(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)
Watching all of these episodes again, I’m fascinated by how delusional Walt is, and how it’s that very delusional mindset that allows him to come out on top. The price he pays is high. And the top he reaches may not be anyone else’s idea of a height worth aspiring to, but when Walt decides on what he wants, he seems always to find a way, however depraved, selfish, and amoral, to get it. Even in the face of others manipulating his actions, where he in his delusions thinks it’s the other way around, he winds up on top.
These next three episodes aren’t really about Walt at all, not directly. Everything that happens happens because of Walt, but he doesn’t drive any of the action. He only imagines he’s in charge. The primary story in these next three episodes is Hank’s.
Episode 5 opens with a flashback to the moment in season 1, episode 1, where Walt gives Jesse $7,000 and tells him to buy an RV. We follow Jesse to a strip club where he parties like crazy with Combo, Badger, and Skinny P, until all he’s left with is $1,400. Combo says he can get him an RV for that. They go to what we’ll later learn is Combo’s house. He hands Jesse the keys and Jesse gives him the money.
Hank is out looking for RVs. He makes a fool of himself in an RV park. He doesn’t care. He’s going to work all day and all night. At home, taking a shower, Marie tries to talk to him, but he rants and raves. He’s out of his mind at this point. He knows everyone thinks he’s a fool for following this lead and not going to El Paso. He might think the same thing. But he’s going to pursue it anyway. Gomez ends up going to El Paso in his place.
Hank follows all the RV leads, and they’re all duds. But he finds one more, and winds up at Combo’s house, talking to his mom. In Combo’s bedroom is the above photo of Jesse and Combo.
Walt, acting as though he’s king genius of the universe, meets with Gus, says he knows Gus is trying to manipulate him by buying Jesse’s meth. He says Gus expects Walt’s pride to be hurt and for Walt to come running—which is obviously exactly what’s happening. Gus apologizes for being so transparent. Walt says it’s not about pride, heavens no! It’s just that, “The chemistry must be respected.” Sure, Walt. That’s all it is. Gus asks Walt to come with him.
Gus takes Walt to the laundry, and the shiny new meth lab beneath it. The music here is hilarious, a kind of tinkly, magical Disneyland song, as Walt gleefully examines the equipment. But still Walt says no. “I have made a series of very bad decisions,” he says. Gus counters that the decisions weren’t bad, because they were made for his family. Gus pushes Walt’s buttons easily—because they’re so easy to push—by saying a MAN will provide for his family no matter what they think of him, no matter if they don’t even know he’s doing it. Walt’s hooked.
Skyler is continuing to crack up. She’s sleeping with Ted, but something’s wrong. She meets her lawyer, tells her about the affair, tells her about the duffel bag full of cash. Skyler is here trying to talk herself into staying with Walt and not feeling guilty about using his money. The lawyer is onto her. Says Walt’s excuse of providing for the family is horseshit. But we can see that Skyler has convinced herself otherwise.
Earlier, at a surprisingly nice family dinner, after Junior leaves the table, Skyler lets Walt hold the baby. It feels like a scene implying a reunion. And yet it’s shot from outside the window, with a pillar in the middle of the frame, separating Walt from Skyler.
And so foreshadowed, Skyler comes home to find Walt’s things gone, the money gone, and the divorce papers signed.
Walt meets with Jesse and Saul and says he’s working for Gus after all, that Jesse is finished. Jesse rants and raves and says he’ll cook all he wants.
Although this is very much an episode focused on setting up what’s to come, it has an unusually haunted vibe throughout. Even the Disneyland-like superlab scene adds to the nightmarish quality.
Hank’s story, the focal point now, continues into episode 6, in which Walt will drive Hank completely over the edge into a total mental breakdown.
But first, Walt goes to work. He makes a sandwich, cuts off the crusts as he’s done consistently since doing it for Krazy 8 back at the start of season 1, dresses sharply, and heads off to the superlab. There waiting for him is Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), his new lab assistant, an actual chemist. There then plays out one of the best montages of the show, a love montage, set to a bossa nova tune, as Walt and Gale cook meth and get to know each other. It culminates after the work day is done, as they sit across from one another like new lovers, with Gale reciting a poem by Walt Whitman, “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer.” What a wonderful first date, one thinks. These two are made for each other.
Except that Walt is Walt. And Gale is fucked for having come into his orbit.
Why is he fucked? It begins with Hank, who’s staking out Jesse’s house. He watches Badger and Skinny P exit after agreeing to sell the meth Jesse still plans to cook. But Jesse isn’t leaving. Desperate for any info, Hank calls Walt, admits to knowing Walt bought some pot from Jesse, and asks about an RV. Uh oh.
Walt hightails it to Clovis’s yard, says they’ve got to destroy the RV pronto. Clovis says he knows a guy at a junkyard who’ll do it. Badger’s there too. He calls up Jesse, the fool.
It’s looking good at the junkyard. Walt checks the RV for any last items before it’s crushed into a cube and sent to China, when Jesse barges in. His outrage is cut short when Hank pulls up behind them.
