Sometimes, we discuss the television we've been watching. There are usually plenty of spoilers, so beware.
I read a news story last week about a Chinese couple who upon returning home thought that their house had been turned upside down by robbers – an overturned table, their possessions rifled. When Xu Xianmin and his wife investigated they discovered that it was not thieves that had broken in but that it was a giant catfish who had ransacked their home. Strangely, the couple lives in a residential neighbourhood nowhere near water. The reason I tell this story is to relate how incredible animals are, how they can do anything and how we must never underestimate them. Take the time a raccoon stole my friend's wallet. Or the time Mike zip-tied Walt to a radiator and he MacGyvered a blowtorch and basically set his wrist on fire to get free. Animals, driven by their ingenuity and desperation, find a way. Walt has become that cornered animal, previously thought harmless (although the viewer has long known better), the cornered animal not defending his life, freedom or young but instead defending his empire.
The empire. Anakin Skywalker is to Darth Vadar as Walter H White is to Heisenberg. Except there was no force pulling Walt to the dark side, he'd been there all along, deep down.
It all had to come back to Gray Matter, Walt's leviathan that got away. It's one of my favourite things about Breaking Bad, that everything is revealed to the viewer is of utmost importance so even something from the first season that has had little emphasis will suddenly rear its head in the fifth. Where shows like The Wire or Deadwood are novelistic, I'd say that Breaking Bad is more like a short story in its deliberateness and restraint. A short story, a good short story, is like looking through a pinhole camera. The author (the architect, the engineer, the artist) has given the reader only the details that they need, showing only the picture that matters for that story. Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad team has done the same. No detail is wasted, no dialogue is extraneous, all character development is directly related to the story they are telling. In season one, episode four, the audience was introduced to Gray Matter, the company Walt had helped found and then leave before it became a major technological success worth Romney-amounts of money. Gray Matter is hardly mentioned again, while Elliot and Gretchen make appearances in dialogue as the supposed benefactors funding Walt's cancer treatment (with Gretchen making an actual appearance or two to debunk Walt's claims and muddy the marital waters), the actual events from twenty years before seem to be just another reason Walt's life sucks. Now in season five, episode six Gray Matter makes a stunning return as the driving force behind the monster that is Heisenberg.
Walt uses the missed opportunity of Gray Matter to excuse his unquenchable thirst for money and power, a thirst that so far has resulted in a lot-o-murder and the spiritual death of his family. Of course an egomaniac psychopath like Walt would see the unfortunate but relatively common experience of betting on the wrong American Dream as a personal slight that could only be remedied by a literal cutthroat meth empire. A lot of movies and novels have been motivated by regret; spurred forward by the protagonists' crushing need to remedy a past wrong. Countless characters have railed against their regrets on their deathbeds, in their parenting, in the way they reject the world and those in it, but never or at least so far as I've witnessed has a straight and narrow character, wracked by regret turned that contrition into a million dollar drug business. Walter White let free Darth Vadar.
That's not to say that without the loss of Gray Matter's billions Walt wouldn't have become Heisenberg anyway; every scene this episode with his true prodigal son, Todd, confirms that. Todd just never needed the cover of a Walter White to hide his Heisenberg.
Watching Todd switch effortlessly from the somber worker digging through dirt and dismantling a murdered boy's motor bike to a dead-eyed killer so void of compassion and remorse ("shit happens") that he might be commenting on a botched kick at the end of a 28-30 football game to a grovelling underling appealing to the common sense of the crime syndicate to prevail and overlook the shreds of humanity still lingering in two of the three bosses was just like watching Walt since he killed Krazy 8. Walt slips seamlessly between all of his different roles. Between father and criminal master-mind, between sad-sack loser and cold, power-hungry murderer. Everything in the first couple of scenes mirrored Todd to Walt. Beyond their chameleon ability to shift personality depending on the situation, the way that Jesse described Todd could be an exact description for how Walt runs his affairs: rash without any consultation and a chilling lack of humanity.
I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the way that Mike, Walt and Jesse dealt with Todd. We've watched how other bosses have dealt with insubordination and/or fuck ups. Bet Tuco is rolling in his grave. Bet Victor is watching from the underworld wishing he'd made it through to work for these three softies. That Vamenos Pest would not discuss Todd's flouting of their authority and the reprocussions of not appropriatly punishing him doesn't align with Mike's professionalism or Walt's god complex. Mike's 'threat' at the end of the scene was no more intimidating than a bully demanding milk money. Come on, guys! You are better than this! INSTILL FEAR IN THAT LITTLE PSYCHOPATH!
It's been a couple episodes without a White family dinner – very sad, I know – and this one was probably my favourite ever. I would watch an entire series of Jesse eating dinner with the Whites. I'd watch an entire series of Jesse's ruminations on advertising. Think Jerry Seinfeld meets Sut Jhally with more yos and bitches thrown in. That scene, though, makes up for all of the mediocreness of last episode. It makes up for all the crappiness of television, ever. Bold statement, I know, but bold statements are my jam.
|"But yo, what is the deal with advertising? It's totally like|
a sustained model for propaganda, bitch!"
I loved every second of it. I loved the way it was shot, the lighting, the framing, the dialogue. I loved that Jesse literally had replaced Walter Jr at the table. I loved how cool and calm Skyler was and the way she slugged back her wine. I loved the expression on Walt's face – somewhere between disgust and apathy. I loved that we're seeing Jesse finally realize that Walt is not the good guy he thought he was.
A friend of mine asked me why I think Skyler is still alive. I don't know the answer to that. I don't even have any guesses but I don't think she's going to die, and it's not because Walt has any love or loyalty left for her. I think that the way the writers are setting up Hank and Marie to be Holly and Walt Jr's real guardians is too much for it to be anything but a red herring. I still think Skyler will escape with at least Holly, probably to go into hiding thanks to Saul's vacuum man. Where that leaves Walt Jr, I don't know but I don't really know how to parse Walt's relationship with his son given how desperate he is to be a surrogate and abusive father to Jesse.
What I was really struck by with this episode was that if Walt and Todd are mirroring one another, then so are those who are, willingly or not, orbiting Walt. Mike, Jesse and Skyler are all navigating seemingly impossible major minefields created by Walt, who at every turn beats them again. This week in particular I was struck by how scenes/shots of each of the three recalled previous scenes/shots of the others. Take the shots of each of them being crushed by infinite sadness:
:'((( GUYS! So sad! It'll get better! Hopefully... For at least one or two of you? Oh god... It must be like Sophie's Choice in the writer's room.
Alex Snider still can't believe that a catfish ransacked a house. You can read more of her writing on her blog and follow her on Twitter, here and here.