If I were to sum up the first half of this season of Breaking Bad, it would go something like this:
Skyler buys a car wash, Jesse has a party, Walt sulks and scowls, and Walter Jr. is asked what he wants for breakfast.
The second half of the season got a bit more interesting, with Jesse working directly for Hitman Mike, the Mexican cartel repeatedly disrupting Gus’s meth distribution by whacking a number of his nameless goons, and Hank finally getting out of bed and starting to investigate Gus. Also, Walt sulked and scowled, and Walter Jr. was asked what he wants for breakfast.
The languid pace of the show is nothing new: Breaking Bad has always felt to me like five solid show’s worth of content stretched out to thirteen episodes. It’s never bad, it can just take a while for things to happen or significant changes to develop. This week, however, a bunch of stuff happened, and it was all good.
Starting with Skyler, we see a cringe-worthy moment when she shows Walter Jr. the “cool” car she bought him, a PT Cruiser. It’s very safe, she explains, plus has a CD player so he can listen to tunes while he’s driving around! It’s so lame and sad when moms try to be cool.
Skyler is also dealing with her former boss and lover, Ted, who is in dutch with the IRS to the tune of $600,000. Worried that the paper trail will lead to her car wash front if Ted doesn’t pay his tab (she cooked his books when she worked for him), she arranges through Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk, cheerfully pessimistic and completely enjoyable as always) to arrange for Ted inherit the 600 grand from a mysterious dead person’s estate. Somehow, Ted doesn’t put two and two together, and thinks he is genuinely inheriting the exact amount of money he needs from a complete stranger, and then he also decides he’s not going to pay the IRS, either. Skyler finally outright tells him the money is coming from her. This is pretty dangerous: Skyler is trusting this idiot loser way more than she should, and something tells me he isn’t going to listen.
Walter Jr., while once again asked what he wants for breakfast (are the show writers just doing this to make us laugh at this point?), actually has a big part in the episode. He goes to visit Walt, who is still bruised and groggy from his brawl with Jesse. Walt breaks down weeping, apologizing to Walter Jr. for all the things Walter Jr. doesn’t even know about, and Junior puts him to bed, cleans up his place, fixes his broken glasses, and basically plays the role of the concerned dad for his own father. Walt also calls him “Jesse”, demonstrating that he’s not just apologizing to his actual son but also to the other kid he dragged into this nightmare of drugs and murder.
In the morning, Walt explains to his son that he doesn’t want to be remembered the way Walter Jr. saw him the night before, broken and weak, because that’s the only memory he has of his own father, that of a helpless, withered husk of a man. Walter Jr. then proves he is a better man that Walt: seeing his father at his weakest moment does not fill Walter Jr. with revulsion, but instead with love and compassion. Walter Jr. prefers this openly emotional Walt to the distant, distracted, and angry father Walt has been all season, and knows there is nothing weak or shameful about sharing yourself with someone who loves you, even if what you’re sharing is fear and despair. It’s great scene, finely acted by both performers, and hopefully will prove a turning point for Walt, who has been an unlikeable, incompetent jerk for the last nine episodes. It’d be nice to be able to root for him again.
(Where the White’s new baby is during this episode, I have no idea. They must have a 24-hour day care.)
Jesse Pinkman, meanwhile, is off to Mexico with Gus and Hitman Mike. To make peace with the cartel, Gus has agreed to share his meth formula, and he’s taken the visibly nervous and uncertain Jesse to the cartel’s lab to demonstrate how to properly cook their famous blue meth. The cartel’s chemist is unimpressed by the young, scruffy, and uneducated Jesse who can only identify chemicals by the appearance of the containers they are packaged in, but Pinkman steps up in a big way, giving orders, demanding that the lab be properly cleaned and sterilized, and essentially stating that things will be done his way, asshole. In effect, Jesse steps out of Walt’s shadow and becomes the version of “Heisenberg” that Walt hasn’t been able to realize lately.
It’s another great scene, and the only time in the entire run of the show where I really enjoyed both the character of Jesse Pinkman and the performance of Aaron Paul. In the past, I’ve always felt like we were being told that Jesse was a badass (by him constantly shouting “yo” and “bitch”) but never actually being shown that he was a badass. In this scene, surrounded by armed Mexican thugs, with the dangerous Gus Fring and Hitman Mike watching him, and confronted with a dismissive chemist calling him an idiot, Jesse stepped up, took control, and laid down the law. Even the normally stoic Mike and Gus smiled (a tiny bit), impressed with Jess’s handling of the situation. Hooray! Now we all like Gus!
Or maybe not. Jesse cooks his blue meth, and when the chemist injects the finished product into the Ronco Meth Purity Measuring Computer ($149.99 at Wal-Mart) the machine decides Jesse’s meth is pretty gosh darn pure! Jesse is rewarded by being told he now belongs to the cartel: Gus has apparently not bothered to inform him he’ll be spending the rest of his life on the cartel compound, cooking meth while surrounded by goons with guns. Now we all hate Gus again!
Or maybe not. Gus, Mike, and Jesse meet with the cartel don, the same guy who murdered Gus’s business partner (or maybe his former lover: he sure seems to have taken it personally). They toast the new partnership with some expensive tequila Gus brought as a gift. Poisoned tequila, as it turns out: the don and his capos all start dropping like flies. Gus himself popped some sort of poison-inhibiting pill before the toast, then made himself vomit (neatly and professionally, of course) in the restroom. Still, he’s not completely immune to the poison, and is barely able to keep his feet even while issuing a challenge to any un-poisoned thugs who might be lurking in the compound. It was a ballsy move to drink poison to convince the cartel that they weren’t drinking poison: sort of the ultimate Stinkhand (small price to pay for the smiting of one’s enemies). Plus, he showed faith in Jesse and protected him. We like Gus again.
With the goons dead, and the don floating in the same pool Gus’s old buddy/flame was slain beside, Gus, Mike, and Jesse flee, but not before one remaining thug puts a bullet in Hitman Mike. Jesse kills the goon, and peels off, with the gutshot Mike and the poisoned Gus in the car.
So. Quite an episode, I thought. Jesse was great ( for the first time ever, in my eyes). Gus was great. Mike, as always, was great (he garroted a dude). Walter Jr. was great. Walt stopped being a dick (hopefully this will continue) and was therefore great. Saul was great. Skyler probably fucked up by giving Ted a bunch of money, but hopefully that can be rectified by introducing Ted to the inside of a barrel before the end of the season. Great episode, my favorite of the entire run so far, I think.
With three episodes to go, it’s hard to predict how this season will end. Provided Jesse manages to get Gus and Hitman Mike back to the states alive (I actually yelled “Oh no!” when Mike got shot), they still have to deal with Hank’s investigation, Idiot Ted, and maybe some fallout from the cartel mass-murder.