Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.05: “Dead Freight” a master class in ruthless audience manipulation
Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 5: “Dead Freight”
Written by George Mastras
Directed by George Mastras
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
Remember “Live Free or Die,” the fifth-season premiere of Breaking Bad, and its nifty but slight little magnet-powered heist? In retrospect, that was little more than a dry run for ‘Dead Freight,” a tightly wound, nearly-perfectly orchestrated hour that brought the show’s more or less patented “holy shit” factor back in a big way – though not necessarily in the way you might have had in mind.
From the second invocation of Jesse James to Hank’s attempt to tempt Walt Jr. (now, once again, going by “Flynn”) back to the land of the living with the promise of Heat (on Blu-ray!) to Walt’s boast to Skyler that he’s going to rob a train, “Dead Freight” is constantly reminding us that This Is a Heist Episode. and we are about to revel in a bravura display of awesomeness. But of course this is Brekaing Bad after all, and we should suspect there’s a little more at work than that. “Freight” pulls off a stunning bit of audience manipulation that might have come off as crass if it weren’t so deftly handled – not to mention so eager to make the audience complicit in its wanton cruelty. (Haneke, eat your heart out.)
It opens in standard cryptic fashion: a yongster rides a dirtbike around the desert, before collecting a tarantula in a jar, while a train whistle hollers in the distance. It’s a seeming non-sequitur of a scene that immediately prompts speculation: just who is this kid? Personally, I was thinking it might be a younger version of one of our characters, perhaps even the new-and-still-mysterious Todd (Jesse Plemons). But the guesswork is just that; there’s nothing in the scene to discern any immediate meaning whatsoever. The rest of the episode is as devoted to single-minded problem-solving as “Live Free or Die” was, only this time, the show careens from one tense scene to another with much less effort. The first comes early, with Walt installing a bug in Hank’s fancy new office while faking an emotional breakdown; this is immediately followed by the ever-skittish Lydia’s attempt to clear her name (with the help of the aofrementioned surveillance device). But of course these are just appetizers; in the midst of Mike and Walt’s latest squabble over cash and their endangered methlamine supply, Jesse once again turns out to be the ideas man – didn’t this used to be Walt? – by coming up with a way to hijack the “ocean” of methlamine proffered by Lydia without any loss of life. Everybody wins!