Breaking Bad: Dead Freight   Rewatch 
January 13, 2015 9:23 AM - Season 5, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Walt's team must get creative to obtain the materials they need to continue their operation.

"What people always forget, when romanticizing outlaws and gangsters, are the people who got killed just for being in their way."
    -- Donna Bowman, AV Club

The train heist split the critics. Some enjoyed it as an action set-piece. Donna Bowman, AV Club: "thrilling action", "one awesome adventure after another"; Alan Sepinwall, HitFix: "a good old-fashioned caper story." Others found it implausible. Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture: "the more details I list, the sillier the whole thing seems." Erik Nelson, Salon: "one of the most problematic and flawed episodes."

All agreed, however, on the "sucker punch" of the ending. Andy Greenwald, Grantland:
Because this is Breaking Bad, we have to take the pill with the sugar. We wanted the criminals to succeed, and if there’s one thing Mike knows about, it’s criminals. As he put it, “There are two kinds of heist. Those where the guys get away with it and those who leave witnesses.” The tarantula won’t stay in the glass jar forever, and neither will the horror stay safely behind the flat-screen.
Sean Collins, Rolling Stone:
It wasn't what happened that made this the most disturbing episode of television I've ever seen. It was when it happened.

A heist story is a contract with the audience. [...] When you make it look like We Won, right up to the moment when the unexpected eyewitness looks like he can be brushed off by returning a timid but friendly wave hello, then have some miserable rotten fuck shoot a little boy to death, you break that contract. The devastating crash from joy to abject horror is unbearable and unforgettable.
The episode was written and directed by Breaking Bad writer George Mastras; here's interviews with Mastras at Vulture and The Credits. Mastras was nominated for the 2013 Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Emmy, losing to Henry Bromell for Homeland.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah, as much as I found myself holding mixed feelings over the galling success of the Great Train Heist (featuring Walt once again putting his partners in grave danger without a care for their well-being and then not having to answer for anything), having Todd show his true colors at the end there was masterfully done.
posted by psoas at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man, one reason this ending totally got me is because Landry.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:39 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved this episode. The cold open is one of those "huh? what was that?" moments that I entirely forgot about for the rest of the episode and then bam - sucker punch, outta nowhere that leaves you gasping.

A heist story is a contract with the audience. [...] When you make it look like We Won, right up to the moment when the unexpected eyewitness looks like he can be brushed off by returning a timid but friendly wave hello, then have some miserable rotten fuck shoot a little boy to death, you break that contract. The devastating crash from joy to abject horror is unbearable and unforgettable.

I feel like this writer forgot what show they were watching, because it's a brilliant fucking subversion of the Heist Story because that is where we are in the arc now. In Season 1, it would've been unforgivable. In Season 5, with Walt Heisenberg supreme? It's a reminder that you're rooting for the wrong guy, that this is a story about the villains. It's preparing you for the cliff coming up when you realize there is no turning back, no way out of this for Walt that leaves him clean anywhere, anyhow.

The fact that the kid is collecting a poisonous spider in a glass jar is just another fucking awesome symbolic moment.
posted by nubs at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whoops - I read the pull quote as using "unforgivable"; now that I went and read the whole article, I see that was not what was said, and so forth. My mistake.
posted by nubs at 4:44 PM on January 13, 2015


One of my favorite episodes. The heist is both thrilling and audacious--for the characters and for the authors--and that payoff, with the kid from the cold open we'd been puzzled by and then forgotten, is brilliant. A gut punch, to be sure, but not a cheat.
posted by johnofjack at 7:19 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is a favorite of mine. I absolutely love a good heist, and the twist at the end was perfect.
posted by mordax at 7:38 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, nubs, I think you and the Rolling Stone guy -- and me, for that matter -- are in the same place on this. The sucker-punch at the end works so devastatingly well because in 15 seconds it tears down the entire triumphant close-call-but-we-got-away-with-it ending that the previous 15 minutes has been building to.

Great sound and music design in this one. The distant train whistle at the end of the cold open; the music in the train scene, all clickety-clack beats and building tension; the puttering of the dirt-bike engine revealed after Walt shuts off the roar of the pump.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:52 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, and also a hint here at Lydia being tougher than she first appeared: she's just been threatened with death by Mike, she's come up with a spur-of-the-moment plan to both save herself and the conspiracy, and still she's either mercenary or composed enough to note that "I'll expect to be paid, of course."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:55 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


A couple of call-backs here, I think. The one that stands out:

Skyler: "You agree to that, and I will be whatever kind of partner you want me to be." echoes Mrs. Spooge's "You give me a hit and I'll be any kind of mother you want."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:31 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah the ending of this episode allows them to get away with the ludicrous heist. If there's a problem with this series, it's that Walt has developed the ability to produce astonishingly complicated plans that go off with close to no hitch. Except, of course, this one had an extreme hitch.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:12 AM on January 14, 2015


Reading some of the writeups from detractors, I find it interesting where suspension of disbelief stops for different people. For me, by this point in the series there had been a number of events which strained suspension of disbelief and I'd come to accept that Breaking Bad is basically magical realism with a penchant for bleakness and a strong moralist streak. Yes, it's phenomenally unlikely that they'd find people willing to help dig holes and pump water out in the desert on someone else's property and maintain lifetime silence for a small enough fee that Walt wouldn't complain about it; yes, it's unlikely that the train would stop exactly where they needed it to; yes, it's unlikely that the hoses would be just long enough; yes, it's unlikely that no one on the train would walk back to make sure there wasn't some child or animal which had gone between the cars in the time that the train was stopped.... The writers could have addressed any or all of that, but they didn't bother to because I think they assumed we were all on board with the notion that most heist movies are not terribly realistic, and that the point of a heist story is to have a good heist.

