Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame: Season Two

[12 August 2013]

By PopMatters Staff

After a first season compromised by a Writers Guild strike, Breaking Bad‘s first “full” season goes deeper, darker, and through a burned pink teddy bear, indicates that something truly horrific is on the horizon.

 
S2E1 Seven Thirty-Seven

Our sympathies for Walter, such as they are, are driven by his circumstances and the ease with which we recognise them. Lung cancer aside, he’s not in a terrible situation. Sure, money is always tight. His job isn’t as creatively fulfilling as it might be. He has appalling dress sense. But it’s not so bad. He has a family that loves him. He has a profession and hey, he could always get a better haircut. Isn’t that just like us? The problems he has are ones that we can all probably relate to. With Walter still needing to address the immediate problem of Tuco, we must defer to Skyler for itemization duties:

“[I’m an] almost 40-year-old pregnant woman with a surprise baby on the way. And a husband with lung cancer who disappears for hours on end and I don’t know where he goes and he barely even speaks to me anymore. With the moody son who does the same thing. And the overdrawn checking account. And the lukewarm water heater that leaks rusty looking crap and is rotting out the floor of the utility closet and we can’t even afford to fix it!”

This is the stage we’re at as the Second Season gets underway. Problem solving. Walter, the cancer-stricken husband is only disappearing for hours on end in the pursuit of a solution to these problems. A rationalist, he works out exactly what it would take to replace him, financially. If we leave Tuco for a moment, the problems are still of the domestic, Walter White-type. The cancer is still there and, as a family, the Whites are still skint. Skyler remains ignorant of Walter’s extracurricular chemistry and he’s still pursuing it to make the money for which he is desperate. “Seven Thirty-Seven” may begin the Second Season, but spiritually, it belongs to the first.

Breaking Bad has a curious dramatic structure, at least by the standards of episodic drama. The killing of Krazy-8 was dragged out over several episodes, rather than being wrapped up in a single one, with the actual killing occurring in the final act. Similarly, Tuco, as the putative Big Bad of the season, managed to make it to the show’s second year before being dispatched early on. It confounds the expectations of the viewer, disrupting the expected rhythm of the drama and providing a woozy uncertainty to the show. Much of this may well be due to the Writers Guild strike, which truncated the First Season, but traces of it remain and some of it is certainly deliberate. Season Two was, uniquely of all the seasons, planned out in detail before being written, but doesn’t introduce Gus Fring until the third episode from the end. A lesser show would have introduced him towards the beginning of a season (best guess, S3E1), but Breaking Bad is not that show.

Whatever the intended structure, we’re still resolutely in the first act of the show as a whole. Walter still expects to be dead inside of two years and he needs to make enough money to support his family in time to get out of the drug game and live out what life he has left. It’s all still just solving a straightforward problem. So straightforward in fact that he can even put a figure on it. Seven thousand and thirty-seven dollars. Seven Thirty-Seven.

Walter is only interested in the drug game as far as it is expedient for him to be so. The dangerous complications added by the likes of Krazy-8 and Tuco are unfortunate inconveniences, occupational hazards that he’s prepared to live with only untilt he can walk away. Calculating that he and Jesse can make $70k a week, Walter can even put a timescale on it. “Eleven more drug deals and we’re done,” he says. “Definitely doable.”

If only it were that easy. This is not some eBay business he can run in his spare time, or even a begging bowl website attracting donations from around the country. The meth game is a serious business with serious consequences and Walter is about to learn that he cannot simply cook meth to the quality and in the quantity that he is without attracting attention.

So the Tuco problem has to be solved. Quickly, decisively and cleanly. Jesse, who dismissed Walters’s arriviste idea that last season’s drug meet should take place in a junkyard nevertheless makes the suggestion that they just shoot Tuco. It’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? For Walter, who has already used chemistry as a weapon twice, has a better idea. Enter ricin.

Killing Krazy-8 dragged Walter across a moral line over which he can never cross again. Now, his experiences with Tuco teach him an awful lot about fear. Staring out of the window, afraid of every phone call, of every unexpected sound, he comes to realize that this feeling isn’t simply going to disappear, nor can he just walk away from it. In becoming Heisenberg, Walter will need to out-scare anyone who gets in his way. There is no hiding place, and, although he is by his own admission, better than those “boys from Juarez,” Hank is beginning to sniff around too. Walter is waking up to a war on two fronts. Things will never be as easy as Season One again. Michael Noble

 

Image: Geoff Gunning from Heisenberg Chronicles

S2E2 Grilled

From the very beginning of this episode, wel’re to understand the focus is going to be on bringing together two diverging storylines—Walter and Jesse as Tuco’s hostages in Mexico, versus Hank’s dogged search for the missing Walter. Tuco’s sudden appearance at Walter’s doorstep with Jesse at gunpoint at the conclusion of the previous episode came as Hank’s crew from the DEA raided his headquarters, As Hank encourages his agents to study Tuco’s file and “get a big raging hard-on for capturing this guy,” he clearly has no idea he’s about to be drawn into the firefight of his life. Nor does he have a clue that his search for Walter will bring him, for the first time, within inches of capturing the kingpin known as Heisenberg.

Gonzo has disappeared, which makes Tuco believe the man, his brother-in-law, has ratted him out to the DEA, since he misinterprets the connection between the two. We know Gonzo died, crushed while trying to move No Doze’s dead body for a more proper burial. No matter—Tuco has a plan, which involves shutting Walter and Jesse down to Mexico, allowing Heisenberg to live his life as an employee of the cartel, making meth and money without having to live under the nose of the DEA. Jesse quickly learns that this deal could take place regardless of whether he lives or dies. Tuco’s only interest is in Walter. Which brings the ricin into play. The two know their lives hinge on whether they can get the crank-crazed Tuco to ingest the poison and then make their escape before the two mysterious “cousins” show up to carry them to their new prison.

Of course there’s a kink in that plan named Hector Salamanca, Tuco’s uncle, who lives in the ramshackle shack they’re all holed up in down Mexico way. “Tio” has clearly suffered a stroke at some time in the past, but Walter and Jesse lack knowledge that he’s far more lucid than would initially appear. Their conversations, out in the open in earshot of the old man, clearly show they’re up to something, that they want to kill Tuco and escape. And Hector isn’t going to stand for that.

Once their first plan fails—Jesse blows it by saying the “special recipe” meth he’s got on him contains his favorite ingredient, chili powder, something Tuco abhors—they have to move on to “Plan B” and poison Tuco through his food. They add ricin to Tuco’s burrito while his back is turned, but “Tio” knows what’s going on. He’s heard their plan, and he makes enough of a fuss to get Tuco to allow him to eat first, only destroying the burrito before anyone can taste it. He then sets his sights on exposing Walter and Jesse for the snakes they are, Walter tries to palm it off on having changed the channel on Hector’s telenovela, but the old man’s too sharp for that. Once Tuco realizes his uncle knows the men are a risk, all bets are off.

Meanwhile, Hank’s been trying his hardest to help Marie and Skyler search for Walter, who as we know received a phone call and then disappeared. This is the moment the second cell-phone is mentioned for the first time, thanks to Marie’s big fat mouth, and of course Skyler is stunned by the idea her mild-mannered husband would have any reason to have more than one. Spurred by Marie’s insistence that perhaps Walt’s disappearance has to do with his marijuana addiction, Hank follows the “Jesse Trail” all the way to Pinkman’s parents’ home, where he interviews the reluctant mother, which leads to the mention of Jesse’s Monte Carlo. Hank makes a wild guess that the low rider might have a tracking device installed, and when he learns it does, he’s got his way to track the car all the way to Tuco’s hideaway, where all points diverge in explosive fashion.

Jesse is dragged outside by Tuco, beaten and led to a shallow grave at gun-point, where he begs for his life. “Tell me what you did, Walter!” Tuco yells, Walter says nothing, just watches as Jesse prepares to throw dirt in the eyes of his would-be killer, “We tried to poison you,” Walter then says, “because you’re an insane degenerate piece of filth and you deserve to die!” Jesse attacks, gets hold of Tuco’s gun and shoots him, then kicking him into the shallow grave. “Let him bleed,” Walter says, as the two leave Tuco there, returning to Jesse’s car just as Hank’s car drives up the dirt road. The keys to the car are in Tuco’s posession. There’s no way out.

Though Hank will later blow the shootout up to heroic proportions, in truth he stumbles into the entire situation by pure dumb luck, and it’s only by sheer grace that he’s not dead on the spot. He pulls up as Tuco leans against the Monte Carlo and assumes the bleeding man is the Jesse Pinkman he seeks. Tuco turns his head and Hank realizes the truth; “Oh, shit.” Encouraging the man to take it easy fails—Tuco just cracks his neck and lunges for the gun in Jesse’s front seat, setting off the bouncing car motif we saw in the pre-credits sequence. Both begin firing indiscriminately, but Hank’s able to take cover behind his open car door, giving him enough time to reload, shooting Tuco just as he’s about to take the kill shot himself. All’s quiet, except for the car bouncing in the desert, while Walter and Jesse watch from afar, realizing who just felled Tuco.

“Oh God, Hank,” Walt gasps, then runs into the desert, leading Jesse, confused, away from the scene. We close on one of Breaking Bad‘s signature shots—Hank stands over Tuco’s prone body, gun raised, car bouncing out its last ragged breaths. We hear a lonesome “ding” from inside the house, Hector’s bell. Then silence.

A critical episode on many levels, “Grilled” sets up an entire season of tension. Hank’s now a hero in the eyes of the DEA, even though he simply walked into a situation and managed to cling to his life by the skin of his teeth. But that, as we know, will get him the El Paso job, where he’s over his head and suffering from post-traumatic stress over the Tuco killing. A situation made even worse by exploding turtles and his utter lack of preparation for life lived on the edge of the “real” war on drugs.

Walter, meanwhile, will have to dig his way out of this situation via whole new layers of lies. There’s the second cell phone knowledge to be dealt with, and he’ll have to create the world’s most expensive alibi in order to keep Skyler in the dark. And with Tuco out of the way, there’s nothing to stop “Heisenberg” from making his move into distribution as well as manufacture. There’s nothing like a power vacuum to give a guy like Walter room to move into more dangerous territory.

That’s the real dark fun of Breaking Bad‘s Second Season—that sense of rising tension in every storyline, tension just waiting to tighten like a noose on any character at any time, with Vince Gilligan behind the scenes pulling the strings. Walt lives on to find his way in the meth trade, where he’ll seek as much power as he can possibly grab. Hank, meanwhile, will have to battle against his own demons over the things he has to do in search of the blue meth which haunts him, never knowing how close he’s come repeatedly to confronting the truth lying right in front of him the entire time. Jonathan Sanders

 
S2E3 Bit by a Dead Bee

The title of this episode is a reference from a line used in the 1944 film To Have and Have Not based on the Hemingway novel by the same name (I’m uncertain as to whether the line is directly from the novel). No one utters the line at any point in the episode, but it fits particularly well with all three of our primary characters’ narratives this week—particularly Hank’s, having been gifted Tuco’s “grill” after the shootout last episode. But Jesse and Walter are also in some danger of being bit by their dead bee as they attempt to tie up Season One’s loose ends. By episode’s end, all three have pulled off their respective lies, creating a deceptive sense of finality that will inevitably come back to haunt each of them in turn.

If I had to characterize this episode in a sentence, I would call it: the one where everyone is debriefed. While these debriefings serve the narrative, they also provide a revealing answer to the unspoken question: “Who is your character, and what might he be dealing with in the days to come?” Walter, Jesse, and Hank are each put through a bit of an interrogation at some point during the episode. In each case, they do some heavy lying. Hank’s lie is the most subtle, and thus likely to be missed by viewers as he sits with his two bosses, robotically recounting the events that occurred in the shootout with Tuco, and how he came to be there in the first place.

Prior to this debriefing, Marie describes Hank as “indestructible,” leading us into Hank’s recital of the events. But Hank is not indestructible, a fact that becomes clear as this season progresses and we see his hidden PTSD linger, ultimately being compounded by the cartel bombing later in the season. An interesting aside in Hank’s debriefing is that he only hesitates in the story when he’s asked how he got himself into a shootout without backup in the first place. Before this question, he mechanically details the events like stereo instructions, jettisoning his normal bravado, and often offensive, rhetoric in a situation he is obviously taking seriously (or at least has affected him seriously). And what is his hesitant answer to why he was there in the first place? “I was attending to an un-related matter.” This is the kind of thoughtful dialogue that really makes this show so worthwhile for revisiting.

As far as landmark moments for Walter in this episode, I believe this is the first major convoluted scheme he constructs (the showdown with Gus in Season Four, and evidence vault magnet caper, to name a couple others). He has made plans before, but nothing to this caliber. I’ll come back to Walter later, as I would like to spend a bit more time with him.

Jesse has a major role here, and although Walter has his concerns (and a lack thereof for Jesse-specific problems, as we see in their phone conversation near the episode’s end), Jesse handles himself particularly well during Hank’s interrogation. We will see Jesse’s self-confidence go through a number of ups and downs throughout the series. Walter is rarely a source of encouragement, and this payphone exchange is no exception. This scene shows us how capable Jesse is under pressure. But from Season Two onward, we will see Jesse repeatedly put through the ringer with varying degrees of support from partner/ pseudo-father figure Walt.

While Jesse is taking care of the lab and his alibi, Walter is trapped in his own kind of daylong interrogation. At the hospital, he has to explain his disappearance to his family, his doctors, and even a psychiatrist. Walter deals with each as needs be, and rather than just recap specific encounters, I’m going to use this space to examine Heisenberg’s presence, and one of the most important set pieces to this episode (important in part because it returns in Season Five’s “Gliding All Over”).

On the wall of Walter’s hospital room is a painting of a family on a beach, waving to a man rowing away from them. Throughout “Bit By a Dead Bee”, Walter keeps staring at this painting. We see him looking at it early in the episode with his family in his hospital room, while the psychiatrist is talking to him, and again when he returns to his room from cleaning up his “cash on hand” loose end back at the White residence. This early in the series, the painting represents Walt’s concern over losing his family. He has created an alter ego—Heisenberg—in order to maintain his family on the shore. When he looks at the painting, does he see a man leaving his family? Or does he see a man leaving out of a need to provide for his family? As we later learn in Season Five’s eighth episode, “Gliding All Over,” wherein the painting returns, Walter sees whatever he wants to see.

The most telling scenes in this episode for Walter come during and after his cleanup of the “cash on hand” and gun back at his house. In order to hide the money and revolver he left out before Tuco abducted him, Walter has to sneak into his own house, hide from his family, and ride back on an empty bus to the hospital. It’s made fairly evident by the heavy-handed “Missing” poster of Walter at the bus stop, but I’ll go ahead and say it: this is not Walter White. That’s not to say we don’t see Walter in this episode. It’s hard not to see some regret as he’s looking through the nursery door at Junior comforting Skyler. But we can also see some Walter White in the half-truth confession to the bound-by-doctor-patient confidentiality psychiatrist:

Psychiatrist: What did you feel you had to run from?
Walter: Doctor, my wife is seven months pregnant with a baby we didn’t intend. My 15-year-old son has cerebral palsy. I am an extremely overqualified high school chemistry teacher. When I can work, I make $43,700 a year. I have watched all of my colleagues and friends surpass me in every way imaginable. And within 18 months, I will be dead. And you ask why I ran?

This is pretty much the pitch for the show. I know any time someone asks me what Breaking Bad is about, I tend to recite some form of this impetus rather than just say it is about a guy who starts cooking meth (because, who wants to watch that show?). And it really is, after all, about so much more. This short monologue is Walter White’s reason for cooking meth. But then lying in the background, we’re also privy to the writers’ goal of telling a story of “how Mr. Chips can turn into Scarface.” As the show goes on, there is less and less evidence of Walter White’s drive to help his family, and more of a drive fueled by failure and envy, with increasing amounts of hubris. Heisenberg lives in the shadows of this episode, but we’ll see his rise in the seasons to come.

The painting in “Bit By a Dead Bee” haunts Walter like Tuco’s paperweight “Grill” is going to haunt Hank. Yet neither character is going to be able to fully get away from these haunts through the indirect paths they have chosen (Hank’s bottling up of his trauma, and Walter’s growing web of family lies meant to keep Heisenberg on the DL). Walter perhaps gets an unlikely bit of a foreshadowing from Junior when Walter refuses to drink his apple juice and Junior insists. Reluctantly drinking the juice, and like all the doctor’s questions leading to the insistence of a psychological evaluation, Walter gets a reminder that the web of lies he has spun isn’t once and done operation, but rather something he is going to have to continue acting out.

