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Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Paul’

Breaking Bad - Courtesy AMC

Well, there you have it – everything is out in the open now. Hank and Walt’s epic showdown from last week was mirrored by an equally tense (but more tearful) faceoff between Marie and Skyler. The dawning sense of betrayal that came over Marie’s face as she realized that Skyler has known about Walt’s activities (to some extent) far longer than she (or Hank) had ever imagined was perfect and heartbreaking. When faced with it all laid out in front of her, Skyler could do nothing but cry and feebly apologize. When she was in it, she made the decisions that she had to in order to protect her family (from the man who protects their family) and she could compartmentalize things. But when Marie laid everything out for her, she was forced to look at the enormity of it all.

Or maybe she first realized the enormity of things when Hank called her, panicked, from the garage. Hank was quicker on the trigger than Walt (I loved hwo the shots were framed as a Wild West standoff as the garage door slowly closed) and he got Skyler on the phone first. As she walked into the diner, it was clear that Skyler felt like she was walking into a trap. And Hank was so focused on the end goal of nailing Walt that he completely misread the situation. He went into full cop mode, interrogating Skyler with the same tactics that he’d use to interrogate the average street drug dealer. But Hank failed to realize that Skyler might have been culpable in some of Walt’s crimes. He never stopped to consider that Skyler might be the one laundering the money and, as such, she might be a little reluctant to tell all the details of Walt’s crimes to a DEA agent, particularly one who insists that she did not need a lawyer. Hank’s strongarm tactics might work on average drug dealers, but Skyler is smarter than that. She needed time to think and formulate a plan, so she caused a scene and ran out, leaving Hank alone with his recorder.

Meanwhile, when he was unable to reach Skyler, Walt went straight to Saul. After immediately shutting down Saul’s suggestion that he simply send Hank to Belize (“I’ll send YOU to Belize” might be one of my favourite Breaking Bad lines ever), Walt went straight into damage control mode. Huell and Kuby went and brought him the money from the storage unit (after going full-on Scrooge McDuck, of course) and Walt took it to the site of his and Jesse’s original cook. Without the benefit of a team or big machinery like he had while he was burying barrels for the train heist, Walt spent all day digging by hand. After concealing the GPS co-ordinates as lottery ticket numbers, he immediately collapsed in front of Skyler in their master bathroom.

Awaking hours later on the cold bathroom floor (albeit with a pillow under his head and a blanket covering him), Walt was possibly at the lowest point he’d been since his moment of panic in the crawlspace. Dabbing his forehead tenderly, Skyler asks him if it’s true that the cancer is back. He confirms it and offers to give himself up, provided that she never speak of the money and keep it for Walt Jr. and Holly. However, the ever-pragmatic Skyler recognizes that this would never be possible. Hank tipped his hand to her during the interrogation – he didn’t have enough to get Walt on his own. He needed Skyler’s statement. For the time being, Skyler suggests, the best course of action would be to stay quiet. Never have the phrases “stay quiet” and “tread lightly” promised so much explosiveness in the weeks to come.

This explosiveness might come in the form of Jesse Pinkman. Like some kind of guilt-ridden drug-dealing Hansel, Jesse left a trail of thousands of dollars that led first a bewildered citizen and then the police right to him. Just as Hank was about to present his case to his boss without the solid proof he so badly needed, he found out that the one remaining living connection to Walt was in lockup at that very moment. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out if Jesse’s disillusion about Walt is enough to convince him to flip on Walt. Jesse may resent him and be consumed by guilt but will that be enough to overcome a lifetime’s worth of not talking to the police? Not to mention the fact that admitting everything would also send Jesse to jail for, at the very least, killing Gale. Will Hank be better at getting information out of him than he was at getting it out of Skyler?

Theory Time:

  • I don’t think Jesse will give Walt up. I think there’s too much history there, both between him and Walt and between him and Hank. As much as he hates Walt at this moment, I still think Jesse hates Hank more.
  • In the flash-forward, Walt is on the run with Skyler and maybe (probably?) the kids. That’s why his fake last name is Lambert (Skyler’s maiden name), not because he killed her. After seeing his refusal to even entertain the idea of killing Hank, I don’t think there’s any way he kills Skyler. She still might die, but not by Walt’s hand. If that’s the case, then I think he’s coming back to protect her/them somehow. The ricin and the machine gun must be to finish off whoever is still standing in their way.

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Well, after a long “mid-season” break (both for the show and for my blogging “career”), Breaking Bad is back with a vengeance.

Last night’s episode was pretty much perfect, as far as I’m concerned, from the continuation of the flash-foward from the season premiere, to the final showdown in Hank’s garage. It struck a perfect balance between slowly revealing Walt’s new post-Heisenberg life and then immediately destroying that false sense of security with Walt’s realization that Hank is onto him and their subsequent cards-on-the-table confrontation.

