Season 2, Episode 10- Over
“Stay out of my territory.”- Walter White
The final stretch of this season begins with the choice I mentioned at the end of the last recap, and, at least for now, Walter appears to have chosen not to cook, to go back to work and see where his new lease on life takes him. Skyler convinces him otherwise. Characteristically, it doesn’t take long for Walt to find something to do. He calls Jesse; not to cook, but to tell him the “good news.” Jesse, to his credit, is ecstatic, and asks Walt what to do next. Walt’s plan is to sell of what they have and then call it quits. At the celebration Skyler holds for him, Walt gives a speech about how, when he was first diagnosed, he wondered what he had done to deserve this. And then, when he received the news that he was in remission, he wondered the exact same thing. Not exactly the words of a man “looking forward to the future,” as Skyler says. The end of the last episode, as I said, marked a change. Not a rapid one, but a casual one, much like Walter told to his chemistry students early in season 1. Heisenberg is bleeding through, more and more, poisoning everyone around him.
Jesse, on the other hand, is spending his newfound free time getting closer with Jane, proving once and for all the major difference between our two protagonists. Jesse is perfectly happy with what he has, even if what he has isn’t much. If he was content with his dimebag-to-dimebag existence before Walt, then he’s certainly content with his new life with Jane after Walt. Mr. White, however, is not content. Even though he’s made enough money to supply his family well after he’s gone, he doesn’t feel right. He can do more. He can prove to everyone that there’s nothing he can’t do. He starts by attempting to fix the faulty water heater that’s given his family so much trouble. Of course, installing the new water heater leads to replacing the rotted floor under it. As Walter so succinctly says it, “we’ve got rot.” Is Heisenberg is poisoning everything, then Walter’s going to do his best to fix it, to refurbish the foundations of his home and his family. There’s just too much rot to fix. Every time Walt thinks he’s done, something else catches his eye.
This culminates in one of the most powerful scenes in the history of the show; the coda, where Walt returns to the home improvement store and begins rounding up more supplies for his reclamation project. While there, he notices an all-too familiar group of supplies being gathered by an all-too familiar looking man. Giving the man some advice, Walt tells him not to buy all his meth supplies in bulk, but to buy them piecemeal from different stores. Freaking out, the guy runs. While waiting to checkout, Walt realizes that this guy was someone else’s Jesse. Leaving his home improvement supplies behind, he leaves and confronts the pair. “Stay out of my territory,” he warns them, accompanied by perhaps the best musical choice in the history of the show, TV on the Radio’s “DMZ.” Walter has made his choice. He’s chosen Heisenberg. God help anyone who opposes him. God help anyone who accompanies him.
Season 2, Episode 11- Mandala
“One hour. You in or out?”- Victor
Walter’s choice to become Heisenberg, fully and truly, seems to have almost immediate consequences. Combo, admittedly the least entertaining of Jesse’s crew, is shockingly shot to death by a young boy at the behest of two rival drug dealers in this episode’s cold open. We come to know these two dealers a little better in Season 3, but for now, they’re simply two random dangers in a town full of random dangers.
The combination of Combo’s death, Badger’s laying low and Skinny Pete’s probation, Jesse finds himself without any dealers. During a meeting with Saul, Walt asks for his lawyer’s help. Saul suggests putting him in touch with a high-level distributor he knows of by reputation, one who deals in bulk and treats the business like a business. The exact sort of person Walt wants to do business with, the exact sort of person Walts wants to be. The meeting takes place at Los Pollos Hermanos, a local chicken restaurant. While Walt waits patiently for the alleged kingpin to reveal himself, Jesse leaves in a huff, thoroughly upset with the business that got one of his closest friends killed. After waiting for two hours, Walt leaves, and Saul informs him that the contact decided against doing business. Undeterred, Walter returns to Los Pollos Hermanos the next dat, eventually intuiting that the unassuming manager he saw before is the man he is looking for. Playing his hunch, he eventually gets the manager to admit that he chose not to do business with Walt because his partner (Jesse) was late and high. Walt manages to convince the man (who we come to know as Gus) that Jesse’s involvement is nothing for Gus to concern himself with, and that his product is worth any reservations.
On the Jesse front, he does his best to live up to Gus’ reservations, first by admitting to Jane that he is a drug dealer, then by accidentally dragging her off the proverbial wagon, then by indulging her in her returning heroin habit in a neat little visual gag meant to represent Jesse’s first heroin high. Walt then receives a text prompting him to return to Los Pollos Hermanos, where he learns both Gus’ name and the fact that he is not just the manager, but the owner of the entire franchise. Upon leaving, a henchman tells him to bring his product to a truck stop in one hour. Frantically, he goes over to Jesse’s only to find him nearly catatonic. Without any other option, Walt takes what Jesse has and barely makes it to the deal in time, despite the fact that Skyler has just gone into labor. He has made another choice, and this one could make him more money than he has during the entirety of the show to this point, at the expense of missing the birth of his daughter. The things he does for his family have now, even if he won’t acknowledge it, taken precedence over the family he does them for. The scale tips ever so slightly.
Season 2, Episode 12- Phoenix
“Do right by Jesse, tonight, or I will burn you to the ground.”- Jane Margolis
There’s something deeply perverse about the way Walt stares at his newly gotten gains in this episode’s cold open. He looks upon it with nearly as much glee and jubilation as he does his perfectly healthy baby daughter. Whatever it is, it’s more affecting than all the sorrow he shows over missing Holly’s birth. To him, it was worth it. It’s almost as if the universe is throwing choices at him, and he keeps choosing the wrong ones. By this point, he has more than enough money to give his family almost anything they need for the distant future. But he continues to make these choices. And nowhere are the choices better reflected than in the terrifying scene in which Walt takes baby Holly into the utility room, where he shows her the money lined behind a cover. “You see that? Daddy did that. Daddy did that for you,” he says, gleefully.
