Monday, August 22, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: The One Who Knocks

"Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family."   --Skyler

Holy crap. I'm going to go ahead and declare Walter White's egomania the theme of Season 4. The beginning of last night's episode does see Walt offering a good two minutes of contrition in the form of awkward backpedaling on the morning after his ill-advised dinner outburst, but all it takes is Skyler's fear-fueled implication that he might be "in over his head" for him to go right back into wounded-pride mode and arrogantly out himself as the indispensable mastermind he wants/believes himself to be. "I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger," he bellows, scaring Skyler enough to contemplate fleeing, however briefly. Because if there's one thing Walt hates more than not having control over his own situation, it's being thought of as the weak, passive, emasculated schoolteacher he once was and, as far as everyone else is concerned, still is. (And what a painful reminder of that guy his later interaction with Bogdan must have been.) But as far as he is concerned, gone is Walter White, the loser chem teacher who let life pass him by and fear rule his existence... well, not gone, but overshadowed now by Heisenberg, the genius chemist and lethal alter ego who has gotten where he is by the sheer force of his own agency.

It took a while for Walt to actually decide to be a criminal and to later decide to keep being a criminal, but now that those and other decisions have been made, by God, he is owning them! Like Walt says to his son, "What is going on with me is. . . about choices. Choices that I have made. Choices I stand by." It is not, as it first appears, a charitable attempt to convince Junior to cut his mother some slack for coming down hard on the fake gambling. It is, rather, a declaration of intent and self-satisfaction -- Father is not the helpless victim of a disease; he knows what he's doing, and he's doing it on purpose. It was a seductive package Walt was offered by this double life, and somewhere along the way, he went from being a guy who wanted to provide for his family to being a guy who gets off on being that guy.

Perhaps this is what is making him so blind to how his actions are affecting everyone else. Last night's episode made for an embarrassing spectacle of Walt's outrageous self-centeredness, from his failure to consider what Gus would do with the Honduran ladies once they'd seen the inside of the lab, to his inability to appreciate the awful position he'd be putting Skyler in by buying a flashy new car for their son. "This whole thing," he tells Jesse, "It's all about me!" Walter's intelligence is superior, to be sure, and he figures out that Gus is manipulating his partner, but his arrogance and belittling attitude have the opposite effect than the one he desires, and he ends up alienating Jesse further than even Gus could have hoped. "Why [you]?" he asks his partner in the most disparaging tone imaginable. "Is there something about you I don't know about? Are you a former Navy SEAL?" That Walt has been so oblivious to Jesse's psychological frailty post-Gale is the biggest of all testaments to his self-absorption.

Ironically, Bogdan's humiliation tactics at the carwash held a kernel of truth: Walt is not ready to be a boss. At least, not in the context of the drug empire he is in the middle of. If this show's aim is to chronicle one man's gradual transformation from a Walter into a Gus, then Walt has a lot more to learn about dealing with people. Mike and Gus are lying to Jesse and likely don't care an iota about whether he lives or dies, but their management styles are certainly effective. "Maybe I'm not such a loser after all," Jesse says, all but spelling out the crux of his entire existential crisis to a still-clueless Walt.

Jesse, in fact, isn't such a loser at all; he sees a lot more than Walt thinks, but Mike and Gus are presenting him with a seductive package of his very own, and he must be getting as high on all the self-worth and approval as Walt is on being the man in charge. Trouble is, all of it is rooted in perception, at best, and illusion, at worst. Jesse is skeptical -- "Why me?" he asks Gus -- but not for long. "I like to think I see things in people," Gus replies in that terse way he has. Jesse is now seeking to impress the same man he once defied in a monumental way.

Some other good things about "Cornered" (other than another clever title):
  • Walt staying miraculously composed throughout Bogdan's entire condescending speech -- "I'm sure you can handle it, and if not, you can always call your wife." -- then finally refusing to let him take the framed dollar bill -- probably the first-ever instance of Walt being downright mean. 
  • The whole hilarious scene with Walt coaxing the laundry ladies in broken Spanish into cleaning the lab, then offering that self-satisfied smirk to the surveillance cam while sipping Gale's ultimate coffee brew. Did he really think Gus would look the other way to civilians stepping foot in his meth kitchen? "Tell Gus to blame me, not them," he pleads with Tyrus once he learns of the women' impending deportation. "He does," Tyrus answers.
  • "This war stays cold for now." What does Gus intend to do about his latest cartel troubles, and why did he reject Mike's suggestion to go on the offense? This whole storyline seems like it's building up to something big.
  • Just like Walt stands by the choices he's made, Skyler, too, will have to stand by her choice to ignore that would-be fateful coin toss at The Four Corners Monument.
  • Jesse's absurdly inspired handle on the situation with the meth head Tucker was great, and that Miranda Priestley-esque smile Mike subsequently cracked back in the car was genuine. I know it's illusory, but these two are totes adorbs together!  
  • If I ever had even a fleeting thought about trying crystal meth, the scenes with the two junkies have scared me straight.
  • "Why don't you just go break the door down, pistol-whip those bitches and show 'em who's boss?"

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