Breaking Bad #513: "To'hajiilee"

Here is how the TV listings in my local newspaper summarized this week's episode of Breaking Bad:

An unexpected turn of events leaves the normally tranquil Walter White struggling to maintain control of the already-chaotic world around him.

I think you'll agree that they really captured the spirit of the episode. But there are a few things they left out, which we'll discuss after the jump...

So HOLY COW that shootout. It's difficult to even think about what came before it, let alone start to discuss it, because all my brain really wants to do is say "WHAT HAPPENS TO HANK AND WALT AND JESSE?! (oh and also Gomez I guess)" over and over for a week. Now THAT is a cliffhanger.

But lots of other things before the final scene this week deserve a mention. First, there was the answer to last week's puzzle -- what did Jesse's threat mean? Where does Walt "live"? Turns out Jesse was talking about the money after all. Hank's deception of Huell was another glimpse of his less-than-ethical (but very effective) side, and while messing with criminals' minds is all part of a day's work for Hank, it's worth remembering that he's still pursuing Walt without the official backing of the DEA. What he and Gomez did to Huell is risky. (not that anyone should feel too sorry for Huell, who knows what he's a part of, but it was still uncomfortable for me to watch Hank deceive and frighten him in a way that watching Hank trick Walt was not.)

As for Jesse, well, the battle of the unfit-father-figures continued. In the "previously on Breaking Bad" montage, they showed us a clip of Gomez saying "What about the kid?" and Hank reframing the question in less affectionate terms -- to him, Jesse's a lowlife junkie criminal, not a "kid." Because of that I took note when Saul and Walt met up at the car wash to discuss Jesse's fate. Both called him "the kid" too.

Of course, that didn't stop Walt from pursuing his plan to have Todd's Uncle Jack (or, as my husband calls him, "White Power Bill") and associates take Jesse out. But Walt still thinks he can do right by Jesse -- the hit should be as painless as possible, he insists. And he doesn't WANT to do it, it's just that Jesse "won't listen to reason." (Poor Jesse has been listening to Walt's "reason" for far too long already.) And Walt's fussiness about Jesse exposes him to new compromise and new risk, agreeing to cook for Todd et al. once they've carried out their job for him. Looks like being in their debt could be a problem for him going forward. (Assuming he gets out of that shootout alive.) And Walt is also still unwilling to hurt Hank, so that's a second shred of humanity he has left. On the other hand, he is willing to use the unwitting Andrea and the possibly traumatized Brock to get to Jesse, again. (So coy, with the Walt and Brock meaningful-or-is-it? mutual gazes. I am annoyed by the coyness.)

And despite Walt's attempts to call off his thugs to protect Hank, things are...not looking good for Hank now. I could hardly look at the screen as I felt the dread mounting during his phone call to Marie -- their conversation felt like too much of an "ending." I must admit I was still crossing my fingers that Gomez (who was even worse than usual in this episode if you ask me) would turn out to be the dirty cop I always hoped he'd be -- maybe he'd turn on Hank once Hank hung up the phone? But then the real danger showed itself, and since it looks like WYSIWYG with Steve Gomez, now I'm just hoping we've seen the last of him. I don't see how anyone could have survived that barrage of gunfire, but I won't mind if other people do. Him, I can spare.

I admired the elegance of setting that scene in the same location as the ending of the very first episode. (Jesse helpfully pointed that out; it was also the source of the episode's title.) Here we are again, with post-Heisenberg Walt waiting for the cops, and suffering a coughing fit, in the very place he first stood in his underwear expecting to be caught red-handed.

So, what now? Do you think Hank was smart enough to record Jesse's phone conversation with Walt as they were tracking him to the spot where he buried his money? If so he has a lot of incriminating evidence on tape; Walt made explicit reference to a whole string of murders and crimes, from Crazy-8 to Gus to Brock. Meanwhile, Walt was weaving in and out of Albuquerque traffic at top speed without hitting anyone or getting pulled over by the police, which was maybe the most implausible part of this whole episode. He has managed to avoid the consequences of reckless driving many times now -- if I'm not mistaken, the only time we've seen him get pulled over was when he was driving with the cracked windshield, and the only accident he's been in was the time he intentionally wrecked his car to keep Hank away from the site of Gus's meth lab. This time, as we were treated to shot after shot of Walt zooming through the desert, I thought to myself, "What is this, a car commercial?" And then I remembered that, sometimes, Breaking Bad IS a car commercial. And I felt gross. (For what it's worth, I don't question the Chrysler product placement because Walt-the-druglord makes a bad spokesmodel, although that's certainly true. I object to how the show's pace and content are disrupted to make time for us to admire the sexy cars and hear about their awesome features.)

Speaking of gross: What do y'all make of the, er, tension between Todd and Lydia? And his caressing the lipstick on her "These Colors Don't Run" coffee mug: another trophy? (Or another product placement? Maybe next episode she'll be touting her new long-lasting brand of lipstick.) I don't know what to expect there, but I'm shuddering just the same.

How about you? Have you gotten past the What happened what happened what happened stage yet? If so, what are you thinking about now?

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Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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