But before I get to that, we need to talk about Jesse. Poor Jesse never really had a heart for the whole breaking bad thing, did he? He’s a shell of himself, sitting in his depressingly empty house (except for his bitching sound system, of course), starting into the distance, numbing his pain with pot and inane Badger-Skinny Pete Star Trek fanfic. He took Walter’s sarcastic and manipulative comment about Jesse’s money being “blood money” to heart and as a consequence, the suitcases filled with $5 million eat away at his soul like a tumour eating away at his insides. He tries to have them surgically removed, telling Saul to give half to dirtbike kid’s family and the other half to Mike’s granddaughter, and he doesn’t care what kind of questions a random $2.5 million will raise. He just wants the poison out of his life so that he can start to try to heal.

Of course, Saul calls Walt for a second opinion and he immediately brings the money back to Jesse. In the conversation, Jesse reveals that he still has the ability to think critically, recognizing (as Lydia did last season) that Walt would not have killed Mike’s men if Mike was still around to do anything about it. No matter how much Walt insists that Mike is alive and perfectly capable of taking care of his own granddaughter, Jesse knows the truth. And he can also finally see beyond Walt’s blatant attempts at manipulation. “I need you to believe me,” Walt repeatedly asks, until Jesse finally gives in. “I believe you,” he says. “He’s alive.” But the tears swimming in his bloodshot eyes and the fact that he can’t even look at his former mentor when he says these words reveal the truth.

In the end, Jesse gets rid of the money the only way he can think of. Inspired by a homeless man who asks for some “spare change”, Jesse gives him a stack of bills and then drives off to the bad part of town, throwing money out of his window as he goes. With every toss, the emotion of the past year comes out until Jesse is driving with tears in his eyes and a mixture of sadness, grief, rage, and maybe just a little bit of relief on his face. I hope that this catharsis is what Jesse needs to regain some of his sharpness and clarity in the coming days and weeks. Something tells me he’s going to need it.

Meanwhile, Hank goes on an emotion-filled drive of his own, emerging from the bathroom with Leaves of Grass stowed in Marie’s bag and a sudden, visceral need to get out of the White house and away from Walt. He has an anxiety attack on the road, hitting a mailbox and getting sent to the hospital to rule out a heart attack. Once home, Hank immediately gets his old Gale Boetticher file and compares the handwriting to Walt’s book – it’s a perfect match. He spends the next week at home alone, getting the Gus Fring evidence boxes brought to his garage. I enjoyed watching Hank meticulously map out everything, make connections, and remember things in a different light. Hank is a good investigator but until now he was blinded to Walt’s true identity because of their family connections. Now he’s able to see the events of the past year or so in full clarity and it’s terrifying and enraging all at once.

Meanwhile, although Walt and Skyler seem to be largely back on the same page (they’re even dressing in complimentary cream colours), running the car wash (and maybe even planning for an empire of car washes), Walt can’t quite resist keeping some secrets. Sure, he tells Skyler who Lydia really was when she comes to the car wash to try and entice him back to hold a “training session” but he hasn’t told her that the cancer has returned. We see him receiving chemotherapy and jumping up from a family dinner to run and vomit in the toilet. It’s then that he makes the discovery that his copy of Leaves of Grass is missing. After a futile search of the bathroom and the area around the nightstand, Walt realizes the only explanation – Hank must have it, and his mysterious illness must be a direct result of his new discovery.

Walt’s suspicions are confirmed when he checks his car and finds a GPS device like the one he helped Hank place on Gus’ car another lifetime ago. The next day, he shows up at Hank’s house, his fake-nice-guy smile plastered on his face. In true Breaking Bad fashion, there is no dragging out of the cat-and-mouse game, though. Walt shows Hank the GPS, Hank shuts the garage door behind him, and it’s on. I cheered when Hank punched Walt right in his lying face. The anger and betrayal written on Hank’s face were matched by glimpses of Heisenberg behind Walt’s facade. Admitting no guilt, Walt asked what could be gained by prosecuting a man who’s dying of cancer and who would never see the inside of a jail cell as a result. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to believe Walt or if he’s just saying anything to try to get Hank to drop it. In the end, though, it’s clear that Walt will not go down without a fight. After Hank tells Walt that he doesn’t know him anymore, Walt replies, with the perfect mixture of aggression and regret, “If you don’t know who I am, maybe your best course of action is to tread lightly.” Bryan Cranston plays that moment to perfection. Here’s a man who’s killed more people than I care to count, but there’s something different about realizing that your relative, someone you’ve known for over twenty years, knows the truth. If it was anyone else, Heisenberg would have killed him and had Todd get the barrels ready. But because it’s Hank, it’s not that easy. There will be no way to get out of this cleanly. Both men are going to have to tread lightly and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Of course, we already know to an extent what will happen. Thanks to the cold open, we know that within the year, everyone will know that Walt was Heisenberg. Their abandoned house had it spray painted on the inside, and Walt’s former neighbour reacted with terror when she saw him leaving the house after retrieving the ricin from behind the outlet. Armed with the ricin and a machine gun in the trunk, it’s clear that Walt has returned with only violence on his mind. The question is, who will be in his path?

