Monday, October 03, 2011

Breaking Bad Continues To Seek Closure

Last time on "Breaking Bad," Walt found himself in a hole. He got himself and his brother-in-law Hank in a car accident to delay a stakeout of the superlab grounds. His partner and his employer both despise him. Gus resents that Walt is effectively guiding the DEA in their direction. Lacking Jesse’s blessing to execute him, Gus took the troublemaker out to the desert and threatened to kill his family. Ted met his end in a home accident after Saul’s goons mailed away more than half a million dollars of Walt’s cash right to the IRS. Saul then alerted the DEA to a hit the cartel may or may not (read: doesn’t) have on Hank’s life.

As the penultimate episode of the season opens, the ambient static is still briefly audible, as if “Crawl Space” and “End Times” are to be watched without intermission. DEA agents arrive at the Whites’ to take them to the Schraders’ as a courtesy to Marie. In order to keep his family safe, Walt decides to stay away. Skyler is obviously opposed. Then, Walt delivers what I consider to be a rational revision of his “I am the danger” speech: “I have lived under the threat of death for a year now. Because of that, I’ve made choices… I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else. Those consequences are coming. No more prolonging the inevitable.”

Walt tells Hank he won’t be joining everyone because he needs to run the car wash. When Walter Jr. gets wind of this, he calls it a pathetic excuse. (With two conflicting paternal figures in his life, the kid has a right to be brash.) Marie is the most upset of anyone, but Hank doesn’t believe the threat’s authenticity for a minute. He’s an off-duty, wheelchair-bound self-starter with a pair of binoculars a la L.B. Jeffries. But two men from the Mexican cartel put him in that wheelchair.

Hank asks Gomez to scope out the laundry, as it may support his deep-seated— and dead-on— hunch that Los Pollos Hermanos is a front for the biggest meth distributor in the bottom left quadrant of the country. Gomez is skeptical but attempts a “knock-and-talk” anyway, telling the manager Dennis (played by stand-up comedian Mike Batayeh) a convoluted story of chefs, heroin and politics— which senator? —to gain entry. He snaps photos and has a dog sniff around the facility, just a floor above the superlab.

Jesse is cooking alone now, but has to keep quiet while Gomey snoops upstairs. Gus, watching the surveillance footage from his office, calls the lab to remind Jesse that the DEA search is a result of Walt’s actions. And Jesse reminds him that if “something final” occurs to his former partner, there will be a problem. “There will be an appropriate response,” Gus says. (Jesse smartly parks his car far, far away from the workplace.) At the Schrader home, Hank and Skyler receive word that the search came up empty.

Saul leaves a barrage of voicemail messages on Jesse’s phone. In lieu of Walt actually disappearing, Saul has decided to follow his own advice and skip town “for as long as it takes.” He informs Jesse that Gus’ actions in the desert led him to this. Jesse had no idea. Saul makes sure before he leaves he makes one more “Godfather” reference, telling Jesse to put in a good word for him with Gus, “for old time’s sake.” Can’t do it, Sally. At night, Andrea calls Jesse. She says Brock is in the hospital, stricken with a steadily worsening flu. He rushes to the hospital and consoles her. It’s refreshing to see him exhibit normal compassion. But when he goes outside for a cigarette, he notices one is missing— the lethal smoke containing the poison he and Walt cooked in the lab and intended for Gus. He tears up each cigarette and panics. Storming through the hospital corridors, Jesse finds Andrea and takes her to the not-so-private waiting room. Brock may have been poisoned with ricin, he warns, as the camera rotates around them.

Jesse goes to visit Walt, who is armed and has his door barricaded. Walt explains what went down in the desert, and Jesse is at first sympathetic but that’s a decoy. Jesse takes the gun and shoves it in Walt’s face. He accuses Walt of poisoning Brock, because only two people on Earth knew about that cigarette, right? It was in his pack that morning, and he played video games with Brock the night before. Jesse guesses that Walt sought revenge and had Saul do it. He moves closer with the gun, pushing Walt to the ground. A light bulb turns on in Walt’s head, activating that obnoxious laugh… He theorizes that Tyrus (Ray Campbell, his first time credited as a guest star and not an end-titles player) lifted the cigarette from his locker at the superlab. Not only does Gus have cameras everywhere, he also condones the murder of children (that much is surmised from last season’s penultimate episode), Walt reasons. If Jesse willfully carries out the deed, Gus’ hands stay clean and Walt fades away. Jesse is so swayed by this rationale that he’s ready and willing to jump into the car and go about assassinating.

“I’m going to do this one way or another, Mr. White,” he says. “Then, let me help,” Walt says. Jesse spends the night at the hospital even though Andrea won’t permit him to see Brock. Tyrus tells him he must go back to work, or a full batch will be ruined. Jesse says he doesn’t care; he’s not leaving. When Tyrus accosts him, he shouts for security. Tyrus may need a refresher course on social norms after spending every day tailing people and brooding in a culinary crypt of crystal meth.

Meanwhile, in Walt’s camp, it’s D-Day. He’s cooking a bubbly blue substance on the stove and testing an explosive electronic chip that detonates with a walkie-talkie. Jesse texts him: “Think I got his attention.” Gus and a bodyguard arrive at the hospital, meeting with Jesse in a basement chapel of sorts. (Note: Mike’s fill-in is a much younger, healthier-looking man.) Gus can’t afford to waste time running a superlab when the overhead costs are so high. He says Jesse can return to the hospital when his work is complete. Jesse says he can’t abandon a dying little boy. Gus, acting like the boy’s sickness was of natural causes, offers to use his standing on the hospital board to recommend top doctors. Brock was poisoned and the doctors don’t know how, says Jesse. This is enough to change Gus’ tune. Jesse is permitted to stay with the boy and return when ready.

Gus, Tyrus and the bodyguard walk to their Volvo on the parking deck’s fifth floor with a sense of mistrust. Walt spies with binoculars from a rooftop across the street. He is ready to press the trigger on the walkie-talkie and watch his boss go down in a car explosion like Apollonia. Gus stops and looks out on the city; Walt ducks. Sensing someone tampered with the car, the men retreat to the ground floor of the deck, and maybe catch a cab? Walt is devastated by the failure. He needs to get a grip, more than the tape on his nose does. Planting bombs, spying from rooftops, cooking blue substances at home? This is a new stage of madness for Walt amid dire circumstances. He and Saul are the only ones speaking of “end times” as a dangerously approaching finale of doom, and, hopefully, that means some closure.

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