Monday, August 15, 2011
Breaking Bad Recap: Pride and Purpose
"From what I saw, and this is just my humble opinion . . . This genius of yours... maybe he's still out there." --Walt
How do you shake someone out of a guilt-induced nihilistic funk of total indifference? Give them purpose, of course! (And maybe also make them fear for their life a little bit). Who knew Gus was such a wizard of human psychology?
A great episode, from start to finish. I especially enjoyed the time-lapse sequence and how well -- and hilariously -- it captured both Jesse's childlike boredom and Mike's profound irritation. By the time "Shotgun" ended -- there goes another clever title -- the big question we were all asking in the beginning had undergone a subtle change from "What will Gus do with Jesse?" to "What will Gus do with Jesse?" An agenda, he has; that much is clear. But maybe Mike is getting one of his own. Gus may have orchestrated the set-up and appealed to Jesse's ego, but it was Mike who implemented it and kicked his sense of self-preservation into gear (even though Jesse wouldn't have had a prayer of defeating him with his sad fistful of keys). The "old man" is obviously grooming him for someone, but for whom?
The most revealing Mike moment this week was his angry outburst -- finally! -- in the car. "I just do what I'm told," he bellows, "and now you're gonna do what you're told!" Methinks his breach in unflappability was too great to have been caused only by having to babysit the world's most irritating chatterbox, and I don't quite buy his "I know better than to ask questions" compliant attitude with Gus, either. But whatever Mike's endgame may turn out to be, the short-term goal to drive a wedge between Jesse and Walt is clearly working, as the young junkie is clearly smitten with his new unintentional father figure, and who can blame him? After all, Mike succeeded where Walt disappointed -- identifying Jesse's erratic behavior as a cry for help, pulling him out of his pit of despair and loneliness, and making him feel important on top of it? Yes, please! The look on his face when Mike told him to go ahead and have a victory cigarette was a few degrees short of full-on veneration, and even though I quake in anticipation of Jesse's gradual transformation into a hardened criminal -- the buzz cut, people! -- it was nice to see him enjoy himself this week, and it was definitely a welcome change from all the self-destruction.
And Jesse was not the only one who enjoyed the positive aftereffects of a little shot of pride and purpose this week. Now that Hank is back on the Gale case -- thanks to Walt's gigantic ego -- he is at once a better husband and a happier guy, and please God, let this mean that insufferable mineral collection is a thing of the past, though we will miss all the laughs it has brought us, Amen.
But as we know, nothing bespoke pride this week more than Walt's entire arc: a wonderful illustration of how it can spur someone into self-sabotage just as easily as it can bring someone else back to life. The buildup to his big moment of drunken, reckless hubris was leisurely and deliberate and perfectly in keeping with what we know about Walt. He is a control freak with an overblown sense of pride, both intellectual and masculine, and after such a rough day -- his partner gets kidnapped, he charges into a would-be confrontation with Gus that causes him to fear for his life, he is forced to trudge along in the lab on his own, his wife unilaterally decides he should move back in while his son drinks coffee from a Beneke mug, no less, then he realizes Jesse is being courted by his psychopath of an employer -- it is no surprise that Hank's speech about Gale's alleged genius would push Walt into a typical ego-driven brag session, veiled though it was, at least to everyone but Skyler. And to belittle Hank's detectiving skills in the same breath? A truly irresistible prospect to our brilliant scientist. I had feared this exact type of stupidity from Walt when he and Hank were rifling through Gale's notebook in last week's episode and mistakenly believed we would be spared another of his vanity demonstrations for good. Sneaky, writers! And well done!
Finally, one of my favorite moments this week was when Hank begrudgingly admitted to Tim The Detective that he did not believe Jesse capable of shooting Gale. The simultaneous rightness and wrongness of that statement... so much irony!