As we approach the halfway point of the show’s final season, Breaking Bad simultaneously ramps up the action and gets pointedly philosophical, showcasing the grace and finesse that typify its storytelling. “Dead Freight” meditates ominously on the fragility and negligibility of human life in the world its characters have created for themselves, organizing its musings around a classical train heist narrative.
The episode opens with an obscure but evocative teaser whose significance will only become apparent much later. A little boy blazes through the desert on a dirt bike, ripping through underbrush and taking flying leaps in and out of ditches. Stopping, he stoops down clinically and scoops up a giant, furry tarantula, which he drops into a glass jar and studies with satisfaction. It’s a strong image for obvious reasons, but especially because of the show’s established precedents – the last kid we saw on a bike was that kid who shot Combo in season three. In the distance, a train whistle blows.
Post-credits, Walt appears at Hank’s fancy new ASAC office unannounced to falteringly discuss his marriage. Breaking down into tears, he tells Hank that Skyler doesn’t love him anymore, and thinks he’s a bad influence on the kids. He also claims she’s been seeing a therapist. Hank, predictably, is overwhelmingly uncomfortable with Walt’s blustering display of emotion, and shuffles frantically around the room, closing all the blinds so the officers in the fish tank will not notice them. Following a few sloppy words of encouragement, Hank offers to bring Walt some coffee and darts out of the room.
Once his brother-in-law is out of the room, Walt switches off the crocodile tears and begins methodically bugging the office, attaching a device to Hank’s computer modem and hiding a small microphone inside a framed picture of Hank and Marie that’s sitting on the desk. Hank returns just as Walt is snapping the frame back together, nearly catching him in the act, but Walt plays it off expertly, cradling the picture and sniffling. “You two are really great together,” he intones mistily, manufacturing a tortured half-smile. Hank pats him on the back awkwardly and assures him it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Later, following up on the shenanigans with the barrel tracker, Walt, Jesse and Mike drag Lydia down into a dank, creepy cement room somewhere and handcuff her to a metal grill table. Mike drops a legal pad onto the table in front of her with a script written on it in ballpoint, and explains that she will now call Hank Shrader at the DEA and read what is on the legal pad, or Mike will pull out his pistol and shoot her in the head. Tremulously, Lydia calls Hank’s office and explains, via the legal pad, about the tracking device she found attached to the bottom of the methylamine barrel, to which Hank pleads ignorance. Things look grim for Lydia for about three minutes, but the live feed from the microphones in Hank’s office quickly reveal that another law enforcement office has been tracking the barrels without his knowledge, so Lydia is momentarily off the hook.
Mike wants to kill Lydia anyway because of how generally hair-trigger and irritating she is, Walt characteristically agrees, and Jesse is characteristically reticent. Angrily, Mike informs Walt and Jesse that Lydia tried to hire a hit man to bump him off a few episodes ago. Frantically, Lydia interjects, tantalizingly offering, if Mike will stop threatening her, to supply them with “an ocean” of methylamine. Mike, Walt and Jesse stare at her, perplexed but intrigued.
Walt interrogates Lydia one-on-one. She admits she took a hit out on Mike, explaining she’s afraid of the nine jailed Fring associates flipping and getting her arrested. She explains she tried to get Mike to have them offed for her, but Mike refused, so “there was no option except to add Mike to the list.” It’s already been pretty much established that Walt wants Mike dead himself, so even though his and Lydia’s common interests never explicitly come up, the scene has some interesting dimensions. This is the first time Walt and Lydia have met each other, and for differing reasons, both are transforming hourly into more pronouncedly unstable and reckless liabilities to their web of mutual associates.
Walt asks Lydia about the “ocean of methylamine” she claims she can procure for them, and Lydia explains they can get up to 24,000 gallons if they can figure out a way to unload it directly from a transport train. Whipping out a transparent routing map, Lydia explains exactly where and when Mike, Jesse and Walt can ambush the train in order to rob it. The only potential snags are the engineer and conductor, who would have to be either shot, or left alive as potential witnesses. Mike and Walt are quickly at each other’s throats about whether or not the two murders would be worth the payoff (Mike is anti-murder, Walt is pro), but as things start to boil to a head, Jesse jumps in – “What if we could rip off that train and no one ever knows it got robbed?”
After a quick site appraisal, the threesome snags a couple of lackeys from the pest control company to start shifting dirt and setting up. Via some abnormally forced exposition, we learn that the plan is to create a diversion, stall the train, suction a cache of methylamine out of the storage tank, and then funnel in some water to offset the weight difference. One of the dudes helping them is Todd, that guy who disabled the nanny cam in that other episode. Todd asks a lot of detailed questions about what they’re doing, and Walt and Jesse give him probably more information than he strictly needs.
Returning home, Walt discovers that Walter Jr. has returned home from his aunt and uncle’s house unbidden and locked himself in his room, sniping at Skyler through the door. Walt raps on the door and commands Walter Jr. to do as he’s told and go back to Hank and Marie’s, which he sulkily does. Skyler remains icily unimpressed. She insists the children are staying at Hank and Marie’s. “You agree to that, and I will be whatever kind of partner you want me to be.” As Walt gets up to leave, Skyler notices the dirt on his hands. “Out burying bodies?” she quips sarcastically. “Robbing a train,” Walt fires back.
Heist day! Lydia broods over her computer monitor in a darkened apartment while, at the intercept point, Mike, Walt and Jesse supervise the blockage of the railway line with an artificially stalled transport truck. The train chugs along energetically from different angles over a brisk, amplified drumbeat, threatening seductively to erupt into a montage, but failing to ultimately deliver.
The stall goes off without a hitch, and the team starts digging their equipment out of the dust and hooking it into the storage tank. Just as the heist seems well underway, Mike spots a problem through his binoculars – a huge pick-up truck coming up the dirt road from behind the stalled transport. The pick-up driver good naturedly insists on using his truck to push the transport out of the way, and within minutes, the tracks are clear.
Trying not to panic, Mike radios Walt to pack up the equipment and get out, but Walt growls that they’re not finished yet, and allows Jesse to keep draining the methylamine. Mike continues to protest, but Walt defiantly keeps the operation running until the last possible second. Todd and Jesse tumble onto the ground as the train begins moving, and Jesse falls directly onto the tracks, flattening his body in terror to avoid the wheels of the train that’s moving over him.
Jesse, Todd and Walt watch the train depart into the distance in shock, then explode into elated laughter. Before the euphoria can dissipate, Walt turns and notices something behind them – the kid on the dirt bike from the pre-credits teaser. The three men stare at the boy for a few seconds, dumbstruck and unsure of what to do.
The kid on the bike waves at them, and Todd raises a gloved hand and waves back. Then casually, Todd steps forward, reaches behind his back and pulls out a pistol. Jesse howls “No!” and Todd fires. The kid topples off his bike into the dirt while Jesse clutches his head, gasping. The tarantula scuttles complacently around the inside of the jar, filling the screen.