9:28 am Aug. 21, 20125
Each week, Starlee Kine writes about the latest episode of "Breaking Bad." Earlier: The long game.
“She’s not here. Nobody’s here.”
We’ve reached the point where moments of levity no longer feel like breaks in the tension but stepping stones toward it. Jesse was acting like his old self at the White’s dinner table, which is to say like the kid that he is, but it’s not like we can just sit back and enjoy that anymore. The crime-family circle is finally complete. Dad’s drinking scotch, Mom’s drinking white wine. Son is sticking to water. He’s cleansing his system as his surrogate parents slowly fill theirs with toxins.
Characters who have never met are starting to converge. Sky meets Jesse, Hank meets Saul. Eventually we’ll exceed critical mass and the bomb will go off. In the meantime, the walls seem to be closing in fastest and most literally on Walt. His empire is a tent inside other real families' homes, like a child’s toy kitchen, the kind that comes with plastic versions of the traditional American dinner fare that Skyler is now buying pre-cooked from the supermarket. Walt’s own house is enveloped in darkness. Now that the innocents are gone, the light sockets are only used as hiding places.
The cold open with the bike and the boy was the saddest I’ve ever felt watching this show (with Jane’s dad’s choosing her burial dress probably in second place). In the past, the fact that Jesse’s Kryptonite was a child, any child, in danger always felt like just a device. It tracked on paper; he felt protective of his real little brother; he’s desperate for a family; but it never rang entirely emotionally true to me. This time felt different. Though we never heard him utter a word, this boy at the train tracks felt more real than Brock. I think a lot of it had to do with his hands, how big they were, the way they broadcast that he had so much more growing up to still do until the rest of his body caught up with them. Even Walt’s face betrayed, for just a second, a trace of humanity.
Last week there was much talk of leverage, who had it and why. Walt has been struggling to maintain his for a while but his value has shifted. He used to be kept around for his sharp, indispensable mind but now that that has unraveled, he serves a new function. He’s now the guy who's so crazy he’ll do anything, such as burn through his flesh with a homemade soldering iron.
New team player Todd has a similar advantage. It’s the problem with bringing new people on too fast. Mike vetted him as he has always done but again, what’s on paper isn’t the same as really knowing a person. With Gus there were enough people working for him that he could regulate who knew what. Employees were promoted because they were the best, not just because they happened to be around.
Even with Gus dead, all the decisions being made are defensive ones. Instead of growing, our gang is maintaining, and just barely at that. As Skyler says, all the available choices are wrong. Even the best-case scenarios make them seem like losers. If they sell the methylene for five million, that’s still less than the seven and half million a year that Jesse and Walt would’ve gotten by working for Gus. And three hundred million is still less than billions “with a B.”
Whereas past seasons were all about unspoken acts and silent surveillance, bits of verbal information are now coming through the telephone. Mike listens in on Hank’s opinion of mayonnaise’s alter ego, Miracle Whip, but as far as he (and we) can tell, Hank’s still in the dark when it comes to Walt. There’s also an old-fashioned game of telephone happening between the characters, as they start to communicate with the others what they know.
Marie admits to Skyler that Walt told her about the affair. She’s relieved to have everything out in the open but by telling Skyler what she already knows, Marie inadvertently delivers a vital piece of information. Skyler in turn tells Jesse about Ted, right in front of her cuckolded husband. For the past few episodes, the White household has served as the place where secrets are confessed. This week, from his easy-chair perch, Walt let both Jesse and us in on a big one. He spelled out why becoming king of the meth heads is so important to him. It all comes back to the company he helped found with his ex-girlfriend and ex-best friend, who are now happy and married to each other, not to mention supremely rich.
What we don’t hear in Walt’s speech to Jesse is his acknowledgment that he caused all his problems himself. In season 1, Walt meets up with his ex for a nice lunch that ends not all that differently from the dinner with Skyler in this episode. He’s full of spite even though she reminds him that he was the one who left her.
I’ve always held that scene up as one of the most disturbing in the whole show, since it showed us that Walt was a monster, or at least had monstrous tendencies, way before the cancer struck. He was always driven by pride to make destructive, impulsive decisions that affected not only his own life but those of his loved ones, while being loath to take responsibility for his actions. He met Skyler while she was waitressing (“Hostessing,” he makes sure to correct his son during a family meal) at a diner down the street from his lab. She was addicted to crossword puzzles and he pretended he was, too, to get her attention. Knowing what we do about him now, how can we believe there was ever a time when he didn’t resent his wife for being so common? That he didn’t marry her just as a means of prolonging the self-pity? Which makes his dismissal of her now make a lot more sense.
The other revelation of this scene is that Walt is totally nuts. We’ve suspected this all season but there’s no denying it now, and Jesse’s clued into it too. The myth of Walt being a devoted family man has been shattered. I’ve been wondering all season why Jesse has been sticking around, and we got our answer to that this week as well: he hasn’t known why either and has finally figured out that means he should get out.
There’s this flimsy headset I use to talk on my phone and whenever I throw it into my bag, it tangles itself around everything else that’s in there as though it’s a living organism with an agenda. It seems to double in length. I feel like that must be how Mike feels whenever he regards Walter White. How is it possible for one man to destroy so much so fast?
I found the acrobatics involved in justifying why the rival drug manufacturers were so all-or-nothing about the deal a bit forced, but then again, the need to be number 1 is a trait that the criminals of this show all share. Hank shares this drive too, sort of. He pushes past the point of reason in his quest to find Heisenberg, alienating his family and jeopardizing his livelihood in the process, all in order to justify a humiliating professional decision.
I’m disappointed we haven’t seen more of Hank this season, although there were jail bars across Todd’s back while he walked to his car that seem to have meant the obvious thing. I’m also back to stressing about there being too much that needs to be accomplished in too little time. In previous seasons, this week's episode would’ve been devoted to that boy’s death. Now there’s an air of multi-tasking.
I live for those moments when the links all click into place and you see why every scene unfolded the way it did, and that happened this week at the end with the “Everybody wins” line from Walt. He once again snatched the power back at the very last second, only this time he lost a physical, not just spiritual, bit of himself.