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Last week, Walt asserted that he was in the empire business. This week, Heisenberg is a brand like Yankees and Coca-Cola. His ego-filled monologue was enough to convince the rival meth moguls to go all in on his plan, with the added bonus of confirming his legendary status. “I’m the man who killed Gustavo Fring,” Walt brags. After Mike nods in confirmation, Declan identifies him as Heisenberg. “You’re goddamn right,” Walt sneers and you can almost see his ego swelling to the size of the New Mexico desert.

Through the rest of the episode, though, it starts to seem like the opening monologue was the apex of the Heisenberg legend; the beginning of the end. Having secured Mike’s $5 million (convincing the rivals to pay it out up front as a finder’s fee), Walt seems content to send him on his way. With the other groups involved, he no longer needs Mike’s distribution services and besides, Mike doesn’t give Walt the unending praise he so desperately needs. What really throws Walt for a loop is Jesse’s steadfast assertion that he’s still out. Walt can only blow off Jesse’s requests for his $5 million share for so long before Jesse quits being passive and refuses to play along anymore. When Mike leaves, he tells Jesse to look out for himself and he finally does, refusing to help Walt clean their equipment, refusing to play the role of student any longer. Walt uses every tool in his manipulation repertoire to convince him to stay, but nothing works. After manipulating him into cutting ties with Andrea and Brock, Walt tries to use the fact that Jesse has no one to turn to once he gets out. It’s not clear whether Jesse makes that connection, but if anything it makes him more determined to leave. Walt’s last desperate plea – that if Jesse leaves now, he won’t get any money – reveals how tone-deaf he is about what Jesse thinks is important. I cheered as Jesse finally found the strength to cut ties – I can only hope that his conviction stays.

If Walt is sad about his student/surrogate son’s absence, he doesn’t mourn for long. It’s a brilliant scene where Walt suits up for the cook alone before joining a waiting Todd inside the tent. In a gorgeous montage, Walt walks Todd through the steps and it’s clear that Walt needs a student almost as much as Heisenberg needs recognition. He needs someone around to appreciate his genius, and Todd plays his role perfectly. He’s the perfect student that Jesse never was, taking detailed notes, going through them on their lunch break, and refusing to discuss money until he gets the cook right. Walt should be careful about Todd – has he forgotten what happened to Gale (and what would have happened to him if they hadn’t killed Gale first?) Walt and Jesse’s partnership worked because of everything they went through together to get where they were. Todd is a psychopath who writes off killing kids as “shit happens” and is showing uncomfortable eagerness to rise in the business.

Of course, caution is no longer Walt’s strong suit. He goes back to the DEA office to retrieve the bugs, and he uses the exact same strategy to get Hank out of the office. This time, it doesn’t work as well, as he has to prompt Hank to go get him some coffee. Heisenberg needs to be better than that, Walt. While there, Walt manages to overhear that Hank and Gomie have caught a break in the Ehrmantraut case by following the lawyer hired to restock the safe deposit boxes with cash to ensure the loyalty of Mike’s 9 men. I’m not entirely convinced on the legality of the whole DEA operation, but it’s clear that the lawyer has cracked and is ready to give them all up. In a fit of desperation, Walt calls and warns Mike. He somehow manages to shake the police presence at the park, but Mike knows the game is up. He managed to put most of his $5 million in a safe deposit box for his granddaughter’s 18th birthday, but the look on his face when he’s forced to abandon her for good is heartbreaking.

From hiding, Mike calls Saul and asks him to bring his go-bag (a duffle bag full of cash, his passport, and a gun) to him since he can’t  go retrieve it himself. Saul can’t go because the police will be following his car. Jesse offers to take it, but Mike won’t hear of it (you can tell he’s still hoping that Jesse will break free and he’s reluctant to put him in harm’s way). Walt is the only one left.

The final scene was perfect – one last showdown between the former enemies, the former uneasy partners. Mike has never deferred to Walt, never given him the adoration he feels he deserves. Instead, Mike tells it like it is. Walt demands that Mike give him the list of names in exchange for the bag, but Mike’s refuses, grabbing the bag out of Walt’s hands and walking resignedly back to his car. He would’ve gotten away, except Walt throws out a sarcastic “you’re welcome,” and Mike can’t take it anymore. He retaliates with the truth: “All of this falling apart is on you. You and your pride and ego. You had to be the man. If you’d done your job, and known your place, we’d all be fine right now.” There’s nothing there that Walt can refute, and perhaps that’s what makes him so pissed off. Using the gun that he took from Mike’s bag, he shoots him as he sits in his car, having just discovered the gun’s missing. He stumbles from the car down to the water’s edge, and Walt finds him slumped on a rock.

