Listen closely. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of Breaking Bad fans sobbing into their pillows at the realization that they’ll have to wait ten months before the show returns to wrap up its fifth season, or what will undoubtedly be referred to as Season 5, pt. 2 (*shudder*) once the Blu-rays are released.
No fun, but it is what it is. So now we’ll settle in and spend the next year wondering what exactly we’re going to see when the show comes back. And wonder who else will be left dead once all is said and done.
And it could be anyone. It’s shocking how unshocking it’s become to see people die on this show, and now that things are wrapping up, there isn’t much to hold the writers back. And considering where we saw Walt at the beginning of this season – don’t forget the flashforward where he was getting ready to go all Scarface on somebody – I wouldn’t be surprised if these next eight episodes are the bloodiest yet.
And if we’re all going in on the “Who Goes First” pool, I want to go ahead and reserve Hank now for my top spot. “But wait,” you say. “Would Walt really kill his brother-in-law?” I think he would. I’m not saying he wouldn’t feel bad about it. I think he’d cry, maybe sit by his pool for a while and stare off into the middle distance. But in the end he’d get that hard look in his eyes and say that it had to be done. In this episode alone, Walt had all of Mike’s guys taken care of, and was even ready to get rid of Lydia once she gave Walt their names. And every time, Walt’s been able to justify it because “there was no other way.” So, yes. I think that if Walt saw Hank as the only thing standing between him and freedom, he’d definitely kill him.
But even in light of that, I found that I was still rooting for Walt to win. As I watched Hank taking a dump (where some of the best work gets done, by the way), grab Walt’s copy of Leaves of Grass and read Gale’s inscription to him inside, I realized that I didn’t want him to catch Walt. That despite all the lives Walt had ruined, just so long as he could make a name for himself as a meth dealer, no matter how many friends he lost, or people he left dead and bloodied along the way, just so long as he could make a name for himself as a meth dealer, no matter how many friends he lost, or people he left dead and bloodied along the way… I still wanted to give him a pass. Why is that? I’ve rooted for anti-heroes in the past. Tony Soprano, for one (who, by all measures is much worse than Walter White). Al Swearengen. Newt Gingrich. But this season I had come to see Walt as someone who was beyond redemption. And the first half of “Gliding Over All” didn’t exactly do much to dispel that. The beautifully shot montage of all those guys in prison getting shanked to death and set on fire (and after watching Oz, I’m convinced that prison is the scariest place on the entire planet) showed Walt at his drug-kingpinniest (whenever someone makes a phone call and says only, “it’s done,” are they ever referring to something good, like “I just delivered the flowers”?). But we also caught a glimpse of Walt the husband and father, and Walt the guy who isn’t constantly being a dick to Jesse.
Walt had told Jesse that he wasn’t in the meth-cooking business or the money-making business. He was in the empire business, which was kind of a distinction without a difference. Walt was out to “build an empire” because of the money he felt he was cheated out of when he left Grey Matter, the company he co-founded with Elliot and Gretchen. So when Skyler comes home and asks Walt to take a ride with her, then shows him the EFFING GIGANTIC pile of money he’s put together and tells him it’s more than they can spend in ten lifetimes, something clicks and thoughts of empire go right out of Walt’s head. This money is what he’s worked for. Whether he lives or dies, he’s provided for his family, so when Skyler asks him to walk away from the meth business, he sees that and is able to say yes.
And it’s like a huge weight lifts off his shoulders. He brings Jesse his share of the money (which doesn’t look like very much when compared to what we saw) and the two share a few awkward moments reminiscing about old times, when they were just two crazy kids cooking bootleg meth, living on a hope and a prayer. Walt’s too proud to say he’s sorry, but he was probably sorry for the way he treated him. Although if the choice were between hearing someone say they were sorry or giving me five million dollars, I’d probably choose the cash (but that’s just me). After visiting Jesse, we see Walt eating dinner on the back porch, with Skyler, Hank, and Marie, the whole thing a very different scene from their dinner just a few weeks ago. Walt was happy! He and Skyler smiled at each other! The future was looking good, and it looks like it’s all going to be shot to hell because Hank’s legs may be getting better, but his sphincter’s shutter speed still has a way to go.
I thought this was a good place to end the (half) season. Emotionally, I responded to it, and whether that response is something I like or dislike, it’s all I can really ask from good television. My only concern is that the show is just looking for places to go in its last few episodes. Walt hooking up with Gus, then moving against him all felt very organic. It felt like that was where the story was supposed to go. Much of what’s been introduced this season – Landry, Landry’s uncle, setting part of the business up in the Czech Republic – has seemed like two or three seasons condensed into four or five episodes. We’ve spent four years lifting Walt up, and only one tearing him down. It’s felt different from what’s come before, and I just hope it feels like one piece once the dust’s settled. Then again, the writers have yet to disappoint me, so maybe I should just shut up about it. Okay. What was I talking about? Right. Hank.
