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Breaking Bad #512: "Rabid Dog"

This morning I found my Twitter feed full of excited Tweets about the contents of the Schraeders' bookshelves, glimpsed behind Jesse and Hank in last night's episode. (They are apparently Deadwood fans, for example, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.) What did it mean that Jesse picked up a copy of Dutch? And, more importantly, what does it say about this show and the expectations it has set that fans are hyper-alert for every little detail? The craftsmanship has been so painstaking, the writing has been so tight and so carefully planned, that we are all now assuming there will be some significance in the books the set dressers rented to fill Hank's living room.

My friend Kate (who used to work on the show) tweeted that this season of Breaking Bad "is like an Advent calendar full of delicious details. Tonight: Dave!" That is, we finally met Marie's therapist: the sort of thing only an obsessive fan would be excited about. And that's the only kind of fan Breaking Bad has. More thoughts on the details after the jump...

I must say I'm feeling vindicated for having questioned the notion of "Skyler-as-heroine" last week. After she saw through Walt's gasoline-spill coverup, it was clear that not only is it useless for Walt to lie to her -- it's unnecessary. She is all in. And that led to a fascinating reversal, where Walt was trying to hold the line on killing Jesse, while everyone else was practically begging him to.

The scene in the plaza where Walt wanted to meet Jesse was fraught with ambiguity and irony. Apparently Walt didn't plan to kill Jesse then, which means Jesse might have been able to get an incriminating statement out of him. But now he missed that opportunity, and Walt apparently does intend to have Jesse killed. Meanwhile, we were reminded that Hank, however much he may be wearing the white hat these days, is still Hank, and still disdainful of the lowlife drug addicts who come between him and another victory for the DEA. The moment when Hank reached over to put Jesse's seat belt on for him was almost touching. It seemed like Jesse had transfered to a more reliable father figure, and might really be safe now. But Hank is no more concerned about "Pinkman" than he ever was. And Hank was also right that Walt has gone out of his way to protect Jesse, even when it went against his ruthless empire-building instincts. Are those days over?

So: what is Jesse's plan? He told Walt that, instead of burning down his house, he would get him where he "really lives." Where is that? At one point I might have thought he was referring to Walt's pride in his meth craftsmanship, or his image as Heisenberg. But he's left that behind now, and he's not concerned about the substandard meth on the market. Jesse doesn't know where the money is. What weakness can he exploit? I'm thinking it must be Walt's family. Either he will threaten baby Holly -- but that would require knowing her daily caregiving schedule, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't really have one -- or he'll threaten to reveal all to Walt Jr. Which got me thinking: has Jesse ever met Walt Jr.? Have we been building to a meetup between them all along: the surrogate son and the real-life heir? (The other big question is, how can whatever Jesse has in mind involve Hank, or benefit him?)

Also, does Jesse know that Walt will definitely try to have him killed now? Is that part of his plan? Saul compared Jesse to Old Yeller, and gave the episode its title. But could we have a more noble literary comparison in operation here? If Walt is, as Jesse put it, "the Devil," and if Jesse plans to sacrifice himself to bring the Devil down, then does that make Jesse...a Christ figure? Crazy? Maybe. But admit it -- you were looking at those bookshelves too.

Other notes: we must be building up to some sort of role for Marie in Walt's downfall, right? Because otherwise it seems to me we are spending an awful lot of time with depressed Marie. Not that it's not fun to meet Dave and all, but -- I really don't care how she's handling all this. That whole scene I was impatient to get back to the action.

We know Todd will come back, too -- not just as a conduit to his uncle, but also as a drug lord setting up shop back in New Mexico. And I am running out of hope that the Gomez-is-a-dirty-cop counternarrative I've been building in my head is going to come to light. But when he spends yet another episode shaking his head and saying "I don't KNOW, Hank..." I have to keep hoping there's some payoff to his consistent blandness.

Thoughts?

