As happy as I am that Vince Gilligan has been given the opportunity to take “Breaking Bad” to its conclusion on his own terms, allowing him to end it now rather than a season or two down the road, each new episode of this final batch continues to further cement just what a tremendous, gaping hole is going to be left in my television viewing habits when the series is gone for good.
I’m not trying to paraphrase the immortal Stiff Records slogan here—there are plenty of series beyond “Breaking Bad” that most certainly are worth a fuck—but no other show on television has ever…and I mean ever…grabbed me the collar the way this one does, making me so profoundly love and so deeply loathe its characters, often shifting between the two extremes within the same scene.
Given my generally “meh” feelings about the Todd and Lydia scene in last week’s episode, it may not be surprising to discover that the opening of this week’s episode at times inspired similar shoulder-shrugging. Again, it provided necessary momentum on meth-manufacturing matters, specifically that Todd’s going to be working with a new crew that’s definitely not exactly the same level of operation that gave him his big break, as it were. Given his call to Walt to offer an update on the “change in management,” I don’t know if we’re supposed to interpret that Todd’s uncertain about his new collaborators or not, but his tone seems to indicate that, at the very least, he’s still very concerned about having Walt’s approval. Someone referred to the conversation at the diner as “‘Pulp Fiction’ lite,” and if they were talking about similarities to Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, then I definitely see where they’re coming from. (It also makes it highly appropriate that Samuel L. Jackson was a special guest on “Talking Bad” this week.”) Between this and the “Star Trek”’ monologue, there’s definitely more than a little bit of Tarantino infiltrating these final episodes…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but—and I think I said this about the “Star Trek” monologue, too—I do wish it was a bit farther under the surface.
Hank’s conversation with Jesse proved to be far less intense than I’d anticipated, due to Hank having not only learned from their last close encounter, which was a decidedly more violent affair, but also from his investigation. He might seem like the least likely guy to play “good cop,” but damned if he didn’t pull it off. Not that it helped him very much: Jesse seemed initially to be veering between being in a state of shock and having an out-of-body experience, and once Hank’s reference to Walt being his brother-in-law shook him at least somewhat back to reality, he immediately (and understandably) shifted into bitter-and-angry mode, which he maintained to the point of acknowledging that, okay, yeah, he might be ready to talk, “but not to you.” Cue Saul Goodman, stepping in to save his client from saying anything further and defining the whole situation perfectly with a mere four words: “Things have gone nuclear.”
At last, Walt, Jr. makes the scene! He may be underused and underdeveloped (actually, there’s no “may be” about either of those things), and he’s the last of the series’ main characters to remain completely in the dark about Walt’s criminal activities, but in a single glance at his father, he still manages to see that his dad is not a well man. Given Walt’s ways, it’s obviously impossible to say for sure how much truth he managed to dole out in his conversation with his son, but at least he’s admitting that the cancer has reared its head again, even if his reason for doing so was to manipulate Jr. into staying with him rather than go over to ostensibly play I.T. guy for his Aunt Marie. The closer we get to the end of the series, the more I wonder if Jr. may end up forever unaware of the sort of man his father has been…and if he’ll be keeping that permanent innocence because someone decides to use Heisenberg’s son to send him a message.
We’ve seen a lot of love and tension both in the relationship of Hank and Marie, but it never seems to be worse than when he perceives that she’s trying to tell him how to do his job…which, unfortunately, is exactly what happens in advance of their meeting—and aborted meal—with Walt and Skyler…like that conversation needed any more tension. Wisely, Walt picked as public a restaurant as he could find, presumably in hopes of helping keep everyone’s voices down, although as my AntennaFree.TV comrade-in-arms Mike Moody mentioned in our roundtable conversation for the site (one that I missed out on this week, unfortunately), it also seemed to serve as a bit of an “Office Space” homage as well. In addition to seeing a glimpse of Hank’s original relationship with Walt resurfacing (“Step up and be a man”), the level of Marie’s loathing becomes clear when she tells him outright to just go ahead and kill himself, a position which would seem to spell the end of any possible chance of her and Skyler ever reconciling. The only way I see it happening at this point is if Walt unabashedly puts Skyler or, worse, one of his kids in harm’s way to save himself. If that happens, then I think Skyler would feel so betrayed that even the prospect of a lifetime of hearing Marie tell her “I told you so” wouldn’t be enough for her to stay on Walt’s side.
