BREAKING BAD Recap: “Problem Dog”

     August 28, 2011


After a handful of episodes that– if we’re being frank– sometimes felt like Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and company treading water, AMC’s best series has delivered two straight weeks of high-tension episodes.  Last week’s installment started turning up the heat on Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Gus Fring, and Hank the DEA Agent, but this week’s episode turned it up until things were sitting at a nice simmer.  Be forewarned that spoilers for tonight’s episode abound after the jump, my fellow Breaking Bad enthusiasts…

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad might be my favorite since the season premiere (and, yeah, I’m fairly certain that I’ve made that claim before this season, but this time I really mean it):  you had the return of “Better Call” Saul Goodman; you had Skylar finding out how much money Walt actually makes; you had a great, tension-filled sequence between Jesse, Gus, Mike, and one of the cartel’s best spokesmen; you had a mindblowingly awesome scene which found Jesse at his old NA meeting; and– last but certainly not least– we got a protracted sequence in the end where Hank laid it all out for his fellow law enforcement buddies:  not only was Gale tied to the infamous Heisenberg…but so is local chicken magnate Gus Fring.  If there was ever any question as to whether or not Hank would “figure it out”, the last scene in tonight’s episode settled that doubt for good.

The episode started– curiously enough– with a scene inside Jesse’s house:  Jesse’s playing a first-person shooter, flashing onto Gale’s face whenever he put a bullet between the eyes of one of his onscreen foes.  The most notable thing about this scene (for my money, anyway) was the fact that Jesse was playing Bethesda Softworks and id Software’s upcoming, post-apocalyptic shooter, Rage.  Now, I’m a raving video game geek in my off-time from, and I’ve been foaming at the mouth to play Rage since…since…well, for a long time.  How big of a gaming geek am I?  Seeing Jesse playing the game– which doesn’t arrive for another month or so– actually made it hard for me to concentrate on the scene.  All I could think was, “How did Jesse get a review copy of Rage before I did?!”

Things moved on to a sequence at the car-wash, where Walt dropped off a cool quarter-million in cash for Skylar to launder.  This was the first time that Skylar really became fully aware of how much money Walt’s actually bringing in, and it was obvious that she was expecting something much smaller:  she explains to Walt that laundering the $7m Walt might bring in over a year (y’know, assuming that he survives another calendar year) would take close to a decade to launder.  Why these guys don’t just stockpile the money in a safe buried in their backyard is beyond me:  they probably explained this at some point, but I’m not sure I recall the specifics.  Couldn’t they just continue living on a small amount of money, save up, and then his an un-extraditable country once they’ve got enough cash saved?  Or– lemme guess– Skylar doesn’t wanna go to an un-extraditable country?

Meanwhile, Walt explains– or, rather, begins to explain– to Jesse that Gus needs to die.  Turns out, Walt didn’t need to give Jesse the hard sell:  before he’d even finished delivering his very-obvious, none-too-subtle monologue about Gus’ intentions towards Jesse, Jesse had agreed to take Gus out.  After weighing their options, Walt eventually handed over a vial full of the same poison that he cooked up during the show’s early years, the same stuff that took out Tuco.  The plan is clear:  once Jesse gets within arm’s reach of Gus, and once he’s near food or drink that Gus is in the process of eating, he’s to dump the poison into said food, sit back for 36 hours, and wait for Gus to kick the bucket.  Sounds easy enough, but when is Gus ever going to be sitting near Jesse with an unguarded bowl of soup?

Just as I was thinking this, Gilligan and his writers put Jesse right into a room with Gus, the would-be assassin making Gus and Mike a pot of coffee.  Of course he was interrupted before he could slip the poison into the coffee, but man…for a minute there, it really looked like that mighta been that.  This bit of tension was followed by another tense sequence:  Gus facing down the spokesperson for the cartel that he’s been warring with.  After Gus laid out a $50m offer– one that’d get the cartel off his back once and for all– the spokesperson sidestepped the offer to explain that Gus didn’t really have any options:  either he could do whatever it is the cartel wants him to do…or he can go to war.  Judging from the sour expression the spokesperson had on his face on the way out of Gus’ office– not to mention a throwaway line from Mike shortly thereafter– it would appear that Gus had decided to go to war.

Here’s my question:  do we know what the cartel wants from Gus?  The last time I remember Gus arguing with other gangsters, it was when he, the “Twins”, and the old-guy with the bell sat down to discuss Walt’s execution.  This is another “thing I don’t recall” that I’m sure will get my eaten alive by those that have been paying close attention…if I’m wrong.  But I don’t think I am.  I think that we’re still waiting to hear what the cartel wants from Gus, and I’m willing to bet that– if I’m right about that– they want Gus to either hand over Walt…or for Gus to hand over his distribution center.  Whatta you guys think?

The episode wrapped with a lengthy sequence featuring Hank, his older partner, and his old boss at the DEA.  Hank sits ’em down and walks them through every thought he’s had about the mysteriously-dead Gale Betticker, explaining that he believes that if Gale isn’t Heisenberg…he worked with him at the very least.  Then he explains his suspicions regarding the Los Pollos Hermanos napkin left inside Gale’s apartment, saying that a hippie-vegan like Gale had no business being in a fried chicken joint.  Hank then reaches what we think is the crescendo of his speech:  Los Pollos Hermanos owner Gus Fring– a friend to the local police force, an upstanding citizen, and the maker of some damn fine fried chicken– might just be bankrolling a very large crystal meth operation.  Hank’s former co-workers laugh this off…until Hank presents them with one big-ass bit of suspicious evidence:  Gus Fring’s fingerprints were all over the recently-deceased lab worker’s apartment.  And how does a thing like that happen?

The episode closed on this bit of revelation, and the “Next Week On…” teaser for next Sunday’s episode indicates that things are about to ramp up in a big way.  I was more than satisfied with tonight’s episode (I particularly like the fact that, over the past two weeks, there have been a handful of scenes where Gilligan seems content to let his actors– and his writers– to really let scenes play out at a leisurely, organic pace), but what did you guys think?  Like the direction the show’s headed?  Got theories on what we can expect from here on out?  Know what the cartel wants from Gus?  Let’s hear about it in the comments below, folks.

My Grade for the episode?  A-