The moment where Walt stands over Mike is perhaps the first glimpse we’ve seen of Walt’s humanity this entire season. He seems shaken, realizing out loud that Lydia had the names and he could’ve just gotten them from her. He apologizes, saying that this whole thing could be avoided. He’s just talking about Mike’s death in that moment, but I wonder if Walt is beginning to realize just how much of this didn’t need to happen. I’m wondering if this signals a change in Walt. If he realizes just how monstrous he’s become. He just shot a man, a man who had been the closest thing to a friend he’s had in a long time, because his feelings got hurt. How pathetic is that? Maybe now he’ll begin to see why Jesse wants out, maybe he’ll begin to see that he still has a chance to get out himself.

On the other hand, why did Walt steal the gun if he wasn’t planning on killing Mike all along?

 

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Now THAT’s an episode of Breaking Bad. It had it all – humour, heartbreak, and hubris. The Walter White Triple-H trifecta.

The cold open was brilliant, showing Walt, Mike, and Todd (and a conspicuously absent Jesse) silently and methodically dismantle the dirtbike, place it into plastic tubs, and melt the evidence away. The shot of Todd digging out the kid’s hand from the dirt and Walt rolling out one more barrel was perfect – now it’s the kid’s turn to be dismantled. No loose ends.

Except for Todd. Stupid, ambitious, loud-mouthed Todd. His justifications all rang true – he saw a risk and he took care of it, no one could know about the robbery except for the three of them – but, coming from his mouth, they seemed hollow. He spoke too loudly, too openly, too plainly. He doesn’t fit in with the other three, who looked worn down, exhausted, and troubled. As his conversation with Jesse proved later, Todd was able to write this whole thing off as “shit happens” (it’s worth remembering that Skyler accused Walt of running an operation where killing people is written off as “shit happens”). I cheered when Jesse punched him, but we quickly find out that they would have been better off killing him.  I’m not sure how Todd’s keeping of the tarantula jar will come into play, but I think it’s safe to say that keeping a fingerprint-covered souvenir will come back to haunt them at some point.

Instead of killing him, however, Walt and Mike vote to keep Todd on payroll. He’s off any other future “missions,” but he’ll continue to set up their lab and work for the pest control business. Mike writes off Todd’s proclamation that he has “connections” in jail through his uncle, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see that come up again in the future. For now, though, the immediate impact of Todd’s continued existence is as a reminder of the cost of being in the meth business. On their lunch break, Jesse stumbles across a news report of the missing kid and breaks down, telling Walt that he can’t stop thinking about what his poor parents are going through. Walt unconvincingly agrees that he’s had trouble sleeping too, before telling Jesse that his soul-searching can wait until they’ve cooked all the methylamine and made their money. He sends Jesse home for the day and Jesse watches while Walt literally whistles while he works. Clearly, his conscious isn’t all that bothered. Jesse then gets a mysterious phone call and leaves. I think we’re supposed to think it was Mike calling, but that’s never spelled out. With how little we’ve seen of Jesse outside of Walt this season, I’m not giving up on the idea (perhaps the hope?) that he might be up to something else.

For now, though, Mike and Jesse come up with a plan where they can both get out. Mike’s tired of throwing DEA tails and Jesse can’t handle being in the business of kid-killing any longer so they’re going to sell their share of the methylamine to a contact of Mike for $5 million each – and Walt can get in on it if he wants. Of course, he refuses. What’s $5 million compared to the $350 million it will be worth once it’s cooked? He’s pissed off, but there’s nothing he can do at the moment. Mike and Jesse go to meet Mike’s contact Declan in the desert, and once again, Walt is proven to be indispensable. Declan isn’t willing to pay $15 000/gallon just for the methylamine. He’s also paying for the market share – he’s willing to pay the high price to get Heisenberg’s blue meth off the market for good. Either they sell him the full 1000 gallons, or no deal at all. If Mike and Jesse want to retire, they need to get Walt on board.

Jesse’s meeting with Walt goes down, much to Jesse’s surprise, at Walt’s house. He hesitatingly arrives, but Walt assures him that it’s fine. Walt is the king of his castle now, and he can do whatever he wants – no secrets. In their conversation, Jesse tries to convince Walt that selling the methylamine for $5 million isn’t selling out for “nothing,” but Walt refuses, citing his past at Gray Matter. He founded the company, he developed the patents, and then he sold his share for $5000. He reveals that he checks the company’s valuation every week, and it’s currently worth $2.16 billion. He sold his kids’ birthright for a few months’ rent and he won’t do it again. Jesse asks him if he’s in the meth business or the money business, and Walt replies that he’s in the empire business. The thing about empires, though, is that you have to have someone to hand them down to or they don’t last. With Walt alienating his partners, I wonder if he’s beginning to consider bringing Walt, Jr. into the fold.

