, his parents have written him off, his soul-mate Jane died of an overdose (thanks to Walt, though Jesse doesn’t know that yet), he broke up with Brock’s mom, and he stopped cooking with Walt. Mike was Jesse’s last important relationship.
Inevitably, Jesse’s largesse attracts the attention of the DEA, who bring him in and demand an explanation for his suspiciously large cache of cash.
Walt and Hank are at something of an impasse after their showdown in the garage. Last week I wrote about how the two protagonist’s complimentary male superiority complexes have driven the plot of Breaking Bad since the beginning. They’re at an impasse because, while Hank has a lot of evidence on Walt, he lacks a smoking gun. He tries to get Skyler to turn on Walt, but she balks. In his usual bull-in-a-china-shop manner, Hank badly mis-handles Skyler by pressuring her to implicate Walt immediately. Hank’s a great investigator, but his tunnel vision and insensitivity prevent him from closing the case.
Without Skyler’s help, Hank doesn’t think he has the evidence he needs to break the case wide open before Walt’s cancer kills him. Marie thinks Hank should go to the DEA immediately, which would maximize the chances of Walt getting caught, and minimize the odds of anyone accusing Hank of covering for his brother-in-law. But Hank doesn’t want to relinquish control. He explains to Marie that the day he turns Walt in is the day his career at the DEA ends. Hank says he wants to be the guy who gets Walt. Like Walt, Hank is determined to go out in a blaze of glory.
Hank gets a second chance in the form of Jesse, who is now in police custody. Jesse could hand Hank this case on a silver platter, but Hank alienated Jesse – to put it mildly – by beating the shit out of him in a previous episode. Jesse is so distraught that he’s past responding to threats. His lawyer warned him that his reckless generosity could get him pinched, but Jesse doesn’t care anymore. If Hank’s going to get what he needs from Jesse, he’s going to have to rise to the occasion and build a rapport with him.
With Jesse’s interrogation still to come, Walt’s storage locker full of cash is the biggest single piece of evidence against Walt. Walt has enough time to tip off his lawyer and have minions package the bills into oil drums, which are delivered uncapped, ostensibly so Walt can count the money. Seeing the cash in open barrels is a visual reminder that the methylamine has been transmogrified into riches. Somewhat implausibly, the cancer-stricken Walt manages to bury this massive trove of oil drums in the desert single-handedly with nothing more than a pick axe. Skyler learns from Hank that Walt’s cancer is back. Walt obliquely confirms this fact as he lies on the bathroom floor, having nearly killed himself burying the drums. Walt offers to turn himself in to Hank in exchange for letting Skyler keep the money as a legacy for the kids. Skyler knows perfectly well that’s impossible. At this point, the money is a burden to her and Walt’s a burden to her, but she stands by him anyway. She advises Walt that Hank doesn’t have the evidence he needs, and that their best strategy is to stay quiet for now.
Walt’s two kids are a complicating factor. Hank and Marie are a childless couple and dote on their niece and nephew. Betsy Brandt, the actress who plays Marie, hinted last summer that Hank and Marie’s childlessness would be a plot point.
In this episode, Marie literally tries to carry off Skyler’s baby, Hank stops her, but he’s clearly not happy about leaving the baby. The first thing on Hank’s mind whenever there’s trouble is to get the kids over to his place. For all his zeal for duty, Hank is also acutely baby-hungry. When Dean Norris cuddled Holly in previous episodes, he had the avid look of a man whose biological clock is ticking loudly. “She’s my little girl and I’m not giving her back,” Hank memorably said in the first half of Season 5.
If Walt goes down, it’s difficult to see how Skyler will stay out of prison, especially now that she’s rebuffed Hank. If Walt and Skyler go to prison, Hank and Marie get the baby. Hank has said that when Walt gets caught, his career as a DEA agent is over. Marie’s job as a radiology tech won’t support a baby and a kid in college. If Hank catches Walt, he’s going to put Marie in the same position that Skyler was in when Walt was diagnosed with cancer. At this point, it seems unlikely that Hank would throw the investigation to save his job, or ensure a better future for Holly and Walt, Jr., but these factors will make his final decision all the more poignant. Walt’s cryptic warning in the première has set us up to wonder what it means to “tread lightly,” given that Walt is a dying man who is capable of unspeakable violence.
In this episode, Breaking Bad finally addressed the purity debate head on. One of the major plot points is that Walt’s unusually pure meth revolutionizes the drug trade and rockets him to the status of drug lord. Some critics have argued that this is an unrealistic assumption. Lydia has taken over the Crystal Blue operation in Walt’s absences. Her new meth cook tells her that purity doesn’t matter because their 64% pure product is selling just as well as Walt’s stuff. Lydia informs him that while purity may be irrelevant to the scabby tweakers of the Southwest, it matters a great deal to her bulk buyer in the Czech Republic. Then she has him and all his associates slaughtered by neo-Nazi bikers. Point taken.