‘Breaking Bad’ 5.11 Recap: “Things Have Gone Nuclear”

This week, ‘Breaking Bad’ continues on its collision course with fate. Now that the foundation for the finale has been laid, the story is picking up pace and twists are coming fast – to varying degrees of success.

Todd opens the episode in an unusually talky fashion at a Route 66 diner where he meets with his new meth associates for lunch. Todd’s is a minor character, but Jesse Plemons inhabits the role in a wonderfully creepy way. He comes off like a cross between a preppy fratboy and a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer. He’s asked if he’s up to the task of becoming their next meth chef. Indeed, he is.

The tension is palpable in the interrogation room as Hank turns off the camera and tries to convince Jesse to give up Walt/Heisenberg. Hank suggests that he can make the whole thing go away for Jesse if he’d just join him against Walt. Jess’s response: “Eat me.” Lawyer Saul bursts into the room blustering indignantly and upsetting Hank’s plan. So much for the would-be alliance.

Walt Jr. plans to join Hank and Marie for dinner. Naturally, this makes Walt uncomfortable, so he uses his cancer recurrence and return to chemotherapy to emotionally manipulate Walt Jr. into staying home. Later that night, Skyler sets up a camera to record Walt, documenting his confession.

Hank admits to Marie that he hasn’t yet gone to the DEA with his suspicions about Walt, saying that he doesn’t have enough evidence to convince them. In what has to be one of the most uncomfortable dinner parties ever, they meet up with Walt and Skyler at a local Mexican restaurant. Walt, dripping venom, insists that they must leave their children out of the fight. Skyler tells them that it’s all in the past anyway. Marie suggests that Walt should kill himself if he truly wants this all to be finished. Hank demands a confession. Instead, on their abrupt exit, Walt leaves a DVD copy of the confession he recorded with Skyler.

To Hank and Marie’s horror, the confession begins with Walt stating that he has been killed by Hank. He concocts an elaborate fiction with Hank as Heisenberg, the meth kingpin who has forced Walt to cook for him. He says he has been victimized and brutalized by Hank, and that he had little choice with his illness and bankruptcy but to comply. Events are twisted and re-ordered… including the loan that Walt and Skyler made to Marie (and an unknowing Hank) for $177,000. Hank can’t figure out how he’ll be able to extricate himself from the web Walt has spun for him.

Saul and Jesse wait in the desert for Walt. Walt wants Jesse to tell him what Hank knows based on their meeting. Jesse, upfront and honest, says he doesn’t think Hank has anything. Walt tries to convince Jesse to change his identity and leave, saying he only has Jesse’s best interest at heart. Jesse, enraged, demands that Walt stop working him, and wants him to admit that if he doesn’t do as Walt suggests, then Walt will kill him. Walt embraces Jesse, who is reduced to angry weeping.

At Saul’s office, Jesse prepares to take Walt’s advice and leave. He pulls some weed from his pocket and lights up a joint, which Saul demands he put out. Arrangements are made for Jesse’s departure. On his way out, he brushes awkwardly against security guard Huell.

While waiting to be picked up, Jesse digs in his pocket looking for his weed. It’s gone. He pulls out his cigarettes and has a terrible epiphany. Huell must have taken his pot when he brushed up against him. Staring at his cigarettes, he realizes that they must have stolen his ricin cigarette the same way and used it to poison his beloved Brooke.

Infuriated, Jesse returns to Saul’s office with evil intent. He storms in and lays Saul out, grabbing a gun from the desk drawer before Saul could get it. When Saul learns Jesse knows the truth, he tries to convince him that it was all done for his own good, to save him.

When Saul tells Walt what Jesse knows, Walt’s armor begins to crack. Panicked, he retrieves a handgun hidden under a layer of ice in a vending machine at the car wash. He leaves, telling Skyler he must fill a prescription.

Jesse breaks into the White house with a large can of gasoline, which he angrily splashes all about the property.

Now that my adrenalized enthusiasm over the return of ‘Breaking Bad’ has simmered down, I must reluctantly admit that the episode has a couple of narrative flaws that I’ve found troublesome. I suppose it’s all subjective. To enjoy drama, one must be able to comfortably suspend disbelief. Otherwise, you spend far too much scrutinizing inevitable plot holes.

Still, after investing five years in the story and characters, I think it defies credulity that Hank would be cowed by Walt’s elaborate “confession” hooey. Not only does it seem insipid that anyone would believe it, it seems absurd that Hank would be intimidated by it after all his years of dedicated service to the DEA. I think it’s an enormous stretch and a bit of a desperate attempt to tie up loose ends far too conveniently and concisely. It’s an interesting twist, but the potential fallout and the seriousness with which it’s taken are a bit much.

Also, Jesse’s realization about the ricin cigarette and the murder of his girlfriend feels forced. I realize that there are only have a few episodes left to finish things up in short order, but I can’t help but wish there had been a better developed story around Jesse’s realization. It’s good to have an energized, angry Jesse back, though. All that moping was growing tiresome.

But let’s be reasonable. ‘Breaking Bad’ is still a dramatic powerhouse and viewing is always richly rewarded.


  1. Jesse had already guessed Huell had pulled the ricin off of him and that was his theory until he found the ricin that Walt planted in his Roomba back in season 4. So this realization wasnt out of left field. He was already realizing that Walt has been manipulating him since day one, and then couple that with realizing his previous theory of Huell being able to “lift” things off him was no stretch, and very much earned. Great pay off

  2. And about the Hank thing, remember that Hank has basically built his whole entire career around Tuco, Gus Fring and the Blu meth, obsessing over things no one else thought were true.

    Yet Hank always seemed to have hunches that bordered on being psychic. He “just happened” to run into Tuco and kill him. He just happened to get a jump on the attack from the twins. He just happened to know Gus Fring was a bad guy when no one else thought so. The DEA would immediately question how Hank was able to “make them all look bad” and the idea he was in on it would make complete sense. Also, the money Walt lent Hank just creates undeniable evidence they were in colusion together.

    I thought both twists were prefectly earned for anyone who watches the show at least close enough to know characters names.

  3. Matt

    What I don’t understand is how Jesse concluded Walt had poisoned Brock with the ricin when even the doctors told Jesse that Brock was poisoned by a plant. Yes, it WAS Walt, but Jesse shouldn’t have been able to draw that conclusion. That’s a leap I can’t swallow.

    • I think it was more Jesse had already hypothesized A + B + C = D in season 4. Then Walt was able to make Jesse think it was all Jesse being a screup that caused everything with Brock and the ricin to happen.

      Then in this episode he realized Walt had been manipulating him constantly giving him confirmation of A, Huell lifting the weed gave him confirmation of B, and then when he confronted Saul about his involvement Saul gave him C so now he knows for sure his original hypothesis was right in the first place.

  4. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    Thanks for the corrections. I’ve never gone back and re-watched earlier seasons, and while trying to piece various plot elements from the past my memory clearly played some tricks on me. I’ll do a bit more homework going forward. Cheers.

    • my wife and I rewatched the past seasons since she hadn’t seen any of them before and it has definitely helped my enjoyment of these first 3 episodes, from little things like Walt kneeling with a towel in the bathroom before vomiting just as Gus Fring did, to really “understanding” the character of Hank better knowing he is the only character that really never changes who he is thus becoming the most compelling character to root for now.

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