Review: 'Breaking Bad' - 'Bullet Points': House of cards
A review of tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I have actual hobos living with me...
"Oh, God. How did everything get so screwed up?" -Walt
"Bullet Points" is a very oddly-structured, but never uninteresting, episode of "Breaking Bad." We get our usual self-contained teaser sequence, this time with a chilly Mike taking out a pair of Gus's rivals who were attacking the latest shipment, but after that, things get a bit... different.
There's an extremely long segment(*) about Skyler prepping herself and Walt for unleashing their gambling lie on the rest of the family, then an almost-as-long bit at Hank and Marie's house for the telling of the lie and Walt's discovery that Hank is looking into the late Gale. And just when it seems like this might be the first episode of the series to not feature Aaron Paul, Jesse turns up around the midway point and the episode suddenly becomes all about him. Even when he's not on-screen, he's all anybody can talk about.
(*) BTW, I say all this having watched the episode on DVD, which only sometimes gives you a sense of where the commercial breaks go.
What ties all these vignettes together, though, is the larger sense that everything has become a huge mess.
Regardless of the fancy chess moves he played against the cartel last season, Gus is not invulnerable, and his operation still leans heavily on Mike to keep things functioning. Skyler is fumbling around, desperately playing catch-up to the criminal life we've watched Walt live for three seasons, trying to take control of a situation that's been out of her control - and knowledge - for most of that time. Walt is so busy going forward and ignoring his horrible deeds in the past that he's especially thunderstruck to see Gale singing karaoke at him on TV. (The apology he gives to Skyler during their rehearsal is bogus; the one he gives Walter Jr. is real, even if it's not about the thing Walter Jr. thinks it's about.) Jesse has managed to find a way to take off his mind on what he's done and whom he's become, but only so long as someone like Mr. White doesn't come and force him to think about it.(**) And Walt and Mike both realize that Jesse has become a liability, even if Mike is the only one able to do something about it - whatever that may be. (My money's on another stint in rehab, but who knows? Maybe Jesse gets a spin-off where he works as a stereo salesman in Des Moines. And let me remind you, as usual, that this blog's No Spoiler policy extends to the previews for next week's episode. So if the previews for episode 5 reveal where Jesse is, that's NOT okay to discuss in the comments.)
(**) Great combination of acting and directing in the way the camera pushed in on Jesse's agonized face as Walt kept asking him to remember details of the murder.
The Walt/Skyler stuff took up the great chunk of the episode's first half. Based on the comments about last week's episode, it seems a good many of you are not Skyler fans. I'm not going to try to analyze that (part of the cardinal commenting rule around here is to talk about the show, and not each other), but what I will say in defense of Skyler is that she's kind of been run over by a freight train here. Walt kept this deep, horrible secret from her, and has backed her into a corner where she either has to take his drug money or go broke. Yes, Skyler is controlling by nature, but so is her husband, and she's only had a few months (in show time) to catch up on things that we and Walt have known about for far longer. It's a damned uncomfortable position to be in, and I can understand her trying to grab the reins of a life that is stampeding in a direction she's understandably terrified of. Does she go way over-the-top in preparing for the dinnertime confession to Hank and Walter Jr? Absolutely. But has Walt ridiculously sweated the details in the past? All the damn time. It's what he does. It's what the show is about. It's a show that devoted two of its first three hours to a corpse-disposal job that any other crime drama would have dispensed with in 30 seconds or less. Skyler's just trying to cram three-plus seasons' worth of criminal on-the-job training into the span of a few episodes.
And though she can be overbearing, it's clear Walt could use a moral compass. Jesse is consumed by what he did to Gale, while Walt has pushed it to the back of his mind, and only gets upset when Gale starts singing to him from the past. Right now, Walt and Skyler are at odds, but I can see a point where things get settled and he realizes she's a good influence on his reckless, destructive life.
