(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
The season-long flash forward grows creepier still. The bear is boxed up and now we move from the pool to the driveway. Walt’s car is there with a shattered windshield. Two men in white radiation suits gather evidence. One takes photos of the windshield. Two white body bags lie beside the car.
Episode 10, which contains the flash-forward, is titled “Over.” Put the titles of all the episodes containing fragments of this scene together, including the last episode, when the crash is revealed, and you get: 737 Down Over ABQ. The fun you can have when you know how the season unfolds in advance.
As these three episodes play out, Walt is a mess. He doesn’t know what he wants. He doesn’t understand himself yet.
In episode 8, Badger is arrested in a very funny scene on a bench emblazoned with an ad for lawyer Saul Goodman, who shows up played by Bob Odenkirk, and instantly becomes one of the show’s best characters. Walt is of course dubious, but as Jesse points out, they don’t want a criminal lawyer; they want a criminal lawyer. Problem is, Badger’s in luck: the DEA doesn’t want him, they want his supplier, i.e. Heisenberg. Roll over on him, and Badger goes free. Walt visits Saul in the guise of Badger’s dad and insists Saul make Badger keep his mouth shut. He offers Saul a bribe of $10,000 to make it happen. Saul won’t take it.
So naturally Jesse and Walt kidnap Saul, haul him out to the desert at night, and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t do what they want. Saul rather logically points out that Badger’s the one they should kill. Jesse won’t have it.
Saul has another plan. Get Jimmy to take the rap as Heisenberg, Jimmy being a con who, for $80,000, will happily go to jail for them. Price of doing business. Assuming Walt and Jesse won’t go for a simple prison shanking. They won’t.
Hank, meanwhile, is at home in bed, deeply disturbed by the explosion he witnessed. Walt comes over to talk to him. Hank appreciates it, but says their life experiences are vastly different. Walt disagrees. He talks of fear in relation to his cancer. He tells Hank not to be afraid.
Saul easily finds out where Walt works and visits him at the high school, not to shake him down, but to be his lawyer. Back in Saul’s office, as they discuss money-laundering, Walt reveals that he has only weeks to live. Saul’s disappointed they can’t make more money, but so it goes.
Episode 9 is about Walt on the verge of death and how he deals with it. It begins with a body scan in the hospital. He won’t hear from the doc for a week about the results, but he gets a peek at his scan on the computer screen: there’s a large white blot on his lung. Walt’s sure the news will be dire. His cough is back and getting worse.
Walt and Jesse head out the desert to cook for a long weekend (Walt tells Skyler he’s going to visit his mother). The cooking goes great. The make pounds and pounds. Walt estimates that they’ll each net $672,000. Problem is, Jesse left the car keys in the ignition and the battery is dead. They’re stuck.
Breaking Bad knows how to use time. The show is full of reflective moments where characters do nothing but sit and think. In the case of the dead battery, we get a good chunk of an episode where two characters are stranded together, where, in one sense, nothing happens. Nothing plot-wise. For the characters, much happens. This sequence allows Walt and Jesse another chance to bond.
Walt coughs up blood. Jesse realizes they’re cooking so much because Walt’s going to die. If they can’t get out of the desert, he’ll die sooner still. It is only in dark moments like these that Walt becomes self-reflective and honest with himself. This episode foreshadows the episode “Fly” from season 3, which takes place almost entirely in the meth lab, and likewise features a depressed, reflective Walt coming (almost) to terms with who he is and what he’s done.
In the RV, Walt says, “I have it coming. I deserve this,” and, “All the lies. I can’t even keep them straight in my head anymore.” On one level, Walt knows what he’s doing and what he’s becoming, and he doesn’t like it. On another level, he is who he is, and it turns out that who he is is not a very nice person. Does he want to become that not very nice person? He’s still lying to himself on that count, lying by not facing the question. And why face it? He’ll be dead soon anyway.