Heisenberg may be Hank’s white whale, so there isn’t much question whether or not he’ll go after Walt if he truly believes he’s the man who killed Gus Fring. And like I said, I have no doubt Walt will look to head him off if he thinks Hank’s onto him. So maybe Walt’s promise to Skyler wasn’t all it seemed. It could be that a year from now, we’ll see that Walt was never really able to walk away.
In the meantime, Boardwalk Empire’s third season begins Sunday, September 16th.
I had to watch this episode a couple of times, because the first time around I just hated it. Well, most of it. I’ve mentioned before that Skyler is really putting me through the ringer this season, and that last week’s episode was a perfect storm of several things I hated about her and Marie. Well, this week the show notched it up to 11. And because Skyler and Marie alone aren’t enough, it threw this woman from Madrigal Electric into the mix.
There’s a never-ending debate raging on the internet about this or that show having weak female characters. This debate usually comes with charges of sexism thrown at whatever writer would dare to portray women in such a way. I think a lot of these arguments get overblown. Can we just be honest and say that there are weak women out there — the same as there are weak men — and that sometimes these weak people have a part to play in whatever story the writer’s trying to tell?** A woman on TV might not be able to stand up for herself or can’t say no to men, but Walt White’s a murderer! I think we may be losing perspective. Anyway.
(**Now, don’t take this as me writing off every argument against women in television who are portrayed as weak. Sometimes these arguments hold a lot of water. Right now I’d point you to The Newsroom, where just about every female character comes off as borderline schizophrenic.)
So if there’s a weak woman written into a show, you’re not going to get a lot of argument from me, so long as that weakness has grown organically from the story. If we’re talking about Skyler in this season of Breaking Bad, I don’t think that’s the case. Yes, she knows that it was Walt who took care of Gus. And she sees that it’s a terrible thing she’s done to Ted, but Skyler has never been a stupid person. And I just can’t believe that she knew her husband was in the meth business and at the same time had some fantasy in her head where he doesn’t work with dangerous people or ever get his hands dirty or bad people would never want to do to him what he did to Gus. So this thing she does where she looks around while her lip quivers and then jumps into a swimming pool just comes off totally unbelievable to me. And what makes it worse is that I always saw Skyler as a strong woman, and they’ve kind of turned her into a wreck.
That being said, Walt bringing the smackdown on whatever plan she had to get Junior and Holly out of the house I think may have put the two of them on equal footing. At least now Skyler can be upfront with Walt about her feelings, or her lack of feelings for him, whatever the case may be. It was a confrontation that needed to happen. Walt’s not going to move out of the house, so love him or hate him, he and Skyler are going to have to find some way to live with each other. Skyler chain smoking cigarettes is progress, and that’s something.
Other things. It seems as if this season is going to show us exactly how committed Walt is to being a drug kingpin. He talks a big game, but even he seems to be under some of the same delusions as Skyler if he really thinks he can keep his work life walled off from his family life 100% of the time. In any case, he’s going to have a big decision to make concerning Lydia from Madrigal, who we find out may be bullshitting about the tracking device on the barrel of methylamine Jesse had come to pick up. I understand that the reasons to feel sympathetic toward Walt and Jesse are dwindling faster than a Russian gymnasts’ hopes for a gold medal (TOPICAL!), but you can still make the case that these are two guys who are trying to live with one leg in and one leg out of the drug business. SOOOOO I get that maybe they don’t want to kill Lydia — and Jesse obviously doesn’t — but after watching so many movies and TV shows about drug dealers only doing business with people they know and vetting new customers, you kind of get it ingrained in your head that someone as neurotic as Lydia running around, freaking out, and more importantly knowing all of Mike’s dirty secrets is a huge loose end. I mean, aren’t we watching the beginning of the end here?
I know this one is coming late, so let’s cut the crap! No preambles, on to the review!
Walter White is a bad dude, and a big part of his journey from good guy to bad guy was working with Gus. But Walt’s work in the superlab is very different from his work with Vamonos Pest (love it) insofar as it impacts his character. Let me explain. Right from the start you could look at Gus as a predator, someone that Walt would have been ill-advised to screw around with. But, at heart Walt’s a selfish person whose ambitions will only get bigger until his cancer or Mike or some other damn thing puts him in the cold, cold ground so you knew it was only a matter of time before these two guys went head to head. And they did, and we all know how that turned out.