Of all the unlikely things which Walt has managed in the series, none of them have kept him out of trouble for long. The writers seem to be on board with the notion that it's fine to succeed with some outlandish illegal plan as long as it causes the characters more trouble down the road. I'm on board with that, too, even if sometimes that notion itself doesn't seem very realistic.

I'd also question that it's a violation of the tenets of the heist story for the characters not to get away with it. That, to me, sounds like someone who's seen Ocean's Eleven but not Rififi.
posted by johnofjack at 4:24 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah the ending of this episode allows them to get away with the ludicrous heist. If there's a problem with this series, it's that Walt has developed the ability to produce astonishingly complicated plans that go off with close to no hitch.

Part of me would've liked to have seen the series end with a slow reveal of the fact that this has all been (all of it, from beginning to end) a fevered dream on Walt's part as he's dying of lung cancer a few short months after diagnosis...it would explain how his plans always seem to work out.
posted by nubs at 10:49 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reading some of the writeups from detractors, I find it interesting where suspension of disbelief stops for different people. For me, by this point in the series there had been a number of events which strained suspension of disbelief and I'd come to accept that Breaking Bad is basically magical realism with a penchant for bleakness and a strong moralist streak.

This. Breaking Bad is ultimately a take on 'be careful what you wish for.' Walt makes a dying wish, it comes true, and we learn what sort of a person he really is beneath all the rhetoric about family.

Really, the whole thing starts out pretty ridiculous: his background with Gray Matter and perfect meth are the stuff of comic books or soap operas. It's carried on the strength of the performances, direction and writing, but it's unrealistic from the get-go.

Part of me would've liked to have seen the series end with a slow reveal of the fact that this has all been (all of it, from beginning to end) a fevered dream on Walt's part as he's dying of lung cancer a few short months after diagnosis...

I think it would've been too on the nose. I prefer to think of this more like, dunno, Groundhog's Day or Big or Freaky Friday something.
posted by mordax at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2015


Yes, it would've been. Keeping it as a "real-world" story really is important to the structure as it shows you the origin story of an quasi super-villain; a dream sequence would've completely undermined the message of the show as it would've been written off as delusion or wish-fulfillment. Here we get the wish-fulfillment and all of its attendent problems.
posted by nubs at 12:31 PM on January 14, 2015


When I first watched the series, I was troubled by all the previously unknown helpers involved in the train heist. On rewatch, it's much easier to accept: these guys are all involved with the pest control outfit, which is connected with the neo-Nazis. Presumably they've worked "well" with Saul and Mike long enough to establish their reliability, or Saul wouldn't have suggested Vamanos as host for the portable meth lab. And remember how reflexively deferential all the Vamanos guys were when Mike introduced Walt and Jesse as "Yes, Sir" and "No, sir"? These aren't random new recruits -- these are guys Mike knows and controls. And their continued lucrative involvement in the meth trade depends on Walt's ability to get this methylamine, so they have plenty of incentive to help the heist succeed and keep (mostly) quiet about it.

Within the context of this episode, the sudden involvement of these extra guys seems implausible. We learn a lot more about who they are as the series continues, and their presence makes much more sense.

What seems too magical to me is that they had exactly the right tools. In real life, Jesse would have put the wrench on the valve at the bottom of the tank and said, "Shit. It's metric." They must have found an identical tank car to practice on.

But wow, if there were any more tension in that heist sequence I'd pass right out. I get actually light-headed every time I watch it, as if I were right on top of that train with Todd (now THAT's a scary thought.)
posted by Corvid at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's established in Hazard Pay (transcript) that Saul knows the Vamenos guys as long-standing clients of his; Mike doesn't but has since presumably vetted their suitability.
MIKE:
And you know them how?

SAUL:
Oh, I've been pulling their chestnuts out of the fire, legally speaking, for five years. Ira and his guys are good. I mean, they know how to keep their mouths shut. And if you buy them, they're gonna stay bought. You can check into them yourself.

MIKE:
I will, if it comes to that.
That said, there is a sudden jump from Mike's initial hands-off "yes sir and no sir" instructions to the hands-on involvement of Todd + digger-driver-Nazi. It's maybe telegraphed a bit by Todd's helpful "there's a nannycam" and Walt's "what's your name?" last episode; but still, the pace in these 8 episodes is much faster than in the previous 13-episode series. At this point, the show's really more interested in getting to the fall of Walt's empire than it is in lovingly documenting the rise.

What seems too magical to me is that they had exactly the right tools.

And exactly what steps to perform in what order, with no slips or mistakes or barked knuckes. Yes, they must've practiced.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


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