WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Vince Gilligan likened Breaking Bad to “Mr. Chips turns into Scarface”. And while we’re certainly racking up the body count to rival Scarface, I’m more inclined to look at the story more as a Shakespearean tragedy. Specifically, I think Walter White is Richard III.
Ungainly and feeling isolated, Richard manipulates and bribes to put into motion his ascension to the crown. He thinks himself smarter than everyone around him and therefore deserving of the power given the king. The body count is no less horrifying than Scarface, if not more, because he must dispatch several family members who stand between him and the throne. He may rationalize his Machiavellian moves as necessary and justified, but they suck under everyone into their vortex and leave a path of destruction in his wake.
At the end of Richard III (did you know that it was Shakespeare’s second longest work and is almost never performed in its entirety?), Richard stands alone in the battlefield, being visited by the ghosts of those he killed and abandoned by the few supporters he retained. In the heat of battle, he is unseated and calls out “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” to no avail. He is killed, unmourned and forgotten in the battlefield (which was turned into a carpark centuries later, but that’s another story).
Richard III, like Walter White, is the epitome of the anti-hero. He is vile and amoral, though he assumes the audience’s sympathies, but his personal charm wears thin as he breaks badder and badder to achieve what he perceives his due. Towards the end, even Richard acknowledges his days are numbered, which can only be the same perspective Walter holds with Hank closing in on him.
We see Todd lighting up a cigarette and dialing outside a café. He’s calling Walt. He tells Walt that he and Declan had a “difference in opinion” and there’s now a “change in management”. Yeah, if the NSA is monitoring that call, there’s no way they’d get that kind of stealth code. If Walt wants to know more, he should give Todd a call. Cut to inside the café, where Todd is relaying to some buddies (one has a swastika tattooed on his neck—these must be the Nazis) the train heist. He’s painting himself as a action hero, a la Burt Reynolds in Hooper. They ask him if he feels comfortable cooking and he says yes. Meet Heisenberg 2.0—younger, dumber and significantly more sociopathic.
After the commercial break, we return to Jesse in the interrogation room. He’s still barely registering anything. Hank walks in and turns off the video camera. The first sign of awareness comes from Jesse when Hank says he knows that Heisenberg is Walt. Hank asks for info, but Jesse reverts back to the catatonic stare, after suggesting to Hank, “Eat me.” Even if he doesn’t trust Walt and wants to get away from all of this, he hates Hank and wouldn’t help him out. Hank tries another tactic.
Hank sees the torment and pain in Jesse’s eyes beyond the disdain he feels for Hank and points out that his recent behavior doesn’t indicate a happy person. Hank identifies with that, and asks again for help nailing Walt. At this point, I think it should be noted that there are at least two people in every interrogation and both are looking to figure out what the other knows. Hank has been so single-minded in his pursuit of Walt that he’s forgotten how much information he’s inadvertently divulging to people who have been allies of Walt. Not the most tactical of choices.
Never mind that, here comes Saul to the rescue. Saul asks the detectives to leave and when they do, demands Jesse answer what the hell is going on. All Jesse knows is that he is miserable, but he has no pat answers for Saul. Saul, on the other hand, sees doom everywhere.
We cut to Walt in his bedroom on the phone with Saul. “Just make it happen.” At this point, things are so strained between Walt and Jesse and Jesse is such a wild card that there are several possibilities as to what “it” is.
Hey, there’s Walt Jr, asking where Walt was last night. Where’s he been for the last couple of episodes? Junior tells Walt that he’s been invited to Aunt Marie’s to help him with her computer and stay for dinner. Uh huh. That Marie is sneaky. Walt doesn’t know how to say no initially, but thinks fast and catches him on the way out the door. He tells him that Junior deserves to know the truth and sits him down to admit that there was a shadow on his last scan and he’s back on chemo. Junior’s lower lip trembles and he puts on his brave face. Walt tells him to go on to Aunt Marie’s, but Junior, visibly upset, says that he’s staying with his dad, just as Walt knew he would. Ooh, he’s a smooth manipulator.
Later, we’re back in the bedroom as Skyler asks Walt “Are you sure about this?” and he says it’s the only way. Then Skyler videotapes him introducing himself and then saying that this is his confession.