But it wasn’t all out war, guns blazing right from the start. Walt had to play it smart. But Gus was also playing it smart, so Walt had to learn how to play the game smarter. Which he did. And now that Gus is gone, Walt’s entered a new phase in his career. A phase that is less about learning than it is about the being the boss. So, while the goings on at Vamonos are and will continue to be important to the story, I think they’re less important than they were at the superlab. Does that make sense? I hope not.
These Women This Woman. Skyler is kind of driving me crazy this season. And a big piece of that is the complete 180 she’s made since last season, when she was really gung-ho about laundering Walt’s ill-gotten money. It’s going to be a long season if most of what we see is Skyler trying to figure out what to do with her hands while staring off into the middle distance because she’s worried about what Walt might do to the family. Or if we get any more scenes like Skyler and Marie at the car wash, which was like a perfect storm of crazy and all the things I hate about characters who are in the middle of a nervous breakdown (although I imagine most of you would say the same thing to Marie, given the chance). If one good thing came out of any of this this week, it was Walt telling Marie about Skyler’s affair with Beneke, and showing that he’s not above manipulating everything and everyone around him when the situation warrants it.
2. The End. I went back and forth on how to interpret this last scene with Walt talking to Jesse about why Gus killed Victor. Part of me thought it was a veiled warning to Jesse for offering to pay both his and Walt’s share of Mike’s legacy costs from his cut. Once he made the offer, there was no way Walt could just sit back and let him do it. He had to man up and offer to pay his share, too. Walt telling Jesse that Victor had “flown too close to the sun” may have been his way of telling him to sit the hell back and don’t butt in when the adults are talking business. A friend suggested that this was Walt letting Jesse know that if Mike didn’t change his cheating ways, it’d be him they were stuffing into a barrel. Upon much thought and reflection, I have to admit that seems the more logical of the two. Despite the horrible person he’s become, I think Walt genuinely cares for Jesse, and isn’t looking to get him out of the picture. At least not right now. While they’re throwing back a few brews, waiting for their batch to cook, Walt at least gives Jesse the choice whether or not to drop Andrea, although he steers him in that direction. But anyway, yeah, Walt was probably talking about Mike.
3. Scarface. I’m surprised it took the show this long to reference the movie. We’re all pretty sure this is where we’re headed, right? We know that a year from now, Walt is meeting Jim Beaver in a Denny’s bathroom, purchasing some pretty heavy firepower. So you’d think something bad is coming down the pipeline. Just remember what Walt says while watching the movie: “Everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?”
4. Landry Clarke. Jesse Plemons joining the cast may be the best news I’ve heard all year.
Up until now, Walt and Jesse have had things pretty easy, relatively speaking. Since they started working for Gus, all they’ve had to do is sit in the lab and cook**. But now Gus is gone, and if Walt and Jesse want to keep earning money they’re actually going to have to run things. That’s production, marketing, distribution, catering, the whole nine. And it’s obvious right from the start that the two of them can’t handle it alone. And that means bringing Mike onboard.
(**Sure, in between all that they had to go out and kill Gale and Gus, but, you know, work, amirite? Sometimes you just gotta stay late.)
Now, if you’ll remember, Mike has his reservations about Walt. Mainly that he’s a crazy person who’ll get them all landed in prison or killed. So it’s not too much of a surprise when Walt and Jesse visit him, offer him an equal share of whatever profits they make, and Mike turns them down flat. He’s getting old. He wants to spend time with his granddaughter. And then there’s the whole landing in prison or getting killed thing. Walt — who’s coming across as a completely different person this season — almost looks like he expected Mike’s answer. And from the slight smile we see on his face, almost enjoys the BS back-and-forth. He tells Mike to sleep on in, and I think he knows Mike will reconsider.
And in the end, Mike has no choice but to reconsider. As cold as Mike is, he can’t bring himself to kill Lydia. And if he keeps her around, he accepts the possibility that she’s going to come after him again. She already tried, sending Chris his way. And if she can be stupid once, she can be stupid twice. And now that the Feds have drained the account Mike had tucked away for his granddaughter, he’s in need of a new income source. So he calls Walt up, tells him he’s in, and Walt does a little victory lap around his kitchen. And why not? This guy’s getting everything he wants. And with that, gone are the days are the bumbling chemistry teacher, whose desperation belied just how scared of Gus he was. Now, Walt’s in control. And not just of the business, but those around him. I’m glad to see him and Jesse working together this season (why can’t everyone just get along?), but it was kind of sad to see Jesse played like a cheap fiddle in his search for the missing ricin**. And after a long day of manipulating those around him, Walt comes home to sooth his wife’s frazzled nerves while she stares with puffy eyes into the middle distance. I’m wondering if the show’s going to end every episode this season with Walt doing and saying something to Skyler that makes you want to take a shower.
