After the intense confrontation of ”Fifty-One,” Breaking Bad rages on with this week’s episode “Dead Freight.” The cold opening is one that seems fairly unnecessary; a boy on his motorbike is riding through the desert, picks up a tarantula and puts it in a jar. We’ve never seen this kid before, but one must instinctively know that this kid will come back at some later point. The episode proper begins with Walter (Bryan Cranston) visiting Hank’s (Dean Norris) office, where Walter slowly breaks down, telling Hank that Skyler doesn’t love him anymore. Then, as Hank awkwardly leaves to get Walter some coffee, Walter plants a small transmitter device onto Hank’s hard drive. The tension and timing of this bit really shows just how compelling a sequence this small can be on a show like Breaking Bad and it actually serves as a nice bit of foreshadowing for the episode’s set piece. Plus, Walt once again acts his ass off in order to fool Hank into believing that he’s a weakling, showing us just how accomplished Walt is at covering his tracks.
As the episode continues on, we further explore the fallout from the GPS tracker that was found on the methylamine barrels in last week’s “Fifty-One.” Walt has now joined Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) in an abandoned warehouse, where they’ve kidnapped Lydia (Laura Fraser) and are forcing her to call Hank’s office about the GPS device. After a scripted call with Hank and a back & forth between Hank & his DEA associates (which can be heard on Lydia’s end thanks to the device Walt planted earlier), we learn that Hank had nothing to do with it, convincing Mike that Lydia planted the device in order to rat them out despite her constant pleading to the contrary. The dread that starts to build around Lydia’s fate is to be expected given with characters as threatening as Mike and Walt, but some serious credit should go to the Lydia character. The way she stumbles through her scripted call with the DEA and her attempts at bargaining with both Walt and Mike makes her one of the more relatable characters in the show. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by presence of characters that strong willed? So, kudos to Laura Fraser’s very grounded performance.
Anyway, just as things look deadly for Lydia, Hank is heard making a call to the DEA office in Houston (where Lydia’s Madrigal warehouse is located), revealing that one of them planted the devices on all of the methylamine barrels. In order to save her life, Lydia points out that there’s an alternate option for accessing methylamine: a freight train that passes through New Mexico with a tanker full of the essential meth ingredient every Wednesday. Lydia uses this as leverage by wanting a percentage of the profits in exchange for key transportation details about where the train will be and at what time. Walt and Jesse agree that robbing the train “Jesse James style” is the only option they’ve got, while Mike finds the train robbery idea too risky. A later scene even shows Walt and Mike having another intense argument over whether or not the job can be done without killing off the whole train crew before Jesse (in true Jesse fashion) simply suggests robbing the bank in a way where “the crew wouldn’t even know they’d been robbed.” This all echoes several bits from earlier this season, from the now infamous “magnets” discussion in ”Live Free or Die” to Mike’s allusion to Walt wanting to be Jessie James in “Hazard Pay.” These callbacks help to strengthen the continuity of the series in small, subtle ways that don’t necessarily support the story, but strengthen the characters and their relationships.
Meanwhile, at Casa De White, things haven’t improved at all from last week’s debacle. True to Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) request, the kids are living at Hank and Marie’s (Betsy Baker) house. This has caused Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) to become irritable and angry over the way his parents have kept him out of the dark over why he’s been forced to live away from his home. This all culminates in a scene where Walt has to confront his son who won’t leave his room. After a conversation that almost sets Walt into Heisenberg mode, Walt Jr. leaves and Walt has another confrontation with Skyler about how her insistence on leaving the kids out of this environment is tearing the kids apart. Yet, unlike her breakdown from last week, she calmly and coldly states that things will continue to go her way as long as her children are in danger. This shows that Skyler is beginning to build a defense against Walt, which could spell for even more head-butting between the two for dominance over what goes on in the house.
Now it’s time for the good old-fashioned train robbery! With the help of a Vamanos Pest Control employee named Todd (Jesse Plemons), Jesse and Walt bury a couple of giant plastic tanks into the ground. One is empty while the other is filled with water, which (as Walt explains) has the same basic consistency as methylamine and weighs about 9/10th as much as methylamine. When the train arrives, an associate of Saul’s named Kuby (Bill Burr) (who was previously seen as a fake IRS agent in order to scare Ted in season 4’s ”Crawl Space”) fakes having a broken down truck on the railroad tracks in order to stall the train for Walt & company. This sequence once again shows the intensity of timing that Breaking Bad is so masterful at, with so much escalating problems getting in the way like a random approaching driver showing up to help Kuby or how close to the wire Walt cuts off the theft. Yet, it works out flawlessly and the trio celebrates… until they realize that the motorbike kid from the beginning of the episode has been watching them the whole time. Then, after a brief moment of horrific realization, Todd (with an almost robotic precision) takes a gun out of his pocket and shoots the kid in cold blood. A cliffhanger like that is something that takes a lot talent pull off without seeming silly, but Breaking Bad makes it work through the very sudden but effective chain of events that builds things up in just the right way. Going from the tension of the train heist to the success of the heist to the horror of being caught to the shock of seeing an innocent child being shot in cold blood within the span of five minutes is timed perfectly, giving you just enough time to catch your breath for a few seconds, but not enough to get totally comfortable.
As with most episodes this season, ”Dead Freight” continues to deliver in spades. The set piece is spectacular, the tension is heart pounding and the actors are as great as ever. Plus, with a cliffhanger like this, one can’t help but beg for the next episode. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have to wait until next week’s episode “Buyout” for events to continue.