TROUBLE CITY

BREAKING BAD: "51"

BlogsAl SchwartzComment

Schwartzblog archives Adios, Pontiac Aztek.  You were one of television’s great punching bags for the last few years, and you will be missed.  I have to imagine your new owner will treat you kinder than the last one, though.  I’m even starting to suspect he may have been harboring some passive-aggression toward what you represented about the identity he presented to the world and the one that he embraces privately, and this may have led him to treat you more roughly than you deserved.

That guy is having a harder and harder time maintaining the facade identity, not because of any particular demand of the alter ego (which is still facing the occasional speed bump, but no threats of the existential variety), but because he has just lost the taste for it.  His decision to dump the Aztek and buy (sorry, lease) two muscle cars is prompted by the mechanic mentioning that he could put another 200,000 miles on it, leading him to the the obvious conclusion that even if the wagon did, he doesn’t have that many miles left in him.  And he doesn’t want to spend them pretending to be an ineffectual drip when he is clearly the baddest, smartest, swingingest dick west of the Rockies.  He’s even wearing the hat, the lynchpin of his Heisenberg “costume”, in front of Junior.  If he’s careless enough to also put it on in front of Hank, will it spark him to remember the description of Heisenberg as wearing a goatee and porkpie?

A question for another day, as Hank may think Walt’s spending is reckless, but he is distracted at the moment by even more erratic behavior on Skyler’s part. Her unsettling dip in the middle of Walt’s birthday dinner was also the cinematic highlight of director Rian Johnson’s return to the show after season 3’s “Fly”.  You don’t see a lot of feature film directors guest-shoot on TV, as series have a locked-in look and style that is going to constrain even the most visionary of auteurs.  Breaking Bad, though, has always had a lot of flair in its style, allowing for a good deal more technical flourishes than most shows, and also enough cultural/critical cache to attract a “name” like Johnson.  Incidentally, if you haven’t seen his Brick, it’s simply incredible, Brothers Bloom is a fun romp, and you should definitely see his upcoming Looper in theaters.  He’s one of the most interesting young directors working and those guys need all the support we can muster.

Anyway, we’re halfway through this sorta-season, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we’ll be catching up to the flash forward opening before 2013 and the final batch of episodes.   I wasn’t really expecting us to, as Walt's bearing suggested that even if things go off without a hitch, it’s not the sort of plan that would support 8 episodes worth of story in its aftermath.  But we’re still only halfway from pilot to the diner in story time, and the new big threat to the Heisenpire still has not begun to coalesce.

Well, the type of threat that requires an M-60 to address, anyway, because at the moment, Skyler is shaping up to be Heisenberg’s primary antagonist.  She doesn’t have much of a plan as yet, but I very much doubt that getting the kids out of the house and waiting out the clock is going to work well enough to remain her permanent plan of (in)action.  Walt seems to relish his chance to square off with her, flaunting his superior experience at spinning elaborate lies and rhetorically countering all of her moves as quickly as she can spitball them.  The man’s need to assert himself has so far outpaced all the concern for his family that was his ostensible motivation for starting down this path that if he’s not being sufficiently challenged by the criminals in his life, he’ll threaten to have his wife committed, gladly using the potential trauma to his kids to get one over on her.

The whole scene is as jaw-dropping and ugly as anything the show has produced, and makes this the strongest episode of the year so far.  It's also a powerhouse for both actors, Gunn in particular.  Reminding Walt that he was the one who explained to her that he was the danger, violently rejecting his attempts to make excuses for her role in things, and crowning things off with the devastating declaration that she is just counting the days until he croaks; if she produces another, better Emmy submission episode than this for the final season, she’ll be a mortal lock to win.

It also sets up a fascinating contrast between how the ticking clock affects both characters.  While his imminent demise is spurring Walt to act out in more and more reckless fashion, the same knowledge paralyzes Skyler with the thought that if she simply eschews any of the terrible options laid out in front of her, the Walt problem will eventually take care of itself.

This is not a show where problems take care of themselves, though.  And it is a show where taking control of your fate and becoming more assertive (despite being the requisite growth that 99% of fictional characters "need" to complete in their own dramas) can be a very, very negative thing.  Walt may be happier with his current persona than the milquetoast he was in the pilot, but there's about 200 people listed in the sections below who would be much better off if he had remained a passive doormat until the cancer ate him away.  I’m almost as afraid of what Skyler will do when her hand is forced as I am to see what Walt does with the gun.

 

Estimated Profits: + $97000 - ~$25000 (new car leases) = +$72000

Murders - Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale, Gus, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons

Collateral Damage - One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge.  Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD.  Combo was killed dealing for Walt.  Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined.  167 passengers on two planes are dead.  Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt).  3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields.  Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates.  Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process.  Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up.  Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety.  Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse.  Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse).  Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion.  Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons.  Brock is poisoned and nearly dies.  Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker.  The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs.  Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker.  Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg.  Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death.  Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea.

Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15

We Are Done, Professionally - Mike is already trying to go back on his decision not to murder Lydia two episodes ago.  It appears that Walt came up with some idea for dealing with her that won’t cut off their methylamine supply, but we won’t see how that plays out til next week.

It’s The Little Things -  All of the big and small indicators that the current status quo cannot hold; Lydia’s mismatched shoes, the unraveling thread on the porkpie, the ticking clock on the watch (recalling the time bomb Mike characterized Walt as), the blood from the head shaving, the way the White house seems to get darker and darker in each successive scene.   The look on Hank’s face in the background when Marie wonders “You don’t hand-mash?”  The way the pool is lit up to look like a batch of the blue meth that Skyler is literally drowning in.  How Walt’s entry to the pool is obscured by her billowing dress, so his grabbing her is like the sudden appearance of a movie monster.