Breaking Bad has done well this year, even in only two episodes, to hold on to some of the conceits of its prior (fantastic) season, and to reward viewers with additional information we didn’t even know we craved. Though the cold open with Madrigal left me confused at first that I was on the right channel, it turned out to be a mini-movie that served a plethora of purposes. For one, we learned more about the German company that was tied up with Gus’ assets, which provided the lab equipment. We saw the far-reaching effects – just like with the plane crash in an earlier season – of Walt’s decisions. We established that “Mike’s men” were willing to take the fall, even a strange and drastic one in a corporate bathroom. And finally, we saw the Los Pollos Hermanos sign being taken down – one of the final signs that the King Is Dead. All of this lead us to Hank, who is rapidly gaining ground on Walt. As his boss said of Gus, “he was right there in front of me, leading two lives. And I didn’t see it.” Hank, are you listening, Hank? Hit the jump for more.
One thing that makes Breaking Bad’s narrative so rich is the complexity and depth of its storytelling. Every plot last night related in intricate, but apparent, ways. Even though some will probably chalk this up to a filler episode, I disagree. Maybe the better term is “building block.” Though it was Mike-centric, it was important in establishing the empire that Walt feels himself to be heir-apparent to. First though, Walt needed to make sure he had Jesse, his constant, in line.
It was revealed last week for positive and certain that Walt had supplied the poison to Brock in a stroke of master manipulation, but his stratagems continued this week as Jesse frantically and painfully searched for the missing cigarette to exonerate himself – and Walt – of the deed. Crafty, crafty Walt planted the duplicate cigarette in Jesse’s Roomba, making Jesse break down into distressed and apologetic sobs, begging for Walt’s forgiveness. I thought Walt couldn’t sink any lower, but he continues to surprise me. Jesse is no saint, but he has a sweet heart buried beneath all of those “sup, bitch!” exclamations. He’s just a misguided kid from the Albuquerque suburbs, and though it’s pretty horrifying to see Walt treat anyone as he has Jesse, the specifics of their relationship make it all the more painful. Does Walt really care about him? I think somewhere he does, that it’s more than just using him. But I also think that Walt’s arrogance is out of control with regards to Jesse specifically, and his need to control has manifested itself in him seeing himself as Jesse’s guardian, who knows what’s best for him. He may care for Jesse, but he doesn’t respect him at all.
Mike, of course, sees all of this and speaks plainly about it almost every time the trio meet. You can see Jesse looking shiftily at Walt every time Mike does so – Mike is someone Jesse also respects, and has never done anything to make him question that. But Jesse’s bond with Walt is too deep, and the oft-refrain “what is it with you two?” always wins out in the end. The fact that Mike, a dead-eyed contract killer, is becoming the most likable person on the show says a lot about how far Walt has fallen. But character-wise you gotta admit, Mike is a pretty cool dude. His interaction with Lydia at the dinner was fantastic. He’s not interested in fanfare or playing spy games. He does things in a measured, calm and deliberate manner. Lydia’s hysterics and calling attention to herself put the proverbial nail in her coffin (or bullet in her head) – Mike does not suffer fools, just as he threw back on Walt when propositioned to join the Three Amigos, “you are trouble. You’re a time bomb. Tick, tick, tick.” Walt has none of the calm or patience or sense of Gus, and to compare himself to him is ludicrous. “If it’s good enough for Gus …” he says casually in Saul’s office. Both Jesse and Saul pause at that. To quote Mike from the promo for next week’s episode, “just because you shot Jesse James doesn’t mean you are Jesse James.”
This season is positioning Hank to find out about Walt, possibly this year. Hank’s will to live is tied up with solving the puzzle of Gus’ network, and he’s experienced a transformation of character because of it. If he had interrogated Mike two years ago, his braggadocio and bluster would have prevailed over sense and hard evidence, and Mike would have easily evaded him. But now Hank is honed. His revelation about the money changed the game for Mike and Gus’ remaining network, leading to that harrowing scene with Lydia later on. There’s a certain level of horror hearing someone plead not for their life, but that they simply be allowed to have had one – to not be erased, but to be found. There are few statements more terrifying than someone calmly saying “no one’s going to find you.” The addition of Lydia’s daughter was particularly grim. For those who don’t know, I also review True Blood (what a comparison, I know). The violence on that show is grisly and disgusting and constant. This week in particularly saw several bloodbaths and beheadings (several beheadings), but the violence is too cartoonish to be horror-inducing. The violence on Breaking Bad is different in that it’s often personal. In fact, one of the show’s most harrowing scenes came last night at the very end – Walt’s sexual presumptions with Skylar. If your skin wasn’t crawling as you tried to meld in to your chair or couch to get as far back from what was happening as possible, well, you and Walt might get along. That’s not a compliment.
So where is Walt headed? Saul stood in for many viewers with his lottery speech to Walt, “you count your lucky stars, you don’t buy another ticket.” Money is the driving force now, both for Walt (who took on this whole endeavor in the first place to financially provide for this family after his death) and for Mike. It becomes a uniting device to bring Mike back into the fold, the specifics of which it looks like we’ll get into next week. I can already guess it won’t end well.
Next Week: Mike talks business, Walt sets up a new lab, and Marie confronts Walt.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— My friend Martha, who I watch the show with, pointed out this week that Comcast lists Breaking Bad as a “comedy/drama.”
— Guess when Walt, Jr showed up this week? Breakfast time, of course! His favorite.
— Hungry Hungry Hippos!
— Really loved the search scene, with a great music montage to boot. Anyone know what the track was?
— “There is gold in the streets, waiting for somebody to come along and scoop it up” – Walt
— I think I missed a trick here. Who exactly is Lydia? Is she a supplier? (as Mike is using her now to get the methylene. I just had to Google how to spell that … I hope the government doesn’t come after me).
— The Hank/Mike interview was great. Mike is such a pro!