Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame: Season Four

Breaking Bad's Fourth Season may also be considered by some to be the slowest, but that's largely because after an explosive opening, things slowly burn and simmer until the stunning reveal of "Crawl Space" and the terror that follows it.

Bullet Points & Shotgun


S4E4 Bullet Points

Still reeling from Victor's death and the uncertainty that lay ahead for him and the rest of Gus' operation, Mike sits in a refrigerated Los Pollos Hermanos truck to personally oversee the transportation of another batch of meth. But when the truck suddenly comes to a halt, he knows that something has gone awry, and moments later, the truck driver is shot dead.

Mike prepares for the worst and drags boxes in front of him to form a barrier. Just as he suspected, machine gun bullets rapidly begin to flood the truck, allowing the midday sun to pour through the bullet holes. Only after the inside of the truck is a complete, holey, batter-spilled mess do the two assailants enter the truck. Their mission is quickly aborted, as a resourceful Mike immediately shoots them dead in what is another display of his signature badass nature. But Mike is quickly reminded of his own mortality when he realizes that a bullet took part of his right ear -- indicating that Mike may not be as lucky or resourceful as he seems after all.

At the White residence, Skyler, now fully intent on purchasing the car wash, tosses and turns in bed at 3:00 in the morning. She briefly stops, turns on her lamp, and writes something down on a notepad next to her, trying again to go to sleep afterwards. She is visibly and painstakingly attempting to craft the perfect cover story for her and Walt, anxious yet thrilled about her newfound role as an accomplice. For her, everything must be right and orderly, and there is no room for error.

We see just how assiduous Skyler is and ambivalent Walt is when the two map out their plan to inform Hank and Marie about Walt's fake gambling addiction one afternoon. The two first practice counting cards, with Skyler doing the brunt of the actual work and Walt just groaning. They then attend a Gambling Anonymous meeting together, which reaps similar results. As Skyler intently listens to recovering addicts speak about their painful past experiences, Walt nods off next to her. Skyler's behavior is reminiscent of Walt's when he first started cooking three seasons ago, as she is focused and committed without getting too carried away. Conversely, Walt has mastered deception so well that he sees all of this obsessive research as just sweating the small stuff.

Walt changes his tune, however, when Skyler insults him by framing him as a troublesome problem child in her draft of the speech. She is, of course, correct, but a proud Walt cannot stand to hear it. He is increasingly intolerant of Skyler's assertiveness, saying, "don't 'chop chop' me" when she tries to speed up his thought process.

The two then enter a rather heated exchange over how to spin the story, prompting Skyler to continually alter her speech that is composed of, appropriately enough, bullet points; with each bullet point, it is apparent that the two are driving themselves more deeply in danger.

The calculative, constructed nature of their relationship as conveyed through their discussion is simply bone chilling. Skyler sounds less like a wife and more like a film director when she matter-of-factly suggests to Walt, "Hit the cancer. Really touch on fear and despair. It's good to remind them so you can get their sympathy right off the bat. We want them to understand why you could do something so stupid." Walt is not amused, and shoots her a dirty glance that captures his frustration with her inability to acknowledge how much money he has actually made for the family, which he is always quick to boast about. Ironically, Walter has "hit the cancer" for Skyler and the rest of his family many times before, but he is not about to recycle his old bits.

Walt grows especially irate when Skyler suggests that he say, "I am terribly, terribly ashamed of my actions," commenting, "Two terriblys? Why am I so ashamed? I am providing for our family." It is obvious by now that Walt feels that he is doing nothing wrong in his life, and it pains him to be the "bad guy," especially when the idea of the "bad guy" is perceived so negatively. He unabashedly quips, "How do you look bad exactly? Where is the "I slept with my boss" bullet point?"

Skyler's response not only seems to be aimed at Walt, but also to Walt Jr., who has witnessed what he believes to be her baseless resentment towards Walt, as well as Breaking Bad fans who for seasons have continually deemed Skyler a, for lack of better word, bitch: "I am just the bitch mom that wouldn't cut you any slack."

With this, Walt's expression softens -- perhaps he is finally remorseful for the way he has constantly thrown Skyler under the bus. "I am sorry that I put you through all of this," he says softly. But he quickly shatters any hopes of reconciliation, following his statement with "Hmm? How does that sound?" referring to their script. Their relationship is beyond the point of repair, and it is simply just another cover-up device for Walt's grand scheme.