Like all of Walter’s carefully calculated plans, nothing will ever be 100% tidily wrapped up. Walter’s going to have to keep playing whack a mole with all the incalculable threads that come loose, all the while hoping his family buys into it. Walt promises Skyler, “I will not let this happen again. I’m still here. I’m still me.” Logistically, his plan worked. Tuco is a closed case, Jesse is semi-off Hank’s radar, and Walter is reintegrated into family life, complete with faux-McGuffin for his family that explains away his “missing” days.

But Skyler isn’t buying it, and Walter isn’t completely “Walter” anymore. And so I return to the painting and Walter’s return to the hospital after his lonely late-night bus ride. Having seemingly tidied up all the loose ends, returning to his hospital bed for rest, the image of Walter looking at the painting one final time and painfully re-inserting his own IV reminds us that even a dead bee can still sting. Brian Steinbach

Down & Breakage

 
S2E4 Down

The charred pink teddy bear returns in “Down”, once again seen floating in the pool. But this time, we receive a little more context for this image as the scene progresses: from the bear’s perspective, a person in a hazardous material suit looks down into the pool, then scoops the bear out, places it into an evidence bag, and adds it to a plethora of evidence bags lined alongside the pool. As the camera scans the bags, it stalls on one that contains a pair of glasses that are exactly like Walt’s. The viewer is left wondering: has Walt been a victim of a massive crime, or was he involved in it?

Although that question in not answered in this episode, it provides necessary introspection on the dramatic tension in Walt and Jesse’s personal lives and how they mirror and influence one another (which, as we will find out, will later contribute to the opening scene). Things seemed to be looking up for the two at the end of “Bit by a Dead Bee”, but the problems in their neglected personal lives have grown too large to ignore.

With Walt’s amnesia stunt and Jesse’s arrest just behind them, the partners really cannot risk interacting in public. Walt and Jesse plan to secretly meet at a convenience store, pretending to browse as they talk to one another from across an aisle. While Jesse claims that “this is stupid,” Walt tells Jesse that there will be “no cooking until things settle down,” adding that he must “mend fences” with Skyler, who recently discovered his second cell phone and believes that he is cheating on her. He slyly passes Jesse an envelope containing $600 and temporarily ceases contact with him. With all that they have endured, is normalcy even a desire? More importantly, is it even a possibility?

Despite their separation, the two men go about resolving their personal issues in similar ways. The first thing that they do is concoct ridiculous lies to win back their families. In the process, they also concoct ridiculous lies about themselves: Walt paints himself to be the ultimate family man, while Jesse attempts to be a do-gooder on the straight and narrow.

Walt makes a borderline pathetic and rather comical attempt to regain his Skyler and Walt Jr.‘s trust by enthusiastically cooking a large pancake breakfast for them the next morning. The two are completely puzzled; Walt Jr. seems to pity his father, even indulging him in a little conversation about music until he has to leave for school, while Skyler’s skepticism does not wane. Not only is she deeply scarred by his recent disappearance, but she also definitely knows that it is uncharacteristic of Walt to be so overly attentive and that he must be overcompensating for something.

To make matters worse, Walt awkwardly brings up his second cell phone in their already one-sided conversation, explaining that he has a cell phone alarm that is different from his normal ring tone to remind him to take his medicine. But this forced, hard sell only drives Skyler further away. While Walt continues to babble, she takes off from the house. Clearly, Skyler is starving for genuineness, and Walt is anything but genuine, as he has completely lost touch with his emotions.

When Skyler returns home, Walt falls short once again by showering her with unnecessary and unbelievable news, such as telling her that he fixed the garage door and is flirting with the idea of rejoining his support group so that he can vocalize his issues better. “I think that’s great,” Skyler says, obviously feigning her enthusiasm. What is so humorous about this scene is that Walt can flawlessly handle toughened drug lords, but cannot even carry on a remotely normal conversation with his wife.

Meanwhile, Jesse meets with his parents and his parents’ lawyer. His father bluntly tells Jesse that they are aware of his involvement in cooking meth, and his mother brings up Hank’s unnerving visit to their home. All Jesse can think to do is claim that he actually works for the DEA as an informant, painting himself as the noble hero rather than a wayward felon. But it is too late: unbeknownst to Jesse, his parents have a spare key to his aunt’s home and have already discovered his meth lab in the basement. They have no choice but to make Jesse vacate the home within three days. At this point in the episode, it is apparent that both partners are facing domestic turmoil: one belongs to a broken home, while the other is completely homeless.

As expected, Jesse ignores the warning. Using her spare key to enter his aunt’s home, Jesse’s mother arrives with a group of movers and abruptly wakes him up. Unaware of the movers, Jesse quickly uses this time with her to convince her that he is turning his life around, claiming that he is seriously considering pursuing a business degree online. His pleading tone suggests that there may be truth to his goal, giving us a glimpse to the life Jesse could have lead had he not been so displaced.

Unfortunately, not only is his mother unyielding, but she informs him that the movers are already in the house. In a final push to secure his home, Jesse reminds his mother that he took his Aunt Jenny to all of her medical appointments and made her lunch every day, a fact that his mother refutes. Whether or not Jesse is telling the truth, it is clear that he and his aunt shared a deep, loving relationship, a relationship that he has not been able to replicate ever since her passing. Furious, his mother slaps him across the face, begging him one last time to get his act together.

It is interesting to note that, in trying to “mend fences,” both Walt and Jesse try to play the cancer card to delineate their innocence—Walt claims that his second ring tone is an alarm to remind him to take his medicine and Jesse reminds his mother that he took care of his ailing aunt and thus deserves to remain in her home—just to carry on with making meth. Thus, the disease has bonded the two in a more significant way than previously thought; Walt is not only a former teacher and business partner to Jesse, but also a father figure onto whom Jesse projects his affection and admiration for his aunt. Likewise, Jesse’s partnership and support gives Walt a real reason to live, as he considers himself a mentor and legendary meth cook. At the same time, the physical and emotional damage that cancer has caused them is no longer the reason why they cook, but a mere excuse to cook—the men’s priorities have completely shifted.

In the next scene, we see how dependent Jesse has become on Walt. Once again, Walt tries to win over his family with an elaborate breakfast, this time opting for omelets. But his picture-perfect fantasy is interrupted when Walt Jr.‘s best friend, Louis, comes to pick him up early, referring to him as “Flynn.” Insulted that his son has essentially erased his association with him, Walt approaches Skyler as she brushes her hair in the bathroom and asks her if she knew of Walt Jr.‘s new name. She nods, matter-of-factly telling him that “he wants his own identity ... your disappearance upset him.” As we glance at Walt’s mirror image, we are reminded that Walt too thirsts for his own identity, or the ability to be Heisenberg without having to feel like a stranger in his own home. Walt again attempts to do right by Skyler, but the phone is ringing off the hook, giving Skyler an excuse to slip out of the house.

It’s Jesse calling, breaking one of the cardinal rules of their partnership. Jesse begs Walt for more money to get by as movers strip his home of all of its furniture behind him. Walt, unsurprisingly, is enraged, not only because Jesse has called his home and interrupted his alone time with Skyler, but also because he does not believe that Jesse deserves any more money than he already gave him. “Your problems are just that. Your problems,” says Walt, emphasizing that they must keep their business and personal lives separate.

As their argument escalates, Walt slams the uneaten omelet into the trash while Jesse slams his phone into the receiver, only to have a mover snatch the phone from him. The realization has hit both of them: the lines between their business and personal lives are far too blurred, and they may only have each other. After all, Jesse acts more like a son to Walt than Walt Jr. does; whereas Walt Jr. emotionally distances himself from Walt by changing his name, Jesse respects Walt (evident by him calling Walt “Mr. White”) and vies to scrounge any emotional connection with him in order to gain his financial support.

Jesse manages to reconnect with an old high school friend, Paul, who kindly allows him to stay at his house. It is obvious that they have not spoken to one another in years, demonstrating how little close friends or family Jesse has. The differences between the two men are astounding: the clean-cut, sharply dressed Paul has a beautiful home, wife, child, while the grungy Jesse only has a small crate of belongings to call his own. Again, we get an idea of what Jesse’s life may have been life had he never gotten involved with drugs.

