This week’s episode was bookended by two long, tense scenes that were heavy on atmosphere and dread, even though each lasted a very long time. You would never see this kind of decompressed pacing on a broadcast network show, because the execs would worry about restless viewers switching channels. AMC knows BREAKING BAD fans are a captivated audience that see such authorial vision as a reward.
Not that we don’t value shock: I couldn’t have been the only person who shouted at the TV in shock when Hank — of all people — turned out to be the one who stopped Jesse from burning down the house, right? And how amusing — yet disconcerting — was Marie’s confession to her therapist of obsessively researching untraceable poisons on the Internet?
The episode was another win for Aaron Paul. I swear, after this show ends, no one is allowed to do the glassy, thousand-yard stare again. I think truculent Jesse has so much power for his sudden emotional rants because he stores so much energy in his “inert” state.
Walt (Bryan Cranston) arrives at his house, fearing Jesse is lying in wait. Instead, all he finds is gasoline splashed around the house, but no Jesse. Walt tries to have the carpets cleaned, but when that doesn’t work he makes up a silly story the Junior (RJ Mitte) and Skyler (Anna Gunn) pretend to buy. After moving everyone to a hotel, Walt gives Sky a mostly true explanation: Jesse is looking for payback for something Walt did. Sky tells him to “deal with” Jesse. Walt contacts Saul (Bob Odenkirk), whose guys cannot find Jesse. Saul tells Walt to deal with Jesse — but Heisenberg refuses to kill his partner. Walt keeps calling, but cannot contact Jesse.
Turns out there’s a good reason no one can find Jesse — and a good reason why he didn’t burn down Walt’s house: Just as Jesse (Paul) lit a match, Hank (Dean Norris) showed up and talked Jesse into taking down Walt through legal channels. Stashing the kid at his place, Hank and Agent Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) video Jesse’s deposition, but agree it’s all just “he said, she said.” To get actual evidence, Hank convinces Jesse to meet with Walt and wear a wire. But approaching the meet, Jesse gets spooked by a suspicious-looking stranger and bolts, fearing Walt set him up to be killed. Jesse phones Walt to warn him that he’s coming for him. When a livid Hank catches up with Jesse, the kid tells the DEA agent there’s another way to destroy Walt. Meanwhile, Walt calls Todd to say he might have another job for his uncle.
Once again, we are reminded that while Hank knows his brother-in-law, Walt, is Heisenberg, he has no evidence he can take before a judge for a warrant, let alone a jury for a conviction. Even getting Walt’s partner to spell out the whole sordid affair isn’t enough. And even if he does get the goods on Walt, he still needs to overcome Walt’s video “confession.” We also got a glimpse of Hank’s ruthlessness: He did not care one whit if he really was sending Jesse to his death; it just would have meant one less drug-dealer in the world — and potential murder charge to pin on Walt.
I really loved the way this episode’s writer/director, Sam Catlin, allowed the opening sequence at Chez White to play out at its own pace. It was slow and methodical, but never boring. Catlin gave the scene so much room to breathe that I could practically smell the gasoline as Walt crept through his house, one agonizing step at a time, alert for Jesse to appear at any moment. Walt’s sanctuary — his home — was now a viper’s nest of hidden dangers… would the place abruptly burst into flames, or was Jesse just inches away, poised to put a bullet between Heisenberg’s eyes?
Similarly, Catlin staged the meet with Walt the way it needed to be seen. Jesse took his time and carefully pondered how to approach Walt. Sure, they were set to meet in an open, very public place — but that meant lots and lots of strange faces; any one of which could be a hostile working for Walt. So we got minute after minute of Jesse peering at the crowds as he contemplated bolting, ever aware that a sniper could take him out without warning. And how like this show for a case of mistaken identity — Jesse being afraid of the tough-looking guy — to make a potential positive outcome crumble.
But it wasn’t all life-and-death tension. In between those edge-of-your-seat scenes was a powerhouse emotional confrontation between Walt and his son. Walter Jr. finally talked to his father about his fear of losing him to the cancer. Walt tried to play it off that he was too ornery for lung cancer, but it came across as bluster. And when Junior practically leaped onto his father to pull him into a hug, the nonplussed look on Walt’s face suddenly made me think he’s lying about the cancer being back. And if that’s true — if he is using the cancer as an excuse, as a beard — then Walter White is truly the monster everyone says he is. Lying to his son about the disease will have been the worst thing Walter White has ever done. And that’s saying something.
When Jesse was discussing building a case against Walt, Jesse said “He is the devil” — echoing Marie’s words a few weeks ago, when she said to Walt, “You’re the devil.” As Jesse notes, Walt is smarter and luckier than Hank. Think he should the hint?
Oh, and 5,321,456 Geek Points for the BABYLON 5 shout-out. Seriously.