Monday, October 10, 2011
Breaking Bad Recap: Ding Bang Boom
by Brandy R.
"You're damn right. He had to go." --Walter White
A filler flower. That's what the past two episodes, including the minor heart attack I suffered while watching "End Times," hinged on. What, did we think that Walt all of a sudden would start playing nice? "Break good," as it were? Just because he gave a nice speech to Skyler about accountability? Just because he tenderly kissed his baby daughter goodbye in a heart-twisting scene that one time?
I should have known that Walt would not come out of this one looking as lily white (no pun intended) as we were briefly led to believe. And I did, after all, want for him to stop rolling with the punches and freaking do something, because that's what heroes are supposed to do, even those of the anti- variety. And in "Face Off," Walter White has established himself as an antihero bordering on antagonist. Multiple homicide was the least of Mr. White's sins this week. He connived and he deceived and he sacrificed lives and loyalties, and in doing so, got the job done. And the end result has left me feeling full of... there isn't even a word. Hatemiration? Get me Merriam-Webster's on the phone!
Hoooh boy.This show will kill me dead, inside and out, by the time it's over. What a season. What an episode. Among other things, "Face Off" totally cured me of my penchant for titles with multiple meanings. Was Gus's death theatrical, jarring, and borderline fantastic? Sure it was. But what a way to go for such a ruthlessly precise villain with his own personal flair for drama! From the moment Gus flipped the lid on his surveillance laptop to his beautifully scored slow walk toward Casa Tranquila (ha!), all of his scenes this week were tinged with a sense of finality; it was obvious we were watching a dead man walking. And you have to hand it to Walt for his carefully constructed, if somewhat convoluted, kill plan. To give Gus such a poetic sendoff -- using his own emotional ties to the past against him and making his own sworn enemy into the instrument of his ultimate downfall -- yet to destroy him without ever coming face to face with him... this is the stuff of great fiction.
Also the stuff of great fiction? Walter White. Has a more despicable yet still maddeningly sympathetic protagonist ever been penned? Such is the tragedy of this character that his most heinous acts are the ones he has committed out of love. Walt has done many reprehensible things, starting with killing Emilio and Krazy-8 in self-defense, standing purposefully by as Jane choked to death and outright murdering the two child-killing goons -- ostensibly to save Jesse -- but for the first time, he has plotted a premeditated murder that went more or less according to plan and in doing so played dangerously with the lives of not one, but two innocents. For the first time, Walt's darkness has taken something of a Machiavellian form, allowing himself a single tortured look after so deceitfully extending his hand to Jesse. "I won," he tells Skyler by way of explanation for the disturbing news permeating the media, and it's true. Walter White's victory is both hard-won and well-earned by his being at once the smartest and the worst. Not so bad as to kill Brock outright but bad enough to take a chance with the boy's life (and to manipulate Jesse back under his control in the most selfish way imaginable). And that handshake! God, gross, Walt! So much deception in that handshake, at the other end of which sits Jesse, once again the victim of some pretty serious remorse over something for which Walt is largely to blame.
If the beauty of this show lies in its deliberate pacing and gradual tension buildup, then the beauty of "Face Off" -- which refers to the episode's central showdown and nothing else, dammit -- is in the excruciatingly (yet rewardingly) slow advancement of Walt's plan, scored at every turn by one perfect musical selection after another, and in the double payoff it leads up to, both in Gus's epic death scene and the oddly triumphant White/Pinkman teamwork as the two go about destroying the lab. And yet the episode does not end there, as there is another important ingredient to Breaking Bad's excellence: rich characterization, seen here in the vastly different reactions to Gus's death experienced true to form by Walt and Jesse, respectively, and ultimately in that final shot of the lily of the valley plant in Walt's backyard, confirming the sickening extent of his duplicity and the moral depths to which he has sunk in the name of familial duty. As convincing as his innocence seemed last week in the showdown with Jesse, Walt's credibility was shot the second he sent his elderly neighbor into the line of fire to serve his single-minded agenda. There is officially nothing sacred to this man. Nothing he won't do and no one he won't sacrifice to further his own interest. Yes, everything Walt has done has been to ensure the safety and well-being of his family, but, as with his foray into the crystal meth game, his best intentions are always undercut by the prominent element of pride that drives him at the macro level. "I won," he tells Skyler, and it is as much an expression of relief as it is a declaration of dominance. He is the one who knocks.
So much great material here that I'm willing to overlook the improbable logistics of the cigarette swap last week. And even though it was all secondary to the main events of the episode, I must give props to the writers for managing to incorporate some great comedic moments courtesy of Saul, his extortion-savvy receptionist ("endearingly" dubbed "Honey Tits" by the criminal lawyer himself), and Jesse, who offered the APD detectives that maybe he got the idea for the ricin poisoning from watching House; even Tio Salamanca had one last opportunity for some funny wordless exchanges with his lifelong DEA adversaries before going up in a blaze of hateful glory.
All in all, a terrific fourth season, capped off by an incredible finale (figuratively, and if I were being nitpicky, literally so) that managed to be conclusive at the same time as it set up some great unanswered questions for future development. After such an episode, how can Walter White's story end if not in his death? Perhaps by ricin? Perhaps at Jesse's hands? The thought of that doesn't bother me as much as it did last week, but I am willing to go along with any other changes of heart this show finds fit to put me through. If this is psychological abuse and/or emotional manipulation, then I don't want to be spared. Strap me to your table, Gilligan and Co., and go about your torturing ways.