WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
While ultimately the narrative arc of the show is all about Walter White’s breaking bad, his journey lies in contrast with his partner-in-crime, Jesse Pinkman. As the series begins, Jesse is already “bad”: high school dropout, low level thug and drug pusher and junkie, whose family has for all intents disowned him. As Walt’s reassuring chemistry teacher persona is more and more subsumed by the megalomaniacal Heisenberg, Jesse’s sense of right and wrong asserts itself and tortures him with his part in Walter White’s hell.
Nowhere was that more poignantly captured than in the Season 4, episode 7 “Problem Dog”, where Jesse cryptically confesses his sins in an NA meeting (referring to his murder of Gale Boetticher as getting rid of a problem dog), but rejects the group’s doctrine of self-acceptance as part of healing:
Jesse doesn’t want absolution; his healing (and his ultimate separation from Walt) can only come from fully embracing the pain, the guilt and the culpability. Only when he can recognize and admit his guilt can he be delivered of his existential pain.
So if Gale Boetticher was a problem dog that needed to be dealt with, who is the rabid dog of this episode’s title? Is it Hank, who is now aware even as he tries to sink his teeth into Walt that he may be causing his own death, as Marie’s acceptance of the Whites’ money to cover medical costs inextricably ties them together? Is it Skyler, who in the preview above hisses that someone (Hank? Jesse? Saul? Junior?) must be “dealt with”? Is it Walt, clearly offended by some suggestion (by Jesse? Skyler? Saul? I can’t imagine him conferencing with Hank again after the Mexican restaurant showdown)? And horrors, guess how you ‘deal’ with a rabid dog? Quarantine, if you’re lucky, but if it’s too far gone, that dog has to be put down. One thing is for sure: the body count is gonna increase before too long.
We open on Walt looking down the street to his house with Jesse’s haphazard parking of Saul’s car. We see him crawling through the shrubbery to surprise Jesse by entering from the rear, presumably thawed pistol in hand.
Walt looks around, but all is silent, until his foot squelches on the gasoline-soaked carpet. He calls out for Jesse. He goes down the hallway looking for Jesse until he gets to his bedroom at the back of the hallway. Still nothing. But that gas can is still there. He checks Saul’s abandoned car in the driveway and finds a CD, which he chucks back in the car. What’s on that disc? Why didn’t Jesse go through with the arson plan? Did he decide his conscience couldn’t take another strike against it?
Coming back from the commercial break, we see Walt outside with cleaning crews. Huell’s there too, retrieving Saul’s car, and Walt asks him to make sure Jesse isn’t going after Junior. They’ve also got someone monitoring Jesse’s place. He calls Jesse’s number and leaves a message telling him that he wants to fix this. Walt pours on the sincerity in the call, but there’s an edge of desperation too.
The keysmith want to know if he wants new keys, he says no. Wait, what? The keysmith tells him that normally after a break-in, people want the locks changed, but Walt insists that the original keys still have to work. Then we see Walt smelling the carpet and demanding the carpet cleaners do a better job of getting rid of the gasoline smell. They tell him it’s as good as it gets. Walt needs to come up with a new plan. He strips down and douses his clothes with gasoline then takes the gas can and disposes of it in the neighbor’s trash. A detail is still niggling at him though and he retrieves the gas can to splash a little bit in the car as well.
Night has fallen when Skyler returns home. She looks curiously at a fan airing out the Walt’s car in the driveway. She comes in with Holly and Walt makes up a story about a pump malfunction at a gas station getting gas all over him. Here’s the thing about Walt now: when he’s making up crap, he gets even more voluble. That self-deprecating attention to detail is a big tell, and you can see that Skyler isn’t buying a second of it, but willing to go along for Junior’s sake.
But damnitall, Junior can see that Walt’s making up the story too. Junior asks, “Dad, can you just tell the truth?” He thinks the weakened, cancer-stricken Walt has passed out again from the fumes. Sweet little Junior is trying to be so brave, but it’s hard. Walt will take Junior’s assumption if it means getting out of this pickle.
Walt thinks they need to leave the house until they can replace the carpet. Junior suggests Hank and Marie’s but Walt suggests a hotel, which perks Junior up right away. Pay-per-view porn and breakfast delivered via room service? What else does a teenage boy need?
Cut to Kuby’s car with Saul and Walt. They haven’t been able to find Jesse, though not for the lack of trying. They've gone to all his known haunts. Saul’s face is pretty bashed up and he worries that there might be permanent scarring. That won't be good for those bus stop ads and cheesy commercials, will it? Saul wants to know what Walt wants to do when Jesse turns up, Saul thinks this might be an “Old Yeller “ situation. Oh, there’s your rabid dog. But Walt is still loyal to yon young pup and tells him not to suggest it again.
