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Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 7: Problem Dog

25 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

My brother, when talking about this episode, made the great point that, if you hadn’t watched a single episode before, you might well think that the show was about Gus rather than about Walt and Jesse.  Gus seems to be in the position of the most peril.  He’s got the cartel breathing down his neck, threatening his drug operation.  He’s got the cops, though he doesn’t know it yet, possibly figuring out who he is.  He also has a troublesome chemist who keeps making problems for him who also has a newly-clean partner only a couple of weeks away from a serious meth addiction.

I’ve said before that if you could describe Breaking Bad in one word, it would be tension.  Tension is manifest in this episode on at least three separate major occasions in ways short and long.  First, there’s a smaller moment as Walt, realizing he can’t return the car which he breaks, lights it on fire and waits for it to blow up.  If this was another show, the car would blow up almost immediately as Walt jumps out of the way at just the last moment.  But here, we’re put in the tense and uncomfortable position of waiting for the car to blow, knowing it has to eventually, but not how long it could take.  Second, Walt provides Jesse with poison to slip into Gus’s drink when he has a chance.  Now, every time we see Gus and Jesse together we’ll have to be on the edge of our seats to see where the poison is.  Will Jesse do it?  Can he pull it off?  Will Gus or Mike catch him?  In this episode the scene comes when Jesse is asked to make coffee for Gus when Gus is meeting with the cartel.  Jesse ultimately does not use the poison.  Third, Jesse himself is being battled over between Walt and Gus and Mike.  Each time Jesse meets with either Walt or Gus or Mike, every word they say might swing Jesse in their direction.  Having Jesse by itself might seem unimportant, but it also might give either party the upper hand in their  passive aggressive battle.  Without Jesse, Walt is isolated with no one else he can trust.  Without Jesse, Walt loses his chance to kill Gus.

When Walt brings his earnings to Skyler, Skyler is simply floored by how much money it is and instantly tells Walt that there’s no way they can launder this much.  Walt makes the fair point that the laundering is supposed to be Skyler’s business to figure out (though how the amount they’d be laundering never came up I’m not sure). Like Walt was when he started, and still is, in the drug business, Skyler out of her league here as a criminal.  Though she seemed so confident and on-point with her plan, this amount of money has flabbergasted her.  She has no conception of what Walt does and how much he makes.

Jesse takes a new approach to his emo-self-pity-depression spiral post-murder of Gale.  He goes to his old Meth addiction group and confesses his killing of Gale, only replacing Gale with a dog, and then strikes out at the group, telling him he had only starting going to sell them meth.  I’ve got a feeling this murder is going to haunt Jesse for a long time, maybe even two more seasons.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 6 – Cornered

25 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

Walt’s both too smart and too stupid for his own good in this episode.  Walt is too smart for his own good when, tired of Jesse running errands with Mike, and wondering where this plan could leave him, he questions Jesse’s record of events the night he saved Mike.  Perhaps, Walt theorizes, the whole night was a set up.  Even Walt couldn’t imagine just how right he was.  No matter, with no way to prove it, he just ends up alienating Jesse by pointing out how useless he is and attacking his already fragile self-confidence.

Walt proves to be too stupid for his own good when, after Jesse is unavailable to help clean up, he hires three Hispanic laundry workers to come into the methlab and clean.  This is obviously a terrible idea, but Walt is pissed and to some degree, probably actually right about cleaning up being a two man job.  That said, when an employee of Gus’s comes to take the women back to their home countries in South America, Walt is somehow shocked, as if he couldn’t predict something bad would come from allowing people to see a top secret meth lab.  Walt feels awful about it, and tells Gus’s henchman to not blame the woman, but to blame him.  The henchman assures Walt that Gus does.

Jesse, finally feeling good about himself, is helping Mike out.  This is help Mike doesn’t really seem to want or need, but he understands why it has to be done.  Out on the road with Mike, Jesse tries to use his familiarity with methheads  figure out a shortcut to getting into the house of two methehads with Gus’s product.  It partly works; he gets into the house, knocks one of the methheads out, but also ends up at gunpoint.  Maybe Jesse is not entirely useless after all, and patience isn’t the only way.