This revelatory scene is immediately followed by one of the funniest scenes in the entire series – Skyler comes home, and Walt exercises his power over both of them by insisting that Jesse stay for dinner and insisting that Skyler pretend it’s alright. Jesse’s hilariously awkward small talk during dinner is amplified by Skyler’s refusal to engage. Jesse tells her that he really likes how she made the green beans and she replies that she bought them pre-made. Jesse then goes on a rant about how bad the frozen dinners that he usually eats are (“it’s like, what happened to truth in advertising?”), before he lamely attempts to compliment Skyler by telling her that Mr. White has been telling him what a great job she’s doing running the car wash. She asks him if Walt’s also told him about her affair, before asking to be excused from the table and taking the bottle of wine with her. Walt can no longer pretend to have it all, so he shifts tack and tells Jesse what he must already know – his family is gone and all he has left is the business. It’s sad and pathetic, but at least it’s honest.

Whether Jesse told Mike of Walt’s desperation or whether Mike is just smart enough to realize it himself, he’s waiting at the pest control business when Walt comes in the middle of the night to try to steal the methylamine. The deal is going down in the morning and Mike won’t let Walt ruin that. They sit up all night together, before Mike reveals that he has to run a quick errand before his meeting. He ties up Walt by attaching him to the radiator with a plastic zip tie while he goes to the DEA with Saul to get a temporary restraining order that will allow him to go about his business for the day without a DEA tail. Of course, leaving Walt on his own is never a good idea, and he immediately begins to McGyver a solution. As Walt was stripping the wires and fashioning himself a soldering iron of sorts to burn the plastic (and his wrist), I was surprised to find myself actively rooting against him for maybe the first time in the whole series. I didn’t want Walt to escape because I desperately wanted Jesse and Mike to have a chance to get away from him. Jesse still has a chance at a normal, productive life, but not if he keeps getting sucked back in to Walt’s black hole. He took a huge first step towards independence by going against Walt’s demands and advocating for Mike’s plan, but by the time Mike arrives back and finds the empty warehouse, Jesse has been sucked back into Walt’s dangerous universe. Mike furiously holds a gun to Walt’s head, but Jesse begs him to hear Walt out – he has a plan and it could work, Jesse insists. Walt states calmly, “everybody wins.”

I don’t pretend to know what Walt’s plan is, but I highly doubt anyone will win. What I do know is that Jesse may have lost his best chance at getting free of Walt and his cancer.

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As this episode was winding to a close, as Jesse and Todd were waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Walt to give the okay to unhook the hoses and jump off (or stay under) the train, I was starting to write this blog post in my head. I was thinking about how, while the train heist was fun and beautiful to watch and agonizingly slow in its full execution, it ultimately was part of a larger season in which not much has happened. After Gus’ death, there was bound to be a few episodes of explanation, of set up, of establishing the new ground rules after Walt blew the others into oblivion, but I was waiting for the old Breaking Badwhich had full episodes where you didn’t dare to look away, and barely dared to breathe because something terrible was about to happen (we just didn’t know what). As tense and heart-pounding as the train heist was, there wasn’t really a doubt in my mind that they would pull it off. The suspense was a testament to the filming and the pacing, not to the scenario itself.

And then the dirtbike kid shows up.

And Todd – eager-to-please Todd who apparently takes everything absolutely literally – waves, pulls out his gun, and shoots him. He doesn’t need permission from his bosses, because they’ve told him explicitly that “no one other than us can ever know that this robbery went down.” Todd’s just following orders, but, as Hank tells Walt at the beginning of the episode “Being the boss can be kind of a grind,” and it’s going to be up to Walt to figure out how to deal with this colossal fuck-up.

I think he’ll probably have to kill Todd now too. Yes, he proved himself to be a loyal henchman, but a loyal henchman with no foresight is a liability. I don’t think there was any reason to kill that kid. Let’s say he did go home and tell his parents – what would he have told them? He saw some guys working on the train tracks? He saw some people climb on a train when it stopped? And the people were three generic white men? Even if the parents told the cops, and the cops were able to find the spot where the robbery took place, presumably Walt and Co. would have removed the barrels and any evidence would have been gone. It would definitely have presented the problem of figuring out a new way to get the precursor, but that’s hardly insurmountable (as they’ve shown in the past). Plus, the kid telling his parents is a big “if.” He’s probably more interested in his spider than what some grownups are doing by the train, and who’s to say his parents even believe him/take it seriously if he does tell him?