(**Which Walt did not get rid of, and which I think we can safely assume we’ll see again before the series ends. Because as the saying goes, any time someone takes out a vial of ricin, you know they’re gonna use it.)
And speaking of Skyler, I’ve got questions about where the show’s taking her this season. Unfortunately, not all character arcs are created equal, and sometimes a show just comes off as a little clueless on how to handle this or that character. A good example would be Apollo from Battlestar Galactica. From season to season, it seemed like the show just really didn’t know what to do with him. First he’s a pilot, then he’s in the government, etc, and I’m wondering if Sklyer’s following a similar path. Last season we saw her embrace Walt’s business (which itself was a turnaround from the season before), and with the carwash, actively help him to cover up his tracks. Now we see her not even able to get out of bed, and I’m worried she may be snapping back in the other direction. I can understand a character having reservations about something, and Skyler should have had some major reservations about getting involved in Walt’s business. But once they commit, I like to see them commit. They can only go back and forth so many times.
And speaking of Hank, how many of you noticed that while he and Gomez were in ASAC Merkert’s office talking about Gus, Hank grabbed Merkert’s whiskey and topped off everyone’s cup? It’s small, I know, but I’m still trying to figure out how Hank’s obsession with
rocks minerals was worth the time we spend on it last year, and I’m hoping we don’t see him go off in some other crazy direction, like becoming a drunk. I know, the chances of that happening are pretty small, I admit. But then again, minerals. Of course, it’s just as likely that Hank will go off in the complete opposite direction. The mystery of Gale’s death got him out of his funk last season, and now that things are heating up with Madrigal, it’s possible he’ll turn into supercop and bust Walt’s door down. It’s possible. But then again, minerals.
A quick word about Madrigal. Alan Sepinwall praised the show’s set design in showing the company’s German office. But as a snobby asshole who used to live there, I saw one GLARING omission. Light switches. American light switches, of course, look like this (what we saw at Madrigal), while German light switches look like this. I understand there was no chance that production was going to take off across the Atlantic to shoot a five minute scene, but still, I hope the show is retroactively stripped of all its Emmys.
YES. Really, what more can I say? We’ve finally come out of the desert and into television’s Promised Land. I love Game of Thrones. I love Mad Men. But those two shows are like the secret family I keep hidden in Canada. In the end, Breaking Bad is the woman I come home to every night.
Tonight we begin Walter White’s endgame. Now, there are only fifteen episodes left, and I don’t know whether it’s a crazier ride not knowing where Walt and Jesse are going to end up, or knowing that Vince Gilligan doesn’t know either. You may have noticed that tonight’s premiere opened up about a year ahead of where we are in the show’s timeline. And at first, I thought we were going to go back to what the show did in its second season, where it slowly meted out the fate of Wayfarer Flight 515 over the course of the season’s teasers. But in an interview with ZAP2it, Gilligan says that it may be some time before the show circles back around to this particular thread (think next summer). So, it may be a while before we get hard answers, but there’s a lot I think we can safely conclude from what we saw tonight. If Walt’s on the road, using a fake ID, different hair and glasses and a full beard, buying some pretty heavy ordnance off Deadwood’s Jim Beaver (remember his appearance in season 4?), it looks like the king (as it looks like Walt is, with Gus out of the way) may have been knocked off his throne.
And assuming the saga of Breaking Bad ends badly for Walter White, which I think is the consensus out there, can any of us really claim to be surprised? I’ve been reading a lot about the mafia and the Mexican drug cartels recently, and the one thing I’ve seen pop up again and again is that the guys on top end up either dead or in prison. There are several reasons for this. Greed, carelessness, getting taken out by some young’n who wants your job. So these guys have already got a pretty bad track record, and when you add that the effing horror stories you see coming out of places like Juarez, you wonder why anyone would go into this business (well, I guess the money is pretty good). All I can hear is Tobias from Arrested Development saying, “But it might work for us.” Anyway, it doesn’t seem like Walt is interested in learning the lessons of his fallen comrades. Like he told Skyler, he won, and he won by being really smart, so he’s just gonna sit back and soak it in for a while.
But like Biggie reminded us, more money equals more problems (direct parallel, nailed it), and even though Gus is out of the way, Walt and Jesse aren’t home free. A lot of tonight’s premiere was about tying up loose ends. Walt has to get rid of the bomb-making materials lying around his kitchen. And just as he’s done that we see him run back outside to dispose of the Lilly of the Valley plant he used to poison Brock. Mike’s still out there**, as pissed off and cranky as ever. And it turns out that the Albuquerque police have got their hands on the hard drive Gus was storing all that camera footage of Walt and Jesse cooking on. So, you know, the to-do list is filling up.