We come back from the commercial break in a taqueria with Skyler and Walt (again, no kids?) They’re waiting for Hank and Marie. Nope, this isn’t going to be tense at all. You have to love the contrast between the gaily decorated restaurant and perky waiter and the ridiculous tension of the four of them sitting at the table. Walt thanks them for coming, but no one is talking at this point. Hank asks if he is going to confess. Walt says there’s nothing to confess, but they want to talk about Walt Jr. They don’t want the kids involved and implicitly, Marie has to back off trying to take them. Marie, still in full betrayal mode, wants to know how Skyler can do this to their kids. Skyler tells them that there’s nothing to investigate, whatever they think happened is in the past. Walt is still carefully parsing his words, but entreats Hank and Marie to not force their children—who are going to surely see their father die very soon—see their uncle make scurrilous and unprovable accusations.
Marie’s response belies her rage, just barely under the surface in this fun family restaurant: Why don’t you kill yourself, Walt? After all, if he’s the problem, the problem goes away, right? Skyler says that’s not a solution and Hank agrees. The solution for him is Walt (and Skyler’s) arrest. This is a dark period for the Schraders, both are operating in anger and vengeance and neither is being particularly smart about it. I’m guessing that Christmas will not a family affair this year. Clearly at an impasse, Walt stands up and places a disc on the table. We hear the beginning of his confession in voiceover as Walt and Skyler walk away, having not gotten the chance to sample the tableside guacamole treat that waiter Trent pushed over and over.
We cut to Hank and Marie’s television room where they watch the DVD. Walt’s confession continues, “if you’re watching this, I am dead, murdered by my brother-in-law Hank Schrader.“ It was Hank, according to Walt, that was building a meth empire, using Walt’s chemistry skills to do so. Walt says that Hank sold him in servitude to his partner Gus Fring. He blamed Hank for both Gus’s and Hector Salamanca’s death, though he carefully admits his part in them, claiming he did it under duress of Hank. He even accused him of kidnapping the kids to keep him in line. He claims that he was so fearful for the life of him and his family that he paid the $177,000 in medical costs for Hank’s recovery, a factoid that Hank was heretofore unaware. Man, Walt is a master of manipulation. He is nothing but crocodile tears and emotional catches in his voice. That is what we call huevos of brass, people. If anyone thought that Walt still had a smidgen of humanity left in him, this should be proof that he does not.
Rocked back by the implications and how neatly Walt has trapped them, Marie begs Hank to go to Ramey, get in front of this video before Walt releases it, but Hank recognizes it for what it is, a threat. Tread lightly, indeed. Hank confronts Marie about the medical payments and Marie pleads ignorance, telling Hank she thought it was gambling money and that she had to have the money to ensure that Hank would walk again. Hank sinks down in a chair, saying that was the last nail in his coffin.
Saul and Jesse are waiting in the middle of the desert where Walt drives up. He checks for trackers on Saul’s car. This is a paranoid man who can't even trust Saul. Walt asks Jesse what Hank knows. Jesse says he knows Walt is Heisenberg. Jesse deduces that Hank doesn’t have much else nor has he brought in the DEA on it. For being basically catatonic for the last few days, Jesse was surprisingly astute. Walt asks Jesse if he’ll let him help. Maybe it’s time for a change. Walt suggests it’s time for Jesse to leave town. Walt invokes Saul’s fix-it guy to set Jesse up with a new life. A chance to hit the reset button. But Jesse isn’t buying it.
Jesse knows the concerned father persona is an act and that Walt just wants Jesse to leave for his sake, not Jesse’s, because Hank isn’t going to let up.
Again, you have to hand how well this pot/meth head who has spent the better part of the last three episodes in a near persistent vegetative state can read the situation and the motives of all the players. Maybe Hank should get lessons.
Walt says nothing through these histrionics. He’s not done working him. Walt pulls him into a hug and we see Jesse dissolve into sobs, as Saul stands by observing.