After Paul’s wife returns from a shopping spree and blatantly pulls him aside to tell him that Jesse cannot stay at their house, Paul promptly yet gently tells Jesse a white lie to get him to leave. Jesse calls other acquaintances on a pay phone outside of the convenience store where he met with Walt earlier in the episode, growing so frustrated that he repeatedly bashes the phone into the booth. To add to his sorrow, his bike is stolen, leaving him with no way to travel far to stay for the night.

The only place closest to a home that Jesse can think of is the mobile meth lab that is now parked in Clovis’ repair yard. To get to it, Jesse climbs over a high chain-link fence, balancing himself on a port-a-potty. Jesse’s luck then literally goes to shit, as the port-a-potty’s top caves inward, leaving him covered in blue fluid and excrement. Soaked and gagging, Jesse manages to make his way into the RV where he finally breaks down, putting on a respirator just so that he can fall asleep without smelling his own stench. In essence, making meth is the only viable way that Jesse can pull himself through his current situation.

Hoping to repair his damaged relationship with Walt Jr., Walt suggests that the two do “something fun.” He takes him to an empty parking lot to practice driving. At first, Walt is proud that his son is doing so well, only to learn that Louis has been teaching him how to drive. Walt grows visibly more upset with the fact that he has not been there to fulfill his fatherly duties and teach his son how to drive, but tries to remain calm. But when he realizes that Walt Jr. has been driving with two feet instead of one, the two get into an argument, causing Walt Jr. to crash into a traffic barrier. Walt has become more of a hindrance than a support, and he is losing his grip on fathering Walt Jr.

Unfortunately, Jesse’s presence in the RV does not go undetected. In the morning, Clovis quickly notices the broken port-a-potty and follows a trail of blue footprints to the RV. After confronting Jesse with a rifle, Clovis tells him that he can have is RV back for $1,750, which, of course, Jesse does not have. Since Jesse cannot come up with the money quick enough, Clovis kicks him out of the site, hoping the sell the RV and its contents elsewhere. But a defiant Jesse sneaks back into Clovis’ repair yard while he is on the phone and drives the RV through the fence to make his escape.

Back at Walt’s home, Walt begs Skyler to talk with him. Though she sits down next to him on the couch, the intense chiaroscuro in the room implies that the conversation is not going to go over well. Walt apologizes for his emotional unavailability and tells Skyler that he wants to have more contact. Moreover, he vehemently denies that he is cheating, but once again, Skyler does not believe him. She says, “You have to tell me what’s really going on right now. Today. No more excuses ... you don’t want to lose contact with me, Walt? Good. Then tell me. Now.” Walt hesitates, muttering, “Tell you what?” At her wits end, Skyler leaves the house once more, but this time, Walt chases her outside.

As Skyler pulls out of the driveway, Walt notices that the RV is parked on the curb close by. He furiously bangs on the door, reprimanding Jesse for showing up near his house. “You don’t think,” he yells, “you are a pathetic junkie, too stupid to follow simple, rudimentary instructions.” With that comes the ultimate test of their twisted father-son relationship: Jesse grabs Walt by the neck, slamming him around before strangling him on the floor. “Do it,” Walt gasps, baiting Jesse to kill him. Jesse lets go, falling over to Walt’s side. Both men hopelessly look up at the ceiling, equally down.

Walt eventually lets Jesse into his house. While Jesse attempts to freshen up in the kitchen, Walt retrieves Jesse’s share of the money from the vent in the baby’s room, putting it in a diaper pail bag (drawing attention to the fact that it is literally dirty money). When he gives Jesse the money, he says, “Eat some breakfast.” At this moment, both men concede to the notion that they are each other’s best support system—they are their own family.

The episode closes with a glimpse of one of Skyler’s mysterious daily excursions. She sits in a convenience store parking lot, about to light up cigarette until she meets eyes with a woman in a nearby car who is visibly disgusted with her. Skyler is momentarily peeved, but quickly gets over it, lighting up and taking a long, satisfying draw. Her expression mirrors Walt’s when he received a chemotherapy treatment in the Season One episode “Crazy Handful of Nothin’”, which, as we know, seemed to aid his transformation into Heisenberg. Skyler certainly has another side to her, and we’re just about to find out what it is. Karina Parikh

 

Image: createria

S2E5 Breakage

“Breakage” is a key episode in the launch of the Breaking Bad mythology, in that the overarching metaphor ties almost every major character together in their submission to the agents of change.

For Walter and Jesse, the title symbolizes both the danger of losing product in the drug game, juxtaposed against Walter’s submission to his role as Heisenberg, a new Tuco for the region’s meth industry. For Hank, the breakage is internal, as he battles the inevitable stress caused by his firefight with Tuco, which gets him hero status and a promotion he clearly doesn’t want, a promotion which we now know will come close to getting him killed on more than one occasion. Even Skyler’s not immune, dealing with her stress about Walter’s health and subsequent aloofness by taking up smoking.

What’s particularly great about this episode is how much of this is shown, rather than outright told. That’s particularly true on Walter’s end. At the start of the episode we see him dealing with his final session of chemotherapy, and after receiving the hefty bill he’s not particularly ready to embrace the “hope” implied by the cheery secretary’s gifted button. No, Walter, frustrated by these costs and those imposed by “the world’s most expensive alibi,” simply wants to make money through meth.

Not wanting to get in bed with another Tuco, he agrees to Jesse’s new division of labor, in that Jesse’s fully in charge of distribution. But, frustrated by Jesse’s inability to prevent theft from his new drug-dealing charges, Hank wants him to “handle” the problem by any means necessary. He’s not happy making money in thin streams. We’ll see this become even a bigger issue when he learns of Jesse’s success in dealing with the thieving Mr. and Mrs. Splooge in the next episode. What’s that get Walter? The need to rapidly expand into the empire business, against all better judgment.

Jesse, meanwhile, just wants to get back on his feet. Homeless, he shuffles into the salvage yard to pay his debts to Badger’s relative, and winds up with a place to keep the RV along with a new car—a Toyota Tercel, perhaps the only car almost as crappy as Walter’s famous Aztek. He then proceeds to find himself an apartment as well. It’s at that point we meet his future love interest Jane, who of course is critical to the advancement of this season’s plot.

But he really shines in the scenes with Walter out in the desert, the frustration coming off him in waves as he tries to rationalize the “hiccups” in distribution as the cost of doing business. Walt begs to differ. “What are you going to do when people realize that Jesse Pinkman, Drug Kingpin, can be robbed with impunity?” Jesse is disgusted, of course. “You’re upset over $1,000?” throwing the money at Walt, who then throws it right back at him, a perfect tantrum. Shit get real, of course, when Heisenberg shows up at the end of the episode with a gun and a mission: “I want you to handle it.” Easier said than done, as “Peekaboo” will of course showcase.

I think the episode’s character transformation, however, is most complete in what we witness in Hank.

It’s evident in the bookends, both at the start when we see Tuco’s grill fished out of the water by a river-crossing coyote, and at the end when we see Hank, frustrated, throwing away the one piece of memorabilia he just can’t bear to slough off. It’s telling that a man like Hank, so quick to hide everything in bouts of bluster, truly was deeply affected by what happened in those two minutes battling for his life against Tuco in the Mexican desert. He’s not happy with the gold teeth on his desk, or with the promotion he gets from his boss, all cloaked in shark references. Just the sight of the teeth, thrown to him by Gomie as they prep to go for a celebratory lunch, sends Hank into a full-on panic attack in the elevator, hearing the sound of that infernal bouncing car as his life flashes before his eyes.

That said, Hank tries to cloak his fear by taking time for his hobby, home-brewing “Schraderbrau” in his garage, sending Marie into paroxysms of disgust. She can’t possibly understand why he wouldn’t be happy about the promotion, even as she calls El Paso an “armpit” and says he’s all but serving his time for her to eventually get a condo in Georgetown. Even the man cave refuge proves insufficient. We see it as the bottle explodes in Hank’s hand after Marie exits, and it’s made even more clear when, that night, the bottles in the garage all explode, sounding like the very gunfire Hank wishes he could erase from his memory.

For Walter, all this obsession with Tuco brings up is his need to understand where “guys like this Tuco” come from. He wants to understand because he is a guy like Tuco, though Hank just dismisses it. “You might as well be asking me about the roaches. All I know is there are a lot of them.” Hank has dedicated his life to ridding the world of Tucos and Walters, while Walter wants to build his empire and prove to men like Hank that, in the grand scheme of things, people care more about criminals than they do those who stop them.

