"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Breaking Bad: Crazy Handful of Nothin'

I hadn't even realized how quickly this season has gone by until the closing moments told me that the next episode was the season finale. That's way too soon, and yes I understand there was a pesky writer's strike which played havoc with production schedules. But Breaking Bad is just too good of a show that's just starting to find its groove. Bryan Cranston just constantly blows me away with his performance, and Aaron Paul continues to find ways to turn what could be a very one-dimensional, archetypical street thug into a complex personality.

That said, after this episode I find myself wondering if Cranston's Walter really needs Paul's Jesse anymore. I'm sure he ultimately does but he seemed to handle things pretty well himself. Walt is clearly emboldened by his prior misdeeds, murder and arson on top of the obvious drug activities, as well as his sense of impending mortality. His new-found courage, or lunacy, reached a crescendo in how he ultimately handled the Tuco situation. By the way, I thought that was a really well handled flash-forward effect. By showing us the carnage and the bald Walter, I know it's something that's to come as the chemo hadn't taken his hair yet, but I didn't yet know when.

After having both failed to find other ways to get by in life in last week's episode, Walt came back and agreed again to work with Jesse. Still left unresolved is why he's so adamant in refusing his former partner's money for his treatment. Preferring to take on the tremendous risks of cooking and selling meth over accepting a handout from a friend, or at least a former friend, is a pretty huge statement. Whether it's a huge statement of Walt's stubborn independence or pride or an indication of tremendously bad blood in that relationship remains to be seen. And hopefully it will be addressed, because right now it's a huge albatross hanging over the story.

Meanwhile out in the desert, the arrangement put in place for "cooking" is that Walt is the chemist and Jesse the salesman, with no crossover between the two. That plan quickly fell apart, though, as Walt's deteriorating health in response to his chemotherapy chased him from the RV mid-batch, leaving Jesse to finish up. This also led to Jesse discovering that Walt had cancer as he'd watched an aunt die from the disease. In a moment of tenderness, Jesse suggested, "Put an icepack on your head during chemo. My aunt said it helped with the hair loss." Later, when Jesse brought back a paltry $1,300 from his various sales, Walter was disgusted and immediately started making suggestions on how to rectify the situation. By the end of things, arbitrary lines would be broken and Walt would be fully involved in this side of the operation as well.

When Walt asked Jesse if he knew any distributors to whom they could move large quantities, Jesse responded, "Yeah, I used to. Until you killed him." A sobering reminder of this dark path they're going down. With that distributor, Krazy 8, out of the picture, a guy named Tuco had horned in on his territory. But despite Walt's insistence Jesse explained that you can't just go up to someone like that and try to sell. You have to have an "in." And then, later, Jesse finds his "in" with a friend of his who used to share a cell with Tuco.

Unfortunately, when Jesse called to give Walt this good news, Walt was in the middle of going over his high school lab equipment with DEA agent and brother-in-law Hank. The gas mask they'd found in the desert when investigating the new clean strain of meth circulating had led Hank back to Walt's high school. At this point, Walt should be incredibly grateful that he comes across as such a stick-in-the-mud because it was just beyond Hank's comprehension to think that Walt could possibly be involved. I would suspect he'll be in for quite a rude awakening if and when he finds out.

Throughout the episode I was treated to Walt both receiving his chemo treatments and responding to them. From bouts of sickness to clumps of hair falling out to him ultimately shaving his head when the bald patches were getting too prominent. I also got to experience an incredibly awkward group therapy session in which Skyler and Walt, Jr. lamented that he goes off in the afternoons and seems withdrawn. Honestly, Walter has been a withdrawn man since I've met him and I have a hard time believing this is a dramatic character change. Sure, he's probably become more withdrawn and it's more challenging now, but should they really be surprised.

The creators did a good job of setting up high school janitor Hugo as a sympathetic character while at the same time showing us Walt's declining health. It always seemed to be Hugo who was there to help clean up after Walt's bouts of vomiting as a result of the chemo. Be it to clean it up so Walt could get back to teaching the kids or just to offer him a stick of gum, Hugo came across as a decent guy. So I guess I should have seen it coming when Hugo took the fall for the missing lab equipment. Even though his only crime seemed to be the fact that he was a pothead, it was enough for Hank to connect him. Ultimately he was cleared of that, but he was still looking at losing his job and going down in some fashion for possession. Another notch on the bedpost of victims Walt is ratcheting up.

While Walt was busy dealing with this, poor Jesse was getting his ass kicked ... again. He has spent at least half of this series so far either getting his ass handed to him physically or verbally. And this time it was by Tuco and his goons. At the arranged meeting, after Jesse demanded he be paid $35,000 up front for the pound of meth he brought rather than trust that Tuco would repay him later, he instead got beaten nearly into a coma. And then Tuco just took the meth anyway. Walt didn't even know this had happened for the longest time. When he found out, he went and saw him in the hospital where Jesse had a neck brace, broken bones and extensive injuries. Again, something that might not have happened were it not for Walt.

At this point the episode came full circle as bald Walt arrived at Tuco's pad with a bag of meth. I've seen Walt show increasing signs of reckless behavior, but this was him entering into a whole new arena of crazy. Manhandled and escorted to the same room in which Jesse met his grisly fate, Walt made his demands. "Thirty-five for the pound of meth you stole, and another fifteen for my partner's pain and suffering." Standing there with nothing but a bag of meth, torn open in front of him on Tuco's desk, Tuco could do nothing but laugh.

"Let me get this straight. I steal your dope. I beat the piss out of your mule boy. And then you walk in here and bring me more meth?" Tuco laughed. "You got one part of that wrong. This is not meth," Walt said picking up a piece of it and throwing it to the ground. The next shot was ground level outside as all the windows blew out upstairs. Here I have terminal high school chemistry teacher Walt walking into the hornet's nest. He knows what they're capable of because he's seen Jesse and knows they've already stolen a pound of meth from them. It would be nothing to these people to kill a sickly looking middle-aged white dude.

But a show of strength was exactly what Tuco would respond to and suddenly Walt had made the business deal that Jesse couldn't. Of course, it will still probably all turn out horrible for Walt as this is a very dangerous crowd he's now climbing into the proverbial bed with. So far, Walt has managed to roll with every punch the meth game has dealt him, but I have to figure he's going to meet his match soon.

No comments: