Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame

Season Two

by PopMatters Staff

12 August 2013



Image: Eldoniloco

S2E12 Phoenix

At the end of “Mandala” Walt must make an enormous sacrifice: he can either strike the deal of a lifetime with Gus Fring, or witness the birth of his daughter. Though it is clear that he chooses the former, the shaky shots of an abandoned motel that opens “Phoenix” makes us momentarily wonder if Walt has had a change of heart.

Alas, Walt’s Aztek soon comes zooming around the corner, running over a broken telephone to foreshadow a massive communication breakdown to come. As soon as he parks his car, Walt calls Skyler while fumbling with a black duffel bag full of meth. Marie informs him that the baby was born, and he assures her that he is stuck in traffic and will be at the hospital as soon as he can.

Remarkably, Walt seems to stick to his word, as the scene quickly cuts to him running into the hospital, emphasizing his frenzied state. Much to the audience’s delight, he manages to share an intimate and sweet moment with Skyler and his baby daughter Holly—until he realizes that Ted Beneke is standing behind him. “Ted drove me here, thank god,” Skyler says, drawing attention to the fact that Ted stepped in when Walt failed to be a supportive enough husband. A sullen Walt cannot deny the closeness between Skyler and Ted, but cannot protest because, after all, it was his neglect that instigated the bond.

When Ted leaves, Walt is again able to resume his genuine moment with Skyler. “I just wish you’d been here,” Skyler says, expressing her love for and allegiance to Walt despite their immense marital stress. Perhaps to downplay her ever-present suspicions, Walt asks, “Honey, is there anything I can do for you, anything at all?” He desires to prove his usefulness and resourcefulness, even though he is well aware that she will deny him.

After Skyler declines, Walt proves just how much he has done for his family in the next scene. As the other family members are still out of the house, Walt sneaks home and dumps the duffel bag onto the washer and dryer. Uncovering hundreds of thick stacks that he scored in his deal with Gus, Walt momentarily revels in his success and then quickly hides the money behind a thick layer of insulation; his drug money is clearly what is keeping the house standing.

While Walt recovers from his adrenaline-filled evening, Jesse and Jane are still sleeping off their heroin binge from the day before. Jane’s father calls her, as he routinely does, to remind her about her Narcotics Anonymous meeting, which prompts her to rush out the door without really paying attention to the dismal state that Walt has left the apartment in. But Jesse quickly notices that something has gone awry after he notices that part of his back door is missing and that his personal belongings are strewn throughout the apartment. Having no recollection that Walt visited his apartment the day before, he is completely panic-stricken when he finds that the meth is missing.

At the Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Jane is visibly guilty, fidgeting with her “18 Months” token as a fellow member speaks proudly of his sobriety. We get a taste of her deceptive nature when she outright lies to her father over lunch: when he asks her why her eyes are red, she tells him that she is working hard on a new tattoo design. Moreover, she denies dating Jesse.

Jesse is not known for his timing, and, of course, he repeatedly calls Walt’s home while Walt and Skyler are attending to Holly. As usual, Walt demeans Jesse by drawing attention go his drug addiction, saying, “You junkie imbecile, what the hell are you doing calling this number?” Walt is completely confused when Jesse tells him that he has been robbed, and becomes frustrated when he realizes that Jesse does not remember his visit. He abruptly hangs up on him, punishing him for his carelessness by letting him stew in his own juices. Jesse is left in the dark—literally—as slumps into a deeper state of panic in his unlit kitchen.

The Whites and Schraders enjoy a poolside dinner of, appropriately enough, Los Pollos Hermanos chicken. Suddenly feeling paranoid, Walt pulls Hank aside to ask him what he thinks of investing in a sonar alarm for the pool, using the baby as an excuse to get it. Hank and Marie generously offer to pay for it, which leads to an uncomfortable conversation about finances. Skyler states that she is preparing to go back to work soon, but Walt, fearful of her getting closer to Ted, tells her that her priorities should be geared toward the baby. Even Walt Jr. mentions that he should get a job, which causes an immensely egomaniacal Walt to helplessly stew in some juices of his own.

In the middle of the night, Walt carries Holly around the house to ease her out of her fussy state. As he walks with her through the kitchen, it dawns on him that he can share his deepest secret with her. He takes her downstairs into the laundry room, asking her, “Want to see what your daddy did for you?” Pulling back the insulation to reveal the enormous stacks of cash behind it, he smiles as he says, “That’s right. Daddy did that.” For the first time, Walt can openly relish in his accomplishments as Heisenberg in his own home, and the two identities begin to form into one. Sadly, it is only his infant daughter who is aware what Walt is truly capable of.

Jesse cannot handle Walt’s silent treatment any longer, and confronts him while Walt is in his classroom after school. As expected, the two begin a heated argument until Jesse admits that he “dropped the ball.” Walt says, “When have you ever not dropped the ball, Jesse? Blasted out of your mind on whatever the hell that was ... we were on call, you junkie.” Walt has once again established his purported superiority and authority over Jesse by continually stabbing at his Achilles heel, thirsting for some professionalism from him.

Yet the true salt in the wound is when Walt tells him, “You made me miss the birth of my daughter.” There is no way that Jesse can deny this fact or rectify this situation. Walt informs Jesse that he earned a staggering $480,000 in the deal, but will only give him the money if he stops using drugs, saying, “If I gave you that money, you would be dead inside of the week.” Walt’s tough love is too tough for Jesse, and when Walt asks him to provide him a urine sample in a flask to prove that he is clean, Jesse throws the flask at Walt’s blackboard and storms out. Emotionally, they are back to square one, as Walt has become more of a strict father than a trusting partner.