For the true Breaking Bad aficionado, “Breakage” is steeped in foreboding. We know where Hank and Walter will each be in the space of a single year spread over the ensuing Third, Fourth, and Fifth Seasons. This is the episode where, even though little actively happens on screen from an “action” standpoint, all the pieces are coming into place from a character perspective. And that’s where Breaking Bad has always shined. By the time Hank sits on that toilet and discovers Walter’s secret via Gale’s autograph in a book of Whitman poetry, we know more about these characters than perhaps we’re willing to know about ourselves. And only one thing is clear: a showdown is coming. Rewatching Season Two, we’re able to see what sets the showdown in motion, one case of breakage at a time. And it’s well worth the setup. Jonathan Sanders

Peekabo & Negro y Azul

 

Image: Rhyan Abbott

S2E6 Peekaboo

There’s somewhat of a constant in Breaking Bad that, while obvious, does not get commented on a whole lot: almost everything you need to know about a given episode is explained in the first 30 seconds. No, not just in the “flashback” sense that episodes like in “Grilled” where you see the vague sense of how a scene ends but just don’t know how it gets there quite yet. Take “Peekaboo” for example, which opens on a bug crawling along a streetcorner, right around Jesse’s sneakers. Jesse is looking at the little guy, has him crawl over his hand like any young boy would naturally be fascinated with bugs, but the second that Skinny Pete shows up, he immediately stomps on him.

While this by itself may not indicate all that much, the entirety of “Peekaboo” shows a compassionate side of Jesse that we’ve all sensed before, but just never in such broad a context. A great majority of the episode deals with his confronting of the burnouts who jacked Skinny Pete for his distribution stash, and Jesse really wants to show how well he can operate his men, taking charge if anyone tries to screw him over just like a real drug-slinging badass would do. There’s Jesse standing outside of Spooge’s squatted house, rehearsing his threatening “Give me my money bitch!” shouts a hundred times over, but it all disappears the instant when a postal worker gets to the porch, asking him to step aside so she can put some mail in the mailbox. She makes small talk with him about the weather. “Yeah, high 70s,” he says, trying to sound normal. It’s amazing how quickly his macho persona evaporates even in the presence of the weakest authority figure possible (a mail carrier). As hard-edged as Jesse wants to be, this was a line of work he wasn’t built for.

Yet while Spooge and his drug-addled gal-pal make for some of the worst captives in criminal history, ready to bicker like a married couple at the drop of the word “skank,” their kid, almost completely quiet for the whole episode, is the central emotional figure, because when you get right down to it, Jesse can’t stand to see a child be raised in this burned-out shithole. His game of “peekaboo” is their best form of communication, even during the episode’s final moments when calls the cops and has the kid keep his eyes shut so he can run him past his drug-hazed mom and dad who recently had his head crushed by an ATM (props to the Breaking Bad foley department for creating a sound affect for that moment that is pretty darn unforgettable).

As the series progresses, we will see Jesse’s heart simply break for Brock, for the kid that Todd shoots on a bike in Season Five, and so forth. There’s a paternal instinct in Jesse that can’t be ignored, and his nearly unwavering commitment to the welfare of children, while not a pose carried by most drug-slingers, show that Jesse is and always has been cut from a different moral cloth than his contemporaries. Again, his handling of the bug that anyone else would crush at the top of the episode (plus the tears welling in his eyes as he hold the gun to Gale’s face at the end of Season Three) show that Jesse has a value for life that goes beyond most any other character in the show, and serves a sharp, powerful contrast to Walt’s decreasing view on the lives others as Heisenberg rises in prominence.

The other story strand running through “Peekaboo” is Gretchen calling Skyler to check in how things are going, and Skyler thanking Gretchen and Elliot for their payment of Walt’s cancer treatment, which, of course, has never happened. Gretchen plays dumb until Walt gets home, and they have a sharp, short exchange, Walt still adjusting to being back on the first day of the job in a long long time. Walt eventually meets Gretchen for a meal (although no food is ever ordered) where he apologizes multiple times (and keeps count) for wrapping Gretchen into the lie he has told his family. When pressed for a reason as to why he would do this, Walt unleashes a pent up bitterness about being cut out of Gray Matter, but even Gretchen, offended as she is, can tell that that’s a cover. What really sets him off is when she says that she feels sorry for him. In a low, guttural growl, Walt issues a pointed “Fuck you” in response.

In truth, my initial viewing of this episode read that moment as a false one: while Walt certainly had his own set of values, twisted as they may be at this point, him saying “fuck you” to Gretchen didn’t quite line up with his character. He appeared morally bankrupt but nowhere near that far down the ladder of decency as of yet. However, subsequent viewings have shown that his talk about being cut out of Gray Matter was simply a distraction. In truth, Walt wasn’t happy about receiving anyone’s pity, much less from someone like Gretchen, insulated by enough cash to prevent her from knowing Walt’s true struggle. Thus, when Gretchen gives him that honest, pained pity, it’s not Walt who replies to her: it’s Heisenberg. Evan Sawdey

 
S2E7 Negro y Azul

Talking ‘bout some Heisenberg…
No one knows the man
Since they haven’t seen his face

“Negro y Azul (The Ballad of Heisenberg)”, the narcocorrido song from this episode’s cold open encapsulates much of Breaking Bad‘s signature style. The lyrics, fortunately translated for those of us to whom Spanish remains a mystery, are pregnant with an as yet unknown doom, but it’s so jaunty and fun that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was something else entirely. Like the tortoise wearing Tortuga’s head, it seems funnily incongruous, until you look a little closer.
More pertinently for this episode is the song’s suggestion that blue sky has made it south of the border accompanied by a host of myths about its maker. In “Negro Y Azul”, we’re dealing with legends. It’s here that Walter and Jesse learn the value of doing things for show and of not correcting people who have the wrong idea about you, as long as that idea is to your benefit.

They know all about that on the border. Hank is cynical about the iconography of Jesus Malverde and the idea of the drug gangs venerating him as a patron saint. He’s the only one laughing though. The rest of the El Paso office, who have been around the block a few more times than the comparatively parochial Agent Schrader, know just how important myth is to the cartel. And to those hunting them. Take the tortoise bomb and the sheer effort that would have gone into it. If the plan was merely to kill, maim and dissuade DEA, a simple bomb would have done but, as Gomie will explain in “I See You”,  “these guys like to be ... creative.” The elaborateness increases fear and intimidation, implying as it does, that the cartel have no squeamishness whatsoever when it comes to wet work. It also mocked the intended iconography of the recently dispatched Tortuga. “Spanish for asshole?,” ponders Hank. It may as well be, now. 

Legends are important in Albuquerque too. Most significantly of all is Walt’s realization that Jesse’s reputation exceeds him. “You are a blowfish. Don’t you see?” he asks Jesse “It’s just all, all an illusion. It’s nothing but air. Now, who messes with the blowfish?’

Nobody, that’s who. Jesse the blowfish was inflated back in “Peekaboo”. “It’s all around town” that he killed Spooge by dropping an ATM machine on his head, a story so ridiculous that it even sounds like the result of Chinese Whispers, although we know it to be founded in truth.

Walt, the only one so far to have been immortalized in song, is also a blowfish. He comes to the crew meet as Heisenberg in shades and his soon-to-be-iconic hat, already casting off the dowdiness of Walter White. Again, it’s about submersing the reality beneath the legend. When the rumor about Jesse is revealed, he flashed a delicious flicker of pride and realization that this could be useful. He doesn’t correct the boys, but he doesn’t deny it either. Just let it simmer out there. No legend works if there’s too much actual information, either for or against. It disappears in light. Just look at the ease with which the story of the ATM is quashed as soon as Spooge’s partner confesses to the deed.

The reach of Heisenberg’s legend into Mexico and the unwanted attention it will bring from the cartel reflects one of the Second Season’s chief preoccupations, that of unintended consequences and the distant repercussions of Walter’s descent. The cartel is still relatively distant. A closer problem is the burgeoning relationships that are driven by Walter’s behavior.

For Skyler, the temptation offered by Ted Beneke is growing even if he is, according to Marie, “Old Grabby Hands.” Ted may be a poor businessman and have been a bad husband, but doesn’t Walter’s emotional neglect just make a wonderful set of blinkers. They’re blinkers for two. In just a few episodes time, Skyler will give birth to Holly, with Ted present while Walter is off delivering his first batch to Gus and returning, the least jealous husband in TV history.

