BREAKING BAD Recap: “Mr. Self Destruct”

     July 24, 2011

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Last week, AMC did us all a favor and brought TV’s best dark-comedy/drama/crime-thriller back to television (and, for those that keep track of such things, the response was outstanding:  Breaking Bad‘s season premiere posted an all-time high viewership).  We learned that Gus isn’t effing around.  We learned that Hank– still recovering from the events of last season– has taken up rock (er, “mineral”) collecting.  And we learned that no one– and I mean no one– looks good in white jeans.  So, how’d things look during week two?  Find out after the break, my fellow Breaking Bad enthusiasts…

breaking-bad-season-4-image-9At the end of last week’s episode, it was revealed that Gale– Walt’s former assistant, now dead with a bullet pounded into his head by a desperate Jessie Pinkman– would have a lasting effect on the Breaking Bad characters that survived the season premiere:  not only had his death kick-started a downward spiral for Jessie (one that was only exacerbated by witnessing Victor’s vicious, sudden death at Gus’ hands), and not only had his desire to work alongside Walter White left Gus with a very troubled pair of employees, but we learned that Gale was keeping notes.  Specifically, the cops ransacking Gale’s apartment after his death were on the verge of discovering a notebook containing what we’d imagine to be very detailed scribblings about the goings-on in Gus’ laundry-based lab.

We mention this first for a few reasons:  for one thing, we forgot to mention this in last week’s recap, and a few of you were kind enough to point out that little error (sorry, folks).  For another, Gale’s notebook is likely to be this season’s McGuffin:  finally, the cops will have some sort of lead on where all that infamous blue meth is coming from.  It’s a college-ruled smoking gun, one that could very well lead to the downfall of Walt, Jessie, Gus, Gus’ many employees, maybe even (Better Call) Saul Goodman.  While tonight’s episode didn’t deal with this notebook, it’s worth mentioning now, as it’s likely that most of Breaking Bad‘s characters are going to be sweating the fallout from that notebook in the weeks and months ahead (and tonight’s “Next Week On…” indicated that we’ll be learning more about the notebook next week).

So, what did we get tonight?  Let’s go through it character-by-character.

Breaking-Bad-imageWalt kicked off the episode with a scene in a dimly-lit motel room, a suitcase full of guns and a small arms dealer on the bed next to him.  Knowing that he’s in a “Me or Him” situation, Walt’s been forced to arm himself for what he imagines is the end of his ticking-clock employment with Gus:  at any minute, Gus could send Mike (or some other henchman) to kill him, and Walt’s gotta be prepared.  Moreover, though, Walt’s got designs on taking Gus out.  After securing his sidearm and spending some time practicing his quick-draw, Walt approached Mike at the henchman’s favorite watering hole, bought him a drink, and made him an offer:  “Get me in the same room with him, and I’ll take care of the rest”.  Walt pointed out that– at the end of the day– he and Mike are both in the same boat:  Gus could kill either one of them at any time, and the ruthless way in which he took Victor out indicates that Gus’ loyalties lie only with himself.  Mike’s response?  A swift punch in Walt’s face, followed by a few carefully-aimed kicks to the ribs.  And so, we know where Mike stands on that front.

But will he change his mind once he’s thought it over?  It’s possible.

Meanwhile, the ever-troubled Jessie Pinkman spent some time self-destructing.  In fact, the majority of the episode was devoted to his attempts to stay busy.  But whereas you or I might run errands, mow the lawn, and play a few video games…Jessie dove headlong back into his meth habit and compelled his two right-hand men to fill his newly-purchased house with flunkies, junkies, and hangers-on (he also threw in a Roomba and a six-foot stack of speakers blaring house music for good measure).  At first, I figured that Jessie was just trying to keep his mind off the horror he witnessed during last week’s episode, and what better way to do that than to incapacitate one’s mind?  But by the time the partiers had worn themselves out– after three straight days and nights of tweaking, pizza-eating, and beer-chugging– it became obvious that Jessie’s not just lonely and looking for a distraction:  he’s also sure that he’s far less likely to be killed if he’s got a houseful of people with him.  Jessie never stated this explicitly, but watch him closely in that final scene where all the party-goers are headed out:  he’s terrified to be in that house alone, and not just because of his haunted thoughts.

breaking-bad-character-portrait-aaron-paulWill Jessie continue his self-destruction, possibly ending up OD’d or suicidal in the process?  It’s possible.

Over at Chez Hank, I’m finding it hard to understand why Hank’s decided to be such a raging prick to his wife, Marie.  Over the course of Hank’s recuperation, Marie’s been there to empty his bedpan, play the cheerleader, and make his meals, but all she gets in return is the “World’s Grumpiest Invalid”.  Last week, Hank was simply rude.  This week, he started crossing a line into “emotionally abusive” territory.  Am I crazy for wondering if Marie might not develop the hots for Hank’s personal trainer?  That scene where she showed him out of the house after a particularly successful rehab session made me wonder if this wasn’t a possibility.  More importantly, though, what’s Hank’s deal?  I’m curious to hear what you guys think.  I think it’s probably something as simple as “He’s taking it out on her”, but does anyone have a better theory?  Marie’s a lot of things (remember when she was a Klepto?!), but weak-willed ain’t one of ‘em:  expect her to go nuclear on Hank sooner rather than later.

And down at the carwash, Walt’s wife, Skylar, made an official offer to Walt’s old boss.  In case you’d forgotten, Walt and Skylar are interested in buying up the carwash as a way to launder Walt’s ever-increasing fortune, but it became evident very quickly that this was going to be easier said than done:  Walt’s old boss demanded $20m for the store, reminding Skylar that Walt had “broken (his) air fresheners and grabbed himself” on his way out the door.  This was an outrageous offer– Skylar proved to the dude that the car wash is really only worth a hair under $1m– and it’ll be interesting to see where this particular storyline goes.  Might Walt opt out of the gas station idea altogether, go with Saul’s recommendation (the Laser Tag arena)?  Or might Walt put the screws to his old boss in a way that he was simply incapable of doing back when he worked there during season one?  Whatever happens, it’ll be… interesting.

breaking-bad-season-4-imageBut is there ever an un-interesting moment on Breaking Bad?  During the sequence where the camera followed Jessie’s Roomba around the aftermath of one of his raging parties, I found myself thinking– and not for the first time– that Breaking Bad really is the most obvious successor to the Sopranos throne:  oh, sure, there are many other great TV series that have come along since The Sopranos, but Breaking Bad really does come the closest to capturing that show’s greatness.  Some shows have done the “antihero” thing just as well as HBO’s series did (think: The Shield), and some have provided the ever-deepening character development (think: Mad Men), but– on the whole, and for my money– Breaking Bad‘s the next-best-thing.  The thought occurred to me again in the final shot of tonight’s episode, where the camera panned around a shaking, weeping Jessie, pulling back through his destroyed house as he continued his self-destruction in front of a wall of booming speakers:  Breaking Bad is one of the best shows that’s ever aired on television, and it only gets better with each new episode.

It is a pleasure to have it back on the air.

My grade?  A-

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