Let’s get it out of the way now: not only was this the best episode of the season to date – which, given the competition, is a pretty damned impressive feat in and of itself – but it has instantly vaulted into the elite category known as The Best “Breaking Bad” Episodes of All Time.
This is not hyperbole. This is fact.
And with this having been said, let’s get to talking about the proceedings, shall we?
What’s going down ‘round the hospital? Oh, wait, this isn’t a hospital: these are some of Gus’s guys, a rag-tag team of doctors who were clearly prepared for the eventuality that his preventative measures might not do the trick. Unfortunately, they’re not nearly as interested in helping out poor Mike, as evidence by when Jesse says, “This man needs help,” and the lead physician replies matter-of-factly, “This man pays my salary.”
Meanwhile, back at the SuperLab, Walt’s continuing to make with the meth under the watchful eye of Gus’s right-hand man, but as Walt reminds him for what must surely be the hundredth time, “If Pinkman’s gone, I’m done.” So what’s up with Walt’s figures being off? Is he just frazzled and not paying attention? If so, you have to admit that’s a little understandable, what with everything going on in his world…like, for instance, teaming up with Hank on a stakeout of the Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse. Walt’s less than subtle when asking about the status of the cartel, but it works: Hank’s heard rumblings that a major massacre went down, big even by cartel standards. In return, Hank starts asking about the bruises on his face, once again offering him a friendly ear, but Walt stiffens and snaps, “I’m done explaining myself.”
Looks like they found time to help Mike after all. Jesse discovers just how much advance planning Gus put into the goings-on in Mexico, and it’s clear that, although he’s shocked, he has considerable respect for the man. Moments later, the man himself emerges, looking tired but on his way to recovery. Unfortunately, Mike’s still going to be laid up for a week or more, but Gus assures Jesse that he’ll send for their friend as soon as he’s well enough to travel. The lead doc smiles and prescribes water and rest to Gus, and I swear, I think this was the most human I think we’ve ever seen Gus look. I don’t know how far they go back, but it’s got to be pretty damned far. And speaking of far, it’s a hell of a stroll back to the border, and it’s even longer once Gus casually comments that Jesse can run the lab himself. Jesse understands the implications…and he does not appreciate them.
Is the White’s daughter making an effort to rival the kid in “Raising Hope” for Cutest Baby on TV? If so, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. This show could use a bit of lightening-up right about now. The discussion between Ted and Skyler is horribly tense, and it only gets worse when Ted writes Skyler a check for $617K, refusing to pay off his debt with gambling-won funds. She argues that it’s no less wrong than her book-cooking. He disagrees. They reach an impasse when he won’t accept her theory that everybody’s going to prison if he doesn’t use her money to pay his debt. “So what you’re saying is that you can’t accept the money I gave you but you could accept a larger amount?” No, no, it’s about doing the right thing. She thinks he’s blackmailing her. Yes, this has gone horribly, horribly wrong, which is the only way it ever could have gone. So now what? Better call Saul!
There’s got to be some significance to Hector watching “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but all I could identify on the spur of the moment was the unabashed joy in Gus’s voice when he greeted his old “friend.” I actually laughed out loud when I heard the jangling of the Don’s necklace, but it was more than a little bit disconcerting to see Gus so unabashedly using Jesse as a prop. Say goodbye to the Salamanca name. “Look at me, Hector.” For a second, I actually wondered if Gus was going to hit Hector over the head with the folding chair. Jesse clearly doesn’t understand what’s just happened, but the impact is in no way lost on us.
Gus’s right-hand man is hanging out by Hank’s house again, eh? Well, that’s another case of “you can’t blame him.” Once Hank’s in the car, Walt continues to press his brother-in-law for details on the cartel situation, which – given Walt’s lack of subtlety – is tense enough, but when Hank wants to swing by the industrial laundry that serves as the front for the SuperLab, you can see the sweat beading on Walt’s brow even as Hank’s grinning from ear to ear about his discoveries and musing on how his life is turning into “Three Days of the Condor.” When Walt completely freaked out and not only intentionally missed the turn into the laundry but, indeed, veered into an oncoming car, my blood pressure was through the roof. Things are getting RIDICULOUS.
