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'Breaking Bad' season 5 episode 10: A fraught love affair with cars

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jack (Michael Bowen)

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jack (Michael Bowen) in "Breaking Bad" Season 5, Episode 8: "Gliding Over All." Credit: AMC

Cars and "Breaking Bad": Is there any relationship deeper, fonder and more conflicted anywhere on TV than the one between "Bad" and our wheeled friends? (Deb and Dex? Hmm. Maybe.)

It's amazing how profound a role -- pun, and a bad one, most definitely intended -- cars play on "Breaking Bad." As I noted in the review of last week's "Blood Money," Walter arrives at his wreck of a house in a beautiful wreck of a '79 Coupe de Ville. The model, the year, are so specific as to be inescapable in terms of meaning, and not just to the gearheads among us. (Why '79? Why a C de V? The Caddy was the preferred model of mobsters and Carmine Galante was gunned down in '79 in NYC -- but of course I'm just spitballing; the C de V is a perfect car for the fallen Walter.)

Cars were strewn everywhere on Sunday's episode, "Buried." That opening scene, with that wonderful old truck puttering in the driveway; Jesse's car, with the blinker on, at the playground -- and don't you also just love the fact that Jesse had the presence of mind to actually put on the blinker before he docked the thing next to a playground? That little yellow toy car ... and best of all, that destitute wrecking yard out in the middle of nowhere, which Lydia -- Laura Fraser -- gently picks her way through en route to the massacre of her current, and now dearly departed, meth cook crew.

Cars, cars, cars! What does it all mean? What do they all mean? I've warned (in print) about the temptation of overthinking "Bad," but it's just too much fun not to, and in this instance, it's so very easy: Cars are people. Their hopes and dreams, desires, a mirror into their soul, or a mirror of their face.

Cars, like people, live and die. Sometimes they end up rusted, burned-out hulks, dust-covered in the desert; sometimes they die violently in a hail of bullets. Ah, remember that time Hank's SUV was shot to pieces by Tuco Salamanco (Raymond Cruz)? And remember how Hank was presented the "grill" of Tuco as a gift? Oh, I really could go on and on -- don't tempt me. Sometimes, they just expire -- sadly, slowly, with one last bump. Ah, remember in that same episode Jesse's low-rider, and how it bumped away unto its death?

Cars live and die here and everywhere, just like people: They have life cycles but end up in only one place, and it's a bleak one. At first they are new and shiny. Then the rust creeps, the end approaches.

Cars get us -- and of course by "us" I'm speaking of "Bad's" characters -- from point A to point B, but they all usually just end up back at point A, as though the trip were just one big meaningless circle. No progress was made -- simply regress. Witness the time Walter blew up that beautiful red muscle car a couple of seasons ago. I've posted the clip below for a reminder.

I could keep driving the point home  -- risking becoming like that Challenger that Walter disposes of -- so I will say just one last thing: All hail the cars of "Breaking Bad." They are the unsung stars of this singularly great TV series. Without them, "Bad" could not exist, have never existed. They make it all happen, and all hang together. Rubber, steel and glory: The car IS "Breaking Bad."

Anyway, enough. As we sail -- er, drive -- to the end here ("Bad" wraps Sept. 29), I will be taking similar excursions down other byways. No reason to do "recaps" -- they are everywhere and many quite good. Instead, I'll take one element from each week's episode and explore it a little deeper. I'm thinking maybe quantum physics next week ... or maybe Dine (Navajo) culture.

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