(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)
It’s come time for Walt to realize what’s been going on around him and because of him. He’s not going to take it well. In fact he almost suffers a complete mental breakdown. Walt is terribly conflicted. He wants to live and will struggle mightily to do so, as we shall see when this season ends, but at the same time he longs for death. The future extending indefinitely is too much. It’s too long. If only he’d died at the right time…
The focus of episode 8 is Gus and his machinations. His call of warning to Hank has resulted in the death of one Salamanca cousin, and put the other in the hospital along with Hank, who Jesse watches with glee being rolled inside the day Jesse is released.
Down in the superlab, Walt bids farewell to a very confused Gale, who’s more flabbergasted still when Jesse, his replacement, shows up at the lab in all his Jesse-ness. Walt wants to get cooking until Jesse tells him about Hank. Jesse spends the rest of the episode alone in the lab goofing off and cooking nothing. How can he? He doesn’t know the set-up.
At the hospital Hank is in surgery. Marie is flipping out. She reminds Walt that Hank never would have gotten mixed up with Jesse at all if not for Walt having bought pot from him. “Do you ever think about everything you have put him through?” she says to Walt in her pain and outrage. If he hadn’t before, Walt’s certainly thinking about it now.
Down in Mexico, the cartel boss is under huge pressure from the DEA. On the phone with Gus, he says he thinks it was Gus who gave the go-ahead for the cousins to gun for Hank. Gus denies everything. Here we see the larger plan Gus has put into action. The boss says he’ll learn the truth from the surviving cousin.
Walt has one touching and honest moment in the hospital, eating breakfast with Skyler, Marie, and Junior. He talks about how scared he was when he had his operation. He remembers all the lights being green on the drive to the hospital. He wished even one would be red, so he’d have more time with his family. It’s another moment for Skyler to rationalize what Walt’s done and in some small way to forgive him.
This is followed by a weird and scary scene. All the cops keeping vigil for Hank lead Walt up to take a look at the Salamanca cousin, in bed, hooked up to machines. When the cousin sees Walt outside his window, he tears off the tubes, flops to the floor, and crawls to the door, his bloody stumps leaving trails of blood behind him. The docs rush in to put him back in bed.
And so Walt puts the pieces together. These are Tuco’s cousins, and they came to kill him.
Gus calls, wondering why nothing is being cooked. Walt bullshits about Gale having screwed them more than he thought. Next thing you know, Gus shows up at the hospital in the guise of Pollos owner and concerned citizen, with free food for the family and the cops. Gus tells the story of how he met Hank, and how he saw a photo of the ailing Walt.
Walt takes Gus aside, shocked that Gus knew all along about his relationship to Hank. Walt asks if Tuco’s cousins were after him. Gus says not to worry. From what he’s heard, the other cousin won’t live.
Suddenly, the legless cousin goes into cardiac arrest. All the cops and Walt rush up to his room as the doctors fail to revive him. Unseen by Walt, Mike exits.
So Gus had Mike take care of the cousin. The episode ends with Gus again on the phone with the cartel boss in Mexico, who says with all the DEA attention, no meth can make its way north. In fact his house is even now surrounded by federales. Who at that moment burst in. The boss is gunned down. Gus had a very big plan indeed, and it went off beautifully.
Episode 9 starts with a hilarious commercial for Los Pollos Hermanos, telling the story of the two “chicken brothers,” and their delicious recipe for chicken. A shot of cascading chicken chunks fades to a shot of cascading meth, and into a montage of Walt and Jesse cooking, crating, and shipping off blue meth, an assembly line packaging it, the packages being placed into specially marked buckets of Pollos chicken, and being driven away in Pollos trucks.
Jesse actually does some math and determines that Gus will make $96 million in three months, and he and Walt are only being paid $3 million. Strangely, Walt doesn’t care. His mind is elsewhere.
In the hospital, Gomez tells Hank that the blue meth is once again everywhere. Hank was right all along. Hank reveals that he was warned one minute in advance of the hit. He doesn’t know who by. But Walt’s beginning to figure it out.
Walt sets up a meeting with Gus at the chicken ranch. Walt lays out what he thinks Gus did, and he’s exactly right. Gus saved Walt’s life by redirecting the cousins to Hank, thus screwing the cartel in Mexico by setting the DEA on them, leaving Gus’s meth the only product on the market. Walt says he respects the strategy and would have done the same thing in Gus’s place. And then the big question: what happens after three months? Gus says their deal may be extended indefinitely, and how does $15 million for another year sound?
How does it sound, Walt? Driving home he goes faster and faster, and shuts his eyes…the car drifts…an oncoming truck almost kills him and Walt skids to the side of the road. Indefinitely? It’s too much. Walt is lost.
