BREAKING BAD Recap: “Open House”

     July 31, 2011

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We’re only two episodes into the fourth season of AMC’s best series, but already it feels like Breaking Bad-creator Vince Gilligan might be delivering the best season yet.  Those are big words– what with season three’s balls-out greatness still lingering in our collective subconscious– but just consider what we’ve seen thus far:  the one-two punch of “Boxcutter” (the fourth season premiere) and “Thirty-Eight Snub” (last week’s episode), followed by this week’s equally-outstanding “Open House” (so, is that a one-two-three punch?).  Is there a better show on TV?  And, more importantly, is there a better show on TV to over-analyze immediately upon watching it?  We submit to you that there isn’t, and invite you to join us as we do so, right after the jump….

Breaking-Bad-imageBreaking Bad‘s fourth season has been doing very well in the ratings, and judging from the buzz that’s surrounded this new batch of episodes, it seems safe to say that the show’s more popular than it’s ever been.  On the one hand, that’s good news:  more people need to be watching this series, and it’s always nice to have more people to discuss one of your favorite shows with.  On the other hand, I’ve gotta wonder how many people just started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks ago, and how they might consider the show based on what we’ve seen over the past three episodes.  If I had just joined the party, I’d probably be thinking of Breaking Bad in a way that’s not really…right.

For instance:  this has always been a funny series– one of the best dark comedies on television, in fact– and the past three episodes haven’t really reflected that.  There’s also the matter of Jesse:  since shooting Gale at the beginning of season four (or the end of season three, depending on how you wanna look at it), Jesse’s been a complete basket-case.  This isn’t the Jesse we all know and love, and neither is Hank:  that dude seems like he’s on a one-man quest to destroy what little will-to-live-and-remain-sane that his wife might still have.  Am I happy that more people are watching Breaking Bad?  Absolutely.  Do I hope that all of ‘em go back and see how these characters– some of whom are coming across as very unlikable these days–  got to where they are?  Even more so.  If you’re in that group, I beg you to pick up the first three seasons on DVD or Blu-ray (pro-tip:  Breaking Bad looks incredible on Blu-ray).

Breaking-Bad-imageAnyway, let’s get to tonight’s episode.

“Open House” was divided into three equal plotlines:  Jesse’s continued self-destruction (some of the scenes at the Pinkman residence were downright terrifying this evening;  I mean, Jesus, man);  Walt and Skylar’s continued attempts to purchase that $20m car-wash (they succeeded, eventually, after pulling off a very clever little rouse– all Skylar’s idea, by the way);  and Hank’s continued mistreatment of Marie, which led to a resurgence of Marie’s kleptomania and general, belligerent wackiness.

The Jesse stuff was just as depressing as it has been for the past few weeks, and I’m more convinced than ever that Jesse Pinkman will not live to see the Breaking Bad series finale (quite frankly, if anyone would like to start a death pool for season four, I’d probably be willing to take a few bets).  But while these scenes of Jesse’s downward spiral were kinda “more of the same” of what we’ve seen for the past few weeks, director David Slade– who helmed tonight’s episode– made Jesse’s forthcoming implosion/explosion seem more horrific, skin-crawling, and disturbing than it’s ever seemed.  That scene with Jesse at the go-kart place?  Haunting, freaky, perfect.  The scenes inside Pinkman Manor, where we see that the partying Jesse’d been doing last week has devolved into a full-blown crack-house?  Made me feel like I needed about three showers and a date with a therapist.  All of this was shot incredibly well, and while I don’t feel that Jesse’s story was particularly advanced this week, I will say that Slade’s never made a cry for help look so damn good.  Great work, that.

breaking-bad-season-4-image-7As for the Walt/Skylar/gas station stuff, this seemed like more of what we thought we were seeing earlier this season:  Skylar making a move towards “breaking bad” herself.  The show seems to be saying, “Y’see, folks?  That’s what happens.  One minute, you’re lying to a kindly locksmith to get into your ex-husband’s apartment, the next minute you’re pulling an elaborate scam on a car-wash owner in order to screw him on a business deal”.  While I don’t think that we’ll ever see Skylar working side-by-side with Walt in the lab (what am I saying?  Knowing Gilligan, that’s entirely possible), there’s definitely a point being made here about the effect that Walt’s evolution into a criminal is having on his wife:  even though Skylar may be done being angry at Walt and hurt by the lies he told, she’s changing into something that the “old her” probably wouldn’t like very much.  By the end of this series, Walt’s criminality will have ruined the lives of everyone around him:  with the gas-station scam, we’re seeing Skylar’s soul being ruined right before our very eyes.  She’ll get even worse before she gets ahold of herself, just you wait.