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I did not catch either of those allusions in the episode. But wrt Deadwood, as I recall, wasn't Walt either in South Dakota or going there at the beginning of the season? So maybe there is something with the western mythology that might play out in the end of the season. I did not watch Deadwood and am not sure if it is connected to real historical events that have become mythologized and might play in to the narrative. Or maybe it was an homage to some of the writers..

I was surprised at how Hank really showed how he will not hesitate to use Jesse to bring down Walt. It was not his best moment. He has no tender feelings for Jesse while Walt does; and Hank immediately saw that. For Hank, Jesse is, in the fullest sense of the word, a means to an end and that is it. Both Walt and Hank have showed their cunning in different ways.

Jesse is so consumed with animus and anger that he cannot see straight and it is not in his nature to seek revenge. But he is trying. Mistake. It is just not him and none of us can operate out of dark areas that we really do not inhabit even if we want to. Hank is not really operating strictly within the bounds of the law either.

All these characters have tragic flaws; Jesse with drug addiction, Walt with grandiosity and duplicity, Skyler with melancholy, Hank with obsessions, Marie with impulisivity (remember the shoplifiting - perhaps and anxiety disorder),

How these will ultimately play out is hard to guess. Wouldn't it be an irony if the ricin that Walt re-obtained from his house was intended to be finally used on Jesse?

 

Jesse calls it: Walt is the devil, and in this episode everyone who has knowledge of that devil is drawn into his darkness. They all have murderous wishes: Sky wants Walt to kill Jesse (will she ever wear anything other than beige again?). Saul wants Jesse dead too (of course, he suggested killing Hank too, so this is hardly new territory for Saul--although he can't quite bring himself to say the words: "Let's kill..."). Hank is willing to sacrifice Jesse to catch Walt (Gomie goes along with it, even though he tries to talk Hank out of the plan [this has to pay off]. Even Marie can't stop thinking about how to kill Walt. He's infected all of them, except Walt Jr., who remains innocent, in the most heartbreaking way, of his father's true nature. And possibly Jesse. It's hard to tell how far he's willing to go to bring down Walt, but he is sure that Walt was planning to off him at the plaza. I don't see him harming, or even threatening to harm, a child. But his promise to hit Walt where he "really lives" sounds a lot like family. But I'm also stumped about his plan. Given what we know about the ending--Walt with a full head of hair and a gigantic machine gun--I'm not sure whether his downfall will come via conventional law-enforcement means.

Grant, you reminded me of something I've been wondering: what could Walt's ultimate plan possibly be that would require both ricin and a trunk full of assault weaponry? The whole point of ricin is that it kills, not immediately, but untraceably. But if you're blowing your alias and planning for a hail of bullets, aren't you past the point of using ricin? One of the things I love about this show is that even when it gives us clues, I can never figure out where they're pointing.

A couple of narrative and thematic thoughts?

A prediction, first, that the ricin capsule is something Walt intends for himself.  My guess is that ingesting it is something like the last thing we see him do before the handcuffs go on.  They'll get him, but they won't get him.  This comes from Vince Gilligan's cryptic statement that the end of the show, arguably, is a small victory for Walt.  The cancer won't get him, and neither will his enemies--he goes out on his own terms. 

Thematically, by themselves the recurring references to Walt as the devil (Marie, Jesse) could seem a little heavy-handed.  But I think they're saved by what Grant describes--each character looking into the face of darkness, Walt, and getting back her or his own reflection in evil.  One way to see these last episodes, now that Walt has completed his transformation, is as a chance to reflect on what evil does to each of these people.  This is a fitting ending, if so, to a cinematic moral exploration as profound as the best Coen brothers films, but having the advantage of 62 hours in which to develop characters and probe ambiguities.  Evil is within all of our grasps.  It comes after a choice, that leads to another, that leads to another until the face of evil that looks back at us when we glimpse the devil appears strikingly familiar.

Steven: for himself! Why didn't I think of that. Thanks for commenting.

Yes, that makes all kinds of sense. Unless it's for Bogdan.