Saul talks to Jesse about buying a nail salon to use to launder his money. So he’ll be able to pay taxes on it and stay out of jail. Jesse is unimpressed. He’s a crook! Crooks don’t pay taxes, bitch!
He goes to Badger and Skinny P, says he’s got a new idea for how to sell the blue stuff. And how to get the blue stuff? Seems he and Walt are always ending up with a couple pounds over the 200 per week they owe Gus. Walt doesn’t care. So Jesse starts skimming off the top. Where’s his new customer base? Rehab meetings, where Badger and Skinny P show up, lamenting how hard it is to stay off the meth now that the amazing blue kind is back on the streets. The recovering addicts listen longingly.
Hank needs physical therapy. Marie doesn’t want the crap variety provided by her insurance. But where to get the money? Skyler says she and Walt will pay for it, because they’ve got lots of money. Walt doesn’t like where this is going. Sky says they have to tell Marie the truth. Now Walt’s really worried. Sky reveals…that Walt has a terrible gambling problem. All those mysterious absences? He was gambling. Almost lost it all, but he developed a system. Now they’re sitting on seven figures. As Skyler relates this story, Walt leans in, just as interested to hear where it’s going as is Marie.
And so the stage is set for Skyler to get involved in Walt’s criminal life. As for Walt, he’s alive at the whim of Gus, for one purpose only: to cook. Skyler tells Walt she knows it’s his fault that Hank got shot. Asks if they’re safe. Walt says yes. But are they?
And so we come to episode 10, “Fly.” I’ve heard people disparage this episode. I can’t understand why. It’s brilliant. A two-hander, as they say in the biz. It’s all Jesse and Walt, no one else. But for the opening and closing in Walt’s bedroom, the whole thing takes place in the lab, where a fly is loose, a contaminant, and must be killed, or all will be lost. Yes, Walt is losing his mind, and this episode stands as a metaphor for his breakdown.
Walt is no longer in control of his own life. Gus owns him. There’s no containing what Walt’s wrought. The contamination will spread. There’s no killing the fly.
The episode opens with a close-up of a blinking red light on the fire alarm on the ceiling of Walt’s bedroom. He gets up and goes to work. He and Jesse clean the equipment. At day’s end, Walt’s baffled by their numbers not working out right. They’re short a quarter to a half a pound. Jesse suggests it’s lost in the muck they just cleaned from the vats. But Walt’s not sure. Jesse goes home, but Walt stays to re-work the numbers. He’s lost in his head. The numbers aren’t right! What’s happening? What does he not have control of?
And then a fly buzzes past. Walt goes on the attack. But he can’t kill it. He tosses a shoe into a light fixture, then topples over the railing at the top of the lab, smashes his head on a vat and lies sprawled on the floor.
Jesse comes in the next day to find Walt still there, obsessed with killing the fly. It’s a contaminant, says Walt. They must destroy it. Jesse doesn’t know what the hell is wrong with him. “We’re making meth here, not space shuttles.” And Walt counters with, “There is no more room for error, not with these people.”
Seeing that Walt’s already been up all night, Jesse makes coffee and spikes Walt’s with sleeping pills. Jesse tells a story about his aunt flipping out over an opossum hiding under her house. Turned out the cancer had spread to her brain. Walt says his cancer is still in remission. “I’m healthy. No end in sight.” Which is exactly the problem. Walt’s paranoid and dazed and, as the sleeping pills begin to take effect, he falls within himself, becomes reflective, and starts talking.
Walt says his perfect moment passed him by. When was it? He narrows it down to the night Jane died. He recalls watching TV, listening to Skyler over the baby monitor. That was it. He shouldn’t have lived past that moment. He tells Jesse about running into Donald at the bar, wonders at the impossible odds of such a thing happening. Jesse wants to know what they talked about. Family, says Walt. “I should never have left home.”
In all of Walt’s self-reflective moments on the show, he understands exactly what’s he’s done. He understands what he’s doing is wrong, yet he can’t stop. On one level he doesn’t want to stop. This is why he yearns for death, to alleviate the responsibility for his ever more twisted actions. He knows that so long as he lives, he won’t be able to stop himself.
“Jesse, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about Jane.” Walt dances right up to the edge of revealing what happened with Jane, but holds back from admitting what he did. “It’s not your fault,” says Jesse.
Walt, almost passed out, gives up on the fly. He knows there’s no containing it. But Jesse kills it.
When they leave, Walt tells Jesse that if it’s Jesse skimming meth off the top, and if he’s discovered, Walt won’t be able to protect him. Jesse denies taking it.
At home, in bed, a fly buzzes past Walt. It lands on the blinking red fire alarm light. The fly isn’t going away. There’s no killing it. It’s there, outlined in flashing red.
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
- Season 3, Episodes 5-7