Walt returns to the very fancy hotel room where Sky is lying on the bed drinking something (but not enough, according to her), and pretends he was getting ice. Skyler asks how Saul is doing. Walt immediately tries the ‘are you spying on me???’ outrage defense, but Skyler knows all of this is a pack of lies. So Walt lays the cards out on Jesse’s actions and Skyler realizes that Jesse was trying to burn their house down. Walt minimizes it as much as he can…is he protecting Jesse? Walt tells Skyler that Jesse is a bigger danger to himself than others. Skyler asks if he’s ever hurt anyone else and Walt makes the fatal mistake of waiting a beat before saying no.
Skyler wants to know what Walt’s plan is. Walt wants to talk to Jesse, make him see reason. Skyler thinks these are euphemisms. Walt says no, but Skyler insists that it’s time to “deal” with Jesse. Walt decries Skyler’s over reaction.
Skyler: A person who is a threat to us.
Walt asks what exactly Skyler is saying and we glimpse how far Skyler’s morals have been compromised: She knows that more than one person who has threatened the life of the Whites has met with an untimely end.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mrs. Heisenberg. Don’t mind the foaming at the mouth. It’s nothing to worry about, really.
We come back from commercial with a quick little flashback of Jesse back on the Whites’ driveway, snorting something off that disc and then taking the gas can and shaking the gas all over the Whites’ living room. He’s looking for something to light when Hank comes in, pointing a gun at him. Jesse asks Hank if he wants to know what Walt’s done. Does he realize that Walt has poisoned an eight year old boy “just as a move!”? There it is: Jesse no longer wants to be a pawn in Walt’s game. He shouts that Walt can’t keep getting away with it. But Hank is still locked in that battle with Walt and convinces Jesse to come with him to take Walt down. The pawn has been captured.
And then we see Jesse leaving in Hank’s car. He’s so numb that Hank had to buckle him in. It’s an almost paternal gesture. As they pull away, we see Walt pulling up on the other street. Jesse didn’t have a crisis of conscience, Hank’s timing was just impeccable.
Jesse asks Hank if he’s been following him, which he admits he has. He tries to do the standard police protection line, but Jesse just scoffs.
Marie is at a therapist Dave, admitting that she’s not sleeping or eating but obsessing about being lied to. But Dave is operating in the dark because Marie can’t give specifics without compromising Hank. Nevertheless, the level of rage Marie has about being betrayed by Walt (and by Skyler) is eating away at her. She has resorted to researching untraceable poisons to feed into that rage. She tells Dave she wouldn’t really hurt anybody, but it just “feels good to think about it.”
Marie returns to suitcases in the hallway. Hank thinks she might want to leave for a day or two. Marie demands to know what’s going on. Turns out there’s someone in the guestroom: Jesse, sleeping off whatever he was snorting. Hank doesn’t want to bring Jesse in, because he knows that witnesses have a funny way of dying, even in custody. He is trying to counter what he anticipates Marie’s objections might be, but Marie just waves them off.
Good, then I’m staying. I’ll heat up a lasagna.
Hmmm…Marie is looking a little foamy now too, isn’t she?
Jesse’s cellphone rings and Hank retrieves resulting Walt’s message. He sits back, his brain kicking in on how to use this to his advantage.
We see Walt sitting by the pool at the hotel (a nice callback to the first episode where Walt sits by his pool after getting his cancer diagnosis). Junior comes to join him. Walt says he’s going over business options and Junior thinks this means the new car wash, which Walt lets him believe, but we know those aren’t the options Walt is considering. Junior is still terrified of losing his dad, pulling him in for a big, sobby hug. Walt tells him it’s going to be alright. We haven’t seen this kind of father/son dynamic for a very long time and it reminds me of the humanity I was sure Walt has lost. Damn you writers, just when I was comfortable in my disdain for Walt, you had to pull this out and turn him into the sympathetic one.
Once Junior has returned to his room, Walt reaches for his cellphone and dials someone.
Cut to Jesse in Hank’s house. He looks at a picture of Walt as Santa in the guestroom. Think of all the gifts Walt has bestowed on Jesse. Ho ho ho. He leaves the room and encounters Marie, who offers him coffee. Jesse goes into the living room and finds Hank and Gomey waiting for him. I guess Hank has semi-unofficially taken Marie's advice and told Gomey what's going on. Hank is setting up video equipment. Hank suggests to Marie this might take a while and Marie takes the hint to leave.
Jesse doesn’t want to talk on camera. He says anything he could say would be nothing more than his word against Walt’s, with no evidence or proof. But Hank has sunk his teeth into bringing down Walt and little technicalities like that won’t feed him; he needs a confession. Therefore, Jesse sits down and begins to recount meeting Walt in high school.