After hours of devising, the moment has arrived for Skyler and Walt as they approach Hank and Marie's front door. They at execute their happy family act perfectly, until Marie and Skyler go off to the kitchen while Hank shows Walt and Walt Jr. his mineral collection. As the men gather in Hank and Marie's dimly lit bedroom, Hank decides to show Walt and Walt Jr. an entertaining video from an investigation with which he is involved: Gale's murder. Walt squirms as he sits on the end of the bed, watching a delightfully cheesy video of Gale singing "Major Tom" in a Thai karaoke bar. "That, my friend, is Albuquerque's public enemy number one," Hank laughs.

The next scene shows a stiff and guilt-ridden Walt from below while Skyler discusses his gambling problem through a veil of convincing cries, proving that they have both completely followed through with their plan. The next shot shows the entire family gathered around the dinner table, sporting expressions that range from shock to admiration. In one of his classic right-under-the-nose moments, Hank says, "Walter H. White, the man of hidden talents," with a mix of shock and hilarity. Walt Jr. is amazed at his father, calling him a "stud," and inquires about his winnings. Walt robotically says the one line he refused to say earlier: "I am terribly, terribly ashamed of my actions." Preoccupied with and deeply disturbed by the deceased Gale's lively and innocent video, Walt is either genuinely expressing his guilt about Gale's death or is so nervous that Hank is close to sniffing his trail that he blindly follows Skyler's script as he conjures up his next plan.

Fortunately for Walt, his real nervousness is just what the skit called for. He abruptly excuses himself from the dinner table, running to Hank's room to thumb through Gale's file. After uncomfortably glancing at images of Gale's body at the crime scene, Walt looks through his intricate lab notebook that is basically a scrapbook of Gale's life, peppered with quirky musings.

Hank calls out for Walt and runs into him in the hallway. He offers his heartfelt support to Walt, saying, "You can always bend my ear if you ever need to talk or just blow off some steam. I'm here. Not going anywhere." That is, if it is in Walt's best interest.

Seizing the opportunity to get information out of Hank, Walt responds, "Same goes for me, you know, if you ever want to bounce anything off of me...casework, you know..."

The two then wind up in Hank and Marie's bedroom, discussing Gale's case. "This guy was a real character," Hank laughs. He then reads the dedication page out loud: "To W.W., my star, my perfect silence." The greatest Walt-Hank exchange of the season follows: in his usually goofy manner, Hank begins to speculate who W.W. is, rattling off a list of names before jokingly saying "Walter White." Playing it completely cool, Walt holds up his hands, simply declaring, "you got me." He relies on his braininess to pretend that he had just seen the page in Gale's notebook dedicated to Walt Whitman's "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," the poem that he and Gale bonded so strongly over, to inform Hank that Gale's W.W. was indeed Walt Whitman.

"So you think this Gale person is your Heisenberg?" Walt asks, trying to confirm that Hank is going down a divergent path. Hank confirms, adding that he wishes that he was the one to "slap the handcuffs on him." Little does he know that he still has a chance to slap handcuffs on the real Heisenberg.

Walt then asks Hank if he knows who killed Gale. Hank mentions that there was an eyewitness, but he does not know much apart from that. Should Jesse be caught, so will Walt.

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Walt rushes over to Jesse's home, which he angrily finds completely trashed and ridden with passed out junkies. He calls for Jesse, who is standing in the staircase shaving a partygoer's head. He is only fazed by Walt's presence when Walt unplugs Jesse's massive stereo and pulls him into the hallway, grilling him about the murder. Given the bleak state of his home, it is evident that Jesse is still grappling with his guilt over murdering Gale, but must unfortunately relive the painful moment with Walt to ensure his survival. He suddenly becomes paranoid and anxious when he realizes that he did not remove any of the bullet casings from Gale's home. But instead of probing further into the night's events, Jesse pays his friends $100 to kick Walt to the curb, once again shutting out what he has done.

At his wits end, Walt seeks advice from Saul. The scene opens with a shot of the inflatable Statue of Liberty billowing atop Saul's office, emphasizing the fallaciousness of his enterprise. "When did this stop being a business? Why am I the only person capable of behaving in a professional manner?" Walt asks, adding, "Any way you slice it, everyone is in danger." As always, Walt is primarily concerned with his own wellbeing, which happens to rely on the wellbeing of every single person with whom he is in business. He continues to vent to Saul about all of his frustrations, never once taking into consideration Saul's own fears.