And, finally, there’s the biggie-plotline, the plotline that gave the episode its title.  Early in the episode, Hank’s put-upon wife Marie was hanging around an open house, and we had to wonder, “Huh?”  Soon enough, she’s rattling off a bullshit story to a real estate agent, and that’s when it sunk in:  things are so bad for Marie at home, she’s living out fantasy-lives vicariously through the bullshit-stories she’s telling real estate agents at open houses.  That’s a convoluted sentence, to be sure, but that’s what she’s up to.

breaking-bad-season-4-image-6Just last week, I mentioned Marie’s kleptomania in a “hey, remember when that happened?” kinda way, and sure enough, it popped up again on tonight’s episode.   We watched as Marie very quickly bounced from “avoiding home” to “lying to real estate agents” to “stealing shit at open houses”.  This ended up biting her in the ass when a real estate agent caught on to her rouse and hunted her down at another open house, the two of them erupting in a physical altercation out on the street in front of the home.  Next thing you know, Marie’s making a phone call to her invalid husband, and…

Wait.  Let’s pause for a moment.  There’s a moment during that phone call that I think’s worth examining.  All this time, we’ve watched as Hank verbally, emotionally, and viciously bullied Marie from his place in the bedroom, and it was obvious that she was on the verge of snapping.  But watch what happens when Marie calls Hank and tells him that she’s been arrested:  for the first time in weeks, Hank’s anger subsides.  She weeps into the phone, and we watch as his face softens.  Rather than going ballistic– which is precisely what we’d expect, what with how he’s been acting lately– he seemed to calm down.  Is it possible that Marie knows that acting out like this will bring out the caregiver side of Hank, the part of him that will forgive her any embarrassment, any transgression?  It’s possible.  Watch that scene again and see if you catch what I’m talking about:  I think that’s a very important moment.

breaking-bad-season-4-image-8Anyhow, one of Hank’s former co-workers showed up to drop Gale’s notebook directly into Hank’s somewhat-functional lap, but it wasn’t until the very end of the episode that the dude actually cracked it open and started looking it over.  We haven’t seen what’s in the notebook, but this week we were told that it contains “detailed drawings, equations, formulas” and all kinds of other stuff that clearly point to the existence of some sorta “super-lab”.  You’d think that this description would’ve sent Hank’s ears twitching, but he didn’t seem to make the connection when hearing it come out of his former cop-buddy.  One suspects that– now that Hank’s seen what’s in that notebook– he’s going to start putting the pieces together quickly.  But how will he pursue the case from his bedroom?  Who will he hand that information over to?  After hunting Heisenberg and Jesse and everyone else in the New Mexican meth-game for so long, will he really want that case to wrap without being there to put the cuffs on the area’s most infamous drug-lord himself?  Will he really just hand that information over to another cop?  Or might he sit on it, use it to motivate himself through recovery even quicker so he can do the job himself?  It’ll be interesting to see what Hank does with this information.

And that, my friends, is all I’ve got for you this week.  The season’s been kick-ass thus far, and I’m sure that all of you are just as eager to get to next week as I am.  That “Next Week On…” preview looked like we’ve got a bit more action to look forward to in the episodes ahead.  If you’re going to join the Breaking Bad discussion in the comments section below, here’s a few questions I’d like to hear your answers to:

  • How will Hank handle that notebook (assuming he makes the connection)?
  • Do you think that Skylar’s going to end up just as bad as Walt, or will she stop herself before she gets any more…shady?
  • What’s the over/under on the death of Jesse Pinkman?  End of the season?  End of the show?  Never?
  • Is Bob Odenkirk not a goddamn genius?

Let’s hear what you guys have to say on those.  Sound off below, and then come back next week for our weekly Breaking Bad wrapup.

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