Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Bad Guys

"Get me in a room with [Gus] . . . and I'll do the rest."   --Walt

"I'm the bad guy," states a newly sober Jesse in the Season 3 premiere; it is not an offhand remark but a deliberate assertion and a carefully though-out self-identifier resulting from his guilt over Jane's and Combo's deaths. He utters the phrase with a sort of grim yet calm acceptance of what he perceives to be his role and lot in life at that point, but it is not until a whole season later, as he sits alone in front of an enormous subwoofer, that Jesse truly understands how ill-equipped he is to be an actual bad guy.

I've commented last week on how both Walt and Jesse's predicament is such that they are constantly required to negotiate codes of conduct and terms for operating within two different frameworks: the drug world and the real world. For the most part, they've both been plugging along, trying to walk the line but not really choosing a side until the end of Season 3, when both men irrevocably established themselves as gangsters by killing for one another; it was a triumphant moment when Walt came to Jesse's rescue and killed the two thugs responsible for Combo's and Tomas's deaths, and it symbolized Walt's resolve to have his partner's back. Likewise, killing Gale constituted a similar turning point for Jesse, except where Walt proved his allegiance to the partnership by arguably "doing the right thing," Jesse proved his by taking innocent life, the repercussions of which are proving to be debilitating. Unlike Walt, he lacks people in his life who ground him, and he has nothing and no one left to lose, which makes him both tragic and potentially dangerous. The drug-fueled party shots of last night's episode only serve to highlight how utterly alone Jesse is, and the final shot of him enduring a literal and figurative beating administered by a sound system, willing but unable to drown out the weight of what he did, was affecting, to say the least.

While Jesse self-medicates with drugs and rock and roll, Walt is on a mission. He has a much easier time accepting his role of bad guy, at least in theory, and intends to kill Gus at the first opportunity, except that Walt is Walt, and he makes a piss-poor concealed weapon carrier, let alone premeditated murderer. I appreciated the fact that Walt donned his Heisenberg hat right before walking toward Gus's house with murderous intent; unlike Jesse, he still believes he is two people and continues to rationalize his crimes, as we see him doing in his conversation with Mike, right before the latter administers Walt's first beating in the history of Breaking Bad -- a nice change of pace from Jesse being the show's perpetual punching bag. I can't decide if that beating was a result of Mike's loyalty to Gus or his desire to deter Walt from making an even bigger mess of things, but one thing is certain: that guy is a lot more than meets the eye, and I can't wait for the episode that starts digging deeper into his character in a way that goes further than showing him wearily wiping off remnants of Victor from his jacket (not that that wasn't awesome). These three are bad guys, but they sure are intriguing.

In contrast, Hank, who is able to act like a decent human being with everyone but his wife, is a good guy temporarily acting like a bad guy. It's quite the emasculating circumstance he's currently in -- having to depend on Marie for everything -- especially for a man who revels in his masculinity as much as Hank does, and it's tough not to feel for him. These two have a very interesting, old-school kind of marriage; it's safe to assume that young Marie was not first drawn to Hank by his sensitive poet's soul but by the same brand of blustery machismo we've all come to expect from and love about him. The two of them are not "soul mates" in the new-age sense of the term by any means. In the entire history of the show, we've only seen Hank open up to his wife on the occasion of his suspension from the DEA following his brutal assault on Jesse. His job, as he sees it, is to provide for and protect Marie, and now that he can't, he is punishing her by pushing her away, and I am looking forward to the day when Marie will give up the Florence Nightingale routine and really let him have it, because let's face it: that day will come -- remember their bet while Hank was still in the hospital?

This episode was not as edgy or heart-stopping as the last one, but I enjoyed the slower pace and the quiet promise of complications to come. What did everyone else think?

P.S. How funny/typical is it that Saul, like any ambulance chaser worth his salt, is using the plane accident to his advantage? Why let a good air traffic disaster go to waste, after all? And how about that nice little piece of continuity that explained how Walt was able to so cleanly toss a giant pizza onto the roof of his house, back in Season 3?

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