BREAKING BAD Recap: “Shotgun”

     August 14, 2011


Tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad was– with the possible exception of the fourth season premiere– the most-anticipated episode of AMC’s best series to come along this season.  Last week’s episode ended on one helluva cliffhanger, and all week long, debate’s raged as to what might happen to (character name redacted to guard against pre-jump spoilers) once (character name redacted) got them out to the desert.  Luckily, Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan didn’t waste any time settling that little debate.  Read on to find out how it all played out…and what we thought.  It’s all after the jump, folks…

Breaking-Bad-imageThe pre-credits sequence of tonight’s Breaking Bad was one of my absolute favorites, perhaps the most entertaining opening since that episode that opened with the “Heisenberg” Tejano song:  We join Walter White immediately following the events of last week’s episode, with Walt behind the wheel of his Aztek, frantically shouting into his phone (at a no-show-in-this-episode Saul) and careening through the streets of downtown Albuquerque.  We already knew– thanks to last week’s post-credits promo– that Walt was headed for Los Pollos Hermanos, but we didn’t know what he planned on doing when he got there.  Sure, he’d try and talk to Gus, but what were the odds that that was going to work?

As it turns out, it didn’t.  Walt arrived at Gus’ fast-food joint, gun in hand, and sat impotently at a booth near the front of the store while one of Gus’ employees patiently tried to explain that Gus wasn’t even there.  Soon enough, a call arrived on Walt’s phone:  Mike, somewhere out in the desert, with Jesse by his side.  Walt was frantic, desperate to find out if Jesse was OK (he’d told Saul to round up all his money and hand it over to Skylar if Saul didn’t hear back from him within 24 hours:  that’s how sure Walt was that things were going to go south), but Jesse was seemingly disinterested.  After trying– and failing– to express to Jesse just how concerned Walt was for Jesse’s well-being, Walt gets back on the phone with Mike and learns that he’ll be handling the duties in the lab solo today.

And so, the best episode of this season so far– from where I’m standing, anyway– was underway.

Tonight’s episode (the fifth, titled “Shotgun”) was great for a number of reasons, and I’ll try to list ’em all below.  But even though I’m already watching it a second time while hammering out this recap, I’m sure that I’ll forget a few of the grace notes and subtleties that made tonight’s episode sing.  I think that– more than anything– we can all agree that the last three weeks have been a bit of a slog, never boring but also fairly depressing to get through.

We’ve watched Jesse dive to the bottom of a meth-pipe.  We’ve watched Skylar battle a petty car-wash owner.  We’ve watched Walt try– and fail– to bring Mike over to his side.  We’ve watched Hank mistreat Marie constantly, and we’ve been just as frustrated at Gus’ absence from the show as Walt’s been to find Gus missing from the lab.  It’s been a stretch of episodes that found our characters being moved into place by Breaking Bad‘s writers, and because the material’s been so unrelentingly dark during that stretch, it was absolutely fantastic to get an episode that was built around the high-tension (Walt’s race across town), dark comedy (Jesse’s interactions with– and attempts to annoy– Mike), and crafty writing (what Mike was doing with Jesse, and what the reasoning behind it all turned out to be) that have been hallmarks of this series for so long.  So that, in and of itself, made tonight’s episode a standout.

But, wait!  There’s more (“It’s not just your favorite episode of the season– it’s also a waffle-iron”)!  We got the triumphant (?) reunion of Skylar and Walt, with the two falling into bed before Skylar went ahead and decided that Walt would be moving back in the following week.  We got to see Jesse running on all cylinders, being given a sense of self-worth again by– of all people– Gus.  We got a few great moments from Walt’s son (those are always nice), and we got to see Hank being…well, maybe not “nice” to Marie again, but definitely more civil.  And on top of all that, we also got to see Walt undermine himself– perhaps moreso than ever before– after having a few too many glasses of wine at dinner.  What Walt tells Hank during that drunken, post-dinner conversation is probably going to end up being one of his biggest regrets.  Just you watch.

