TV Episode Review: “Breaking Bad” “Rabid Dog” (05.12, 2013)

Written by Sam Catlin (Previous Episodes: “Down,” “4 Days Out,” “Green Light,” “Fly,” “Half Measures,” “Open House,” “Hermanos,” “Crawl Space,” and “Fifty-One”)

Directed by Sam Catlin (No Previous Episodes)

After last episode’s cliffhanger, I really wasn’t sure what to expect here. As I said last week, I was not sure whether the White home showed signs of burn damage, so I wasn’t sure that Jesse was going to be stopped, though I thought it was likely. And I thought it might well mean the end of Jesse Pinkman. In retrospect, what happened makes perfect sense and seems it should have been predictable. Jesse was indeed stopped, but not by Heisenberg. Instead, he was stopped by Hank, who had tailed Jesse from Saul’s office and saw this as an opportunity to get Jesse to flip.

The reveal of what happened was not immediate. Instead, we got a typically Breaking Bad tense, taut sequence as Heisenberg arrived in front of his house and saw Saul’s car then crept in, investigating what Jesse had done and where he was, finding his living room carpet soaked with gasoline but no sign of Jesse. And then, in usual Walt/Heisenberg fashion, his first reaction is apparently not to ensure his own or his family’s safety, but to call carpet cleaners and hide the entire episode from Skyler. Saul’s guys are out searching for Jesse, but he finally thinks to have Hule check on Junior at school only after the cleaners have apparently already long been at work.

Maybe our most long-term lesson from this episode is just how angry Hank and Marie really are. Hank is perfectly willing to cold-heartedly sacrifice Jesse (A coldheartedness that we saw in him back in season 2 resurfacing for the first time since a tortoise exploded around him.) in order to get some evidence against Heisenberg, which wouldn’t exactly be iron-clad evidence anyway since he would essentially be claiming that these criminal activities are the only possible motivation for Walt to murder Jesse without any evidence of the actual criminal activity beyond the Leaves of Grass book that has no chain of custody and Walt’s “confession.” Marie, meanwhile, responds to the news that a drug addict is sleeping in her house by saying that she’s okay with it as long as it’s bad for Walt and fantasizes to her therapist about poisoning Heisenberg, not knowing how ironic it is to talk about poisoning a man who has spent the last year looking for someone to poison with a vial of ricin and who poisoned a child in order to keep himself safe.

Heisenberg takes his family to a fancy hotel while the carpet gets replaced (And will it ever get replaced or just removed? The carpet is gone in the future.), a sequence which allows R.J. Mitte to show off some acting chops for the first time in the show’s history. He calls Walt on his bullshit just as he did back in season one when he said, “Why don’t you just die already then?” and even gets a beautifully-shot scene discussing Walt’s illness with him in front of the hotel pool. He’s brilliant in these scenes and it really makes me wonder if this show hasn’t squandered him a bit. The scene in front of the pool also highlights just how hubristic Heisenberg has become at this point, as he says, “You think I came all this way just to let something as silly as lung cancer take me down?” The man who didn’t even want treatment because he had already given up is now calling lung cancer “silly” and saying that it couldn’t bring someone of his stature down. It’s a pretty powerful callback to the way he reacted to that initial diagnosis that shows just how far this character has gone.

Visually, Sam Catlin’s directorial debut proves itself to be on par with Breaking Bad’s usual look. He even gets one of the most beautiful scenes in the show’s history with Heisenberg and Junior discussing his illness in front of the pool, a scene filled with dramatic shadows and strong colors. It’s the type of scene that no other television show attempts visually, and first-time director Sam Catlin pulls it off.

Overall this was another excellent episode, if something of a dropoff from what we’ve seen this season before.

