Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Breaking Bad Recap: Revenge, She Is Double-Edged

"Either we're all going home, or none of us are."   --Mike

Love, love, loved this episode. The parallelism between Jesse's two killings to date, the recurring circumstances of Walter's big moment of sincerity, and of course, Gus's masterful execution of his vendetta against the odious Don Eladio... lots of things to appreciate here for the English-major-and-proud-of-it in me.

Let's start with the great scenes between the two Walters. First off, it's an interesting role reversal we have here in contrast with the way things looked at the start of the season: Jesse has swiftly dust himself off of the big fight in preparation for scarier and seriouser things to come, while Walt is now the one who hides out in a cave of self-pity and self-medication. Once again narcotics and/or alcohol are here to remind us who the real Walter White is. We saw this in "Fly" (or as I like to call it, the decade's best bottle episode) when a cup of coffee spiked with Tylenol PM unleashed Walt's guilt over Jane's death to the point of almost admitting his greatest sin to Jesse, and we saw it at Hank's dinner table in the season's early weeks when a wine-drunk Walt foolishly refused to let Gale get the credit/blame for his work. In this week's "Salud," we finally get to witness those "mountains of contrition" Saul was raving about to his police buddy on behalf of the unrepentant Walt of a few episodes ago; those leftover painkillers carve a path for him to become sympathetic again, and not a moment too soon. His tearful admission of guilt is delivered to Junior, the show's purest character, who "absolves" him of his mistakes and tucks him into bed -- the son taking on the father's role -- but is promptly mistaken for Jesse, the surrogate son and intended recipient of Walt's remorse. Just like in "Fly," Walt delivers an apology the full of extent of which is known only to himself. Is this man capable of ever finding real redemption? Does he even deserve it?

Certainly the speech of the following morning does a lot toward explaining Walt's obsession with appearing strong and in control while adding even more layers of complexity to an already rich character. For a second, the knowledge of Walt seeing his father succumb to a disease that is debilitating to the point of utter helplessness seems almost like a good enough excuse for him to have destroyed lives, relationships and his own humanity all because of a desire to leave behind a different legacy for his own children. It's not just pride with Walter White; it's fear, too. He is ashamed of the prior evening's emotional display, and it's safe to assume that any admission of guilt is a sign of weakness in Sober Walt's eyes. Even though he has a lot to feel guilty for and he knows it, his superior scientist's reasoning is always there to pull him out of those moments of so-called navel gazing, much like that time early in Season 3 when Walt briefly flirts with the idea of destroying the money he earned through actions that indirectly killed lots of innocent people; in the end, he salvages the money from the flames, because what sense is there, after all, in doing a bit of symbolic penance when the damage done is irreparable?

So which version of Walt is more authentic? Is it the clearheaded rationalizer or the man whose defenses are occasionally breached by various chemical substances? Junior seems to think it is the latter; as pitiful as Walt was in that drugged state, "at least you were real," his son notes."Remembering you that way wouldn't be so bad." These words should theoretically assuage Walt's fear of being remembered as a weak, pathetic mess of a dad, but will Junior's acceptance be enough to triumph over his father's pride?

South of the border, Jesse faces off against some of his own demons, starting with a test of self-confidence as a meth maker. Having very little self-worth to begin with, then spending all those months being berated and ridiculed by Mr. White have likely taken a negative toll on the poor kid's morale, but Gus and Mike's influence is more recent, and bolstered by Gus's encouragement ("You can do this"), Jesse eventually channels a great composite impression of Walter White and Heisenberg that is at once confident and authoritative. Gus and Mike are duly impressed with the bluster he displays with the cartel chemists, but what's more impressive still is how little bluster has to do with Jesse's tirade. When Mexico's equivalent of Mr. White starts in on him with the typical scholarly condescension, Jesse doesn't cower like the ignorant little sidekick, glorified lab assistant to the great Heisenberg; he stands up for himself and satisfyingly owns the guy, first with words and later with results. But the victory is short-lived when Jesse finds himself once again under [literal] fire and forced to take a life in order to save his own and that of his mentor(s). His instinct to protect is as knee-jerk as it was when Walt needed him to kill Gale at the end of last season and more immediate than that, given the life-threatening circumstances of the present, but even with such clearly defined self-defense parameters, Jesse still looks shell-shocked to be firing a gun at another person. And if after all these near-death bonding experiences Gus and Mike haven't supplanted Walt in Jesse's loyalties, they've at least earned themselves a spot. I am legitimately nervous about the day that Jesse will really be forced to choose whom to follow. For now, I'll try to just sit back and enjoy his unique coming of age.

A few more notes:
  • Walter Jr. attempts to mask his disappointment like a champ upon setting sight on that awful PT Cruiser (Skyler: "It has a CD player, so you can listen to some tunes while you're cruisin' around.") Is Skyler's bad car sense perhaps also to blame for Walt's avocado green Aztek?
  • In the past, Jesse bandying about epithets like "asshole" and "little bitch" in a rant would have been hilarious, but in the Mexican superlab it is sort of intimidating.
  • Why did Mike take Don Eladio's necklace? Perhaps a future souvenir for Hector?
  • As for Gus, what was that? I'm not referring to the immensely satisfying mass poisoning of his enemies, like a scene straight out of Monte Cristo, but to the leisurely way in which he went about purging the noxious substance out of his own body with mere moments to spare. Even kneeling in front of a toilet or doubled over in pain, Gustavo Fring is, for lack of a better word, hardcore.

No comments:

Post a Comment