So Hank can barely walk, and now he’s in a neck brace, but he’s still looking suspiciously calm, calling Walt “Mr. Magoo.” Walt claims the other driver came out of nowhere, Hank points out that he absolutely did not, but the end result of their disagreement is that Marie orders Hank to stop having Walt drive him around…which is fine with Hank, since he’s ordered himself a “Gimp-Mobile.” It’s only a few moments after that when Skyler gets a callback from Saul, who’s sending some of his boys over to Ted’s place to threaten him into writing a check to the IRS. Ted’s freaking out, whining, “Skyler would never do this to me.” But, then, Ted doesn’t know Skyler nearly as well as he thinks he does. Sure, Saul’s muscle gets Ted to write the check to the IRS, but even as I was saying to myself, “There’s going to be repercussions, no doubt about it,” Ted made a break for it, tripped on the rug, and, uh, ow. Also, can I get a “holy shit”? You know, swear to God, when Ted tripped on the rug earlier in the episode, I thought, “Ha, that’s funny, I bet that was an accident that they decided to keep in because it felt real.” After almost four full seasons of this show, you’d think I’d know better by now than to think that anything in “Breaking Bad” is ever accidental.
Now that Hank’s got his eye on the laundry, Walt’s got to slip into the place under cover, resulting in a quick but classic exchange: “Does the laundry have to be dirty?” “Nope.” But if Walt’s grumpy about this, then you can imagine how pissed he is when he realizes that Jesse’s been making meth without him.
Cue the fast-forward to Jesse’s place, and…my God, it’s a whole new Jesse! He’s actually hanging out with his girl and her son. Unsurprisingly, given their previous encounter, Jesse has nothing to say to Walt, but Walt won’t give up. He’s desperate to apologize, and he wants to find out what’s going to happen now that Jesse’s cooking in his absence. Jesse snaps back, “The time I asked for your help, you said, ‘I hope you end up buried in a barrel in the Mexican desert.’” That’s got to hurt. Maybe not quite as much as being tasered and taken down by Gus’s boys, but, still, ow.
Cue another flash-forward. Walt’s in the desert, his hands are tied behind him, and he’s got a bag over his head. Gus, looking ever dapper and more than a little bit crazed, rips off the the bag and whips out a rapid-fire warning: “You are done. Fired. Do not show your face at the laundry again. Stay away from Pinkman. Do not go near him. Ever.”
Fucking Walt. He had to ask, “Or else you’ll do what?” But the man’s got a point: if Gus could kill him, he already would have, which means that Jesse, no matter how much hatred he may still have for Walt in his heart, still doesn’t want to see Walt dead…at least for now. “He’ll come around,” Gus says ominously, then proceeds to clarify exactly what’s going to go down. In a nutshell, Hank’s going to be taken out, and Walt’s not going to do a damned thing about it, because if he does…well, I’ll let Gus’s clarification speak for itself:
“If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter: I will kill your wife, I will kill your son, I will kill your infant daughter.”
That’s what I’m saying, mind you. But it’s probably what was going through Walt’s mind, too. And Saul’s, for that matter, after Walt blew into his office and screamed, “Gus is going to murder my whole family!” Understandably, Walt’s decided that it’s time to move forward on the whole identity-wiping thing. God bless Saul Goodman: I wouldn’t have thought anything could break the tension, but damned if he didn’t get a laugh out of me when he asked, “What’d you expect? Hadji’s Quick Vanish?” My anxieties all came rushing back, however, at the horror on Saul’s face at the thought of having to narc on Gus to the DEA. Of course, we know from later events that he makes the call, but the bigger question is whether or not there’ll be any repercussions for our favorite ambulance chaser. Maybe Gus will figure Walt’s the one who made the call, as well he might, but given the way this season has gone down to date, I find myself fearing the worst for Mr. Goodman.
And so we venture into the crawlspace…and, holy shit, what can I possibly say about this scene? Any sentence beginning with the words “if Bryan Cranston doesn’t win an Emmy” is pointless, as at this point I cannot imagine a scenario where he would not earn one for Season 4 of “Breaking Bad.” Vince Gilligan has spent ages telling us how he was taking Walter White from Mr. Chips to Scarface, but what we’ve got on our hands now is one of the most pathetic individuals I’ve ever seen in my life…and his wife is nipping at his heels. Skyler may have started the season strong, but her actions in the past few episodes have only served to confirm my theory that it’s never a good thing to find one’s inner Heisenberg. (Maybe I shouldn’t have bought that pork pie hat after all…) The sight and sound of Walt’s laughter in the crawlspace is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen since Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise in “Stephen King’s ‘It.’” It’s nothing short of horrifying…and it’s going to be haunting me for quite some time.
So what do you say? Do you agree with me? Was this one of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes of all time? Discuss. And after that (or possibly during), please enjoy this possible new theme song for Walt…
Tags: Aaron Paul, Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad blog, Breaking Bad fourth season, Breaking Bad Season 4, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Cousins, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring, Jesse Pinkman, Jonathan Banks, Saul Goodman, Skyler White, Steven Bauer, Ted Beneke, Walter White