(**And didn’t Mike’s reunion with Walt and Jesse feel a little clipped? I have a feeling we might see an extended cut of the premiere once the DVD comes out.)
And even though Jesse’s the one who has the idea of using a magnet to wipe the computer’s hard drive, Walt’s the one who implements it. There are a few bumps in the road, but a plan that by all accounts should have failed miserably came off, which only served to puff up Walt’s already over-inflated ego. As they’re speeding away, and Mike asks what proof Walt has that their plan actually worked, Walt sits back all smug and says, “Because I said so.” So Walt’s changed.
And you know what? I think we can accept that, and even sympathize with it to a certain extent. Walt’s plan to take out Gus was pretty brilliant, with the Hectorbomb and whatnot. And we’re all fans of violence and stuff, so watching Gus with half his face blown off scratched an itch. But by the end of the episode I think Walt’s well on his way to getting rid any goodwill he may have built up over the couple of episodes. He has his sit down with Saul, who recaps the entire Beneke ordeal and explains why Skyler gave away more than $600,000. So Walt goes home, hugs his wife who’s so obviously terrified of him now**, and tells her that he forgives her.
(**Okay, a couple of things about Skyler. 1. Was she serious when she told Walt that with all the money they were making at the car wash last season that he could start thinking about an exit strategy from his cartel gig? If Walt’s the cook for the entire Southwestern meth trade, to the point where he or Jesse taking a day off screws up business, then there is no quitting. He’s got the job for life. And 2. I understand that Skyler might have a legitimate reason for being scared of Walt, now that she’s finding out that in addition to cooking meth he may also be a stone cold killer, but I’m really getting sick of her bi-polar attitude toward him from season to season. She’s already made the decision to stay with him, even help him, so I hope we don’t see her relitigating that decision too much. Especially when we see how hard she turned in the scene with Ted, when he promised not to tell anyone what happened, because hey, he’s got a family.)
I see Walt as Tony Soprano. Bad things that happen aren’t his fault. In this case, the stuff with Ted really wasn’t his fault, but he came at the situation as if he and Skyler weren’t do things together. It was all Skyler. The thing that’s interesting about the Walt/Tony comparison is that Tony grew up with organized crime. He’s the boss so he’s got the huge ego and sense of self-importance that goes with it, but I think he knew when to keep it under control. Walt’s just getting a taste for this now after kind of being walked on his entire life, so he hasn’t developed that control yet. And if he can’t, if “The Life” is just too much for him to handle, then he’s probably gonna join Gus and all those other dead cartel guys sooner rather than later.
Man. Breaking Bad, am I right? At every turn it manages to surprise me. And as I find myself sitting here once again, staring some ungodly long hiatus from the show in the face and wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life during that time, I find I have no idea where it goes from here.
As the dust settled and Walt and Jesse were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, Jesse asks, “He had to go, right?” He being the recently deceased (and titular “face off”) Gus Fring. “Damn right,” Walt says. And he’s (damn) right. Breaking Bad isn’t a Dexter or a Heroes or a Star Trek: Voyager. It doesn’t come with a reset button. Walt’s Gus situation was never going to get better any other way. The show had reached the point where these two characters could no longer coexist. And come on, Walt was never going to die. So yes, it was Gus who had to go. We may not have known when or how that final showdown would play out, but the revelation itself wasn’t anything we didn’t see coming.
But when it came, it really came. And hard. And it brought together one of the unlikeliest and most unexpected alliances in Walt and Hector Salamanca. And that was full of some great moments. Not the least of which was Hector playing Hank and the other DEA agents, putting on a show for Gus or whoever may have been watching him. Of course, once we heard Walt ask Hector if he was having any second thoughts, we kind of knew where things were headed. Hector’s an old man and knew that Gus was going to punch his card eventually. And getting blown up would be worth it if he could take Gus with him.
And getting blown up is just what Gus did. But the show didn’t stop there. Like Breaking Bad so often does, it gave us an extra kick in the ass on the way out. As Walt’s bomb exploded and the door to Hector’s room was blown off its hinges, we saw Gus walk out, his usual calm and composed self. But as the camera came around and we all looked to the two nurses to confirm what we knew was coming (you know you did), we saw that all was not right in Casa Tranquila. Half of Gus’ face had been ripped off. And for the last time we watched as he straightened his tie, then remembered he didn’t have a brain and toppled over. That’s not a picture you just shake off. That’s messed up; the sort of thing that ranks up there with Cavil blowing his brains out on Battlestar Galactica or that freaky backwards sex scene on True Blood. It’s also one of the many reasons we love this show.