Of course, Walt blames Jesse for missing Holly’s birth, because with Jesse incapacitated, Walt was forced to do the deal on his own. Jesse’s just sensitive enough to be wounded by it, adding to the needless damage Walt has inflicted upon his surrogate son. His actual son, however, is inflicting wounds upon him without knowing it. Walt Jr has designed a website, telling everyone about how great his dad is and asking them to donate anything they can to help him. Saul sees it as an easy opportunity to launder Walt’s new money. Jesse, on the other hand, has problems of his own. Jane’s father has found out about her relapse with Jesse, calls the police on her, only relenting when she promises to go back to rehab first thing the next day.
Feeling betrayed by the only people they thought they could trust, Jesse and Jane decide (well, Jane decides) to blackmail Walt in exchange for his share of the money. Walt acquiesces, and goes to a nearby dive bar, where he has a sad conversation about daughters, sons and water on Mars with a man he’s never met, a man we know as Jane’s father, Donald Margolis. Later, he will use this meeting as evidence of the random nature of the universe, but now, during this episode, he uses it as motivation to go back over to Jesse’s and simply talk with him. Once again he breaks in through the back door, and when he tries to shake Jesse awake, he shifts Jane over onto her back, where she almost immediately begins vomiting. Walt rushes to help her. And then, just before he starts to roll her back over onto her side, he stops, and watches her die. As he cries, his eyes seem to betray him. He believes what he has just done (or rather, hasn’t done) is in Jesse’s best interests. Another choice the universe has given him, another mistake. This one may be the most expensive of all.
Season 2, Episode 13- ABQ
“Whatever it is, I’m afraid to know.”- Skyler White
The final black and white cold open happens here, revealing that the catastrophe at the White house is some sort of huge crash or disaster, a fact which is proven by combining the names of the four episodes these cold opens have been featured in. “737, Down, Over, and ABQ.” It’s a plane crash. The bodies in the driveway are passengers. The teddy bear in the pool a friendly toy brought along on a trip. How such a horrible event happens is yet to be revealed, but make no mistake: Walt is as to blame for it as anyone.
The first set of scenes in this episode deal with the direct aftermath of Jane’s death. Jesse, in a panic, calls Walt, who calls Saul, who calls in a cleaner of sorts, played by Jonathan Banks (whom we later know as Mike). The Cleaner snaps Jesse into shape, helps him construct his story for the police, gets rid of the drugs, and secures Jesse’s money. Later, Jane’s father arrives, oblivious to what has happened. John de Lancie doesn’t have many appearances on this show, but the few he did make all leave an impact, and none more than his scenes trying to make arrangements for his daughter’s funeral. Truly and utterly devastating (also note the conspicuous pink teddy bear in the mural on Jane’s bedroom wall. A little on the nose, maybe, but poignant nonetheless). This show is often accused of being hard to watch. Nowhere is that accusation more appropriate than this episode. But it’s not painful for the sake of being painful or to hurt the audience. It serves as a way to illustrate just how horrible the consequences of Walt’s decisions are. And we’ve barely even started. Later, Walt, with the help of Saul and Mike, track down Jesse in a hellhole drug den, where Walt comforts Jesse before bringing him to a rehab clinic. With the side benefit of perhaps giving Walt a glimpse of some of his most loyal clientele, this scene proves that, at least at this point, Walt is still willing to deal with the things he has done.
While most of this episode deals with the fallout of Jane’s death, there is one insidious scene concerning Gus and his visit to the DEA, where he meets Hank and notices a donation jar for Walt’s surgery. Deftly, and without making a ripple, he has all the intel he needs on Walt’s condition, his family, and, his motivations. In his limited appearances, Gus has seemed nothing more than a benevolent businessman taking advantage of a prized commodity, but this scene implies something much more sinister.
The last third of the episode deals with Walter’s house of lies slowly crumbling around him. First, there’s Walter Jr’s interview with a local TV station, during which he spouts off all the reasons his father is his hero while Walter can do nothing but blankly smile a rictus smile. Then, there’s his surgery, before which he groggily replies “which one?” the Skyler’s question about his cell phone. We flash to a few weeks later, during Walt’s post-surgical consult. He has a new goatee, and a new outlook on life. Then we cut to Jane’s father, Donald, who is making his return to his job as an air traffic controller. The rest of the episode switches from Skyler leaving the house after confronting Walter about his never-ending lies to Donald slowly but surely leading two planes into a collision, on purpose or by accident, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that the two planes collide almost directly over Walt’s house just after Skyler leaves for Hank and Marie’s, the universe giving him one final sign of the choices he’s made and what they have cost him, as hellfire rains down upon his house and a familiar pink bear rains down into his pool.
This second season isn’t the best the show has done. It’s disjointed and spends perhaps a little too much time setting up this final payoff. But what makes it so devastating (and so pertinent to the themes of Season 5) is that it shows just how poisonous Walt has become, how much he rots everything around him. And how, when given the freedom to take his own slice of the proverbial pie, he destroys hundreds of lives merely by accident. His greed is insatiable, and his pride unquenchable. He will be the doom of everyone around him, most notably himself. The choices he has made have set him upon a path that will irrevocably lead to ruin, and the worst part is that he knows it, and still continues. Some men just want to watch the world burn. Other men just want everyone to know that they lit the fire.