 

Notes

  • I couldn’t help but think that Mike would have already found Jesse before the cleaners could even get there. The reason Saul’s guys can’t find him is that, oh yeah, Heisenberg killed the guy who would have!
  • Having Hule check on Junior might have been a direct response to the long-running internet hypothesis that Junior exists so that someone can use him to get to Walt near the end.
  • No Lydia. No Todd. No neo-Nazis. For the first time, it felt like Heisenberg was out of the business and was just seeing his chickens come home to roost.
  • Hank and Marie’s bookshelf behind Jesse is filled with books on horses (The Body Language of Horses, Horse Sense, Basic Horsemanship), a prominently-placed book on the 1929 stock market crash, and Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris, a very controversial fictionalized biography that is noted for its blending of reality and fiction. That book’s presence may be a reference to Walt’s confession, or it may even have some other meaning that eludes me. The others don’t strike me as particularly meaningful, but hey if you wondered what was on the shelf, that’s what I could see.
  • Marie’s purple rug made me laugh.
  • Hank is smart. That scene telling Jesse to meet with Heisenberg is a perfect example—he’s figured out from what Jesse told him that Heisenberg cares about him, even though Jesse has never figured that out himself.
  • Steve really went along with Hank’s plan even after that creepy, “We get it all on tape?” I know Hank is the boss, but Steve seems to be a smart, self-assured guy normally. It seems odd to me that he goes along for the ride on this.
  • “Next time I’m gonna get you where you really live.” What does that mean? My first thought was that it means the money, but could it mean something else? After all, he does talk to Hank afterward and say, “There’s another way. A better way.”
  • The neo-Nazis were obviously more than capable of their jobs before, but can they really get to Jesse while he’s hiding with Hank now that Hank has told Steve?
  • After some down time, it’s good to see Jesse get interesting again for a couple of episodes, if nothing else just for the sake of seeing Aaron Paul at work.
  • Betsy Brandt was brilliant talking to her therapist. Marie is a character who could easily be laughably unbelievable, but Brandt always keeps her real, and doesn’t get much attention for it.

TV Episode Review: “Breaking Bad” “Confessions” (05.11, 2013)

Written by Gennifer Hutchison (Previous Episodes: “I See You,” “Cornered,” “Salud,” and “Buyout”)

Directed by Michael Slovis (Previous Episodes: “Kafkaesque,” “Cornered,” and “Live Free or Die”)

 Breaking Bad has typically been a show that has burned slowly, building up tension before explosive bursts of activity. This half-season has been positively teeming with activity compared to the show’s typical beginnings. Yet, this episode was still an explosion along the lines of “Half Measures” back in season three.

We’ve been watching Hank, who is clearly not Heisenberg’s final enemy, build up his case against Walter White and Walt/Heisenberg try to squirrel out of it and Jesse completely self-destruct under the weight of the guilt he feels about everything that’s happened. For the first two hours, that is essentially all that has been happening. We’re waiting for Hank to reveal his discoveries to his superiors, only to have Heisenberg turn the tables with a “confession” where he explains his criminal activities but claims that they were all at Hank’s behest. Then, the self-destructing Jesse still doesn’t flip on Heisenberg but realizes that Heisenberg poisoned Brock last season and heads to the White home seeking revenge. It may have been surprising to see the show have a Walt-Hank confrontation so quickly, but that is nothing compared to the surprise of seeing this much activity at once.

Also for the first time this season, I was completely caught by surprise by one plot turn. We all knew the Hank-Walt confrontation was coming—it was only the timing that was a surprise. We all knew that Lydia was going to do something about Declan’s operation and its falling standards and that somehow Todd was involved. However, Heisenberg’s “confession” was a shock. Equally shocking was how easily the pieces fit together from the outside: The DEA would have no reason to think that Heisenberg’s revelation was false and indeed would see plenty of evidence that it was honest and truthful, including Hank’s behavior in this episode as he pulls the detail off of Jesse rather than explain to Steve why he wants it there in the first place. The book that revealed everything to Hank being in his possession with no chain of evidence would be evidence of an illicit relationship between them just as easily as it is evidence of such a relationship between Walt and Gale. The meth money used to pay for Hank’s rehab is, as Hank says, the final nail in the coffin, but the coffin is pretty well nailed shut even without that bit of evidence. It’s an impressive plan on Heisenberg’s part, because it works so well.