In all that excitement I had completely forgotten that we had seen Jesse tasered and hauled into the back of a van only minutes before. He’s been dragged back to lab and is being forced to cook under gunpoint, which I thought was a little strange. I mean, Jesse’s out to get Gus, but Gus doesn’t know that, does he? I guess it’s a moot point now. As Walt sneaks in through the service elevator, shoots Jesse’s watchdog and says, “We’ve got work to do,” I expected to see the two of them start cooking. That would have made sense. The king is dead. Long live the king, right? Walt is the new Gus. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Instead, we see them cut and run, setting fire to the lab that had kept the southwestern United States rolling in crystal meth. Bittersweet, yes. But perhaps necessary.
Later, before Walt and Jesse go their separate ways, Jesse says that Brock’s going to pull through. It turns out that it wasn’t the ricin that poisoned him after all, but some plant called Lily of the Valley that kids get into, like, all the time. It would be a few more minutes before we would see that plant sitting in Walt’s backyard and remember back to last week’s episode. Walt sitting at the table, spinning his revolver around and around. The gun stopping with its barrel pointed at the plant and the look on Walt’s face as the idea occurs to him. It was some pretty clever misdirection, and it worked so well because the story Walt fed Jesse in “End Times” seemed so plausible. Of course it was Gus who poisoned Brock. He had condoned a child’s murder before. And coming up with a way for Jesse to kill Walt himself was the perfect solution to his problem.
But as we’ve seen before and undoubtedly will continue to see, Walt’s on a very steep decline. Once we see that yes, it was possible that Walt was the one who poisoned Brock, that became even more plausible. Because Gus may have been smart, but Heisenberg is smarter. And Heisenberg had to find a way to bring Jesse back to his side. We’ve come to a point in the show where I’m having to consciously remind myself that Walt is no longer the good guy. He got into this whole thing with intentions that were noble enough, but he’s since refused multiple opportunities to leave it all behind. He’s killed in the past, but honestly, I could forgive him for that. Even shooting the dealer in the head after running him over with his car was done to protect Jesse. But poisoning Brock may be a bridge too far. I suppose there’s a case for and against the decision. Lily of the Valley was never fatal, but Walt was still poisoning a child. And if he can justify that, he can justify all sorts of things. And not all of these decisions are pragmatic and made only to ensure his survival. Before driving off, Walt calls Skyler to tell her that everything’s going to be alright; that they’re safe now. When Skyler asks what’s happened, Walt says, “I won.” Yes he did, but that’s not just a pure statement of fact. Walt’s gloating. He’s smarter. He’s the best. He beat that a**hole Gus and set his lab on fire. He eats tarantula meat and drinks panther piss. He’s a narcissist and this not-so-small victory isn’t going to do anything to change that.
But now what? Where does Walt go from here? I doubt he’s going to stop cooking. He may have set the lab on fire, but some thought went into that decision. It’s too hot to use. With Hank snooping around it isn’t safe. And if anything with Gus’ fingerprints on it was unsafe before, him getting blown up in a room with Hector Salamanca isn’t going to help things. Most of Don Euladio’s operation has been wiped out, but I’m sure there are more than a few people who might come looking for Gus, or the men who worked for him. And as far as Walt’s relationship with Jesse goes, there’s still the chance that he’ll find out about Jane or Brock. And we’ll see how long their friendship lasts then.
Or maybe Walt will leave all this meth BS behind and focus on that car wash. Maybe he’ll write this whole thing off as one crazy adventure and fly straight from here on out. It could happen. It probably won’t, but it could. This season isn’t leading into the next the way the last did into this one, but after the crazy ride the show’s taken us on this year, I have no doubt that it’ll do great things with the sixteen episodes it’s got left. Honestly, I’m more worried about myself. I love Mad Men and The Walking Dead and all, but food won’t taste as good and the air won’t smell as sweet knowing there’s no new episode of Breaking Bad just a few days away. The show’s kind of like a drug itself that way. Except I’m a pretty big drug addict so I know it’s really not.
Walt having a bag thrown over his head and being dragged into the middle of the desert was probably a good thing, when you think about it. Yes, eventually Gus was going to come after him. And with his millions of dollars and creepy underlings with their dead eyes, he had a good chance of winning. But now, Walt’s at least got a chance to get away. He can cut loose from all this Tony Montana bulls**t, be with his family.
I can understand why he wouldn’t want to, aside from trying to keep his family safe. Walt’s learned a lot about himself over the past year. And while the strangling, the shooting in the head, the standing idly by while attractive women choke on their own vomit, the dead bodies in barrels full of acid is all pretty distasteful, things aren’t all bad. Walt’s come a long way from the mild-mannered chemistry teacher/car wash cashier we were introduced to when the show first started. He’s learned that, when the situation calls for it, he can go toe to toe with the big boys. He can make tough decisions. That’s got to count for something, I imagine.