Skyler gets her own Carmela Soprano type moment, albeit not nearly as bad.  She knows what’s up, and she takes an active step towards leaving her family and state, driving out to the four corners, and tossing up a coin to see where she would head.  Even though the coin came up with her leaving, she decided to stay.  Sometimes you don’t realize what you want until you flip a coin and realize that you want the side you didn’t land on.  Either way, Skyler’s now in.  She’s certainly no Walt, but she’s not blind and she’s partially culpable.  If Walt goes down, she’ll go down too.  I’m not sure whether the criminal activity has turned a switch in her on that she didn’t know was there, or whether it’s due to love of her family, but there’s no way to now claim she was innocent.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 5: Shotgun

4 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

The episode begins with Walt, realizing Jesse’s not in the lab, becoming immediately concerned that Jesse has been harmed, or is about to be.  Honestly, I can’t blame Walt for that reaction. In his position, I would think the exact same thing.  However, he goes about it in a naïve, impulsive and foolishly headstrong Walt fashion, driving right to Los Pollos Hermanos to confront Gus, with the thoroughly unrealistic expectation he would just walk in unharmed and kill Gus.  Before he can do anything even dumber, Mike calls and lets him know that Jesse’s all right.

Jesse’s a passenger as Mike picks up cash at a bunch of different drop spots throughout the state.  He can’t figure out why he’s here, and even though Mike knows what the plan is, he really doesn’t understand it either.  Eventually, at the last drop, while Jesse’s in the car, a couple of armed gunmen come down towards Mike’s car, and Jesse is moved from his malaise to back the car into one of them and make a clean get away, realizing that maybe he’s not quite ready to die after all.  When Mike meets Gus later in the episode, we learn what I had suspected right away, that the attack was part of a plan to make Jesse feel like a hero and stop fucking up, and even better, that it seems to have worked so far.

Walt and Skyler are getting along again, and after a heated bout of love-making, Skyler suggests Walt move in again.  Walter Jr. seems pretty excited about that prospect, but Walt, not as much.  While right after he was kicked out all he wanted to do was come back home, Walt has changed in the past couple of months.  After a family dinner, Walt finds himself drinking a glass of wine by himself before rejoining the party.  I at first thought Walt is now bored by this sedentary suburban life that he was apart of for so many years before his cancer, but I think it’s more at least that he’s so terrified of Gus and Mike harming him or his family but doesn’t want to let his family know about it.

Hank notes at the dinner table that it looks like Gale was Heisenberg after all, and notes what a true and real genius Gale must have been.  Walt’s ego is shattered, and Walt feels like he must pipe up, no matter the fact that it would have been awfully convenient for his criminal enterprise for Heisenberg to have been thought dead.  Walt suggests Gale’s work shows he was a mere student, and that the teacher, the true genius must still be out there.  Walt’s desire to speak up is obviously partly a product of ego, but it might be of boredom as well.  Too much stress may be frustrating, but Walt may need a little bit to get excited anymore.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 4: Bullet Points

4 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

First, a couple of notes about the cold open, in which Mike holes up in a truck and then kills a couple of guys who have machine guns.   I said in an earlier recap that Breaking Bad so often has great scenes, even aside from the context of the show.  I can’t see the actual reason this scene adds to the plot, as we had the scene we needed to show how insanely superhumanly badass Mike is when he took down that asian warehouse last season.  The only thing I can think of is if the ear injury gets referred to again.  Either way, though, bravo, great scene.

The scenes of Walt and Skyler working on the story they’re going to tell Marie and Hank about Walt’s gambling addiction highlight both the differences and the strengths and flaws in their two personalities (something we dealt with in last episode as well).  Skyler is detail-oriented (her resume would read) and well-prepared – she wants to be practiced down to the word, and down to the exact emotion.  That said, lying doesn’t come easy to her.  Walt is impatient and impulsive, but he also has a point in realizing that to some extent the story is just going to have to flow naturally.  They can plan a general guide for the story, but there’s something stiff about trying to actually write a script to the letter.  The story seems to go over pretty well when the Walt and Skyler go over to Marie and Hank’s for dinner.  Walt actually made money at cards, so his son doesn’t exactly understand why this addiction is a bad thing.

Hank brings Walt and Walter Jr. to check out the absolutely amazing video of Gale singing Major Tom karaoke, and Hank asks Walt to examine the notebook.  When Hank points out the initials WW, for the first time I felt as if Hank didn’t believe Walt 100%, but I may just have been reading in deeper to the situation because of what I know as the viewer.

Walt, frustrated with everyone, and stressed out about being captured or killed, fumes at Saul Goodman, using his lawyer session for therapy, but is still unwilling to commit to going into hiding.  He still thinks he can find a way out.