But in spite of all of that and how it seems to put Hank on hold for now (His taking the detail off of Jesse seems to be a signal that, for now, he is backing off.), there are two more important bits of business for the show long-term. The first is, obviously, Jesse’s discovery that Walt poisoned Brock. The second is the less obvious continued development of Todd’s weirdness and ascension in the meth business.

Saul ends up calling the disappearer, as I’ve been expecting, but it’s for Jesse, not Heisenberg. Jesse then discovers that Hule, the seeming klutz bodyguard in Saul’s office, has adeptly lifted his marijuana from his pocket and so has the realization that Hule could have done the same with the mysteriously missing ricin cigarette a season ago. He understandably reacts with some real anger, stealing Saul’s car and heading to the White home with a can of gasoline, throwing it around the house and screaming.

I re-watched the flash-forward from “Blood Money” to see whether the house showed signs of burning, and I’m not sure whether it does or not. The scene is shot with such low-key lighting and so much grey coloring that I just can’t tell whether the living room is burned out or not. Clearly, the house is still standing and parts of it where burns would be more easily visible do not show any such evidence, but it is ambiguous enough that I cannot be sure that something is going to stop Jesse from lighting that gasoline. He may yet be stopped, but it’s possible, with only one can of gasoline and Heisenberg likely on the way to the house, that he is going to get it started and just not succeed in burning down the house.

The more important question from this scene now is what is going to happen to Jesse. It seems likely, the way this season has gone at such a breakneck pace and just essentially disposed of one antagonist, that we could get a Heisenberg-Jesse confrontation already, and it may well be that Jesse Pinkman does not survive the next episode. For years, I had said that the show would progress to Heisenberg v. Gus, then Heisenberg v. Hank, then end with Heisenberg v. Jesse. I’ve decided that his final battle will not be with Jesse, because the Lydia/Todd group is clearly being built up on more of a slow burn. But that means Jesse is going to have to be out of the way soon, and I think this scene may have made it clear that he’s gone next episode, or maybe two episodes if they really want to draw it out. That of course also means that my prediction for the ending is completely shot, but that doesn’t bother me!

Meanwhile, in the continued adventures of Todd, Weird Boy . . .

Todd goes to a diner with a couple of his and Lydia’s hit men from last episode, one of whom I now notice (I’m not sure if it was visible last time.) has a swastika tattoo that reveals he is probably part of the neo-Nazi group Heisenberg used to get rid of Mike’s guys. He tells them the story of the train robbery, sounding like an excited movie fan more than a participant in a traumatic event that included a ridiculous amount of danger and ended with him killing a child (a part of the story that he does not even mention to his comrades). Then, while the two men ogle a pretty waitress (in a really obvious and somewhat laughable way), he not only does not join in but looks clearly uncomfortable at them doing it. We get another reminder about how cold and unfeeling these men are in a sequence that seems like it belongs in A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, USA/Germany 2005), and yet Todd still seems less human than they are. Just not joining in the ogling wouldn’t say much—he could be gay or asexual or maybe the waitress just wasn’t his type—but his clear discomfort made it appear that there is something else there, something deeper and more troubling.

It was clear from his first moment on screen that there was a long-term plan for Todd and he was not as he appeared—Saul introduced the rest of the pest control team easily but had to check on Todd’s name, and of course he is played by a recognizable TV actor in Jesse Plemons. Is he actually the reason Walter White will return to Albuquerque, needing a machine gun in the trunk?

Visually, this episode was a typically excellent Breaking Bad episode, which is good because Michael Slovis’s previous turns as a director have been a bit weak, not so much because of his direction as because the show misses him as cinematographer. The shot of Walt getting the gun from under the Coke machine and the beautiful low-angle shot of Jesse’s entrance to the White home are enough by themselves to establish this episode as ranking at Breaking Bad’s usual high level, and there’s nothing that really takes away from it.

Overall, this episode was the strongest yet in a brilliant opening to the best television show in history’s swan song, and it threw everything that it seemed like we knew from the first two episodes into doubt. I have a feeling we’re about to get another flash forward to confuse us even further before we see the results of Jesse’s attack on the home, but then things are most definitely happening.

