Saying that the new season (or, mid-season in this case) of Breaking Bad starts with a bang is becoming a bit of a cliche. This show has always known how to get a new batch of episodes started. Even the first five minutes of the very first episode all the way back in season one had viewers hooked, and "Blood Money," Episode 9 of Season 5 is absolutely no exception.
As has been the case with several episodes in the first half of season five, we begin with another intriguing glimpse into the future that's nicely and humorously mirrored a bit later with a similar scene in the present. This harkens back to season two, where many of the cold opens teased us with something that was not quite resolved until the end of the season (in that case, the plane crash). As was the case in that season, by the end of this episode, we still don't know what it is that we saw in the opening minutes, and we're left with more questions than answers, but you can be sure that those answers will be provided by the end of the season.
After the cold open, we're thrust immediately back to the ending of the mid-season finale, where Hank has made what he believes to be a startling discovery while going to the bathroom. The writers of Breaking Bad are well known for painting themselves into a corner that we the viewer cannot possibly imagine how they plan to get out of. That finale gave us exactly that and, brilliantly, they solve it by choosing to immediately sidestep it, as the characters naturally would, and let it come to a head later.
And, come to a head, it does. In what is sure to go down as one of the all time great scenes of the series' run, the end of the episode provides the first phase of a confrontation that we've all been waiting to see for four and a half seasons. Not a voice is raised throughout, but the tension is raised to a series high just through words. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that Walt delivers a line that will surely rival, "I am the one who knocks" as one of those great, and intimidating, quotes that he is so good at. This one has a particular subtext that will stick with you (and the recipient of the line itself).
Going back a bit, I'd say that this episode truly belongs to two characters, one of them being Jesse. We really get to see him develop as we see that he finally has what he's wanted (money), but the guilt of how he obtained it is almost too much for him, and it seems as if he can't even give it away. He and Walt have a great scene on Jesse's couch as they discuss the possibilities of what, if anything, could have happened to Mike. Watch Jesse's face closely as Walt tells him, "you have to believe me."
The real star of the show this time around has to be Hank. In season one, Hank threatened to be a bit of a one-dimensional character, but quickly made a turnaround into weightier territory beginning with the second set of episodes. Never has that depth of character been on display more than it is in "Blood Money." He has been obsessed for the entire run of the show with discovering who the mysterious Heisenburg is, and when he realizes that he may have cracked the case with the worst possible answer, it just about does him in (literally, as he crashes his car during a panic attack). During his final scene in his garage, watching him react to the situation and seeing the pain/anger/fear/every-single-other-possible-emotion on his face is almost heartbreaking.
One of the things that Breaking Bad is so good at is providing much-needed moments of levity to break (bad) up the almost unbearable at times tension that the show puts us through. This episode had a couple, including a scene involving Walt and Skyler talking about actual car wash business and the return of Badger and Skinny Pete as Badger goes on a diatribe about Star Trek. There's also a great touch as a door is opened just in time to hear Marie spout out a line that sums up what we're all thinking at just the right moment (even if she has no idea that she was doing it and we, the audience, don't know the context of her line - we figure out our own).
Sure, other than the Walt/Jesse scene and the confrontation in the closing minutes, this could be seen as a bit of a placeholder to transition us from the previous ending to the upcoming events, but Breaking Bad's "filler" episodes are more nail-biting than the best episodes of 98% (an actual statistic that I have made up) of other shows out there. It's episodes like this that keep you gripped to your seat for an entire week to find out what happens. And, like I said, that final scene -- wow...
Episode 9 Grade: A
Cast:- Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons, Steven Michael Quezada, Matt Jones, Charles Baker
Review by Jason Howard. Special to Influx Magazine