Okay, it’s time to ask: how about that “confession,” huh? There’s your no-holds-barred “holy shit” moment, my friend…several of them, in fact, all in a row…and it seems to go on forever. We already knew that Walt was a brilliant scientist and a masterful liar, but watching him weave this tremendous blanket of lies, interspersed with threads of the truth which are documentable and put Hank in places and situations which—in the context in which Walt has placed them—make Hank out to be basically the worst human being ever and, even more despicably, paint Walt as the victim. Hank’s pretty sure that Walt hasn’t shown it to anyone yet and that it’s just a threat to get him to back off, but by dropping in the discussion of Hank’s medical bills, the truth of what Marie’s done comes out, which Hank deems “the last nail in the coffin.” (Despite telling Marie, “You killed me here,” though, he seems to accept somewhere in his heart that she did it for the right reasons. That, or he believes himself to be so completely fucked that he can’t even find the energy to be mad at her anymore.) Hank still can’t bring himself to confide in Gomey, but he’s clearly not just going to sit around and let Walt keep the upper hand, either. I don’t know where’s he off to when we last saw him, but it can’t possibly bode well for Walt.
Time to wrap up with the lengthiest topic of discussion: the Jesse / Walt relationship. To say that it goes through some changes this episode would be a bit of an understatement, but it all starts with their conversation in the desert. At first, they’re all business, with Jesse filling Walt in on his encounter with Hank, but then Walt goes into dad mode, telling Jesse, “I don’t like to see you hurting like this,” and suggesting that “maybe it’s time for a change.” Although Jesse seems at first to be accepting the merit of “hitting the reset button,” Walt’s suggestion that he might someday come to view the goings-on of the past months as “nothing more than a bad dream” shakes him out of his reverie and causes him to ask, “Would you for once just stop working me for 10 seconds straight?” He just wants Walt to be honest and tell him that he doesn’t give a shit about him, that he wanted to meet him in the desert because he wanted to be in a position to “send him to Belize” if necessary, and given the way Jesse twitches when Walt approaches him, he clearly believed that his “travel arrangements” were in order. Whether Jesse burst into tears because he wants so badly to trust Walt one last time or because it’s the only reaction he can produce to not getting a knife in the back, who can say? But it doesn’t matter, really, given what goes down between Jesse and Saul.
We’ve known about Saul’s “guy” who can help people disappear for quite some time now, but it always seemed like it was going to be Walt who utilized him. Instead, Saul calls him up for Jesse, who once again seems full of contradictory emotions, but after trying and failing to toke up in Saul’s office, Jesse seems to accept the possibility that, yes, perhaps moving to Alaska might just have some merit to it after all. Indeed, if only Huell hadn’t done that switcheroo with his stash, he might well have been living the good life in Juneau by now. Unfortunately, seeing the pack of cigarettes where his baggie used to be set his neurons to firing much like “Leaves of Grass” did for Hank, and the next thing you know, Jesse’s beating the ever-living shit out of Saul Goodman. (If you’re not quite confident of what went down, Emilia Goodman gives a well-considered synopsis of why it works, even if your instinct is to think that it doesn’t.) For me, the most interesting thing about that ass-kicking was that the audio of Saul’s line about how he never would’ve done it if he’d known what Walt was going to do with the Ricin cigarette was used in some of the promos for the episode, yet when I heard it, I was quite convinced that it was being said by Jesse in the midst of Hank interrogating him. Was I the only one who thought that?
When Walt gets word of what’s happened, he’s understandably freaked out, rushing back to the car wash to get his gun in a scene where he seems to briefly channel Hal from “Malcolm in the Middle” while also confirming that, despite his ability to spin remarkably effective lies to just about everyone else, he’s pretty shitty at it when he’s making stuff up in conversation with Skyler. Fortunately for him, I think she’s probably past the point of no return when it comes to believing anything Walt has to say, anyway. The big question now, though, is whether or not Walt will end up using his gun next week.
It never occurred to me that Jesse might be the one who did the damage to the White house. In retrospect, though, it probably should’ve. There was never any way that Walt’s lies to his former partner weren’t going to catch up with him at some point. The only thing we’re waiting on now is how long it’ll be ‘til it gets out that Walt was responsible for Jane’s death, but you know it’s coming…and when it gets here, it’s gonna make this week’s reaction look like a toddler’s temper tantrum.