This season, which was planned in detail from the beginning, is full of these little set ups and pay offs, more so than the other seasons, however great their attention to detail. They reward repeat viewing, while adding poignancy the second time around. We now know where his relationship with Skyler will lead Ted. And we know what happens to Jane.

The tragic end of their relationship is thrown into relief by the tenderness of its beginning Jesse, still a mess in the aftermath of the Spooge Incident, reaches out to her. She now knows that he’s not really called Jesse Jackson. She always knew of course, but a certain barrier has been removed. Their final scene is almost unbearably sweet, holding hands staring at the tuning TV set, and lit in black and blue. “Negro Y Azul”. Bruised. Michael Noble

Better Call Saul & 4 Days Out

 

Image: Fabiano Santos from Heisenberg Chronicles

S2E8 Better Call Saul

“Better Call Saul,” Season Two’s eighth episode is also only Breaking Bad’s 15th episode. In other words, the series is still pretty young, yet the dynamics of the show are clear and composed enough for this episode to be both stylistically well executed, as well as expertly well paced.

The episode begins with a scene that is wholly typical of Breaking Bad, but pretty rare for the rest of television, as it’s fairly long and seemingly uneventful. Badger is sitting on a bench and is approached by a man wanting to buy drugs. Badger is initially suspicious and suspects him of being a cop, but is eventually convinced to sell. Once the exchange is made, the man reveals himself to be an undercover police officer and Badger is arrested. What makes the scene so specific to the series is the way it takes its time. There is no rush to their interaction, there is no background music, and therefore, there is no artificial suspense to the scene. It is actually funny and only when Badger is arrested does it sink in that this means big trouble for Walt and Jesse.

As Badger is arrested, the camera closes in on an advertisement on the park bench for Saul Goodman’s legal services—“Better Call Saul” in big, bold letters. It not only gives the episode its title, but also sets up a relationship that would prove integral to the series up until the present. The introduction of Saul Goodman is fittingly humorous, awkward, and ultimately surprising. Part of what makes Saul such an immensely watchable character is that despite his buffoonish and seemingly incompetent behavior, he is actually incredibly savvy. He smartly uses his cartoonish and over-the-top persona to his advantage as he’s continually underestimated, only to repeatedly outsmart the authorities and work the system to get his very guilty clients released.

Saul’s unorthodox methods are immediately apparent as he first suggests having Badger killed to mitigate the threat of him talking, then pays off a career criminal to take the fall as Heisenberg. Though Walt’s first meeting with Saul is under false pretenses (he’s pretending to be Badger’s uncle), things quickly escalate once Saul realizes just how profitable Walt and Jesse could be for him. As Jesse says about Saul: “When the going gets tough you don’t want a criminal lawyer, you want a criminal lawyer,” and Saul certainly fits the bill.

The ending of this episode is classic Breaking Bad. As the DEA stakes out a drug deal set up between Badger and Jimmy, the criminal posing as Heisenberg, it quickly becomes problematic as Badger has never seen Jimmy. The description that he gave the DEA, not only matches Jimmy and Walt (white, bald, average build), but also matches that of an innocent bystander who just happens to sit on the same bench as Badger. It’s a perfect bookend to the opening scene as it’s the same bench Badger was arrested on, as well as our first roundabout introduction to Saul.

Because this is Breaking Bad, rarely do things go according to plan. Badger’s inability to recognize Jimmy leads to panic on Walt and Jesse’s part (who are watching the whole exchange from Walt’s car). The tension builds quickly and it’s obvious that without intervention, Badger will blow the whole deal. What happens next is a perfect example of Walt’s ability to think on his feet and act creatively. He makes Jesse get out of the car to signal Badger to the real Jimmy, but ingeniously blocks the entire exchange by driving up to Hank’s undercover vehicle and starting an inane conversation. Walt’s willingness to play the clueless fool comes in handy here as buys Jesse and Badger enough time to set up Jimmy.

This version of Walt, however, becomes less and less visible as the series goes on and his pride starts to get the better of him in later episodes. His reckless need to prove himself over and over leads to many close calls that could have been avoided completely had Walt not let his ego get the better of him. Here, he is still prepared to do whatever it takes to survive, regardless of how it makes him look to his alpha male brother-in-law. While seemingly insignificant, this is something that Season Three or Season Four Walt would never allow.

However, Breaking Bad doesn’t end on Jimmy’s arrest. Instead there is a scene in which Saul has tracked Walt to his chemistry classroom. It’s perhaps the most important scene of the episode as it goes a long way to set a great deal into motion, much of which would go on to play a large role in the coming seasons. Saul plants a seed in Walt’s mind about being more careful and covering his tracks more completely. As Saul explains how he was able to discover Walt’s real identity so quickly, Walt understands that his enemies and the DEA would have just as easy a time connecting him to Heisenberg.

“Better Call Saul” is a standout episode for Breaking Bad because Saul’s introduction sets him up to be one of the most important characters in the series, and certainly one of Walt’s closest allies. In addition, the episode is a terrific example of Breaking Bad’s singular style. For a series that can be extremely bleak, this episode offers some humor to balance, yet never overpower. In the end, the series is a drama—an exceptionally written and performed drama—and a character like Saul may come off as a clown, but he is always thinking ahead and biding his time. He knows that he will be needed and he’s ready when the time comes. J.M. Suarez

 
S2E9 4 Days Out

“4 Days Out” opens as Walter, Skyler, Walter Jr., Hank, and Marie sit in the waiting room at Walter’s cancer clinic. Walter is waiting to undergo a CT scan to assess the effectiveness of his chemotherapy treatments. Marie, ever compassionate, is haranguing Walter and Skyler for not arranging to have this procedure at Kleinman, the radiology clinic where she works. In Marie’s mind, her clinic is more helpful, not requiring patients to wait as long as they—the Schraders and the Whites—are doing at that very moment. Herself a radiology technician, Marie believes that, if given the opportunity, she could read the results of Walt’s scan just as accurately as his doctor. “Doctors like people to think that they are so much smarter than the technicians. But you would be surprised how much they come to us for input,” she advises. Walt, visibly uncomfortable, excuses himself and makes his way to the bathroom, where he suffers a violent coughing fit.

In this opening scene, Walter’s frustration with Marie emerges from the same frustration that has driven him to become the fearsome Heisenberg. All throughout Breaking Bad‘s early episodes, Walter suffers consistent attacks on his masculinity and on his authority. Hank steals Walter’s beer at his 50th birthday party; his family stages an intervention to sabotage his plans to die on his own terms; his high school students laugh at him when they see him working at the car wash. Each of these tiny aggravations build toward the moments of intermittent fury that cause Heisenberg to burst through the meek, blank surface of Walter White’s persona. In that light, it is more than fitting that Tuco issues Walter one of the only significant compliments that he receives in the entire show: “You’ve got balls,” the gangster nervously tells the mad scientist.

However, another, perhaps even more potent, tension in this scene grows out of the mystery surrounding Walter’s professional credentials. At no point in the show is Walter ever addressed—by Jesse or by anyone else—as “Dr. White.” He is always “Mr. White.” This is an intriguing title for someone of Walter’s expertise. Despite having established himself as a researcher, and despite having co-founded the eventually successful Gray Matter, it is never entirely clear that Walter has a doctorate—that he is one of those many doctors who, to quote Marie, thinks he is “so much smarter” than everyone else.

As a result, Marie’s comment becomes doubly insulting to Walt. On the one hand, as Walter sits in the waiting room, he is subject to medical authority, an authority that he cannot claim, even at the titular level, because, as his murky biography implies, he did not successfully complete his graduate studies like his peers Elliott and Gretchen. On the other hand, Walter clearly is smarter than everyone else—as Heisenberg, he is outsmarting everybody in the waiting room—but yet, like all academics, he is consistently told that he is not as smart as he thinks he is, despite the fact that he conducted Nobel Prize-winning research. The cloud of Walter’s meth cooking looms thickly in this waiting room scene. Perhaps, Breaking Bad suggests, if American culture respected education both professionally and economically, Walt would not have to break the law to pay for his cancer treatments.

Regardless, Mr. White gets it wrong here. On his way out of the clinic, Walter glimpses the reflection of his CT scan, and he misreads a large bright spot in his lung as his cancerous tumor (later it is revealed to be benign scar tissue). This mistake, one that would otherwise be just as harmless as that mass of tissue, causes Walter to panic. As he stares at his scan, he believes he is being provided irrefutable evidence that he is near death. Therefore, he deceitfully corrals Jesse into cooking meth for four straight days in one last effort to provide his family financial support after his demise.

