Monday, August 29, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Loyalty

"I'll kill him. First chance I get."   --Jesse

Ah, Episode 7. I had high hopes for this one, seeing as how it marks the season's midpoint and also because Episode 7 of last season was so explosive and such a game changer for the rest of Season 3. This week's episode did not disappoint; though it did not involve the stylish action sequence or elicit the sheer fear of "One Minute," "Problem Dog" gave us some similarly enthralling moments -- such as another terrific Jesse monologue -- and wrapped it all up with yet another exciting Hank-centric final scene. The two episodes essentially serve as bookends of Hank's most recent arc, in that this Episode 7 is all about his triumph over the -- understatement alert -- setback suffered in the last Episode 7. As Gale might have said: neat!

Chilling cold open this week of Jesse playing a first-person shooter video game, though we could see the implications of this even without the flashes of Gale popping in and out of his consciousness. (I mean, we get it: the kid has a traumatic history with guns; come on, show!) Elsewhere, Walt finds himself the begrudging object of yet another of Skyler's bossy directives, but instead of communicating his displeasure outright, like an adult, he goes out and does doughnuts in an empty parking lot in the very car his wife oh-so-gently instructed him to take back to the dealer. (He's still so repressed!) As cool as that scene was, the act itself still reads more like a nerdy Walter White interpretation of badassery than it does a  Heisenberg one, which is all the more evident when terminally uncool Walt finally gets the car stuck over a parking block, then takes petty pleasure in lighting it up and watching it go up in flames. But I do appreciate the unfulfilled expectation of the car exploding long after Walt was done walking dramatically away from it.

After a quick fix-it visit to Saul (Hi, Saul! Also, way to have your lawyer clean up your messes, Walt!), Walt visits his partner at home. This is the first time we've seen Jesse in his personal environment since Mike took him out for a drive, and in keeping with his new persona, he is hard at work painting over the graffiti on his walls, covering up all evidence of the hellpit he once lived in. Turning over a new leaf, as it were. And if the realization that it was Mike and Gus who motivated Jesse to at least overtly return to the land of the living gnaws on or registers at all with Walt, he doesn't show it. You see, he came with a plan -- attempting to beat Gus at his own game -- and as much as it bothers me to see him treat Jesse as a pawn in his power move, I can understand why Walt might see this as a last resort at this point. But, because he's Walt, he slathers it on way too thick. "Does [Gus] think you are that naive?" he asks Jesse, wink wink. To Walt's credit, at least he's graduated from outright calling Jesse an idiot to merely treating him like one, refreshing his memory on Gale and Victor and Andrea and Tomas and everything that spells out Gus = Evil. "Is it possible that he would think that you were that weak-willed?" Way to stick the landing, Walt! Is it possible that you would still think Jesse is no more than an idiot slacker addict? I get it: the blustery street speak fooled me too for a season and a half, but wake up and smell the series of personal traumas, man."Drop the sales pitch," Jesse says, proving once again he's not as easily duped as Walt thinks. "I'll do it." He agrees to kill Gus at the first opportunity.

But, whether it's the lingering Gale-guilt or the fact that Mike trusted him with a gun, Jesse ends up losing his nerve (making this the third time someone was not killed with ricin on this show), then after some more bonding with Mike, he rethinks it altogether and even lies to Walt about having an opportunity to carry out the plan. Mike later opines that the thing Gus sees in Jesse is loyalty, "only maybe you have it for the wrong guy." Whether this is Mike talking or merely carrying out Gus's edict is unclear, but the seed is planted. Jesse takes his newfound uncertainty straight to the NA meeting, where he does his best to elicit compassion, then hatred from the most theoretically understanding group of people available to him. But not even the so-called dregs of society can remain judgment-free when presented with Jesse's tale of executing a figurative "problem dog." That ensuing speech slash lashing out is full to the brim of his guilt, self-hatred, anger, despair. So much damned angst. Is there anything about Jesse Pinkman that won't decimate my heart this season? Throughout that quest for absolution and punishment alike, what he's seeking most of all are answers. "What's it all mean? What's the point?" he ponders. (He may not know the meaning of the term "Kafkaesque," but this kid is an amateur philosopher!) At the existential level, it's life itself he is conflicted about, but at the immediate level, it's the particular life he's chosen. What he's really asking is, Who do I pledge my loyalty to? Will it be Walt, whose days in this business (possibly on the planet) are numbered, or Gus, who himself has had a significant setback this episode? (That scene with the cartel representative was an excellent reminder that Gus is not the biggest threat our meth-cooking duo will face, and it wouldn't surprise me if he were eliminated as such by season's end, whether by getting killed or getting caught.)

And speaking of Hank, he may just be the one character this week who is absolutely sure about his purpose. Oh, Hank, you beautiful bald bastard! I cannot even express how worried I was for the reception his borderline-fantasy story would get from his former partner and boss. I feared the worst: that they would politely yet resolutely laugh him out of the office, and all the hard work, determination, and sheer force of will he had summoned up over the past couple of weeks would all just dissipate back into the self-lamenting, wife-abusing, mineral-collecting depression of a few episodes ago. And when the actual conversation onscreen reached that cringe-worthy moment, I was already shaking my head in sympathy. And then "Except..." happened. That single word uttered by an adorably smug Hank followed by an irrefutable piece of evidence establishing a connection between Gus and Gale had me promptly changing the sentiments behind my head shake. Just like that, I was the sap. Because of course Hank wouldn't present his findings to the DEA unless he was certain he had something good to show them. Hank, for me, is like the other side of Mike's coin, in that they are almost polar opposites in almost every way (position on the criminal spectrum, personality, demeanor) yet so very similar in their cleverness, efficiency, resilience, and plain awesome factor.

Other noteworthy bits:
  • Loved the vegetable platter Mike and Jesse brought to the would-be cartel meeting. 'Cause nothing says you're amenable to a negotiation with your drug rivals than offering them crudites. Also loved the way Mike makes Jesse repeat the rule of the day back to him like a six-year-old -- "Eyes open, mouth shut." Ha!
  • Great scene with Hank and Walt Jr., and I totally called it that Hank was after Gus's prints when he accepted that soda refill. But if Junior starts working at Pollos, so help me, I will flip my shit.
  • It's merely Skyler's maiden voyage into active criminality, and she's already freaking out about the amount of money she needs to launder. Yet still she doesn't walk away.
  • Mike to Jesse: "I figure I'd better teach you how to shoot." Oh, Mike -- so paternal! Maybe you two can toss a ball around after dinner.
  • Hiding a vial of ricin inside a cigarette in case of an impromptu body search is the perfect kind of reminder for when I, too, sometimes forget that Jesse is sort of smart. For a while I had this character pegged for a future post about TV's most loveable idiots, but never mind now.

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