Notes

  • I still wonder if somehow there is a Nazi component to what’s going to happen at the end. We have this neo-Nazi group now involved heavily in the business. Gus was from South America, where many Nazis fled after the Third Reich fell, and Don Eladio said, “I know who you are,” something that still has not been completely cleared up. Madrigal is a German company. That’s a lot of potential Nazi connections.
  • I feel sorry for Hank, paralyzed as he is by Heisenberg. He’s a good man—perhaps the only really good man we’ve seen on this show—and he’s good at his job, and his goodness has completely trapped him.
  • This episode is Aaron Paul’s Emmy submission, right? He’s always great, but that was as good as acting gets.
  • This is the first time Saul has ever gotten roughed up. He had been amazingly able to keep himself out of things physically.
  • So who is more dangerous, Lydia or Todd? Who is more mysterious? Do they have time to give us any definition of either character?
  • Is every meal scene on this show unbelievably tense? I don’t think this one was as bad as the Heisenberg-Jesse-Skyler scene we had before (or even the old Walt-Gretchen meal scene), but it definitely had more than its share of tension. And the overly enthusiastic waiter’s repeated arrivals were hilarious.
  • This show is always great, but seriously this episode was a wow episode—best we’ve seen since “Box Cutter?”

TV Episode Review: “Breaking Bad”-“Blood Money” (05.09, 2013)

Written by Peter Gould (Previous Episodes: “A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal,” “Bit by a Dead Bee,” “Better Call Saul,” “Caballo sin Nombre,” “Kafkaesque,” “Half Measures,” “Problem Dog,” “Salud,” and “Hazard Pay”)

Directed by Bryan Cranston (Previous Episodes: “Seven Thirty-Seven” and “No Más.”

The final season of the greatest television series in history kicked off its second half yesterday with “Blood Money,” an episode that continued the basic format of the first half of the season: a hint of a strange future followed by Jesse dealing with the emotional fallout of recent events and Heisenberg dealing with the physical and professional (for lack of a better word) fallout.

Once again, we open in the future, with the behaired Walter White and his old car with a machine gun in the trunk. It was a tense, scoreless sequence as he drove up in front of what turned out to be the remnants of his old house, squeezed through a temporary chain link fence and walked inside, then took out the ricin capsule he had placed in the electrical socket long ago, and returned to his car. The quiet of the scene, the added tension of knowing that there is a machine gun in the trunk (which he opened twice), and its air of mystery gave it a tension that it could easily lack.

This scene gave us some further clues about Heisenberg’s future. The house has been surrounded by a fence but has been empty long enough for vandals to get inside and spray paint, including one who has painted “Heisenberg” in bold, yellow letters across one wall. It has been emptied out completely (even the kitchen island was missing) and has become a run-down, dilapidated shell of what it once was. And then, Walt/Heisenberg’s former neighbor, Carol, sees him, and is utterly terrified, telling us that Heisenberg’s identity is even known to those in the area who are not part of the business or law enforcement. We already knew that he was not going to be able to keep the secret once Hank found out (Hank is too smart and tenacious to let that happen.), but now we know that his identity has become public knowledge.

Throughout the rest of the episode, we are moving back and forth between two plot threads: Heisenberg and Hank dealing with the consequences of Hank’s discovery last episode in one thread and Jesse still reeling from the consequences of his actions in the other.

Jesse’s plot thread, while it gives Aaron Paul a good showcase for a performance that was long overshadowed by Bryan Cranston’s lead, has grown rather stale at this point. We’re watching Jesse wallow in self-pity and remorse, seeking a way to rid himself of the title “blood money.” He turns to Saul for help, but Saul runs to Heisenberg, unwilling to cross his dangerous top client, and so Jesse finally, in desperation, turns to literally throwing the money at houses in a poor neighborhood. In isolation, it’s not a bad sequence of events for showing Jesse’s despair, but at this point we’ve basically spent the last year and a half just watching Jesse go through these same feelings of despondency, with only a brief interlude of cogency. It’s still sad, but it’s starting to wear, at least for me.