From this decidedly doomy beginning, “4 Days Out” takes a sharp turn, becoming a raucous comedy of errors. When Walter and Jesse finish their long drive into rural New Mexico, the two argue about where they should place the keys to their RV. After Walter chastises Jesse for placing them on the “work station” where they will be cooking, the Captain places the keys in the RV’s ignition, not realizing that doing so will cause the vehicle’s battery to start running. And thus, after two quick days, the two find themselves stranded “a million miles from nowhere.”

As a string of absurd miscalculations foils the duo’s every attempt to jumpstart the RV’s battery—Walter spills gasoline all over their generator, causing it to ignite upon ignition; Jesse squanders their drinking water by using it, and not their fire extinguisher, to put out the flames—this episode slyly satirizes the legacies of adventure shows like MacGyver and survival shows like Man Vs. Wild, the latter of which was roughly at its peak popularity in 2009 (when “4 Days Out” originally aired). Here, the two male protagonists are forced into a survival situation in which they can only defer to the mundane technical components of their rolling meth lab for salvation. In this context, Jesse’s climactic robot monologue is simultaneously sincere and ironic. “Think of something scientific!” he commands Mr. White. “Look, we got ... we got an entire lab right here,” he continues as he reels off suggestions like mixing rocket fuel, making a robot, creating a battery, or building a dune buggy, so that they can dune buggy their way out. If Walter White were either the mighty MacGyver or the manly Bear Grylls, he might have been able to build a rocket-powered dune buggy from a broken down RV. Instead, he opts to build a simple battery out of galvanized metal and, most importantly, the element wire, as Jesse informs him:


To the extent that Breaking Bad accurately deploys scientific nomenclature (an extent that is likely up for debate), the series makes earnest attempts at realism. Any right thinking MacGyver viewer would have to acknowledge the implausibility of the hero’s inventions. Here, though, we want to believe that Walter can fashion a battery out of spare laboratory parts, and we want to believe that this kind of scenario could actually play out in reality, that it is scientifically sound.

We also, it is worth noting, want to believe in Jesse. “4 Days Out” depicts modest, but significant, growth on Jesse’s part. He is clearly a more focused and disciplined cook, and his ability to puncture Walter’s deceit about their journey into the wild—“Methylamine doesn’t spoil, does it?”—suggests intellectual potential. Part of the series’ suspense hinges on the audience’s hope that Jesse will make full use of that potential.

The same sense of hopefulness colors the final moments of this episode. When Walter discovers that his cancerous tumor has shrunk by an unbelievable 80%, a kernel of optimism creeps into the storyline. Will Mr. White quit the meth business before he gets caught or killed, particularly now that he has been given “time and options”? The closing minutes of the episode, which find Walter pummeling his reflection—his double—in the bathroom paper towel dispenser, suggest not. Inverting the cleansing power of the baptismal moment which precedes this act of violence, the warped visage that peers back at Walter in the dented chrome reflects the metastasizing of Heisenberg. The prominence of that frightening image is difficult to mistake. Joseph Fisher

Over & Mandala

 
S2E10 Over

“I’m not exactly sure who that was yesterday, but it wasn’t me.”

If it wasn’t you, Walter, who was it? Heisenberg? It’s certainly appearing so. The title of this episode is Clue #3 in the season’s trail of crumbs leading to the plane crash. Like the others, it’s a little piece of misdirection that benefits from the multiple interpretations of its meaning.

It’s over. Walter’s cancer is in remission and his immediate financial requirements have been satisfied. It’s over. There’s no longer any need to risk his sanity, his family and his life in pursuit of the drug trade. It’s over. The lies can stop. It’s over. Walter can now devote himself to fixing up the house and preparing to return to work. It’s over. It’s over. It’s over.

How dull.

If you’re going to make anyone, Mr Chips or otherwise, at some point he’s going to have to stop working for a higher goal and start working for his own ends. In Over, Walter reaches that point. The remission is taken by everybody, Jesse included, as a happy event, sorry, “kickass good news.” This is what they wanted, surely? But not Walter. For him, the diminution of the tumor robs him of something precious. It was his reason for his cooking. It was not only a conscience-salving excuse for his drug work, it was also a reason to live. In a piece of agonizing irony, the news that he is going to survive removes his very reason for doing so.

What’s he got to go back to? That pointless old sadsack life. After what he’s been through, it would be a demotion too far, and no amount of displacement activity will compensate, though it may get his plumbing running faster and hotter water.

When I got my diagnosis—cancer—I said to myself, you know…‘Why me?” And then… the other day when I got the good news… I said the same thing.”

In Breaking Bad, layers of meaning abound in the dialog as much as they do the titles and Walter’s little toast to his own “good news” is a case in point. Look at his coyness, calling the cancer a “diagnosis” before correcting himself and the euphemistic “good news” to describe its remission. It’s the careful language of avoidance. He doesn’t want to say the thing because it would validate it. It’s not unusual to be in denial about a grim medical prospect. Quite another to be so about its removal. For Walter, changed by his experiences, the remission is a diagnosis. He may as well have been sat down by two wise and patient doctors and told “It’s bad news Mr White: you don’t have cancer. Given its lack of spread, we can’t say with any certainty that you’ll have any less than 20 to 30 years of life. With intervention, we could reduce that to as few as two, but we don’t want to make any promises. Is there somebody you can call?”

Faced with the prospect of having to actually live, Walter tries some denial. He pours his son several tequilas, to the evident concern of Hank, and is annoyed when Walt Jr looks to his uncle for approval. In their little family unit, Hank had always been the alpha male, the brash and garrulous dude with a head full of tall stories and a mouth perpetually pregnant with some smartass quip. His presence offends Walter, who has had a taste of life on the edge and cannot bring himself to relinquish it now that the opportunity to do so has arrived.

It occurs to Walter that he hasn’t gone far enough, and certainly not as far as he is capable of going. There’s too much Walter and not enough Heisenberg at the moment and it needles him to admit it. Even the killing of Tuco had to be outsourced to Hank while Walter cowered in the desert. It’s too much for the ego to bear. Wasn’t it Walt who had walked into Tuco’s hideout and blown it to smithereens? And yet, here’s Hank acting the dad to his son. That cannot stand. There’s a similar reflex at play in “Shotgun” when Hank suggests that Gale is Heisenberg. It’d be too perfect. Had Walter the discipline, were he a little more like Gus, he’d let Hank keep believing it. But no. His ego had to get in the way. It threatens to be the aspect of his character that will eventually destroy him. And here, with the bottle of tequila, we see an earlier flowering of it.

The same impulse appears in the hardware store. Just look at these idiots. They’re using the wrong matches. And buying it all at the same store? Amateurs. It offends Walter’s ego to see them behave like this. And in his territory? No. Not on Walter’s watch. “Stay out,” he tells them, or rather, Heisenberg tells them.

And Walt? Where’s he? He’s gone. He’s over. Michael Noble

 
S2E11 Mandala

“A Diet Coke and five minutes of your time.”

Oh, how those nine words—spoken from a failed high school chemistry teacher to his soon-to-be-boss—would go down in the strange, dark world of Breaking Bad lore.

Season Two’s “Mandala” introduced us all to Gustavo Fring, the fast-food-chicken-joint-owning villain even angels could love for his wide smile and unassuming impression. Not since The Wire‘s Stringer Bell has it been this easy to warm up to a guy so well constructed, so immaculately presented, that he instantly becomes likeable for reasons impossible to ever truly understand. He wanted nothing to do with the unsure, rag-tag, small-time drug cooker Walter White at the time. Little did he know that before it was all said and done, he should have trusted those initial gut instincts.

Odd, for a man who built his reputation on being overly cautious and strictly professional. You would think that after a couple decades in the trade, Gus could see the trouble his potential employee was bringing his way. But, as we all know by now, Walter White has the ability to transition his life from a tropical storm into a category five hurricane on a dime, and at this moment in the narrative’s progression, the winds were only beginning to swirl.

It wasn’t just Walt who would feel the brunt of that breeze, either. Skyler, we learned here, just can’t help herself when it comes to her scummy boss, Ted Beneke, and his birthday wish that she offer up the single most awkward employee-party moment in the history of corporate America. Playing Marilyn Monroe to his JFK, she serenades her boy toy with an especially pregnant rendition of “Happy Birthday”, complete with requisite initial denials. Naturally, she later finds out that her mister-ess is cooking the books and (shock!) decides to come back for another day on the job.

