One of Breaking Bad’s finest aspects is its tendancy to play fair with the audience. It doesn’t put off plot movement out of the need to fill time, it doesn’t cheat its characters out of their next logical move, and it doesn’t underestimate its audience. We’re smart enough to know where Jesse stands with Walt and Gus, that Hank wouldn’t march into the DEA headquarters without something concrete, and that Gus wouldn’t be cowering in fear of the cartel if there wasn’t something very serious going on. It is so good about this that when it does take a little narrative indulgence, as it did tonight, it has more than earned the right to do so.
This week’s episode largely belonged to Jesse and Hank, connected as they are. The former remains haunted by his demons (as we learned in this week’s bang-up opening, complete with a camera attached to the end of Jesse’s light gun) while the latter is exorcising them. Gus and Walt’s maneuvering has landed Jesse square in the middle of this conflict, after Walt learns from Saul about Jesse’s encounter with Gus last week. Walt tries to talk Jesse into killing Gus but it doesn’t matter because Jesse seems ready to do it anyway.
Walt, for his part, is more on the fringes of this week’s episode, but he remains driven to ridiculous extremes by his powerlessness. Rather than returning Junior’s car, he sets it on fire (incurring $52,000 in fees). He finds Skyler growing increasingly distant (see the awkward peck on the cheek) and he even offers her an out when he seems surprised about the amount of money he had (I have to admit I found this part a little bit of a stretch. Did this really never come up? Especially given Walt’s warped sense of pride)
So, anyway, Walt gets to work on a Breaking Bad standard, the odorless, flavorless poison (long term viewers will remember him trying to give the same thing to Tuco in Season 2). He gives it to Jesse, who hides it in a cigarette but is not sure when he may see Gus again. It turns out that he would see him the next day, as Mike takes Jesse to serve as muscle for Gus’ big meet with the Cartel. Jesse has a chance to poison Gus right then and there, and then again could just shoot him in the head, but both times he doesn’t do it. It seems like Jesse might be thinking seriously about Mike’s suggestion that his loyalty is to the wrong person.
Or it could just be Jesse’s deep and powerful self-loathing. The latter drives him back to NA where he runs into one of the lifers from last time (who we last saw harassing Raylan Givens on Justified). Jesse flirts with confession, telling the people that he killed a dog but when a woman in the group turns on him, Jesse turns back on himself, lashing out at the group and admitting that he started there to sell them drugs. The episode leaves Jesse even worse off than before. He’s slouching more and generally seeming disconnected from the world around him.
On the other hand, Hank finds himself taking control of his life and the episode reflects that in his physical improvement. Not only is he walking around without help, but he goes from a walker to a cane in the course of the episode. In his first scene he slyly takes Junior to Los Pollos Hermanos, getting some face time with Gus Fring and even a free refill hand delivered by the man himself (and look at how smooth Gus is in this scene. Not only does he laud Hank but he offers Junior a part-time job, which would also happen to give him more leverage with Walter, without ever once dropping his “upstanding businessman” act. The guy is cold-blooded.)
Gus is very good, but Hank is even better, and he shows the lengths he has been going to when he finally sits down with his former colleagues in the DEA. He backtracked a serial number in Gale’s apartment to a company that sells the kind of tanks that would be useful to someone looking to make a massive meth lab. Then he connects the company to Pollos. All of this is circumstantial, and the DEA guys dismiss it as much, until Hank drops his bombshell. He found Gus’ fingerprints at Gale’s house.
For an episode that was mostly about table-setting, this week’s Breaking Bad was still superb. The parallels between Hank and Jesse were brilliantly drawn, as was the tension (this show sure does poison really well). The tension has gotten so hard to bear that a lesser show would have brought everything to a boil weeks ago. Here, however, things just keep getting worse and worse, and the ways out keep getting narrower and narrower.
Jonah’s Score: 89
TUiW Grade: A
-I didn’t touch on the bit of narrative indulgence I alluded to earlier, when we found out that the Cartel is after something very specific from Gus. I’m not sure if I was the only one who was assuming that the Cartel was simply mad a Gus for his direct actions against him, but that took me by surprise. Any guesses about what they’re after? The obvious guess would be Heisenberg, but the Cartel seemed happy to let the Cousins kill him last season. Maybe they want Hank dead? Either way, frustrating as it was, I’m sure there’s a good reason why we didn’t learn that piece of information this week.
-Really great work by Aaron Paul this week, especially in his big scene at the NA meeting. In fact, between him, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jonathan Banks, there are enough good performances this year to totally overwhelm the Best Supporting Actor category at the Emmys.
-I would like to see more of how Hank’s newfound sense of purpose has changed life at home for Marie. She certainly seems happier. Am I the only one who wants to see a scene with just the two of them to confirm it?