A review of tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I hang an air freshener for you...
"Do you really want to know?" -Walt
After an episode that was all about our two leading men stuck in the lab together, "Breaking Bad" expands its world again, showing the corrosive effect Walt and Jesse have on the world in the past, present and future.
We open on a flashback to the brief golden period of Jesse's relationship with Jane(*), which not only showed us how the lipstick-stained cigarette wound up in his ashtray, but reminded us of how much Jesse has lost, and of how much damage he and Walt did to her. And that serves as a fitting prologue into his new relationship, which starts out as a continuation of Jesse's evil plan to sell the blue meth to his 12-step group but then becomes something else when the woman, Andrea, turns out to have a young son - and, in one of those quirks of fate like Walt and Jane's dad sharing a drink together the night she died, to have a little brother who was the one who shot Combo.
(*) For you "Breaking Bad" continuity nerds, that would set the scene around the time period of last season's "Over," since Jesse blew off the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit to cook with Walt in the desert in the previous episode ("Four Days Out"), and they were doing drugs together by the next one ("Mandala").
Jesse's adrift right now, feeling on the outside looking in with Walt's dealings with Gus, unable to get Badger and Skinny Pete to be more competent than they really are(**). Getting to meet an innocent boy like Brock, whose life could be destroyed by the product Jesse makes and sells, and then meeting a related kid whose own childhood was stolen by the gang culture that the drug game supports, has clearly spooked him. I don't know whether he bought the drugs just as an excuse to meet Tomas, or if this knowledge will knock him off the wagon, but he's in a precarious position right now, again sleeping with a recovering addict, again questioning the harm he causes, and not particularly popular with boss-man Gus.
(**) I laughed a very long time at the notion that those two are working the steps rather than going along with Jesse's plan. Of course, Badger did sell a 'teenth to Pete, so they don't seem to be working all the steps quite right.
As for the woman that Walt lost at the end of last season, things are more complicated. Skyler never filed the divorce papers for legal reasons(***), and having pushed Walt into paying for Hank's rehab, she now decides it's time to become part of his money-laundering operation.
(***) Okay, I know some lawyers read me. Can anyone definitively answer the question of whether spouses can be compelled to testify against each other? There was a whole "Sopranos" episode built around Adriana believing this (because she heard the concept in an episode of "Murder One"), only to be told it wasn't true. Which TV shows should I be taking my legal advice from?
We can argue over a lot of Skyler's behavior since she found out the truth about Walt, and about how much was her own choice and how much she was forced into by the horrible circumstance Walt helped create. But if she had only moral high ground left, she cedes it here by joining Team Goodman and becoming an active co-conspirator. She can rationalize it all she wants by thinking about Hank - and even blaming Walt for Hank's predicament - but by now her rationalizations would be just as bogus as Walt's. You're either in, or you're out. She's in now, and the only difference between her and Walt is that she hasn't been directly responsible for any deaths yet.
Late in the episode, Gus invites Walt over for dinner so they may break bread as business partners, and so he may offer Walt some advice on navigating the drug game that Gus himself has so clearly mastered. His most important lesson: "Never make the same mistake twice." But to what is he referring? Walt's decision to reteam with Jesse the junkie thief? Walt again partnering with Skyler, at least for business purposes? Or was Walt's biggest mistake of all the one he talked about last week: that he's lived too long and shouldn't be cooking meth anymore? Given Gus's interest in Walt's continued production, I highly doubt that, but Walter White has left a trail of impressive, deadly mistakes over the last three years, and with two episodes to go in this terrific season, we'll see if any are repeated.
Some other thoughts:
- At this point, the greatness of all the performances should go without saying, but still: just watch Aaron Paul in the scene where he realizes that Andrea's little brother killed Combo. This is a man whose sense of the universe has just been torn to shreds, and Paul plays the shock and confusion beautifully.
- Also superb: Dean Norris in both of Hank's big scenes, first with the terror and pain as he attempts to rehab (I've witnessed people scream at supportive loved ones in moments like this, and it rang absolutely true), then with the venom as he ordered Marie to get the hospital bed out of his house. There was some of the old, pre-"One Minute" Hank Schrader in that, albeit an uglier version of him, and if he does regain the use of his legs, God help anyone in his path.
- Because we have a much wider view of Walt's world than most of the people living in it (except Gus; I imagine Gus probably has detailed files on the whole "Breaking Bad" audience), it can be fun to see how one character views another without that knowledge. Skyler hasn't seen Saul work his magic, so of course she would be horrified by the clientele in his waiting room, by his tacky jokes, and by his master's degree from the University of American Samoa. And I loved Walt's mortified reaction at looking at Saul's business through Skyler's eyes.
- Walt's bogus holding company is named after the 1968 Rock Hudson movie "Ice Station Zebra." Any theories on how that fits either Walt or Saul's characters? Or has one of the writers mentioned an affinity for it in the past?
- God, Gus is so confident that he hands Walt (a man he knows is afraid of him) a giant carving knife with the blade pointed directly at his own stomach and thinks nothing of it.
- I liked how the creaking sound of the equipment Jesse was moving in the Walt-cave sounded like the intro music to "Lost" (and/or the many Bernard Herrmann movie scares that inspired it).
What did everybody else think?