Jesse continues his vicious cycle of nihilism that he began in the first episode of the season, but it seems like something has to give.  Walt is furious at Jesse that he didn’t take proper care at the crime scene, and even more so that that doesn’t even seem to bother Jesse, oblivious to the difficulty Jesse is having when reliving the murder.  After some junkies burglarize Jesse’s funds, Mike gets it back for Jesse, who doesn’t seem to care.  Mike and Gus are clearly concerned about Jesse too, and we’re left wondering exactly how concerned when the episode ends with Mike taking Jesse on a ride.  Maybe it’s to his death, or maybe for ice cream.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 3: Open House

4 Sep

(A few weeks ago, I started these Breaking Bad recaps, and then fell a bit behind.  Not one to give up without a fight, they’re still coming, just a tiny bit late.  I’m going to dump a few of them today, so read them if you wish, and if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, turn off your computer and start it today)

Plenty to unpack here as usual.  First, the car wash.  This whole situation highlights Walt’s flaws, and that Skyler is everything that Walt’s not.  Where Walt is bold and impetuous, Skyler is patient, shrewd and detail oriented.  It’s almost comical watching Walt decide Skyler’s plan is a failure after waiting five hours without a call, hopping up and down next to the phone like an anxious middle school girl, and then decide even faster that Skyler’s negotiating tactics have failed after she intentionally lowballs the car wash owner.  Walt is unconcerned that his grand gesture of buying a ludicrously expensive bottle of champagne might look out of place for an unemployed school teacher because after all, he paid cash.  Walt has had his fair share of victories in the show due to his willingness to be bold and act quickly and aggressively, but that’s also a path to getting himself arrested or killed.  He would never have come up with as intricate a plan as reporting a false EPA violation.  It’s great to see Saul again as well, mocking Skyler’s stated intentions to buy the car wash, and send a message, but just without hurting anyway, openly, and yet she figures out a way.

Marie gets a big chunk of plot this episode as well – she begins to lose a little bit of the sympathy she was gaining, as she turns back to her own shoplifting ways. She goes to open houses, inventing new lives for herself, and takes personal items each time.  Luckily, she has a DEA husband with connections in law enforcement to get her off.  She’s immature, certainly, and enjoying her flights of fantasy and escape from Hank being, well, simply mean to her.  Getting on her case because she confused Fritos and Cheetos?  Harsh.  Pretty immature of Hank as well.  Maybe she’s back to her shoplifting because she wants to get arrested for attention like a teenager and wants Hank to notice or take care of her.

Jesse wants to go og-carting with Walt after work, but Walt takes a raincheck.  Walt at least does him the courtesy of pretending to consider it, but go-carting is below him.  Jesse is at heart still interested in the simple pleasures of Go-carting; he’s just a kid.  He’s not getting what he wants to out of the go-carting, though. He can’t seem to enjoy it.  Either it’s because he’s still devastated over killing Gale, or was so thrown for a loop by being nearly killed and watching Gus kill Victor, or probably both, but just the like in the last episode, he’s dealing, but with a new strategy.  He tried to hang with friends in a non-stop party last episode but it only worked for so long.  Now he’s at a drug den, giving money away.  Blood money, perhaps?  While Walt has become a master of rationalizing away anything he does,  Jesse can’t even justify the things he did that were actually necessary.  He’s punishing himself. While Walt thinks he’s always the good guy even as he breaks increasingly bad, Jesse always sees himself as the bad guy, even when he’s not.

We get the return of Gale’s notebook in this episode.  Clearly foreshadowed in the first episode, we knew it was only a matter of time until it came into play, continuing the set up of Walt being squeezed by both Gus and the police.  That’s about it for the notebook for now though, as a fellow detective puts it into Hank’s hands, but its importance is unquestioned.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 2: Thirty-Eight Snub

4 Aug

My brother’s one major complaint about Breaking Bad (he still loves the show) is its occasional slow pacing and inconsequential scenes.  While I prefer to describe the pace as deliberate rather than slow, he’s not entirely wrong.  What I always tell him,though, is that the genius of Breaking Bad is that some scenes transcend the plot and the episodes in which they’re found.  Even by themselves, as scenes, or vignettes, or whatever you’d like to call them, they stand out as brilliant and compelling. The scene with Mike and Walter at the bar was one of these scenes.  The plot implications of the scene were certainly important, but even without, the scene was wonderful.

