Season 2, Episode 7- Negro Y Azul
“What’s the matter, Schraeder? You act like you’ve never seen a severed human head on a tortoise before!”- Agent Vanco
This is another table-setting episode. After the narcocorrido (literally “drug ballad”) in the cold open, we’re treated to a series of scenes depicting Walt dealing with Jesse’s actions in the previous episode. First, he visits Jesse at his home (predictably not reacting to Jesse’s news about the kid). Then, he stands in for Jesse, meeting Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete at the National Atomic Musuem, where he learns that the entire criminal underworld, as it were, believes that Jesse was responsible for smashing Spooge’s head. Even if he feels sorrow at having put Jesse through this ordeal, it’s obvious he thinks it was worth it by the smirk on his face as he leaves the museum. Later, he comes to Jesse again and, in typical Walt fashion, backhandedly compliments him on his work in an attempt to motivate him, calling the younger man a “blowfish,” and that he’s “nothing but air.” It’s becoming more and more evident that instead of adapting to the business of streets, Walt’s has decided to make the streets adapt to him. I mean, it’s not like he’s going to find any reputable businessmen to work with in this trade, right?
We’re treated to what turns out to be a pivotal scene for Skyler, where she uses her past (platonic) relationship with her old boss, Ted Beneke, to secure her old bookkeeping job. Skyler’s job is arguably the major arena in which she asserts her independence, sometimes indirectly and sometimes directly into Walt’s face. This is, of course, best seen in the early episodes of Season 3, but it’s nice that the show plants the seeds for that future storyline here, midway through season 2.
Hank’s storyline is the biggest and most visible in this episode, as he begins his new assignment in El Paso. It goes anything but smoothly, first through the language barrier (pretty much every other agent speaks Spanish, something Hank has never had to do in the Land of Enchantment), and secondly through the nice surprise the Cartel has in store for him and his colleagues. Their informant, Tortuga (played, of course, by Danny Trejo) is liberated from his head by the Cartel, which is wired with explosives and placed onto, fittingly, a tortoise and sent to the DEA. The explosion kills multiple agents, and it would have killed Hank had he not freaked out upon seeing Tortuga’s head.
This episode marks the first appearance of the Cartel in our storyline. Before, they had been something of a rumor, but now they’ve made their mark, even without showing their faces. It’s not a coincidence that their appearance coincides with Walt’s first real attempt to expand his business. There’s always going to be someone bigger for him to deal with. He might be able to control Albuquerque, but he’ll never control the Cartel. That homey’s dead, he just doesn’t know it yet.
Season 2, Episode 8- Better Call Saul
“Even drug dealers need lawyers, right? *Especially* drug dealers.”- Saul Goodman
By this point in it’s second season, Breaking Bad was beginning to forge a reputation for itself. A positive one. And the first thing that happens to a show when it gets a positive reputation is the influx of character actors. Danny Trejo in “Negro Y Azul” was one of the first. D.J. Qualls in this episode’s excellent cold open was another. But one of the most important character actors of them all makes his debut in this episode, and he changes things irrevocably. Bob Odenkirk is maybe the last actor most people would have assumed would become a series regular on a show as dark as Breaking Bad. But the fact is, a show this dark is guaranteed to bring dark humor, and no one does dark humor quite like Mr. Odenkirk (and besides, the season was just starting to lighten up a bit. Might as well go all the way). We meet Odenkirk’s character, Saul Goodman (it’s all good, man!) after Badger gets himself arrested. Saul successfully outmaneuvers both the police and the DEA (including a returning Hank, more on that later), proving that he is the “best criminal defense money can buy,” and, after a mishap involving an attempt at bribery and a certain pair of ski-hatted criminals and a shakedown attempt, enters into business with Walter and Jesse, becoming their *criminal* lawyer. It’s a hell of an entrance, the sort of entrance that warrants a bigger role on the show, which of course he gets.
On the character front, this episode serves as a sort of falling out point for the events of the last one. Jesse and Jane share an awkward post-coital scene in which he propositions her for something much more difficult than sex (we learn she’s in recovery, and, you know, he’s not exactly clean). Hank and Walter share one of their most powerful scenes to date, as the latter comes to help Marie figure out what’s wrong with her husband. She knows about what happened in Juarez, just not about what it did to Hank. Hank trying to slip back into his cocky persona in front of Walt, whom he states doesn’t quite have “an experiential overlap.” Walt says that they do, and for a split-second, you think he’s going to come clean about everything. He doesn’t, and instead gives Hank a short little speech about about fear, one that seemingly helps (it gets Hank out of the house, at least). It’s a nice scene between two men who are arguably more like siblings than their wives, one that bodes well for both characters and their humanity.
Season 2, Episode 9- 4 Days Out
“Oh, God. All the lies. I can’t even keep them straight in my head anymore.”- Walter White
In television, especially cable television, there exists a type of episode known as a “Bottle Episode,” in which, in an attempt to cut down production costs, only a few main characters and sets are used. In most shows, these episodes can be somewhat gimmicky, as the show attempts to counter the apparent lack of plot movement found here. The most famous Bottle Episode of them all, The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens,” is exactly this. Breaking Bad is not most shows. It is at it’s best when its two main characters are stuck together, bouncing off one another and trying to extricate themselves from one situation or another. This is why “4 Days Out” is the best episode of the show to date, and one of the best the show has ever done.
The premise is simple: Walt, fearing that his cancer is progressing more rapidly than he can cook after seeing a reflection of a scan of his chest, concocts a scheme to cook up everything he can over a four day span, giving the requisite excuse to Skyler and his family. Unfortunately, Jesse forgets to take the keys out of their RV, stranding the pair in the desert for most of this time, only surviving due to Walt’s scientific ingenuity. That’s, essentially, the plot of this episode. Not much happens, but everything happens. This episode perhaps goes farther into Walt’s psyche than any other before, and almost any other after.
While cooking, he begins coughing blood in earnest. He believes that, despite everything he’s done, he’s done it for his family. He’s lied to them, he’s put them in more danger than they could possibly understand. If he can just leave them something, then it will have all been worth it. He holds no illusions that he is a good person, though. Before he rigs a new battery to get home on, he believes that starving to death in the desert is his punishment for the choices he has made. Its something of a final, lucid moment, where Walt’s selflessness and love for his family takes precedence in his mind. He accepts his death. And then, all of a sudden, he’s not dead. All of a sudden, his test results come back positive. Better than anyone could have hoped. He’s in remission. Earlier in the episode, Skyler tells him that she thinks the test results will be good, and that he should prepare for that eventuality instead of the negative one. As he stands in the bathroom at the episode’s conclusion, it’s apparent that he didn’t.
He looks at his reflection, and while most reviewers state something similar to what I just stated, that he wasn’t prepared to live, to live with the things he’s done, I think something different. I think Walt did more than expect to die: I believe he wanted to. In a way, he did. The person staring out through the warped and bent reflection of the towel dispenser is much less Walter White than the man who solemnly coughed up blood in a Winnebago. Sometimes, you’ll see Heisenberg portrayed as if he’s a split personality, a separate entity from Walter, the father or Walter, the husband or Walter, the teacher. The truth is, they’re the same. No dissociation, no schizophrenia, nothing so dramatic and terrifying as another set of thoughts in your head. Heisenberg is Walter. The problem is, he never felt as though he had a choice. Now, he has a choice, and he has no idea how to handle it.