If I could get into spoiler-territory for a moment here (for those that haven’t seen tonight’s episode, that is), let’s talk for a minute about what happened with Jesse and Mike.  All week long, debate had raged online as to what Mike might do with Jesse after getting him out to the desert.  From the looks of last week’s “Next Week On…” promos, it kinda-sorta appeared that Mike was taking Jesse out to Tuco’s place, but it became apparent very quickly that that particular location had been misidentified:  it was just some random, dilapidated farmhouse.  When Mike retrieved a shovel from his car’s trunk and Jesse leaped out of the car– keys jammed between his fingers in a makeshift set of brass knuckles– it looked like it might be curtains for our favorite TV sidekick, but soon enough Mike was using the shovel to retrieve a bag of money out of the ground and telling Jesse, “We’ve got six more of these stops to make today and a lot of miles to cover, so let’s get going.”  It seemed that Jesse had been granted (yet another reprieve).

Over the course of what we gather was a very long day indeed for Mike, Gus’ right-hand man and Walt’s right-hand man made a series of dead-drops all over New Mexico, finally coming to rest outside a warehouse for their final pick-up.  Mike goes into the warehouse, leaving Jesse (who’d already asked for a gun– the better to protect all that money with, my dear– and been denied) alone, and suddenly a dark figure emerged from behind their parked car carrying a shotgun.  Thinking quickly, Jesse backed the money-filled car out of the area, took off into the night, and left Mike standing their with the last drop in his hand.  For a minute there, it looked like Mike would be furious with Jesse…and then Jesse returned.

We eventually learned that Gus had sent Jesse and Mike on this mission, and that the attempted robbery (read: the guy with the shotgun that Jesse very nearly killed while escaping) was all part of the plan.  Mike tells Gus, “Now he’s a hero, just like you wanted”, and suddenly it all became clear:  Gus wanted Jesse to have a reason to live again, and pulling off a successful mission with Mike at his side was a really good way to make that happen.  To sweeten the deal, Mike apparently made it clear to Jesse that they’d be working together more often, with Jesse telling Walt, “I guess I have two jobs”.

giancarlo-esposito-image-breaking-badThere’s a few ways you could choose to look at this, but here’s what I think: Gus kills a lot of birds with a lot of stones by keeping Jesse at Mike’s side.  Gus gets to instill in Jesse a feeling of self-worth (something he’s clearly not feeling anymore through his meth-work), he gets to keep tabs on Jesse, and– perhaps most importantly–he gets to keep Jesse busy.  If Jesse kept partying as heartily as he had been over the past few weeks, it was probably only a matter of time before the cops got called to Pinkman Manor, and once that happened, it might be a very quick hop-skip-and-a-jump to connecting Jesse’s house full of drugs-n-money to Gus.  If Jesse’s pulling double duty as a lab-worker and a sidekick-to-Mike, he’s got a lot less time left to party with, right?  Good thinking, Gus.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Gus hasn’t covered his ass as well as he’d hoped:  he may have stopped Jesse from putting himself in a position that’d lead the cops to Mike, but a Los Pollos Hermanos napkin left inside Gale’s apartment– recently noticed by Hank while pouring through the notes on Gale’s murder– might do the same damn thing.  Of course, Hank wouldn’t even have been looking over all that information if he hadn’t been provoked by Walter (O, irony, you are a cruel bitch), but Gus’ll probably never know that.

This was a great, great episode.  My favorite of the season so far (yes, even moreso than that crazy season premiere).  But what’d you guys think?  Sound off in the comments section below with your thoughts, predictions, hopes, dreams, and Breaking Bad-related aspirations:  I’m curious to know if you guys loved this episode as much as I did.  And don’t forget to meet back here– same bat-time, same bat-channel– for next week’s Breaking Bad recap.