Digital Refrain contributors Alex Wong and Jesse Golomb exchange emails, dissecting the most recent episode of Breaking Bad.
Jesse: Tonight felt special, Alex. After queueing up episode one on my Netflix just six weeks ago, I watched my first live episode of Breaking Bad.
Well, sort of. I DVR’d it and watched the episode 45 minutes late. My NBA2K12 Knicks Association team had a elimination playoff game against the 2014 Celtics, and I just couldn’t miss it.
In case you were wondering: yes, Jeremy Lin is still on the Knicks in my alternative, less-depressing basketball universe, and no, it didn’t matter. I still got swept in the first round as the eight seed. Some things are simply past the point of salvation.
Like Walter White, for example.
That much has been pretty clear for awhile. But what hasn’t been clear is when exactly the nigh end is coming. One of the (many) many amazing things about Breaking Bad is just how safe and unscathed its protagonist has remained, even as he has dabbled in drug production and distribution, murder and serial murder, extortion and money laundering. From early on, I’ve been comparing this show to Dexter, another one of my favorite TV serials, and one I believe has not gotten nearly enough attention as it continues to glow through six seasons. That show has a criminal protagonist working under the nose of a family member in law enforcement. Finally, in last season’s finale (SPOILER ALERT), we were treated to the sight of Dexter’s dear old dectective sis catching him in the act. But whereas Dexter teased at that reveal for years, Breaking Bad has never even entertained it. I took a guess early on in my BB viewing (especially after catching a glimpse off the season five poster, where Walt seemed to be in a yellow jumpsuit) that one of the seasons would take place with Walter White behind bars. Yet despite all the battles and bruises accrued along the way, all the money won and morality lost, Walter White has barely a scratch on him. Never mind the fact that everyone around him is dead either in body or spirit; Heisenberg remains — at least for now — safe and sound from his somehow oblivious brother-in-law, as well as the King of his domain, The One Who Knocks.
It doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case for much longer. And I don’t think any of us needed Walt’s 52nd birthday ‘party’ at the Denny’s in the season premiere to figure that out. The end is coming for Walter White, and it’s spelled out as clearly as the bacon on his breakfast plate.
The imagery was all over the place in this episode, so rampant that the final shot of a ticking clock seemed too obvious (sort of like last week’s Scarface viewing, even though I liked that little bit of meta-forshadowing — everyone dies in this movie! – more than most). There was the clock ticking as Skyler sat, smoking a cigarette, waiting for Walt’s cancer to un-remiss. There was the fray on Walt’s Heisenberg hat, just waiting to unravel. There was Skyler’s pool stunt, which can only serve to make Hank (and Marie, and Walt Jr.) only more curious, only more prodding, only a bigger part of this grand scheme.
And oh how grand it’s been, and I’m not talking about the excellence of this series.
Like most viewers, I was thoroughly confused at the end of last week’s episode, when Walt tells Jesse that he believed Gus killed Victor because he ‘flew too close to the sun.’ Was Walt threatening Jesse? Was he implying Mike was next to go?
No. If anything, Walt was talking about himself — even if he didn’t realize it. For the entire series, Walt has done things and attempted to do things that no high school chemistry teacher — let alone any man — should think himself capable of. Not only has he been the center of this series, but he has been the center of this series’ universe. He is its god. The consequences of his actions are not only felt in the White household, where Skyler is so overcome by the chaos that the silence of the pool seems a welcome respite, but in Mexico, where the cartel is in shambles; in Texas, where several DEA agents lay dead; in Germany, where a multinational corporation is coming apart at the seems; and all over the world, where the scattered families of the victims of Wayfarer 515 grieve, unaware that a man in a hat could have saved one girl, and saved hundreds in the process.
Walt has flown too close to the sun for far too long. And as his hubris grows and his respect for logic and patience disappaites (“this train stops for nothing;” “I just know”), it’s about time he burnt up. Some have called these first few episodes, “meandering” and “procedural,” but I think — more than anything — the first four episodes of Breaking Bad’s last season have set our “hero” up for his fall.
I’m already going long here, but a few more themes seem to popping up. These are more half-baked, but a few thoughts…
-There seems to be a switching of roles going on with Jesse and Walt. At the beginning of the series and throughout, Jesse was the impatient one, the one always wanting to push, push, push ahead, the one flying too close to the sun. Now, he is the one who preaches prudence, who is willing to give up his money to avert argument. Walt, on the otherhand, grows increasingly arrogant and ambitious.