How great a scene is this? Hank’s got Jesse and Walt trapped inside the RV. How the hell do they get out of this mess? I love Breaking Bad for making it this tough on its protagonists. Hank’s going to break in until the junkyard man starts talking illegal search and seizure. Jesse yells that this is his domicile and he doesn’t consent to it being searched. Hank is pissed, but he’s got his quarry trapped (only Jesse, as far as he knows…if only he realized who was really inside that RV). He goes to his car to call in a warrant.
Walt comes up with a plan, of course, and it’s as cruel as can be. He has Saul’s secretary call Hank pretending to be a cop. She says Marie’s been in a car accident and is being airlifted to a hospital. Hank tears out of there in a panic. When he gets to the hospital, out of his mind, he learns he’s been had.
It gets worse. The Salamanco cousins want to kill Walt. Gus tells them no, reminds them that it was in fact a DEA agent who shot Tuco. But the head of the cartel says they can’t touch the DEA. Gus says north of the border, he’s in charge, and he gives them permission to kill Hank.
The way this goes down in episode 7 gives us our first real glimpse of just how smart Gus is. But first we go back in time.
A flashback opens the episode, the cousins as kids, their father Hector in fine health. Hector’s on the phone. He mentions the “chicken man,” no doubt Gus, says he’s from South America and therefore dirty, and seems to suggest something terrible is going to happen to him. Hector then teaches the kids a lesson about family by almost drowning one of them in a bucket of ice water. Nice guy, that Hector.
Hank has snapped. As Jesse enters his house, Hank appears and beats the living shit out of him. Jesse’s taken to the hospital with his face ruined. Saul is overjoyed, says the cops can’t come near Jesse now, his fucked up face is his “get out of jail free card.” Problem is, Jesse tells Saul and Walt that he’s going to ruin Hank, and then some. Actually, Jesse’s speech on what he’s going to do to Hank is not my favorite moment on this show. It comes across as very scripted and fake, I’m afraid, but the intent is the important thing. Jesse adds that his real get out of jail free card is that if he’s ever arrested, he’ll roll over on Walt.
Outside the hospital room, Walt and Saul talk nervously. Walt says Jesse will come around. Saul says maybe, or maybe they should consider “other options.” And Walt’s twisted brain beings to turn…
Hank meets with investigators, his job on the line. Turns out Jesse’s blood came back clean, no drugs. In the elevator with Marie, Hank breaks down crying. And at home with her, he admits that he was wrong, that he can’t sleep, that he’s unravelling, that killing Tuco changed him. “I’m not the man I thought I was,” he says. He’s going to admit what he did to Jesse, even if it means losing his job.
At the superlab, Walt is cold towards Gale. He finds an error Gale’s made, ruining gallons of product. Of course Gale made no error. Walt engineered the screw-up. He’s got a plan. He calls Gus and says Gale isn’t working out. He wants Jesse to be his assistant. He needs Jesse on his side again. And he needs Jesse to lay off Hank.
Walt tells Jesse he wants him to be his partner again. They’ll split the three million. And Jesse, to redeem that earlier speech, lays into Walt. “Ever since I met you, everything I cared about is gone. I have never been more alone. I have nothing!” It’s the smartest, most self-aware thing Jesse has ever said. He nails Walt on everything. Everything Walt does is done for selfish reasons, and he’s destroyed Jesse in doing it. Way to catch on, Jesse! Stay away from this madman while you’re still breathing!
And yet…Jesse calls Walt later and agrees to the deal. He can’t escape the lure. And the fact is, he does have nothing and no one. All he has is Walt, the man who’s destroying him. A cruel irony, indeed.
At his hearing, Hank admits to what he did to Jesse. He’s relieved of his badge and gun. Yet walking to the elevator, his boss tells him that Pinkman isn’t going to press charges after all. Why is that, Hank wonders. “Maybe you have a guardian angel.” Hm, yes. Although “angel” may not be quite the right word.
Later, in a parking lot, Hank gets into his SUV when he gets a call. A distorted voice tells him that two men are coming to kill him. He has one minute.
Hank has a minor panic attack. One minute later, the cousins appear. Hank backs the SUV into one cousin, grabs his dropped gun, shoots the second cousin, but he’s wearing a bullet proof vest and shoots Hank twice. He could kill Hank, but says, “Too easy,” and goes to fetch his axe, giving Hank time to load a fallen bullet (fallen from one of the cousins’ shirt pockets, put there when, earlier in the episode, an arms dealer gave him a free sample bullet), and, when the cousin returns with the axe, to blow his head off.
It’s one hell of an intense scene. But wait, who called Hank to warn him? Who else but Gus? Gus doesn’t need Hank around, but he needs the cousins even less. By warning Hank, Gus guaranteed that as many of his enemies as possible would wind up dead. Smart thinking. It’s going to be awhile before Gus understands that his biggest threat is Walt.
Thus far, season 3 has a very different feel than season 2. It feels deeper and wider, with more characters playing important parts, and with Walt, at least so far, acting more as a pawn than he realizes. The existence of the lab has shown Walt a way to power. He hasn’t admitted to himself just how much he wants that power, not yet, but he’s on his way to achieving it, whatever it ends up costing.
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
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13
- Season 3, Episodes 1-4