BREAKING BAD Recap: “Cornered”

     August 21, 2011

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AMC’s Breaking Bad is about half a dozen episodes into its fourth season, and with this week’s episode (“Cornered”) and last week’s entry, it appears that creator Vince Gilligan and his outstanding team of writers and directors are moving Breaking Bad back out of “overtly depressing and overwhelmingly dark” territory:  “Cornered” might be the most darkly comic episode we’ve seen so far this year.  And– while tonight’s installment didn’t really provide any shocking twists or unforeseen developments– it might have set the stage for some unfortunate developments in the weeks ahead.  Read on for tonight’s Breaking Bad recap, my fellow Breaking Bad enthusiasts…

At the beginning of this, Breaking Bad‘s fourth season, I made a big hullabaloo about how Breaking Bad might be the best dark comedy on television.  I championed the twisted humor that Vince Gilligan and Co. have injected into their AMC series, and singled out the show’s sense of humor as my single most favorite thing about the series.  And then, the season began, and Breaking Bad dropped all the dark humor for a solid three or four episodes, putting Jesse Pinkman, Walter White, Mike the Hitman, Hank, and Marie into an utterly depressing downward spiral:  we watched Hank berate his wife; we watched Jesse swirl down the drain;  we watched Walt grow ever more desperate; we watched as Mike got part of his ear shot off.  There was never a moment where I found myself questioning my love of Breaking Bad, but damn, did I start to miss the levity.

All that started to change last week (remember Gale singing karaoke on Hank’s TV?), and tonight the dark comedy came back even stronger:  the back-and-forth between Jesse and Mike was priceless;  the coiled tension between Walt and his former car-wash boss (his name’s escaping me for the moment) was equally electric and uncomfortably funny;  Jesse’s way of tricking himself into the meth-heads’ house was laugh-out-loud funny (they oughtta invent an acronym for that); and– last but certainly not least– Walt’s solution for cleaning up in the wake of Jesse’s absence in the lab might have been the funniest thing we’ve seen all season.  Could it be that Gilligan and company are done putting our beloved Breaking Bad characters through the wringer?  Could it be that the black-humor of seasons one and two is back, here to stay?  Eh, probably not, but let’s enjoy it while we can.

Tonight’s episode started– as another episode or two has started this season– with one of Gus’ Los Pollos Hermanos trucks being stopped in the desert.  This time, rather than Mike crouched in the back, the truck was carrying two of Gus’ (soon-to-be-unfortunate) flunkies.  We watched a trio of gangster-types– who they’re working for, I’m still not clear on; clearly, this is Gus’ competition in the flesh– flood the truck with diesel fumes, killing the men inside, and then casually skate away with the spoils of their daring, in-broad-daylight robbery:  a bucket full o’ blue-meth, straight from Walt and Gus’ lab.

Meanwhile, at the White residence, Walt and Skylar were having another shouting match, this one motivated by the drunken rant Walt went on at the end of last week’s episode.  Y’know, the one where Walt pretty much got Hank back on the “Heisenberg” case?  The one that’s destined to haunt Walt until the series wraps?  Yeah, that conversation.  Well, Skylar couldn’t help but express her suspicions following that conversation, and it turned out she was dead-on:  not only did Walt work with Gale, but he might harbor a subconscious desire for Hank to catch him.  They say that all criminals, junkies, and lowlife-types want to be caught by the people around them– whether or not you believe this is one thing; the studies that have done prove this theory if you ever bother looking into ‘em– and Walt’s drunken rant last week typifies such behavior.  When pressed by Skylar, Walt explodes, telling her that– not only does he not want to get caught– but that “getting caught” would have massive, perhaps even dangerous repercussions.  Naturally, this alarms Skylar, so much so that she flees the house for a good chunk of the episode.

Meanwhile, Mike and Jesse are hard at work keeping themselves bored, haunting local diners (and what the hell was Mike eating, anyway?  My associate believed it to be an omelet;  the best I could figure was….Shepard’s Pie?) and sitting outside meth-houses.  Walt and Jesse finally had a conversation about all this, during which Walt pretty much pieced together what the hell Gus was up to with the whole “hiring Jesse to be Mike’s wingman” situation, but– as per usual– Jesse wasn’t listening.  Instead, he’s focusing his energy on impressing Mike:  after learning that he’d be spending an unknown amount of hours sitting outside a meth-house, waiting for the junkies inside to “poke their heads out”, he finagled his way inside with…a shovel.  I won’t bother spoiling the “how” for those that still haven’t seen the episode, but rest assured that it was extremely clever.

Speaking of clever plans, Walt’s way of getting the lab cleaned without Jesse was– as I mentioned before– a highlight, not just for this episode, but for the entire season thus far.  In the end, the three cleaning ladies that Walt brought into the lab ended up on a bus back to Honduras, but was I the only one that thought that Gus was going to put a bullet in all three of their heads the moment they stepped foot in that secret lab?  It seemed insane that Walt wouldn’t see this coming, but it also seemed insane when Gus allowed them to live in the end.  This is the same dude that opened another dude’s throat just for being in the same area that a crime occurred in:  what stopped him from killing the Three Amigas on tonight’s ep?  Maybe Gus has a bigger heart than we thought.

Things were quiet on the Hank/Marie front, and– quite frankly– I was fine with that.  I was ready for a break from their ongoing battle of wills, but I’ll be happy to see them again next week.

Tonight’s episode ended with Walt and Skylar fighting again, this time over the brand-new Mustang that Walt bought for Walt Jr. early in the episode.  As Skylar (correctly) pointed out, this would only draw attention to the White family:  what would the neighbors think, or Hank and Marie?  How would they explain a pricey new car to the IRS, especially when they’re supposed to have just dropped an assfull of money on that car wash?  One was reminded of the scene in Goodfellas when all the gangsters arrive at DeNiro’s bar in new cars, their girlfriends all decked out in furs:  one can’t go advertising their ill-gotten cash, especially with Hank on the case.  Skylar had a great line in the end about being the person “who protects the family from the guy who protects the family”, and that was that (by the way, here’s a sidenote:  is the actress playing Skylar pregnant?  Because all those loose-fitting blouses and scarves aren’t fooling anyone).

Solid episode, but kinda uneventful (as far as Breaking Bad episodes go).  But what’d you think, folks?

My Grade?  A

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