Of course, there’s no time for Walt or Jesse or Mike to think about these different scenarios because Todd made the split second decision. All that they can do now is deal with the fallout. First, they’re going to have to get rid of the body, but even if they dissolve the kid (which they’re probably going to have to do, since you can’t exactly make bullet wounds look like a dirtbike accident), his disappearance will inevitably set off a search party to comb over every inch of desert. So that’s not good. On top of the practical fallout, Walt’s going to have to deal with Jesse’s emotions again. If Walt doesn’t kill Todd, it’s going to look like he tacitly approves of kid-killing, which is something that we’ve seen that Jesse will absolutely not stand for. With only 3 episodes left in this shortened season, I think we’ll finally see the rift between Walt and Jesse building again. Jesse might not make the connection between Dirtbike Kid and Brock, but he won’t be able to work with someone who shoots kids in cold blood. Mike will also have a difficult time working with Walt after this – not because he cares one way or another about the kid, but because of the complications it brings. It’s true that he’s the one who says “there are only two kinds of heists: those where the guys get away with it, and those that leave witnesses,” but I don’t think even Mike would have advocated killing the kid. Hell, as much as they’re making Walt into the new Jesse James this season (or is he the new Robert Ford?), I don’t think even those guys would have killed the kid.

The rest of the episode, even before the kid’s death was revealed, was a bit bland for me. Sure Walt has now bugged Hank’s office (thanks to some great acting and quick thinking), but it appears they only wanted to do that to find out if Lydia was telling the truth about not planting the GPS devices (turns out, those idiots in Houston planted them on all the barrels, thereby necessitating the train heist in the first place). Skyler’s also decided that she’ll be whoever Walt wants her to be as long as the kids stay at Hank and Marie’s, and Hank and Marie love having the kids (well, Holly anyway). The only other hiccup might be Walt Jr., who’s becoming more and more angsty as his forced exile drags on. His refusal to cede to Walt’s orders might prove to be problematic.

But, then again, we saw tonight that obeying Walt’s every command can also lead to death and destruction. No matter how much planning goes in to everything Walt does, he’s still  in a dangerous business with moving parts and unpredictable people. He can’t control everything, he can only clean up the messes after the fact.

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I had company all weekend and was only able to watch Sunday’s episode late last night. I can certainly say that it was well worth the wait!

First, we have Skyler finally snapping out of her trance-like depression and attempting to take action against her increasingly intolerable husband. The cars were the first nudge, I think. Walt, at the sight of his Heisenberg hat in the indestructible Aztek, decides he’s done with the reliable, safe car (which will certainly outlive him) and leases fancy sports cars for himself and Walt, Jr. While previously Skyler was able to force Walt to return this flashy impracticality, now she is impotent, forced to listen to Walt and his son compare horsepower. Junior might still think his dad is a dork who drives like a geezer, but he’s certainly cooler than his wet-blanket mom. As if that wasn’t sign enough, Walt confirms that he’s started cooking again by plunking down a few stacks of bills in front of her in the bathroom. Skyler can no longer bear the thought of her kids being in this environment, being open to Walt’s corruption, so she begins to tentatively see if Walt will let the kids out of his grasp. She suggests boarding school for Junior, which Walt brushes off, but then Skyler makes a mistake when she reveals that her reasoning is to get the kids out of the home environment. There’s nothing wrong with the environment, Walt insists. Life is good, he murmurs as he kisses her neck, and she can participate in this good life by throwing him a birthday party complete with chocolate cake.

The next day, Walt skips out on the cook cleanup early (will this sloppiness come back to haunt him if it becomes a habit?) and heads home to what he expects to be his huge birthday party. Instead, Skyler is defiantly microwaving some food, waiting for only Hank and Marie to arrive. However, there will be chocolate cake, as requested. After dinner, by the pool, Junior takes off to cruise around in his new car, and the adults make awkward small talk. As Walt begins to construct his version of the past year, placing Skyler in the role as his caregiver and champion, Skyler wanders from the table to the edge of the glowing blue pool. Soon, she’s literally sinking, walking forward into the glowing waters like Ophelia or Virginia Woolf. She goes under and the voices stop, if only for a moment. The visuals of this scene were stunning – Skyler’s skirt floating around her, the blank stare in her eyes under the cold water, and Walt grabbing her, forcing her to return to the world she abhors.

At first, it seems that it might have been a legitimate suicide attempt (or, at least as legitimate as it can get with three people standing right there), and Hank and Marie offer to help Walt find counselling for her. Walt thinks he’s won again, with Skyler’s stunt just another aspect to his role as the victim. First she cheats on her cancer-stricken husband, and then she tries to commit suicide? Walt can hardly believe her stupidity and his luck. But then, Marie suggest that they take the kids for a few days to give them space, and Walt realizes he may have underestimated his wife. Walt lets her win this small battle, sending Holly home with Hank and Marie, but the confrontation in the bedroom amounts to the first open declaration of war between the two of them.