Strangely, the person thinking the clearest, and with the least amount of self-deception, is Jesse. Yes, he's high much of the time, and has turned his aunt's house into a hellpit, but he has no delusions about what he's doing. He knows that the only way he can get through the day is to overload his senses to distract him from memories of shooting Gale. When Walt panics about fingerprints, Jesse immediately understands why he shouldn't be worried, just as he takes one look at the blindfold Mike and Tyrus put on the thief and recognizes that they're not going to kill him. Jesse doesn't take the sheer pleasure in outsmarting people that Walt does - his ego's never been especially large - but he does it repeatedly in this one.
But he simply can't continue on like this, either from a mental health standpoint or from a logistical standpoint. Sooner or later, one of the junkies from the house is going to lead to trouble for Jesse, Walt, Mike, Gus, etc., or cops will respond to a noise complaint, or some other unnecessary complication. Walt can't get through to Jesse. Jesse's not afraid of Walt, and no doubt blames him for what his life has become. But Mike at least has the gravitas and muscle to put Jesse in a car to a destination and solution unknown.
Earlier in the episode, Saul suggests a potential end to the series when he tells Walt about a man he knows who could help the White family disappear into anonymity in another part of the country. I don't think that's quite what Mike has in mind for young Mr. Pinkman, but I imagine the best thing that could happen to Jesse, and Walt, and Skyler, and nearly everyone on this show, would be to begin a new identity somewhere far, far away from the legend of Heisenberg.
Some other thoughts:
• Admittedly, we saw with Tim's visit last week that Hank is capable of putting on a good front for company, but he does seem to be doing better emotionally thanks to his work on Gale's case. (And, naturally, he's assuming Gale was Heisenberg.) He got prickly a few times - like when Walt turned out, unsurprisingly, to know more about Hank's mineral collection than Hank did - but that was in the usual prideful Hank Schrader way, as opposed to the self-pity of recent episodes.
• Bryan Cranston had a lot of priceless reactions during the long Walt/Skyler sequence, but my biggest laugh came simply from the idea that Skyler dragged Walt to a Gambler's Anonymous meeting for research.
• The opening scene was a nice refresher on Mike's bonafides as an enforcer, yet the most interesting thing about it - besides the great look of resigned disgust on Jonathan Banks' face when Mike contemplated his damaged ear - was what wasn't there: despite spending hours in a refrigerator truck, Mike didn't do a whole lot of coughing. So it's possible that the coughing from episode 2 this season was, in fact, a rare coincidence and not foreshadowing that something his medically wrong with Mike. Though I still wouldn't be shocked to see Walt taking him to chemo by season's end.
• I liked how the scene in Saul's office transitioned from the usual comedy about Saul's naked self-interest into one where you could tell that Saul does, in fact, have some empathy for Walt and his situation. Good work from Bob Odenkirk.
• Walt is correct about "The French Connection," which ends - as the real Popeye Doyle's investigation did, I believe - with the bad guy getting away. Though that just allowed John Frankenheimer to make "The French Connection II: The Frenchening."
• Gus is still absent from Walt's life, but we knew that Giancarlo Esposito wasn't going to disappear from the series. (Other than the folks who for some reason were convinced that Mike had killed him off-camera after the events of the premiere, that is.) So we get a brief Gus appearance here as Mike expresses his concerns about the Pinkman situation.
• I also have to assume that Jesse will be back in the Super Lab eventually, both because too much of the show leans on the Cranston/Paul chemistry, but because of the scene in this episode where Walt realized the surveillance camera can't follow them both at once. That has to pay off eventually - let's call it Chekhov's Spycam.
• When I did the set visit to Albuqueruque a few months ago, I made what I thought was a huge mistake in glancing at the call sheet for the actors scheduled to appear on set that day. One of the names listed was David Costabile, and I groaned, assuming that I had just spoiled myself that Vince Gilligan had changed his mind about having Jesse murder Gale. Instead, Gale was dead in the premiere, and I figured the call sheet was about another flashback - which it sort of was, only involving karaoke and ascots. (Of course Gale wears an ascot when he karaokes. Of course he does.)
Finally, I should warn you that the next review will likely not get done on time. I fly home from press tour soon, then need to take several days off to remind my family who I am and what I look like. So odds on me having time to write a review in advance are not great. Most likely, look for something late Monday morning/early afternoon.
What did everybody else think?