Saul offers up a catch-22 solution: "You know, FYI, you can buy a paddle. This is a last resort, back pocket kind of thing, but if you really want to protect yourself, disappear. Poof." It is a viable solution, but also a risky one, as Walt and his family must completely assume new identities. There would be no reasonable way to convey that to Hank and Marie, and the egomaniac Walt would not ever want to surrender the power and authority that he currently has.

From the next scene, we become aware of how Jesse's haze is threatening his relationship with Gus. First, he gets out of bed, revealing a naked woman beside him. As he walks down the stairs, he turns up his stereo to wake up all of his sleeping, strung out houseguests, and gives one of them multiple hundred dollar bills that he retrieved from a duffel bag in his room to order pizzas. At work, Gus' security camera obsessively tracks each and every one of Jesse's moves, and Walt quickly realizes that it can only be a bad sign.

When Jesse gets home, he resumes his robotic carelessness. He throws money in the air, letting his guests fight over it. When he gets up to his room, he notices that his duffle of cash is completely gone. Instead of panicking, as he normally does, Jesse seems to resign to whatever his fate may be at the hands of Gus, and proceeds to play MarioKart with a girl that he plucked from his stairwell.

The next morning, however, Jesse wakes up next to an unexpected houseguest: Mike. Jesse does not question Mike's presence, and glumly follows him into his living room. Only one houseguest, who has been bound, gagged, and bloodied by Mike and Tyrus, remains. Mike informs Jesse that he is the man that stole his money, but Jesse just grabs his duffle and thanks Mike. "You wanna know what's next for little miss pissed his pants?" Mike asks.

Jesse nonchalantly replies that Mike will kill him, adding "this is the part where I am supposed to beg you not to do it." Just as Walt and Skyler are attune to the constructs of their own relationship earlier in the episode, Jesse is completely aware of Mike's strategies, and knows when to call him on his bluff. But Mike is unyielding. "You are on thin ice, you little shithead. You know that?" He asks, once again trying to get a rise out of Jesse.

Jesse stands his ground, asserting that Mike will not kill the man because he "went through the trouble of putting a blindfold on him." With that, Jesse goes straight back to bed, leaving a stunned Mike staring up Jesse's staircase.

Because his first tactic was completely unsuccessful, Mike consults with Gus about how to handle Jesse. He intently stares at the box cutter that Gus used to kill Victor, still unsure about what the future may hold for him. As long as he remains loyal to Gus, he figures, he will be safe. He informs Gus that Jesse is a "liability" and that "something's gotta be done." Heightening the suspense, Gus simply stares back at Mike.

That afternoon, Walt is making meth by himself, obsessively checking his watch. After waiting long enough, he takes off his gear and rushes straight to Jesse's house, simultaneously and unsuccessfully calling his cell phone. He finally slips in to an open window, and, assuming that Jesse simply overslept, he walks in to Jesse's bedroom, which is completely empty. When he tries Jesse's cell phone once more, he finds the phone vibrating on Jesse's nightstand, and he quickly comes to the realization that Jesse has been abducted.

Walt returns to Gus' lab, confronting the security camera. "Where is he?" he growls.

The next scene shows a car driving along a highway in the intense desert sun. Mike is driving the car, while Jesse, still resigned and completely quiet, looks out the passenger side window. The journey that he is about to embark on is an unforgettable lesson on loyalty. Karina Parikh


Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

S4E5 Shotgun

"Shotgun" opens where "Bullet Points" ended, with Jesse and Mike in a car headed for the desert as Walter loses all control, assuming his partner's about to be executed. Walter's continued loss of all sense of control or reason continues to be a theme here, as the power-play between "Heisenberg" and Fring plays out with Fring emerging as the all-around better competitor.

Consider Fring's plan in light of Mike's announcement in the prior episode that Pinkman's becoming a problem. Fring wants to bring Jesse closer while further isolating Walter, much in the way he did the opposite in order to bring Walter into the fold back in the early moments of Season Three. Mike plays along of course, even as he fails to quite understand what Fring's plan is, allowing Jesse to ride along while he does the desert pickups, even allowing him to become a hero in the pre-planned attempted robbery. Fring's play is brilliant -- give Jesse a sense of purpose and you pull him away from Walter, making it more likely he'll still be a useable cog in the machine even if Walter must be taken out in the future.

