Review: 'Breaking Bad' - 'Crawl Space': Better off Ted
A review of tonight's "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I feel sorry for your tastebuds...
"You are done." -Gus
"Breaking Bad" was off the air for so long in between seasons 3 and 4 that a great number of TV shows lived out entire lifespans in between. Some were terrible ("Outsourced," "Feces My Dad Says"), some were forgettable ("Undercovers," "The Whole Truth"), and a few were pretty freakin' great. One of those was FX's hard-boiled buddy comedy "Terriers" - and if you didn't see it at the time, I highly, highly endorse downloading the series on iTunes or Amazon (Fox Home Entertainment isn't interested in a DVD release at the moment), and, in the event you do that, I also would strongly suggest skipping ahead to the paragraph after the one-word paragraph - which, among other notable things, made good use of Ted Beneke himself, Christopher Cousins, during the hiatus.
Cousins played a wealthy land developer named Robert Lindus who got involved in a variety of shady deals, and who ran afoul of our heroes, low-down private eyes Hank and Britt. Lindus wound up in jail for a while, then asked Hank and Britt to bail him out and help him flee from the real big bads, and along the way his impatience to escape eventually put him square in the path of an oncoming car, and he died very suddenly and very stupidly.
I bring this up not only because Ted Beneke died in much the same way (with a hint of
Cheddar White Boy Bob in "Out of Sight" and/or any other similarly abrupt black comic klutzy death scene), but because the title of that "Terriers" episode is about the most apt description I can think of for the events of this episode:
What a complete and utter mess this is.
Mike's recuperating in a very white tent inside a Mexican warehouse. Gus is putting on a good front but still recovering slowly from the poison he ingested at Don Eladio's place. Ted got himself killed running away from Saul's goons (with a little help from Chekhov's Throw Rug). Jesse's running the Super Lab on his own, and though he doesn't want Walt dead, he also understandably wants nothing to do with him. Hank is marked for death by Gus, and Walt is planning to blow up his life and run away - except, of course, Skyler has spent the great majority of the money he needs to run away on buying a car wash they no longer need and paying off a dead man's tax bill.
This is a disaster of such epic proportions that you can hardly blame Walt for letting his primal screams of anguish turn into maniacal laughter. If he were anyone other than Walter White, this would be kind of hilarious, in a sick and twisted way. And even as Walter White, who's been preparing to die for a long time now, it's the only response left to him. (And that's without either Walt or Skyler knowing that Ted's dead, baby. Ted's dead.)
Vince Gilligan and company(*) seem to be spending this back half of the season playing a game of Can You Top This? with the closing moments of each episode: Hank's monologue at the end of "Problem Dog." The death of Max in the long Spanish-language flashback in "Hermanos." Walt and Jesse's throwdown in "Bug." Gus taking out Don Eladio's entire organization in one fell swoop in "Salud." And now this: Walter White having pulled the ripcord on his own life, only to discover he doesn't have the money to pay for the parachute, and lying amid the filth and light cash reserves of the crawl space, laughing his fool head off while Skyler begins to realize just how bad things have gotten.
(*) Here represented by writers Sam Catlin and George Mastras, and by director Scott Winant, best known for his work on HerskoZwick shows like "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life," but who directed last season's "Green Light."
Ordinarily, TV shows where each episode tries to outdo the one before become unbearable in a hurry (see "Nip/Tuck," or the later seasons of any Ryan Murphy or David E. Kelley show), but here it's all felt of a piece, with the stakes escalating as Walt's world crumbles at the same time that Gus's empire is ascendant. Walt has alienated his wife and his partner, has let his son see him at his lowest, has lost most of the money that he got in business with Gus Fring for in the first place, and now he's just hung a very large "Please Kill Me" sign over his head at the moment when he has no way out.
And while we all know that Walt will get out of this somehow, because he's got 18 episodes to go after this one, in the moment the show and its cast and crew do such an exceptional job of making us forget about that. Bryan Cranston is so anguished and regretful and terrified as Walt goes to see Saul, and then goes sprinting to pack up his life in an hour, that suddenly it doesn't matter what I know objectively as a TV viewer: what Walt knows is that he's going to be dead in a hurry if he doesn't get that cash in a hurry, and his performance is so powerful and frayed that that becomes all that I'm aware of as well.
Running out of superlatives about the back half of this season. All I can say is that I can't wait to see what comes next.
Some other thoughts:
• Loved the teaser and its glimpse of the special mobile emergency room Gus set up for himself, Mike and Jesse, just in case. (And the fact that there was blood on hand for Jesse should put to rest, once and for all, any speculation that Mike was about to kill Jesse when he got shut. It looked to me then, and seems very clear now, that he was just reacting to the gunman's approach, and couldn't fire in time.)
• Is there a special Emmy category for Best Silent Performance? Because Mark Margolis as Tio Hector in this one - damn. That's not just silent: that's showing a wide swath of grief and rage while restricted to a very limited range of expression. Great character, great performance. And the sick genius of it is, Gus has no need to kill Hector. If anything, that would be a kindness, where instead he can live him as a prisoner of his own body, knowing that all his friends, family and allies have been killed by the Chicken Man.
• Note also that Tio is watching the famous "What have I done?" climactic moment from "The Bridge on the River Kwai." That's a sentiment that more or less applies to Walter White - who's also obsessed with making the best possible product for the worst possible reasons - for the life of this series. Wonder if there's foreshadowing, and that Walt may wind up blowing up Gus's house, the laundromat, or some other part of the empire.
• Interesting to see that Jesse has finally forgiven himself enough to have Andrea and her son over for video games and snacks. I also like that Jesse can draw a line between understandably despising Mr. White and wanting nothing to do with him, and wanting Gus to kill the guy. Our man has grown and changed, but not that much.
• Boy, Hank is smart. So smart it may get him killed, but he keeps being three steps ahead of Walt, Gus, Tyrus, everybody.
• I can't say I'm exactly mourning Beneke. What a smug, hypocritical, insufferable sleaze that guy was. And if he'd just sat and watched cable with Huell and the red-headed guy, he'd still be alive, well, and not on a road to jail.
• Also, what's up with the two goons wearing Marie's beloved purple in Saul's office?
• I want to see a Tumblr that's nothing but screencaps of Walt's Aztek getting into fender-benders.
• I don't know if the cloud passing overhead in the middle of the Gus/Walt desert scene was a total accident, or if Winant and Michael Slovis saw it coming and set up the shot accordingly, but man, did that look cool.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org