Skyler finally finds her voice, refusing to pretend to be asleep, refusing to swallow any of Walt’s platitudes about doing things for the good of the family. She tells him that she might be compromised, but she will not have her children living in the house where murders and drug dealing are considered par for the course. Walt puts on his Heisenberg face and presses her for her plan. He has an answer for everything she can come up with. If she hurts herself, he’ll have her committed. If she says he hurts her, he’ll make sure the police (and Walt, Jr.) find out about Ted and her role in his finances. He forces her to admit that she doesn’t have a plan, she’s not like him with an answer for everything, until finally she realizes that she only has one play. The only thing she can do is wait. For what, asks Heisenberg the Immortal. Skyler tells him innocently, coldly, and matter-of-factly, “for the cancer to come back.” Finally, there’s something that Walt doesn’t have an answer to. The look on his face shows that perhaps he forgot. He’s so deep into this that he doesn’t remember why he started in the first place. He might be able to take down Gus, but he can’t stop himself from being destroyed from within. Skyler may not have a long-term solution, but every day the kids are away is a day closer to the day when Walt is gone forever. In the end, I saw her chain smoking as her way of encouraging the cancer. She might not be able to concoct poison like Walt the chemist, but she’s not afraid to use what’s at her disposal. (And still, the vial of ricin sits ominously behind the socket in the bedroom. Could Walt be starting to think of using it on the enemy within his own home? At what point will Skyler become too much of a liability for Heisenberg?)

Meanwhile, Mike is again putting out fires all over the place. He’s probably watching Madrigal (or at least Lydia), as he calls to warn her that the DEA are about to arrive. She gives up her guy in the warehouse but, as Hank notes, no one is talking. Lydia reveals herself to be just as panicky in this episode, screaming into a pillow, and wearing mismatched shoes (which Hank notices but doesn’t comment on until later). Mike sends “a new guy” to pick up the precursor, and Lydia quizzes Jesse until she’s convinced he isn’t an undercover cop. She notices the tracking device on the bottom of the container and convinces Jesse to leave empty handed. Back at Vamanos Pests, Mike realizes that Lydia must have planted the device to make them think that she was being watched and force them to look elsewhere. Mike announces that she’s dead, lamenting the fact that he didn’t do it earlier (“That’s what I get for being sexist”) but Jesse, apparently the new moral compass of this operation, insists that it’s a voting thing. Since Lydia’s death would lead to a “ramping down” of operations, Walt apparently votes for her to continue to live, but it’s clear that next week will involve a change in Lydia’s participation.

As Walt leaves, Jesse runs up to him and gives him his birthday present – a Rolex. I’m not sure what to make of the symbolism of the watch. Walt shows it off to Skyler as an indication of changed opinions – not so long ago, Jesse pointed a gun at his face and threatened to kill him, now he’s giving him a birthday present. Did Jesse mean it as a gesture of apology? As a symbol of their renewed solidarity? Did he just want to get him something nice for his birthday? Now that Jesse’s alone again, he doesn’t have much else to spend his money on, and buying a watch for his surrogate father seems like as good of an option as any. What about the ominous way the episode ended, with the ticking of the second hand? Does this just mean that Walt’s time is slowly running out? The DEA is getting steadily (if slowly) closer, and, as Skyler reminded him, the cancer is lying dormant inside of him, waiting to strike at any moment. Or was it a callback to Mike’s characterization of Walt as a ticking time bomb? Or, could it be something far more concrete – we haven’t seen much of Jesse in these past episodes, how much do we really know about what he’s thinking. Could he have placed a GPS or a listening device in the watch? I don’t think he’s working for the DEA, but he had a good relationship with Mike, and after that Icarus conversation, it’s not impossible that Jesse could have begun to see the benefit of having as much information about Walt as possible.

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The question of this episode is: How can Walt be at once so brilliant and so blindingly short-sighted?

First, it’s Walt who has the ability to see the genius potential in Vamanos Pest as a front for setting up his meth labs.  It calls back to their original set up in the Crystal Ship, but its sophistication shows how far they’ve come in less than a year. The scene where Walt and Jesse cook in the empty house was perfection – it’s simple and poetic, just two partners and the chemistry. It’s a nice reprieve, as everything outside of the chemistry is becoming more and more complicated.

Mike picks up right where he left off last week, trying to ensure the continued loyalty and silence of “his guys.” Posing as a paralegal, he visits one of his guys in prison and tells him that, no matter what, he will continue to receive his hazard pay. Gus’ death was nothing more than a hiccup. He’s got a new thing going now and it’ll be business as usual. In his meetings with Walt, Jesse, and Saul, Mike makes it clear that he thinks he is the one who is running the show. He tells Walt and Jesse that they are in charge of the chemistry and he is in charge of the business. It’s a plan that plays on the strengths of each member of the team, but, of course, it’s also a plan that egotistical Walt can’t handle. Saul recognizes this and asks him if he’s okay with Mike’s plan. Walt replies, “He handles the business, I handle him.” It’s shocking that someone smart enough to see the potential in the pest control front can be so stupid as to think that there isn’t more to running a high-volume meth operation than having a couple of cooks. He thinks he’s the centre of everything, conveniently forgetting how expendable he was to Gus.