Maybe not as surprising is Jane’s relapse thanks to her boyfriend, Jesse. Dabbling in meth quickly turns to her object of affection’s introduction to heroin, somewhat snakily soundtracked by the Platters. Through the duration of the series, we see Jesse hit some pretty rough patches, though this might be his lowest of lows (yes, this includes the moments after he killed Gale). The short and slight look on his face the morning after he reintroduces his muse to the dark side is reason No. 83,921 that Aaron Paul’s is the single best supporting performance television has seen.

Not lost on him is the death of his buddy Combo, whose death plays out masterfully in the can’t-miss Scenes Before The Credits. Creator Vince Gilligan’s best pitch is his curveball, and despite blowing through strike three with the heat in this instance (still can’t understand why the guy needs to be shot four thousand times for the moment to make its point), there’s no way he would have been able to earn a victory here without the help of his off-speed stuff.

It’s easy to do in retrospect, but people like to play this game with Breaking Bad a lot, so now seems to be as good a time as any to give it a whirl: if Combo doesn’t die, Jesse doesn’t insist on getting high during a visit from Jane. If Jesse doesn’t get high during a visit from Jane, Jane never falls off the wagon. If Jane never falls off the wagon, she never ends up overdosing on heroin. If Jane never ends up overdosing on heroin, her father doesn’t become distraught because of her death. If her father never becomes distraught because of her death, two planes never crash in the sky. If the two planes never crash in the sky ... well, you get it.

The point? Even the death of a throwaway character can send abnormally everlasting ripples through the always-connected Breaking Bad universe. Gilligan would have it no other way, of course, and that’s what ultimately makes a good television show great, or, in some cases, a great television show legendary. If nothing else, “Mandala” served as proof that the series was happily on its way between the first and the second superlatives in that breakdown.

Speaking of breakdowns, we found out here that our protagonist’s cancer might be headed toward doing as much. A person with ordinary morals would suggest that this means he’ll be around to raise his daughter, presumably bringing joy and happiness to a guy who at one point was eager to refuse treatment altogether and call it a day. Walter White? Well, that compass is already begging to be shifted in the opposite direction.

That’s why when Gus offers him the opportunity to prove himself, he stoops to lows unimaginably tasteless for such a vanilla guy: ignoring phone calls and text messages relaying the information that his wife is about to give birth to their second child, Walt instead opts for the hour drive to deliver the goods to the Los Pollos Hermanos mogul, hoping this will lead to a fruitful partnership.

It’s hard not to be reminded of the moment Gus tells Walt that he can never trust a drug addict after he ridicules the man about working with Jesse. Yeah, Mr. White might not be addicted to drugs proper, but what happens when a previously hapless man starts to become hooked on himself? Deliberately turning the other way when your own child is about to be brought into this world indicates, if nothing else, an obsession a certain someone might have with a certain something far stronger than a loaded needle or smoke-filled pipe could ever be.

“What do you want me to say, Jesse?” Walt asks his cohort at one point while they eagerly await meeting Gus for the first time at one of his restaurants. “Things have changed.”

And they wouldn’t stop. Colin McGuire

Phoenix

 

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

ABQ

 
S2E13 ABQ

“Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s probably safe to say Ralph never came across anyone quite like Walter White kicking around 19th century rural Massachusetts. A common refrain of free market capitalism advocates is that society benefits from self-interest as a natural byproduct. A functioning society has needs and the people who fill those needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner are the ones who best their competition in the end. It’s a warm and fuzzy worldview that, when paired with an Ambien, allows many a ruthless tycoon to sleep soundly at night on their 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

The consequences of fulfilling the public’s need do not end with the public’s temporary satisfaction of that need, however. This temporary satiation is not the solution—the solution is finding a perfect process that allows the public to always satiate that need. As the curtain finally falls on Breaking Bad‘s Second Season, the unintended consequences of Walt’s foray into crime are far more sinister than even the most experienced drug-runner could anticipate.

The butterfly effect posits that if a butterfly flaps its wings in a farmer’s field in Iowa, it can touch off a series of interconnected events that result in a tsunami in Japan. In Vince Gilligan’s frightening universe, the sensitive dependence on initial conditions begin with the purposeful omission on Walt’s part to save Jesse’s bad-news girlfriend Jane of a drug overdose. The culmination: a catastrophic mid-air collision of two commercial airplanes, guided together by an air-traffic controller consumed by his daughter’s tragic death.

In between, “ABQ” answers the question of the origins of the assorted bizarre images that sporadically lurked in the background while Walt further descended into a world of amorality. The commotion at Walt’s house as seen looking up from the blue void of his backyard pool was very much caused by Walt’s meth business; however, the federal agents on Walt’s block aren’t there to arrest Walt, they are there to clean up his mess. For as many close calls as Walt and Jesse have had, law enforcement has never been high on the list of threats. As we’re discovering, the enemies that threatened Walt and Jesse lie within every bit as much as they do in the world surrounding them.

Broken and drug-addicted, Jesse’s method of self-destruction is much more conventional than Walt’s winding path. His grief and guilt are befitting of a man who has knowledge what his deeds have wrought on the girl that he loved. The pain consumes him and he deals with it by exposing himself of all manner of awful things that can happen to a person passed out on heroin in the sketchiest crack house ever seen on television. That Walt ventures into the crack den to save Jesse against the advice of fixer Mike Ehrmantrout is hardly surprising at this point. Walt is always out to prove that he isn’t afraid of anything and as useless as he has become to the business, Walt needs Jesse because he’s the only person that the new Walt (see: Heisenberg) can trust.

Walt’s frustration over Jesse’s condition is nothing compared to his anger at being seen as a charity case. Out of all of Walt’s obvious and many faults, it’s his pride that has set in motion his life’s violent third act. A disappointing career, a death sentence from the cancer doctors, the charity of his well-meaning yuppified former business partners, these are all things that conspired to rob Walt of whatever shred of pride he once possessed. That no one in his immediate or extended family knows that he has reclaimed his sense of self with a vengeance annoys him to no end. This annoyance is brilliantly stoked by the incessant dinging of the charity website Walt Jr. has set up to accept donations for his Dad’s cancer treatments. Every ding is an indication of another soul out there moved to give to help a sorry case like Walt.

Skyler, Walt Jr., Hank, and Marie have all made what they have wanted to of Walt’s illness. Skyler uses the cancer to distract her from the lies that have become more frequent and far more audacious (can anyone say “fugue state”) to rationally explain. Walt Jr. is by far the most altruistic of the bunch. He loves his Dad and tries to contribute in the most direct method he can think of, help his seemingly cash-strapped family out with the bottom line. Hank too seems to care, although he isn’t much for having heart-to-heart chats with the ailing Walt and his contributions to the cause are limited to dropping one-liners to the boys in the DEA office before passing around a jar. The fame-mongering Marie is all too quick to turn Walt Jr.‘s social entrepreneurialism into a local Albuquerque news story.

But Walt isn’t above faking it, playing the familiar role of pathetic, sick suburban dad. He knows he must in order to keep Heisenberg alive and thriving. He plays the game of loving father, doting husband, mensch-of-a-guy brother-in-law as well as he can. But the edges are fraying. While Skyler has intimated some of her suspicions of Walt throughout the season, she loves and pities him enough to warehouse her fears about what might be really going on. Walt is far from a perfect liar and the cracks in his story split wide open when he groggily inquires to Skyler about which cell phone of his she is asking about before finally succumbing to the effects of his pre-surgery anesthesia.

At the close of “ABQ”, Skyler wants Walt out. She admits that she is too scared to know the truth and that the bits of verity that she has been able to cobble together paint a scary enough of picture of what Walt is doing to himself and by extension to her and her children.

In real time, Walt has not even been dealing meth for a year. However, his world has changed irrevocably. His relationships both inside and outside of his straight life are breaking apart and being torn to shreds worse than that one-eyed pink bear floating in his pool. The mid-air collision that Walt indirectly-but in a way entirely directly caused-is almost an afterthought at the close of Season Two. The personal carnage, the stuff we are more intimately connected to as an audience is mounting at breakneck pace. “Doing good” has its costs and they are huge.

We knew nothing would be the same the moment Walt decided to buy an RV with the sole purpose of cooking meth. Now we’re seeing what that new world looks like. Robert Downs Schultz

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/174318-breaking-bad-frame-by-frame-season-two/