Sometime later, Gomey is waiting outside on the deck. Hank joins him and Gomey says he believes Jesse, but as he warned, they’ve got no hard evidence that could convict Walt. But boy, did Jesse blab. They know about Lydia, the pest control front, the Drew Sharp killing, all sorts of stuff. Hank has an idea to trap Walt. He plays a message from Walt from Jesse’s cell phone (is it a continuation from the first or is it a new one from Walt dialing by the pool?) Hank wants Jesse to go to the plaza Walt suggested in the voice mail message wearing a wire.
Jesse thinks they’ve lost their mind. He’s heard Walt’s manipulations before and isn’t buying the concerned father act any more. He knows that doing what Walt has suggested will likely result in him being killed. As far as he’s concerned, Mr. White is smarter than either one of the cops he’s dealing with and has been incredibly lucky.
Hank thinks that Jesse is Walt’s Achilles heel; he genuinely cares about him. Jesse still thinks that the opposite of what they want to happen will happen, but Hank tells him there is no other option. Jesse asks to go to the bathroom and in his absence, Gomey asks Hank what if Jesse is right and we realize how far Hank has lost his soul. He doesn’t care. If Jesse’s right and Walt kills him, there’s one less junkie murderer in the world and they get it all on tape. Jesse may be Walt’s beloved Ol’ Yeller, but there’s yet another rabid dog foaming at the mouth on this show. In fact, it looks like the only one not really rabid at this point is Jesse.
Cut to the plaza where Hank is wiring up Jesse in a van. They can see Walt is sitting on a bench waiting. Jesse takes a deep breath and gets out of the van. In Jesse’s heightened state of anxiety, he looks suspiciously at everyone between him and Walt.
Jesse stops just behind Walt and doesn’t move. There’s a bald guy partially behind a column that is looking at him. As Hank grows more and more agitated that his plan is going sideways, Jesse just takes off in the other direction and heads to a pay phone. He calls Walt’s phone. He tells him “Nice try,” and then tells him that he realized that burning down the house was small potatoes, he’s going to get him where he really lives. He hangs up and starts walking down the street. Hank chases after Jesse and berates him for blowing his plan. He tells Hank that he has another plan, a better plan. And then we realize the bald guy was just an innocent bystander.
The look on Walt’s face as he heads back to his car is one of misery. I think for all of his manipulation of Jesse over the years, he does really count on Jesse’s loyalty. If you think about it, most of his machinations involve separating Jesse from anyone else who could come between them.
Back in his car, Walt calls someone, coughing a little. He reassures the person on the other end that he’s fine and then says the words that send chills down my spine:
- That disc in Saul’s car that Jesse left on the Whites’ driveway. What’s that? Another confession? Just a handy delivery system for whatever Jesse is snorting?
- Saxitotoxin is definitely a contender. Courtesy of AMC, Saxitotoxin is a neurotoxin found in micro-organisms and shellfish. A lethal dose is 10 microgram per KG. It causes flaccid paralysis, which is a particular symptom I'd keep an eye for.
- There’s that Hello Kitty phone again.
- I think the idea that Jesse is Walt’s Achilles heel is an intriguing one. What happens when you attack your greatest weakness? Do you destroy your weakness or yourself?
- Dear God, what is that StubHub commercial with the couple making out against the scary talking, crazy-eyed tree? Make it stop.
- After that brilliant Star Trek bit in episode 9, Kuby made me laugh in describing wiretapping Badger: “For three hours straight all he talked about was something called Babylon 5.”
- It’s a damn shame that Saul didn’t keep up his dojo membership.
- “You’re full of colorful metaphors, aren’t you, Saul? “ Aw, Walt, I like Saul’s way with words.
- On color analysis duty again: Skyler and Walt continue to be the beige twins. A notation during the “Talking Bad” show after the episode said that this choice is supposed to signify life draining out of Skyler and her alignment as Walter’s complete partner. Marie is in all black. Jesse is wearing his black hoodie with red design, which my kid described as blood splatter. That may be too on the nose for my taste.
- The way that the filmmakers are wringing every last second of tension in the way they shoot the scenes is once again a master class worthy of multiple viewings. When Walt darts into his bedroom in search of Jesse and the camera quickly pulls back down the hallway, I was prepared for an explosion like with Gus.
- Apparently the New Mexico DEA can’t afford very sophisticated wires, because you could totally see it under Jesse’s shirt.
- I wonder how Junior, who has been so emotional since learning of his father's relapse, would feel about the relationship between Walt and Jesse.
- This show didn't seem to hurtling towards the finale as much as the last episode did, but I do think it successfully subverted the notion of the main players being unwitting victims of Walter White anymore. They are all in their own way breaking bad.
NEXT EPISODE: "To'hajiilee"