Stepping back, we have two main plotlines in this episode, and two minor ones.  Walt and Jesse are both reacting to their new lease on life differently.  Walt is paranoid that if he doesn’t take out Gus, somehow, Gus will be taking him out soon enough.  He shows off some of Walt’s classic characteristics such as naiveté, impulsiveness, and thinking that he’s cleverer than he is, when he buys a gun illegally in a great cold open, and then tries first to go right up to Gus’s house with a piece.  After that fails miserably, letting Gus know what Walter had in mind if Gus didn’t already,  Walt, in the above-noted best scene of the week, tries to talk Mike into letting Walt kill Gus.  Walt is smart, and he is bold, and both of these are two attributes are to his credit, but he’s so far out of his league at this point that it makes you wonder how he’s going to avoid getting killed.  At the same time, even though Mike responds to Walt’s request with a well-earned beatdown, Mike must be wondering how long he ought to deal with Gus – even battle-tested Mike appeared shocked when Gus killed Victor violently in the first episode.

Jesse is still dealing with killing Gail, watching Gus kill Victor and with coming close to being killed himself .  His way of dealing is to do a bunch of drugs and try to constantly surround himself with people.  It’s hard not to feel for him when everyone, even Badger and Skinny Pete, go home after a couple of days of partying – even they need to rest.

I also like the short Marie and Hank scenes with the physical therapist and then with the rocks.  The physical therapist scene is the first strong indication of the current problems with the marriage – previously it seemed as if Hank was miserable all the time, with his condition, but he’s totally inspired when the therapist is there, and then comes down again when he leaves.  Marie is only half joking when she asks the physical therapist to move in.  It’s one of the first times we really feel for Marie, who has been one of the less likable characters in the show up to this point – here, she’s doing everything she absolutely can for Hank, and he’s still unappreciative.

Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 1

2 Aug

I’m going to do my own little Breaking Bad recaps here, and since it’s just the third week now, I’m going to run back and give my take on the first two episodes of the fourth season so there’s some sense of full-season completion.

Season 4, Episode 1 – Box Cutter

I wouldn't want to be the guy on the right

Here’s something that Breaking Bad does well.  It takes a situation which could easily be boring and predictable and makes it exciting and tense. In this case, the circumstances at the end of the third season and the beginning of the fourth, where the writers have painted themselves into a corner.  Walt and Jesse’s lives are in extreme danger, yet they can’t kill Walt or Jesse this early in the show’s run without dramatically changing the show.  There is a situation that should have high tension, but you already know how it’s going to end; Gus needs Walt to run his meth lab, and Walt, in turn, says he needs Jesse – and the two of them live.

Even though you know what’s going to happen,  Breaking Bad does a great job of making this predictable set of consequences feel both incredibly tense and completely natural. Based on everything we know about these characters and the circumstances they’re stuck in, this feels like the outcome that would come of it.  Gus needs Walt, as it’s been clearly established that without this lab running at capacity all the time, it’s a giant money sink, which Gus can’t afford.

On top of this, when the show ends, even though the immediate tension of the third season finale has been extinguished, as Walt is no longer less than a minute away from dying, the long-term fourth season tension has been set up. Whenever Gus finds a new cook, which could take a long time, but might not, Walt and Jesse are finished, and they have just that amount of time to figure out a plan.

The episode features a fantastic edge of your seat scene. Gus angrily, but calmly, comes downstairs to the lab to deal with Walt and Jesse after finding out Gale is dead, and then kills Victor, who is trying to prove that Walt is unnecessary by cooking the meth himself.  Gus murders Victor in the most cold-hearted manner, silently with a box cutter as Walt, Jesse and Mike look on.  The exact purpose of the kill is unclear; there are a couple of different possible reasons.  Gus may be punishing Victor for getting seen at Gale’s apartment, or he may be sending a message to Walt and Jesse, telling them that they’re this close to death themselves.  Likely, it’s a combination.  The scene gives us a new appreciation for Gus’s cold business sensibility.  Gus’s murder of Victor was at the least disturbing, maybe borderline sociopathic, and even Mike seemed shocked by the sheer manner of the kill.  Watching Gus clean himself off afterwards was priceless.

The scene ended with a nice touch, showing Jesse and Walt using chemicals to destroy the body.  Mike, looking on, asks if they’re sure their method will work. Jesse and Walt assure Mike that it will, showing us an example of how chemistry and Walt can be as dangerous in its own way as Mike’s time-tested methods.

The police investigate Gale’s murder and we get a tight shot of Gale’s notebook, where Gale stores his notes on the meth-making progress (Gale has always been a diligent student).  Walt will be squeezed from both sides this season.  With Gus coming at him from one side, and the police from the other, the question for the rest of the season is who will get to him first?