Monday, September 26, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: One Hour

"I'm done explaining myself."   --Walter White

Has it really been only a week since Gus's big hero moment in Mexico? A single episode ago that I applauded his cunning as Don Eladio watched cartel goon after cartel goon hit the ground before collapsing into his own watery grave? Oh, Allegiance, how fickle you are. This week's episode, "Crawl Space," aside from advancing a crazy amount of plot, wastes no time in making Gus into ever the bad guy, once again, as he immediately goes back to working angles and threatening the lives of essentially all the White-Schraders, including baby Holly (as if there were any doubt he ordered the hit on Tomas). Even the New Mexican clouds serve to reinforce this guy's malevolence. Truth be told, I even felt a little sorry for Hector this week.

Even just moments after he and Jesse leave the makeshift Mexican hospital that saved his life, Gus ominously hints at his Plan A, which he's likely been harboring ever since he drew that box cutter across Victor's throat: getting rid of Walter White permanently. To Jesse: "I think you can run the lab by yourself now. Don't you?" The implication is crystal clear, and though Jesse asks Gus not to kill "Mr. White," the days of Gus caring about other people have been gone for a long time. "Then you have a problem," Jesse states unblinkingly (his loyalty not entirely shifted from one man to another but seemingly split between the two), at the start of a 6-mile walk alongside his taciturn employer, no less. (In the end, when Gus agrees to give Walt some more time, it's not out of compassion, but out of a need to appease Jesse, his one remaining cook, who, Gus says, "will come around" to the idea of Walt being killed.) If Jesse has been conflicted over using the ricin cigarette in weeks past, he has to know now that waiting is no longer a luxury he can indulge in and that he might soon come up against the need to make a decision one way or another. He doesn't seem willing to let Walt die, though he understandably wants nothing to do with him, but is he ready to accept that Gus is, indeed, a soulless monster, in spite of all the carefully orchestrated good daddy soundbites?

Perhaps the most telling Jesse scene this week was the one at his house, his guard down with Brock and Andrea, then back up again with Walt. Both times there's hardly a visible trace left of the scared, guilt-ridden killer in Jesse; if he feels any guilt at this point, he's at least forgiven himself enough to allow himself the company of the closest people he has to family. And if he acts more like Brock's buddy than his father figure, well, he's still Jesse Pinkman and damn it, he loves his video games; it doesn't make his and Brock's boyish banter any less touching. But this is Breaking Bad, and there's only room for so much unadulterated cuteness before Walt shows up to piss all over it. After a frustrating instant of the good kind of bromantic tension between the former partners, Jesse remembers he hates Mr. White's guts. He might not want him dead, but he's not ready to just up and help the guy after everything that's transpired. For the second time in less than a week, Jesse forcibly removes Walt from his house. And to his credit, Walt swallows his pride for once and just sort of takes all the abuse Jesse dishes, even apologizes at one point. Looks like Junior's words last week made an impression on his old man, after all.

Most of this season has seen Walt repeatedly acting out at home in a pathetic attempt to compensate for his impotence in the face of his real enemies. His precious control has consistently eluded him since Gale's murder, and the misguided bravado has been nearly impossible to root for week after week. At this point in the narrative, it is not Walt's moral bankruptcy that makes him unsympathetic; it's his cowardice. (It is no wonder that his most triumphant act to date involved running two thugs over with his car and shooting one of them dead.) After that sinister final scene of him in the crawl space, laughing maniacally at the terrifying absurdity of his situation (framed and shot in a manner that evokes burial imagery), I'm thinking Walter White has had enough of merely staying alive and playing it passive. Going into the season's penultimate episode, too far gone to escape Gus's wrath and too broke to disappear his family, it's time for the great Heisenberg to become an anti-hero worth rooting for anew.

What an intense episode ending this was. Something tells me next week's will be intenser still. 

Some more observations:
  • This has been a good episode for Breaking Bad trivia: Not only do we learn Jesse's age (25), blood type (A-) and other health-related factoids (Erythromycin allergy), but we also learn Mike's last name: Ehrmantraut.
  • Think Mike might be at all bitter about being treated as an afterthought at the Mexiclinic? Wonder if that will come up again. 
  • What do we think about Mr. Sadsack Beneke? Ted or alive? (I'm so very sorry for that terrible pun.)
  • It's pretty rare for this show to have a four-day jump within one episode, but then, I can't grumble too much about anything that gives Hank an excuse to refer to Walt as "Mr. Magoo" and has Marie refer to Walt and Hank's stakeouts as "your Hardy boys routine." Also, the season would have ended without any serious damage to Walt's Aztek; can't have that.
  • This episode sees both White and Pinkman wielding their only remaining leverage to keep the other (ex-)partner alive: their willingness to continue cooking for Gus; they literally will not function without one another. Be still, my fragile heart. 

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