-That final scene in the dark with Walt and Skyler was absolutely fantastic. Everything that’s been swirling under the surface with Skyler since the retirement home blew up came to a head. And I think anyone who thought last week’s car wash breakdown seemed sudden felt stupid. Skyler is trapped. Her husband is a murderer, and his ‘shit happens’ routine is BS. I think she bought his “I do this for my family routine for a while,” but after he announces his willingness to institutionalize his wife instead of quitting the business, I don’t think anyone — maybe even Walt included? — could believe that. I know that’s been an excuse of Walt’s for awhile, but I’m pretty sure tonight was the first time he made a conscious choice that he would harm his family instead of harming his business.
-I hate Marie. I hate that damn character. Sorry. For a show that has five principals, she has always been the weakest link and everytime she is on screen I wince. Sorry if I offended any Marie fans.
-I also have generally hated Skyler, and frankly, I haven’t been a big fan of Anna Gunn’s performance. She was absolutely spectacular in this episode. That’s what happens when a character becomes more than a shrew.
-Walt Jr. likes breakfast.
Ok, time to go to bed so I can read 25 episode recaps tomorrow morning. I’ll hit you back then.
Sorry for the delayed response, taking a break from reading my daily “Sanchez-Teblow” Google news alert, equally great drama happening in Jets camp I tell you.
Loved this episode, loving this season.
The best imagery of the night the close-up shot of blood dripping down Walt’s head as he was shaving. Blood on his hands, bloodshed to come. The build-up is so great at this point I wonder when it’s all going to culminate.
It might be easy to say that things aren’t going to get really crazy until the last eight episodes next year — but you have to assume that after last night’s episode titled “Fifty-One”, a “Fifty-Two” episode is coming, and I’m really hoping they’ll give us an extended “flash forward” in the finale of the eight episodes this summer.
Without all the details in between, I want to see how we get to the diner scene sooner than later. Because that machine gun in the trunk means there’s still more story to tell a year from now.
I didn’t know how to interpret the last scene from the previous episode, but I like the way you’ve choose to read it. Breaking Bad has always built itself up as the season goes along. Consider all the elements that will have to contribute to the end game somehow aside from Skyler: Jesse finding out about Walt killing his girlfriend and poisoning the kid, Hank piecing it all together, Mike plotting some sort of long con on Walt and Jesse (it’s only a matter of time before he finds a way to eliminate them to take back the business), and Lydia.
I wasn’t so sure about Lydia’s first appearance several episodes ago, but everything about her last night — the mismatched shoes, planting a tracker on the container, and just her overall uneasiness about everything. Something must’ve happened in the past to make her this way. I hope they devote some time to telling that backstory, I trust that Vince Gilligan isn’t putting so much focus on a Madrigal executive for nothing, she will figure into the end game, and she’s as much of a wild card out there as anyone.
- Still very little of Jesse through episode four, which means something is brewing. Something always is.
- Walt Jr. without breakfast? A man with no country. Underrated line of the night, when he’s leaving Walt’s birthday party and Hank tells him to slow down when he’s driving. As he walks out he fires back: “Never”.
- There’s never been much use for Marie as an ancillary character, more just there for exposition and to further the story along from a narrative perspective. Although, I felt the same about Hank in the early seasons, he was a joke, a Vic Mackey lite to me. But that might be the most impressive character development work of the whole series, now he’s smarter than everyone and always one step ahead, although that will probably be his downfall. Few have squared off against Heinsenberg and lived to tell their tale.
Last thought: Skyler smoking in that last scene when Walt comes home, possible foreshadowing? We know that ricin cigarette is still lurking.
Good stuff. A few things to wrap up.
I have a strong feeling Skyler’s not going to survive this season. I don’t know what her undoing is — I really love your Ricin cigarette idea, especially because I never really understood why Walt saved the damn thing in the first place (couldn’t he just make another?) — but the Denny’s scene in the premiere seemed telling, with Walt alone, looking longingly at his bacon, arranging it in the manner his wife had for so many years.
As for Jesse, I’ve read some suggestions that the watch he gave Walt either has a bomb planted in it or a tracker. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Jesse seemed to go out of his way (not in the usual sense) to give that gift to Walt. And you’re right, Jesse simply has been too low-key for the last four episodes. Something has to give.
I don’t think Mike wants this business. Mike wants out. He understands how much shit can pile up, and let’s also remember that he was ready to fly the coop until his nest egg cracked. Mike’s goal, in my opinion: settle his debts, make some money, and get rid of Walt.
He is a cancer after all.