Still, when Walt falls, he falls pretty hard. And after the events of “Crawl Space” we saw just what Walt’s been reduced to. Sure, after his little meltdown last week he was able to clean himself up a bit, show Skyler the stiff upper lip. But alone, holed up in his living room, the door barricaded and the curtains drawn, we saw him jumping, peeking out the windows at every little sound.
So things are pretty bad. When Jesse comes knocking at his door, then sticks a gun in his face and accuses him of poisoning Brock with that ricin we had all completely forgotten about, Walt pretty much accepts his fate. Sure, he tries talking Jesse down off the ledge, but he understands that there’s a good chance he isn’t coming out of this one alive. But as soon as Jesse begins to doubt the story he’s cooked up in his head, as soon as Walt exposes that one chink in his armor, we see him coming back. He doesn’t have that old Walt swagger, the one that’s caused him to spit in the faces of those close to him, to call the cops on Gus’ men, to take sentimental trinkets from former bosses. But there’s enough there to give him hope, to make him think that maybe he can regain some semblance of control over his situation. He stops Jesse from storming the castle, from getting himself killed in some mad last stand against Gus. Walt says, “Let me help you.” Re. U. Nigh. Ted. And it feeels so goood!
I know I’ve spent more than enough time on my “Why Can’t We Be Friends!” soapbox, but I’d like to present this week’s episode as Exhibit A, proof that the show gains a little something when Walt and Jesse are working together. They’ve become more alike over the years, more capable of compensating in the other’s absence, but they really are two sides of a whole. Walt is the brain. Jesse is the street smarts. And neither one of them would be as far along as they are if not for the other. And besides, when I see Walt’s kitchen littered with all sorts of science-y stuff, a pot on the stove boiling full of some crazy voodoo, and Walt rewiring walkie-talkies into detonators I do the little air punch thing.
Breaking Bad has gotten very, very good at surprising us, so I wouldn’t want to guess at what’s coming next, especially going into the season finale. But there are a few things we can reasonably assume. One is that the show’s rounding a corner. After this season, there will be sixteen episodes left, so we know that Walt and Jesse will be sticking around for a while longer. We also know that even if this were the sort of show that fooled about with such nonsense, there’s really no time for it to hit any sort of reset button. Specifically in Gus’ relationship — first with Walt — but now, and maybe even more importantly, with Jesse. Gus and Walt have been on the outs since the season premiere, but as long as Jesse was working for him, and the two were on relatively good terms, Walt was never going to be able to make a move against him. Now, all bets are off. Anything can happen, but I wouldn’t bet on Gus hanging around too much longer.
But I also wouldn’t bet on him biting the dust in this next episode. As “End Times” showed us, the man has an otherworldly knack – and maybe stretches the limits of credibility, just barely — for staying ahead of the game. He knows just how to play Jesse at the hospital, showing the right amount of sympathy and sternness, letting him know that he can take a few days, stay at hospital, make sure Brock is alright. But next week, he’s going to be back in the lab cooking. And when he, Tyrus and whoever the other guy is (did anyone else find it interesting that even though Gus travels with his entourage, he still drives himself?) head back out to the garage, with Walt watching from the roof of the building across the street, waiting for them to get in the car so he can set off the bomb, Gus stops, takes a few minutes to look around, scratch that itch he’s got. He knows something isn’t right, and when he can’t identify exactly what it is, he decides not to take any chances and walks away. Do I think Walt can kill Gus? Absolutely I do. The show’s more than proved that the man is capable of anything. But it isn’t going to be easy, and it isn’t going to be quick. And like everything else Walt’s done since he started down this road, it isn’t going to come without a price.
In my review of The Hour’s season finale I said that despite some problems in the beginning the show had proved itself a gentle and experienced lover. It had me worried for a bit, but in the end the show knew what it was doing, it knew just what I wanted. Well, if The Hour is a gentle lover, then Breaking Bad is a patient but stern pimp. It’ll put up with my questions and concerns that it may be meandering just a little bit in these last few episodes of the season, but when its had enough it backhands me so hard my teeth rattle. Shamed and embarrassed, I quickly hand over a sweaty wad of money.
If I wasn’t convinced before, I am now that Vince Gilligan and the show’s writers are and perhaps always have been playing some weird game of Jedi chess with us. They’re always ten moves ahead, so things we first saw in season 3 are only now beginning to pay off. Ted (may he rest in peace… OR WAS HE PUSHED?!) and his problems with the IRS didn’t pop back into Skyler’s life because the show needed to give her something to do besides bitch about the car wash. Ted had to come back so Skyler could give him all that money Walt earned, so that it wouldn’t be there when he needed it most.