Hank’s in his office when Gomey walks in wanting to know why Hank has put agents at Saul Goodman’s office. Gomey demands to know what’s happening, showing some resentment that Hank is locking him out of whatever he’s pursuing with Jesse Pinkman and warns him that this could become a jurisdictional issue, but instead of rising to the bait (and listening to his wife), Hank just tells him to take the agents off, still unwilling to share what’s going on with his colleagues. He then leaves the office, telling his assistant to reschedule his appointments.
Back in the Goodman Law Office, Saul asks Jesse if there’s anyone he wants to say good bye to, because once he makes the call to his fix-it guy, there’s no take-backs. Saul tells him he’s got an hour and Walt wants him to have some money to start his new life with. Jesse lights up a joint and Saul berates him. The fix-it guy won't help someone stoned apparently. An interesting moral line, to say the least. Jesse wants to know if he gets some say on where he will go, and Saul says he should have some input. Saul suggests Florida; you know, sun, sand, Swedish bikini team. But Jesse wants to go to Alaska. He arranges for Huell to take him to the drop off point, which appears to be along a highway. Jesse waits, patting himself down for his stash of weed, which isn’t there. He pulls out instead and stares at the cigarette pack, the one that had the ricin at one point. A minivan pulls over, but Jesse walks away.
Jesse storms into Saul’s office and hauls off and punches him. He is catatonic Jesse no more. He grabs Saul’s gun and screams, “You did this!” Jesse has put together that Saul and/or Huell took the ricin cigarette from him and gave it back to Walt, who therefore poisoned Brock with it. Cowering in the corner, bloodied and scared out of his mind, Saul says he did it on Walt’s suggestion because Walt was trying to save him. It's not any more convincing coming from Saul than it would be coming from Walt. But at least with Saul, we know that he's telling the truth as far as he knows. Jesse races out with Saul’s handgun. As soon as he’s gone, Saul calls Walt and tells him his big nightmare has come true.
In the next scene, Walt is racing to the car wash, but collects himself before walking in. It’s a rare moment of Walt’s loss of control and acknowledging that the walls are closing in on him. He casually tells Sky that he needs to check the soda machine, because it’s catching, but we see him retrieve a frozen loaded revolver from inside the machine. He then lamely claims he forgot to pick up a prescription and leaves.
We cut to Jesse in Saul’s Cadillac tearing down the street, haphazardly parking in the Whites’ driveway. He pulls out a gas tank from the trunk, kicks down the door and the episode closes with him splashing (presumably) gasoline inside the White home.
- I have to believe that Todd confessing the entire train heist--they were never to speak of it again, remember?--may come back into play.
- Hello Kitty phone. Seriously?
- That cigarette pack keeps showing up. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.
- Jesse’s perking up at the idea of relocating to Alaska seemed out of character. That has to come back at some point.
- A Facebook friend commented to me that in the televised confession, Walt has a red streak running down his face. Given Gilligan's tendency to signal fates with color and clues, this is ominous.
- In the diner bathroom, the Nazis are bemoaning technology and safety (how dare kids wear bicycle helmets?) and the one with the tattoo wipes off a bit of blood off his shoe. Are these some of Uncle Jack’s crew that did away with Declan last episode? I admit not memorizing their faces.
- Walt and Skyler continue their beige color coordination. In contrast, during the taqueria scene, Hank is in navy blue and Marie is in black. Gomey shows up wearing purple towards the end of the episode. Is that signaling that Gomey is an ally like Marie to Hank? In the final shot of her in the gas station, Skyler looks downright angelic in white with the light playing off behind her. Please note that someone with far more patience and time on their hands than I did a color analysis of the main characters for your benefit.
- Saul to his secretary: "Bags for the money. Money sized bags."
- "Alaska? I never figured you for a big moose lover, but whatever floats your boat."
- Who would have guessed that Huell has nimble fingers enough to be a skilled pickpocket?
- I just read on the Breaking Bad site some guesses that had Jesse gone into the van that the person inside might have been hired by Walt to kill Jesse, not relocate him. I dunno, that seems like a big stretch to me.
- My husband wants me to make special mention of the cinematography, which is never not spectacular, but the lighting and camera work really do operate like a character unto themselves. In particular, the gas can cam really conveyed the manic and rage-filled Jesse.
Next episode: “Rabid Dog”