We heard some music again in this episode. As usual, feel free to fire it up while reading this article—there's a video embedded at the bottom of this page. This week, the song of choice is The Pretenders' "Boots of Chinese Plastic."
Last week's "Cornered" put us in the head of Walter White, but last night's "Problem Dog," the midpoint of the season, took some giant steps in advancing the plot—and it wasn't Walter ended up in trouble. No siree. We're looking at some very deep excrement piling up around Gus Fring, the man we once thought was untouchable. Gus kicked off the season in a completely different position than "Problem Dog" left him him, when he reminded Jesse and Walter who's boss by giving his henchman an extremely close shave. Now it seems everyone is after Gus.
One threat to Gus isn't enough for the writers of Breaking Bad. It's crazy enough to be the target of a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. It's another thing to be under suspicion by the DEA and Hank. And as if he needed another problem, Walter has cooked up another batch of ricin to give Gus' coffee a little extra kick. It's an incredible turn of events for the series, even though we've seen it brewing.
Gus tries to appease the cartel with a vegetable plate and $50 million dollars as a sort of severance package. The handsome cartel rep doesn't accept it, much to Gus' chagrin. They just want one thing, and we don't know what it is. Is it for Gus to leave the business for good? Do they want Walter as their chef? Is it something else entirely? Gus also tries to play nice with Hank when he shows up at Pollos Hermanos, but he unwittingly puts himself in more danger by serving up his fingerprints. Oops. Digging his own hole because of quality customer service.
I don't think I'm alone in believing that Gus won't make it out of this season. In fact, it's reasonable to assume that Walter's Heisenbergifrication arc is directly related to Gus' downfall. But who is going to be the one that offs the mighty king of Pollos Hermanos? It would seem that the obvious choice would be for Walter to orchestrate some sort of scheme or even pull the trigger himself, but Breaking Bad isn't one for the obvious. I don't know how this will all pan out, but I'm dying to find out. I'm really enjoying seeing Gus wet himself for a change.
I think I speak for everyone when I say one of the things that made "Problem Dog" so fantastic (it's one of the season's three best episodes, feel free to put it anywhere at the top) is the real return of Hank. Good lord have we missed him. And not only is he almost walking on his own again, he's embracing a new purpose with this case. I understand the series' need to incapacitate Hank for a while, but Breaking Bad really excels when Hank is sniffing on everyone's trail, and Dean Norris is absolutely perfect in the role.
In a relatively heavy-handed look into Jesse's state of mind, we get the impression that by starting up a new game of Rage (OMG how'd he get an advanced copy!?), Jesse is ready to pull a trigger again even though the thought of Gale still haunts him. Yet Jesse has a problem putting the ricin in Gus' Joe, and wisely decides not to put a bullet in the back of Gus' brain when given the chance. Even though Jesse is no longer holed up in his apartment with a bunch of degenerate methmouths, he's on more of an island than he's ever been. He's stuck between Gus incorporated and Walter, and though it appears that his loyalty remains with Walter, things aren't that simple. He can't even bring himself to tell Walter the truth later.
Jesse eventually cracks in the episode's most moving scene when he's at his old group rehab meeting. This should be a boring scene, but it's anything but. Whereas Walter has been embracing his transformation, Jesse is killing himself over it. Is this ultimately what will divide Jesse and Walter? There's not enough praise that can be heaped on Aaron Paul for his performance here. You can try, but you'll never be able to fully do it justice. Credit should also go to Jere Burns, who plays the counselor, for allowing Paul to do his thing.
The early scene of Walter taking the Challenger out for some donuts serves as a perfect reminder of his current state as emerging badass. He's out there spinning that whip, burnin' rubber to some The Pretenders like Heisenberg would. But then he jumps one of those curb stops and gets the car stuck in incredibly unbadass fashion. Not wanting his joyride to end by calling AAA, he Heisenbergs an idea to blow that motherf***er up then calmly calls a cab to pick him up. Walt's still learning how to be the tough guy, and he gets an A for effort in disposing the car, but only a C-plus in execution. You'll get it right one of these days Walter.
"Problem Dog" was exactly what you want to see out of a midpoint episode. We've got a rough map of what's to come, a huge leap in plot with Gus' problems, and our main characters (Walt and Jesse) still on the same page yet so far apart. I like where this is going. A lot.
... Hank knows he's got Gus nailed, and Norris played it great. We've seen Gus around the DEA's office before, is there a chance he's bought off someone inside to keep the tail off him?
... Not a whole lot of Marie since her early klepto phase. As much as I love Betsy Brandt, this is probably a good thing. Her troubles pale in comparison to everything else.
... Will Mike go down swinging with Gus? Or is he going to allow things to happen and work for whoever pays him? I'm hoping that Walt puts him on payroll.
Track of the Week:
The Pretenders, "Boots of Chinese Plastic"
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom