Last night’s episode of Breaking Bad, “Crawl Space”, finally delivered some payoff for the problems that have been simmering over the course of this, the series’ fourth season. All season long, we’ve watched as Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan moved all the pieces of the puzzle into place, getting ever closer to finally dropping the “You’re Totally Screwed” hammer on Walter White, and by the end of “Crawl Space”, that hammer had Walter pinned beneath it. What happened, and how did it play? Find out after the jump, my fellow Breaking Bad junkies.
Throughout its run, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan‘s intention has been to show us the complete transformation of Walter White not from a failed, mild-mannered chemist into a superhero, but from a mild-mannered chemist into a supervillain. Well, as anyone who’s ever read Alan Moore’s glorious Batman tale The Killing Joke knows, it takes just one bad day for the mild-mannered to become the super-villainous. Walter White’s transformation has been long in the coming, the kinda thing that’s happened in inches and degrees. But when we look back on Breaking Bad once its run ends, we’ll probably agree that “Crawl Space” is the point where Walter finally went over the edge (he even seems to have developed a Joker-style laugh by the end of the episode).
Walter White is now out of options. He has systematically alienated and pissed off everyone around him, turned everything (and everyone) who’s good in his life into something seedy and dangerous. Jesse Pinkman seems to have jumped ship for the greener pastures of Gus’ operation (and after surviving that debacle in Mexico with Gus and Mike, we can understand that change). Skylar has been contaminated, having broken bad herself over the course of the season and now in way over her head with her old boss, Beneke. Gus wants Walter dead, and if he can’t do it right now, he’s announced his intentions to do it at some point in the future. And Hank? Well, if he wasn’t suspicious of Walter before, we can’t help but think that he’s on the verge of making that leap.
What an amazing, disturbing episode this was. That final sequence, with Walt laughing maniacally in the crawl space under his house while the soundtrack thrummed and buzzed and Skylar listened to Marie’s frantic call on the answering machine? Absolutely chilling. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go through this from the beginning.
Things started off with Jesse, Gus, and Mike narrowly escaping death in Mexico after the raid on Don Eladio’s compound. Gus—who always thinks of everything—had planned on this eventuality, and had a team of doctors standing by to help him, Mike, and Jesse (in that order: they hadn’t been paid to treat everyone at the same time, much to Jesse’s annoyance). Once everyone was all bandaged up, Gus and Jesse headed back for the States. Mike, on the other hand, was forced to stay behind for another week while Gus’ doctors put him back in working condition.
Meanwhile, Walt’s troubles were mounting up. He’s running the lab by himself, overseen by Gus’ untalkative man-servant. He’s still going out on stakeouts with Hank, doing his damndest to dissuade Hank from getting any closer to Gus’ operation. He’s unaware that Skylar’s frantically attempting to get the $600k she gave to Beneke back. This episode was all about Walt’s problems all revealing themselves—pretty much at the same time—so much of the episode was spent paying off problems that Gilligan and company have been moving into position all the way through season four.
Over the course of “Crawl Space”, Walt did his best to fix some of these situations, but at this point, he’s in way over his head. When Hank tried to get Walt to drive him to the laundry—where Walt’s “superlab” is located—Walt made the unique decision to drive himself and Hank into the path of an oncoming vehicle (that’ll put a damper on your afternoon plans). When he discovered that Jesse had cooked in the lab without him, he went to Pinkman Manor to confront him about it (only to be tazed for his troubles). This last altercation was what led him to the desert, hands zip-tied behind him, facing down Gus for what must feel like the umpteenth time.
The scene was remarkable for any number of reasons—Giancarlo Esposito’s performance, the threats being made against Walter and his entire family (infant daughter included, because any job worth doing is a job worth doing right), Walter’s desperate outrage—but I thought the scene really sung for another reason: take a look at that shadow that passes over the entire scene when Walt starts talking about whether or not Gus can kill him. It’s a cloud passing overhead, but it rolls into the scene, darkening everything and seeming to go on forever, off to the horizon, until it seems to cover all of New Mexico. The symbolism’s clear: Walt’s troubles are now everywhere, his death written on every wall. When this show is over and done with and we’ve all moved on to some other great, new series, I’ll still be talking about how amazing “that scene with the cloud” was in “Crawl Space”.
Now, let’s take a moment to discuss the shenanigans unfolding at Chez Beneke. Beneke had decided that he couldn’t take Skylar’s money (gambling money is “dirty money”), and offered to give it back, but Skylar still needs him to pay the IRS to keep them out of her hair. Beneke then reveals that, well, it’s not so much about the fact that it’s “dirty money”, it’s that it’s not enough: even if he pays off the $617k that he owes the IRS, his life and business will still be worried. Skylar is—understandably—pissed off about this, and demands that Beneke just write the damn check out again, this time to the government. He refuses, and that’s when Skylar calls Saul.
Saul promises Skylar that he’ll get Beneke to sign the check, but that Beneke also won’t be hurt in the process. And so, he sends a couple of his best henchmen (his “A-team”, as he calls it) over to Beneke’s house to get a new check signed. Things seem to be going well—uncomfortable, but well—until Beneke suddenly stands up, makes a run for it, slips on the carpet, and slams headfirst into a wall. The last we see of him in tonight’s episode is him on the ground, fingers twitching, and a later-in-the-episode meeting between Saul and his henchmen didn’t reveal the dude’s fate: brain-damaged? Dead? Bruised and embarrassed? I’m sure he’s fine, but we’ll have to wait to find out. That’s not really the problem, though: the real problem is, that money’s now on its way to the IRS, and—as we found out shortly thereafter—Walter could really use that cash.
See, after enough of these problems had piled up—and, particularly after Gus told Walt point-blank that he intended to kill Walt’s entire family if he ever came near Jesse again (and we gather that he’ll probably go ahead and try to do it, anyway)—Walt made a mad dash to the offices of “Better Call” Saul Goodman, interrupting a meeting between Saul and his henchmen (more on them in a moment). He tells Saul that he wants the number of the guy who can make him and his family “disappear”, and Saul hands over the contact number. Before Walt leaves, he tells Saul to call in an anonymous tip to the DEA, warning them of the impending hit on Hank.
But then Walt goes home, frantically searching for the cash-stash in the crawl space under the house. He knows that getting the hell outta Dodge might be the only option he has left, and when he arrives, he discovers that the money’s missing. Skylar shows up and explains that she gave it to Beneke, and that’s when Walt appears to snap: he lets out a primal scream, clenches his fists, and then…he starts to giggle. If you weren’t reminded of the aforementioned Killing Joke, well, you just don’t read enough Batman comics. I’m almost positive this was a conscious decision on the part of the episode’s writers.
“Crawl Space” leaves our characters in danger, virtually every last one of them. Hank and Marie could be in danger from Gus and his lackies. Walt, Skylar, Walter Jr., and their baby daughter are all under threat from Gus. Jesse’s in good with Gus now, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not still at risk…and what if Walt decides he’s going to start viewing Jesse as the enemy? And what about Beneke? He’s now in the thick of this, and what’s gonna happen to him? There are only two episodes left this season, and it’s looking like the season finale is going to lead into a fifth season that’s a little lighter in the casting department: I’m confident that all of these people won’t survive for next year’s (final) round of episodes.
A final note: my apologies for getting this one out a little later than usual. I’m balls-deep in Fantastic Fest right now, and had to catch the episode this morning (I was in Take Shelter when this aired last night). Next week, we’ll be back on time and ready to do battle. While you’re waiting on that writeup, let us know what you thought of “Crawl Space” in the comments section below, folks!