When Walt comes home, Skyler proudly leads him into Walt Jr.‘s room to show him a website that he made to help raise money for his father’s treatment. Walt is instantly insulted, feeling emasculated by the idea that he cannot raise his own money (which, as we know, he has already done). Skyler, it’s charity,” he tells Skyler in a private conversation in the hallway. She responds, “Why do you say that like it’s a dirty word?” Walt cannot bear the fact that his hard work has gone unnoticed once again, and his newfound wealth has clearly gone straight to his head.

Disgusted by his son’s “cyberbegging,” Walt seeks Saul’s advice on how to ameliorate his situation. When Saul suggests that Walt tell his family that he won the money gambling or inherited it from a relative, Walt remarks, “It cannot be blind luck or some imaginary relative that saves us. I earned that money. Me!”

Recovering from his earlier spat with Walt, Jesse vents to Jane as he prepares heroin. The camera focuses intensely on the chemical reactions occurring in the small spoon, demonstrating how potent even the smallest amount of the drug can be; in other words, it sometimes takes just a small change to cause massive destruction. As Jane advises him, Jesse shoots up, letting it slip that Walt is withholding his $480,000. She lays him on his side, realizing that she must do everything in her power to keep him around.

The next morning, however, her luck turns. She is once again late to her Narcotics Anonymous meeting, rattling off the same old excuse to her father on the phone. This time, though, he is waiting outside of the building and barges straight into Jesse’s apartment. He discovers the heroin, tosses Jesse around in rage, and even begins to call the police. But even he falls prey to Jane’s manipulative charm; when he demands that Jane go back to rehab that very evening, she convinces him to let her go in the morning. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, he leaves. When Jesse asks her if she wants to go to rehab, Jane replies, “I don’t know. I just think if we had enough money, nobody could make us do anything.”

That afternoon, Walt Jr. tells Walt that a student that his seeking a letter of recommendation is calling for him, when in actuality, it is Jane. As Jesse paces back in forth in his darkened bedroom, Jane sits on the edge of the bed, negotiating with Walt like a professional. If he does not give Jesse his money by that evening, she warns, she will leak Walt’s secret to the press, saying, “Do right by Jesse tonight or I will burn you to the ground.” After the conversation, Jesse tries to defend and protect Walt, but Jane insists that she is his true partner. Having never felt true love in his life, Jesse believes her, and remains by her side.

Walt uneasily watches a documentary on elephants when he hears Skyler singing a lullaby to Holly over the baby monitor. Whereas beforehand there was some intimacy between his wife and daughter, he can now only best experience them through the baby monitor. As Skyler sings, Walt tears up as if he has just lost a child of his own, which is, of course, Jesse. Skyler implores him to buy diapers, giving him a perfect window to escape.

Walt visits Jesse’s apartment, making sure that he hands Jesse, and not Jane, the cash. “Nice job wearing the pants,” he quips. Jesse ensures him that he will not utter a word about him to anyone, upholding his strong loyalty to Walt.

Before Walt can talk to Jesse about being with Jane, she slams the door in his face, eager to start anew. At Jane’s insistence, Jesse decides that they will move to New Zealand. Jane tells Jesse that they must stop using before they make any major life plans, adding, “We’re not just going to shoot this up our arms, Jesse.” The longing looks that they give their leftover heroin, however, indicate that they are not quite ready to quit.

Walt winds up at a bar, telling Skyler that the three stores that he has visited are out of diapers for newborns. He strikes up a conversation with the man next to him, who happens to be Jane’s father. Walt matter-of-factly talks about Holly and Walt Jr., who he simply says has stepped up and changed a few diapers. When he asks Jane’s father about his advice on raising daughters, he responds, “Just love them, I mean, they are who they are.”

Suddenly impassioned, Walt goes on to describe his strained relationship with Jesse, whom he refers to as his nephew “You can’t live your life for them ... but there is this frustration,” Walt growls, weighed down by deep pain. The starkly different ways that Walt speaks about his own children compared to Jesse highlight his deep affections for Jesse and prove that there is perhaps no one else in his life that he loves more.

Jane’s dad replies, “Family. Can’t give up on them, Never. I mean, what else is there?”

We again question what Walt will do upon hearing this: will he go back to Skyler, forever renouncing his illegal activities, or will he try to rebuild his relationship with Jesse? As Walt emerges from his car on a dark street, he faces Jesse’s apartment—he has made it clear that normal family life is simply not the life for him. After unsuccessfully knocking on the front door, he goes to the back door, where he catches a glimpse of Jesse and Jane sleeping through the window. Walt lets himself in anyway, disgusted by the heroin on Jesse’s bed stand. As he desperately shakes Jesse to wake him up, Jane rolls over on her back, still fast asleep.

Soon after, Jane begins vomiting and asphyxiates. Walt jumps up to save her, but realizes that he does not want to be caught in Jesse’s apartment at such an odd hour. Moreover, Jane is the main stressor on his and Jesse’s relationship, and Walt knows that if he is to save her, both of their lives will be in serious danger. Jane eventually dies in front of Walt, and he momentarily stifles his sobs in his hand in order to process the pain that lies ahead for Jesse. Especially now, Walt’s selfishness is truly abhorring; he relentlessly destroys everyone in his path that he sees can threaten his dominance, and he has secured his partner again at last. Karina Parikh

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