Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Fighting Spirit

"You kill Mr. White, you're gonna have to kill me, too."   --Jesse

Sweet Sassy, with the irony and the sinister cold opens! This week was another doozy: Walt picking up his broken glasses off Jesse's floor (recognized it!) while droplets of blood fall onto a certain someone's grandpa shoes. Very brief, very tense. Roll credits. Rewind clock.

"Bug" kicks off with another Walt/Hank road trip back to Pollos to collect the GPS tracker, which Hank figures must be bursting with incriminating evidence against Gus but which Walt knows will yield zero results for his brother-in-law's rogue investigation. Hank is defeated and unaware that his every move is being watched. And after a legitimately badass moment in which Walt coolly calls the cops on Tyrus while looking him right in the eyes, we can see that lately Walt has reached a place of defeat, as well. He knows Jesse has been keeping something from him and that it's only a matter of time until Hank will find something on Gus. (And who knows what the PET scan from last week actually showed?) In spite of his "never give up control" speech from the previous episode, Walt is going about his day as though he is sure his days are numbered. The urgency is gone from his demeanor; he doesn't even seem interested to hear Jesse's half-true status update on Operation Kill Gus -- he'll do it, cross his heart. "What does it matter?" Walt casually retorts. "We're both dead men, anyway." This complacency even carries over to his interaction with his second-favorite target, Skyler, where he doesn't even bother to come up with a suggestion, let alone an argument, about what kind of keeper car to buy for their son. Then at the end of the episode, as Walt hobbled away in shame and literal defeat, I felt sorry for him for the first time in a long time, not just because he'd been effectively cast out of Jesse's life -- that had been brewing for a long time -- but because his fighting spirit seemed to be totally snuffed out, exposing the broken man beneath.

And is there really anything to talk about this week other than that clumsy, furious fight, which was the culmination of episodes' -- nay, seasons' -- worth of resentment and distrust between the unlikely White/Pinkman duo? Even at its most basic level, it served as a fitting analogy for the protagonists' relationship throughout the series -- Walt bullying Jesse and usually coming out on top, then Jesse gradually coming into his own to stand up for himself and fight back. (It remains to be seen whether or not the fight's outcome is meant to foreshadow anything.) It was only during the latter stage of the altercation -- when Jesse, seemingly spent but bursting with anger and disappointment, attacks "Mr. White" again, violently -- that my reaction to the scene went from mildly amused to worried, shocked, and ultimately, sad. Sad that this show's core partnership, flawed as it was, had reached such an ugly dissolution, sad that Jesse beat up an old man with cancer, and sad that these two crazy kids just couldn't pull their heads out of their respective asses long enough to actually hear each other. And that final edict from Jesse ("Can you walk? . . . Then get the fuck out of here and never come back.") was so full of rancor and finality but also maturity, which made me smile in silent triumph for this unlikeliest of heroes, who is ever-so-earnestly trying to figure himself out. Dare I say, I'm finding his journey rather moving?

Next week, it appears that Jesse's job in Mexico begins. Will he fumble without Mr. White's help or will he perform brilliantly, carving for himself a whole new, legitimate reason to feel important that will owe nothing to Gus's machinations?

Some odd observations:
  • I love how Walt is trying to catch Jesse in a lie via the magic of small talk. Walt: "Ice Road Truckers. What happens on that one?" Jesse: "Guys drive on ice."
  • Ted Beneke is forcing Skyler into yet another creative accounting situation. I love it when this show reminds me of its deliberate plotting by returning to seemingly-abandoned story threads (as with Marie's kleptomania, which I doubted could be salvaged and reincorporated logically after Season 1's amateur-hour demonstration). And besides, I always enjoy seeing Skyler in theatrical mode, this time as Busty Blonde Bimbo: "This building is so confusing -- there are doors everywhere!"
  • Jesse to Mike: "Killing a cop... I don't know... It could look suspicious if the dude who's investigating suddenly up and dies. . . . And then there's Mr. White . . . he'd never cook for Gus again. I guess there's a lot of angles to consider." Jesse is still so adorably transparent whenever he takes a stab at subtlety. And was there ever any doubt that Mike would save him from the sniper attack?
  • So it seems the non-negotiation Gus had with the cartel was over Walt's formula for blue meth. Or was it?
  • Mike to Walt: "I don't want you talking to me or Jesse, just get the barrel. And if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my guys again, you go ahead and get two barrels." Mike has officially usurped Walt as Jesse's mentor figure and by openly undermining his authority in front of the kid, no less; the co-parenting period is over.

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