Walt, meanwhile, seems to be more the loose cannon than ever, storming into Los Pollos Hermanos demanding to see Fring and even giving the frazzled woman at the counter his real name. "Tell him it's Walter White. He'll know who I am." The scene where he barrels his way into the back room, Fring's control center, is telling. If Walter is willing to throw this much caution to the wind, how much longer is he going to survive up against Fring, who values caution far more than the few percent higher quality yield that Walter's blue meth delivers?

Mike's an interesting study here, as he grows increasingly more frustrated by Jesse's prattle during the desert drive. When Jesse slips up and refers to himself as "the guy," Mike's clearly had enough. "You are not the guy. You are not capable of being the guy. I had a guy but now I don't. You are not the guy." When Jesse asks what the hell he is, then, Mike responds that it's not his call, but in the interim Jesse is to do what he's told: sit there, shut the hell up and let them finish the pickups. Mike of course knows that by the end of the day Jesse is to be Mr. Hero, having saved the stash from being stolen, perhaps even having saved Mike's life, even as the man knows it's all staged. No matter -- Jesse doesn't know that, and it all plays perfectly into Fring's plan. And Mike, unlike Walter, knows his place and is willing to do as ordered, even when he doesn't know how the endgame will play out.

Walter, back in the lab, can't even operate the forklift on his own, and a lame attempt at a strike fails miserably as Fring's new "guy" nonchalantly walks in, moves the barrel of methylamine, and walks off. What little bit of power Walter has in that arena is slipping away, so he compensates by revealing far too much in other aspects of his life. At the dinner held at Hank's to celebrate the purchase of Walt and Skyler's very own car wash, Walter becomes increasingly frustrated -- and drunk -- as Hank describes the mastermind behind the famous Albuquerque blue meth. Describing Gale as a meth chef, "five stars, white tablecloth, a genius plain and simple." When Hank elaborates, implying that had Gale used that giant brain of his to do something good, the sky would have been the limit, Walt's clearly had enough. As Skyler becomes increasingly incredulous in the background, Walter monologues:

"Hank, not to tell you how to do your job, but I'm not sure I agree. You showed me that notebook and from what I saw -- and this is just my humble opinion -- from what I saw on those pages, genius? Not so much. There was no reasoning, no deduction, in those pages. So to my eye all his 'brilliance' looks like is simple rote copying, probably of someone else's work. Believe me, I've been around enough students to know. This genius of yours ... maybe he's still out there."

In the process, Walt has no way to know he's proven to be the catalyst needed to get Hank to put an end to his post-shooting pity parade, diving headfirst back into the meth investigation. It is, however, what Walt seems to want deep down. Like any psychopath proud of his work, Walt wants nothing more than to be able to take credit for his own genius, even if it means destroying everything and everyone around him. That's something Skyler can't quite understand yet, but as she comes to grips with Walter's descent into power madness, she soon will, which makes her own battle for control of her family's destiny even more compelling even as we're frustrated by her inability to ever succeed.

The final moments of the episode are telling, as Hank makes the discovery of the Pollos Hermanos flyer among Gale's possessions. "Everything he buys and eats is organic, fair trade, vegan," he tells Marie while deep in thought. "Since when do vegans eat fried chicken?" In that vein he's one step closer to making the Fring connection, which puts him one step closer to exposing Walt as Heisenberg. Knowing as we do just how doggedly Hank is willing to pursue his prey, when properly motivated, this is only one more step in the path toward bringing this show to its inevitable conclusion.

In that vein Breaking Bad continues to be a masterclass in Power, with a minor in Control. In "Shotgun" the power balance continues to shift, as every character battles for a share of control in the eventual outcome. In a world where Fring and Heisenberg exist in the same plane, only one of them can come out with all the power, and the other can't remain alive in that scenario. Though at this early point in the season Walter seems to be losing his edge, there's one thing we know to be true about Vince Gilligan's vision -- there's always something more up our main character's sleeve, and there's always a steeper slope he can slide down in his manic craving for respect he'll never achieve.

The only remaining question is just how far can Walter fall before he finally hits rock bottom? Jonathan Sanders

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