Meanwhile, in a surprise for me, it turns out that Walt was actually telling the truth and is out of the business. He has been out for a month, having turned the operation over, and even refuses entreaties from Lydia to rejoin the business as its quality control fails without him. He and Skyler are running the car wash, successfully, and considering adding a new car wash in order to launder the money more quickly. Even their relationship appears to be in a much better place than it has been since the first season, as they are able to discuss business dealings without issue and Walt can tell her who Lydia is and Skyler’s reaction is to help get rid of her.

However, of course the centerpiece of the episode is what the hell Hank does when he comes out of that bathroom. In a really nice sequence that used some unusual auditory and visual tricks that emphasized what a weird situation this was for Hank, he walks out, hides the book in Marie’s purse, and makes up a plausible excuse about feeling ill–while looking like he’s considering just punching Walt in the face–before taking his wife away from the man he now knows to be the most dangerous meth cook he’s ever encountered. It was a bit surprising to me that he decided not to tell anyone at work, since even though Hank has always been a lone wolf of an investigator, he’s probably now rendered the book, which is the only evidence he has, inadmissible in court and he’s now opened himself up to an attack from Heisenberg that would end the entire investigation. However, it wasn’t really out of character for the bulldog that is Hank Schrader to decide to do his own investigating, hide it from everyone until he’s certain, and figure everything out on his own while not even considering the danger in which he has placed himself.

The biggest surprise; however, was that the Hank/Walt confrontation happened so quickly. It’s an interesting confrontation, especially considering that it begins with Hank so predictably punching Walt in the face. Walt is clearly confused by the interaction, switching back and forth between his persona as Walt and his persona as Heisenberg as he attempts verbally to fight off his brother in law. However, it ends with a standoff, as Walt suddenly tells both Hank and the audience that his cancer is back. There were hints for us earlier, most notably his vomiting earlier in this episode that so clearly harkened back both to Gus Fring’s making himself vomit in Mexico and the early days of the series when Walt’s chemo caused him to spend so much time in that bathroom and his calling Saul during what appeared to be a chemotherapy treatment, but this is apparently the first Hank knows about it. It says a lot about Hank, though, that his reaction is, “Good. Rot, you son of a bitch.” When he receives not sympathy, Walt turns back into Heisenberg, saying that he will not survive to spend time in prison and finally threatening Hank, warning him to “tread lightly.” Hank stares back at him, and there is simply no resolution at this point, and it’s difficult to see where this particular confrontation is going.

Visually, Bryan Cranston does by far his best work in the show’s history here. His earlier episodes were a bit overly showy, loaded with odd camera angles and weird color choices that seemed to be there to draw attention to the director rather than advance the plot, but this time he seems perfectly in line with the show’s normal visual tone, and his unusual touches–like the sequence of Hank walking out of the bathroom–are perfectly suited to the show.

Overall, this episode was a strong opening to the end of the series. I feel a little bored with Jesse’s antics at this point, but I trust Vince Gilligan and company to take it someplace interesting.

Notes:

  • Remember when Mike said that Lydia was dangerous and “deserved to die as much as any man [he’d] ever met?” Walt clearly still does not think so.
  • 68% is pretty far to fall in a month of his being out. I would guess he left the chemistry in the hands of Todd, but he seemed to be very studious of the master Heisenberg before, so it seems strange that he would have let the standards fall so far.
  • I still have no clue why he would need the machine gun, and feeling like he needed the ricin is even weirder. It has to be some sort of confrontation with Lydia and her associates, because nothing else makes sense, but why on earth did he end up having to come back for that instead of just living out his days wherever the disappearer sent him?
  • There is a lot of plot to get through in the last seven episodes, especially since one would expect at least one full episode dedicated to what happens after the future openings we’ve seen. My guess is that he is able to buy enough time from Hank to get to use the disappearer but doesn’t kill Hank, leaving the case hanging over Walt as he escapes. However, Lydia is unhappy about the quality she is getting and forces Jesse into the business. Walt somehow finds out about Jesse’s position and goes back to save Jesse, hoping that it will be a final act of redemption. That’s my best try for now.