And now Walt’s right screwed.
Gilligan is quoted as saying that he didn’t know exactly how Walt’s story would end, but that he didn’t think things would end up well for anyone. That’s not something any of us needed to be told. We may have been a bit iffy on the details, but “Crawl Space” is an episode we’ve coming down the pipeline for a while now. But this season’s seemed to lack a little bit of focus, so when it finally hit, it was unexpected, and it kind of destroyed our universe.
No more games between Gus and Jesse. Gus doesn’t have to resort to staging armed robberies for Jesse’s benefit so he can jump in, save the day and puff his chest out a little bit. After everything that went down in Mexico, Jesse’s more than proven himself, and now Gus is convinced he can run the lab on his own. But despite the animosity between them, Jesse only agrees to it if Gus agrees to let Walt go. A little surprising, maybe, considering Jesse looks ready to shoot Walt himself when he shows up on his doorstep, interrupting his game of… Sonic the Hedgehog? Walt knows that Jesse’s been cooking without him, and with no real options left has come to beg for help. And it’s only now that Walt realizes what a mistake he’s made, berating Jesse all this time and acting like, without him, Jesse would be nothing.
Jesse tells Walt that he’s made his bed, and he can go rot in barrel in the middle of the Mexican desert. In that moment, you can’t help but feel sorry for Walt. That shocked expression on his face, like he’s been hit in the face with a pie. A devastating death knell of a pie, topped with cream regret, and lemon meringue misery. And… pudding… pudding… Anyway, Jesse’s got a point. Walt’s a nice guy when Walt needs something. And right now Walt needs something. But Jesse’s had enough, and that’s the end of that. But is it really? Probably not. But I’d really like to see the circumstances that bring these two back together. While I understand and accept it as a necessity of the story, I was never really really happy with the way these two guys treated each other. I liked Walt and Jesse as friends, and wish we had been able to see more of that. Although, if Walt and Jesse at each other’s throats gives us more episodes like this, then bring on the pain.
And it’s here that Gus makes his move. Walt turns around to find that creepy serial killer from The Shield, who shoves a taser in his gut and throws him in the back of a car. Next we see Walt he’s on his knees in the middle of the desert, the boss standing over him. “You are done,” Gus says. And while he’s obviously referring to Walt’s time with the company, we peel back the layers and see so much more. Not only is Walt done cooking, but because Hank’s getting so close to finding something he shouldn’t, he’s done… LIVING! And while Jesse’s got some stick up his butt about keeping Walt alive, Gus sees that whole thing as temporary, and one day soon Walt will join Hank… LIVING! I mean NOT LIVING! And from there things really take off.
It doesn’t take long for Walt to figure what he’s got to do. He heads to Saul’s, breaks down the door to his office, and asks for the number of that guy we heard about earlier in the season. The one who takes people and disappears them. Saul gives him the number of a vacuum cleaner repair service. All he’s got to do is call the number and ask for a Max Extract Pressure Probe Model 60. He’ll be sitting in a safe house in less than an hour. But Saul tells Walt that with three extra people coming along with him, services aren’t going to run cheap. But it’s okay! Walt’s got the money. It’s. Not. A. Problem. Before he goes, Walt begs Saul to call the DEA, leave an anonymous tip that Gus has put a hit out on Hank. Saul agrees, barely, they say their goodbyes and Walt speeds home. He’s got to. He’s got all that money to collect before he calls Saul’s guy. But when Walt jumps down into the episode’s titular crawl space, the money’s gone. There’s maybe $20,000 down there, and what the hell’s anyone gonna do with $20,000? Skyler’s home minutes after Walt, scared, asking what that phone call was all about when Walt asks where all the money’s gone. And oh does Skyler feel stupid. Because she’s given it to Ted. It’s gone. It’s all gone. And Walt just loses it. Who cares about Emmys and Golden Globes? Give this man a Nobel Prize, because only in our mutual agreement over what a completely brilliant performance Cranston delivered will we finally achieve world peace.
Walt cackling on the floor like some deranged Joker (the Joker’s not deranged in this analogy) while Skyler backs slowly away, then tries consoling Marie, who’s on the phone sobbing over cartel threats and being taken into protective custody was just creepy. But in the silence afterward, the weight of Walt’s situation was probably able to set in. There aren’t going to be any quick fixes. No new lives he and the family can buy their way into. Like he says in the teaser for next week’s episode, there have been consequences to everything he’s done, and now those consequences are coming. Walt will have to face them or die trying.