They escape the desert when Walt builds a makeshift battery. I love it when Breaking Bad turns into a science class.
Back at the doctor’s office, it’s all good news. Walt’s in remission. His tumor has shrunk by a huge 80%. Everyone’s happy as can be. Walt goes to the bathroom. And punches the shit out of a metal towel dispenser. Why? Out of happiness? Or anger? Or what? I think it’s a combination. I think he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know whether to be happy or sad at the news. Dying is so simple. Living means he’s going to continue becoming the person he really is, a person who lies, who’s selfish, who’s going to do—well, who knows just yet? Not Walt.
In episode 10, Walt learns who he is and what he wants. He meets up with Jesse and tells him the good news about his cancer. Jesse is genuinely thrilled. Walt seems, well, happy, more or less. He says the plan is to sell off all the meth they’ve got, after which, “I’m done.”
He’s done? And how might that decision affect him? Skyler throws him a party. Asked to give a speech, Walt says that when he was diagnosed, he asked himself, “Why me?” When he was told the cancer was in remission, he asked the same question. Another weird party moment for Walt.
Later he sits outside with Hank and Flynn. Walt pours them all shots of tequila. They drink. Walt pours again. Hank tries to stop him from giving Flynn another shot. Walt is stone-faced and deadly serious. He pours the shot. Hank walks away with the bottle. Walt follows, tells him to hand it back. Now. It’s a face-off that ends only when Flynn stumbles to the pool, barfing.
What that’s scene all about? It’s Walt’s first reaction to telling himself he’s done with the meth. He’s powerful as Heisenberg. What is he otherwise?
His second reaction takes up the rest of the episode. Fed up with his crappy water-heater, Walt buys a new one, top of the line. Installs it himself. Sees the floorboards are rotting, pulls them out, crawls under the house, finds rot everywhere. He’s got to get this rot out! Buys wood and other supplies, walks through the house in his white protective suit, gloves and goggles, leaving Skyler and Flynn baffled.
Yes, Walt’s found a way to re-direct his need for control and power. He’s going to fix the house! He will rid it of rot!
Meanwhile, Jesse and Jane, over the course of these three episodes, sleep together and start up a relationship. Turns out Jane is in recovery, 18 months free of—we don’t know, exactly. Suffice to say, she doesn’t want to smoke any weed with Jesse. Jesse shows her his old drawings of superheroes. He makes breakfast for her. It’s all very charming.
Then her father, Donald (John de Lancie), comes over one day. Jane acts like Jesse’s just a tenent. Which upsets him hugely. Jane is cold and mean to him about it. Jesse thinks they’re a couple. What does she think? Later she apologizes by sliding a drawing under his door, a superherione named “Apology Girl.”
Skyler has her own problems. Working late, she reveals to Ted Beneke that nothing’s changed now that Walt’s better. She’s still just as stressed out. Home life is still just as uncomfortable. Ted holds her hand to comfort her. Also, as an aside, she notes a certain irregularity in the finances. We’ll be hearing more about that soon enough.
Walt’s back at the Home Depot-like store, where he stops before a curious cartload of items. The cart’s owner returns, a very strung-out looking meth-head. Walt tells him he’s buying the wrong matches, that red phosphorous comes in the striker strips, not the match-heads. The meth-head runs off.
Walt waits in line when—something snaps. He marches out to the parking lot, spots the meth-head talking to a very tough looking dude. Walt and the dude face off. All Walt says is, “Stay out of my territory.” They hold a look. Walt is Walt. That’s enough. The dude takes off.
Walt could only distract himself for so long. He’s Heisenberg. That’s who he likes being. No one’s going to push him around. Or so he thinks…
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
I always thought it was incredibly symbolic: Walt trying to rid his house of rot, cutting and cutting and still there’s more.
Word is we’re going to get a spin-off series on Saul Goodman. Vince Gilligan keeps saying that’s what he wants to do next.