Indeed, the only person he’s focused on besides himself is Jesse. Expertly playing the part of a concerned father/partner, he asks Jesse about his relationship with Andrea and Brock. He plays on Jesse’s guilt, suggesting that he needs to come completely clean with her about everything (“Even Gale?” Jesse wonders) if he wants to have a real relationship. Secrets build barriers, Walt warns him. Earlier, when Andrea and Brock interrupted Jesse and Walt’s strategy session, Walt shared a meaningful (and subtly terrifying) glance with young “shy” Brock. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Did Brock recognize him (we’re still not sure exactly how Brock came to ingest the Lily of the Valley)? Was Walt annoyed that he was still alive? Was Walt worried that his relationship with Jesse might not be centre stage if he gets further involved with Brock and Andrea? By the end of the episode, we find out that Walt’s manipulations worked – Jesse broke up with Andrea rather than admit the full extent of the things he’s done since getting involved with Walt. By now, though, Walt doesn’t care anymore. He’s done playing the father and is only concerned with one thing – money.

The Money (capital-M) becomes a problem for Walt in a brilliant scene where Mike stacks up the bills in three equal shares and then begins subtracting the expenses. As the piles become smaller and smaller, Walt becomes more and more agitated. This isn’t the way he envisioned being a king would be. He finally snaps when Mike begins to subtract the “hazard pay” from all three. Why should he have to pay Gus’ guys, Walt argues. He killed Gus, therefore they’re out of luck. Mike’s counter argument is simply, “it’s what you do.” I’m a little torn on this one. On the one hand, yes. It is what you do, and paying these guys to keep silent while they endure police pressure and even serve out prison sentences, will have a positive impact on Walt. If they start talking and Mike goes down, it’s only a matter of time before Walt goes down too. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure it is fair for Jesse and Walt to be paying for Mike’s “guys.” Last week, when Mike spared Lydia and agreed to join Walt, I kind of thought the “hazard pay” was going to come out of his share alone. So, as surprised as I am to say this, I might actually agree with Walt that it’s a tad unfair. In any case, Walt ends up reluctantly allowing the purging of his funds to continue (after Jesse first offers to let them take it all out of his share), and walks out griping to Jesse that they’re making less per week than they were with Gus. Jesse is now the voice of reason, reminding him that the haul might be smaller, but it’s a bigger cut. He’s imploring him to calm down and look at the big picture, something Walt is becoming increasingly unable to do.

Meanwhile, outside of the meth world, Skyler is more and more on edge. Marie comes to the carwash and begins picking at every little thing, from the way the guys are washing the cars to Skyler’s reluctance to plan a 51st birthday party for Walt. In one of the only times I’ve ever been cheering for Skyler, she has a breakdown and yells at her meddling sister to SHUT UP already. Anna Gunn delivers her lines so forcefully and terrifyingly that it’s clearly about more than just Marie. Skyler desperately wishes for everyone to shut up, go away, and for her problems to just disappear. She retreats into her bedroom, into her depression, and into silence. The outburst follows her (mostly) silent acceptance of Walt’s return from the condo. She manages to ask him if he thinks moving back in is a good idea. He replies with a confident yes, and that’s that. After he breakdown, Walt comes home to find Skyler once again hibernating in the bedroom, and Marie in his living room, refusing to leave until she has an explanation about what has Skyler so on edge. In yet another brilliant display of manipulation, Walt gets his payback for Skyler’s gambling story. He tells Marie his version of the truth – Skyler’s upset because she was having an affair with Ted Beneke and he’s just had a terrible accident that left him paralyzed. Marie immediately backs off, presumably going home to puzzle over the new information that her sister isn’t who she thought she was.

Finally, there were two instances that heavily foreshadowed the violence to come. First, there was Walt watching Scarface with Walt Jr. and Holly, delighting in the killings, and laughing “everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” Indeed they do, Walt. Additionally, for the first time this season, the final scene wasn’t between Walt and Skyler, but Walt and Jesse. Walt muses about Gus’ killing of Victor, wondering if it wasn’t so much to give him a warning as it was because Victor was Icarus, taking too many liberties and flying too close to sun. It’s clear that Walt is beginning to consider Mike to be more of a problem than he’s worth. He’s trying to take too much of Heisenberg’s power. Walt would be smart to not let his ego convince him to take out the one who’s keeping all the balls in the air, but, as is clear from this episode, Walt’s genius is undone by his own short-sightedness. He can’t see the dangers that are all around him.

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