Well, that was almost good for me, was it almost good for you? After several episodes of memorable climaxes to start its final season, Breaking Bad got us all hot-and-bothered but sneakily gave us a methodical episode of piece positioning and motivation making rather than the insanity of Season 5b's first three hours of gratifying releases. "Rabid Dog" didn't exactly burn the house down (har har), but it nudged things closer to the endgame and called forth another meeting of the I Hate Walter White Club.
Look, I'm about to take a tone here that may sound as though I'm upset, but I'm not. I am going to point out a few things that felt a little off, though, and that's only because Breaking Bad has reached a level of excellence–particularly in this amazing half season–that has raised expectations to almost unimaginable levels.
I'm sure you all remember how "Confessions" ended. Jesse was a tad upset. He dumped flammable fluids all over the White house with the intent to set it ablaze, and in the opening of "Rabid Dog," Walter did some ninja moves, gun in hand, and expected a face-to-face with Jesse. So did we. But that's not what happened at all. Breaking Bad pulled a fast one on us, using a little bit of trickery to get us all excited and worked up about a bomb about to blow up when it had knowingly already stepped on the fuse. Maybe I'm being a little sensitive here, but this wasn't a typical Breaking Bad thing to do. Think about it this way, Breaking Bad is one of the most rewatchable shows ever made. Would you ever look forward to rewatching that scene knowing what you know now? Nail-biting during the initial watch, the scene of Walter coming home becomes anti-climactic in the second.
It was the first of two big fake-outs by "Rabid Dog." The final scene set us up similarly. Jesse, wired up, was set to meet Heisenberg in a public plaza to record Walter "explaining himself," as Hank would say. Jesse was halfway into the maw of the Devil himself, we all shit our pants because OH MY GOD Jesse was about to end Walter, and then Jesse got spooked and left.
In both cases, we were so close to getting one of those outstanding confrontations or manic acts that we've been gifted with in the first three episodes. But Breaking Bad can't be all splashy explosive confrontations and neck-snapping moments, and in both cases we were left holding our breath instead of having it knocked out of us. It's not that we weren't given the big scene to talk about the next day or that the scenes themselves weren't enthralling in the moment, because they were, it's that the purpose behind them seemed designed specifically to amp us up instead of add to the story. The takeaway from Walter's scene was that no one was home. The takeaway from Jesse's was that he came up with another plan, but unless we see otherwise, that wasn't specifically a result of the scene itself. He could have just as easily hatched the plan while he was sipping coffee out of a DEA mug back at Case de Schrader. I'm just riffing here, and I think they wriggled out of this one a little
Of more consequence was how the White house didn't get turned to smoldering ash. The use of a flashback to Hank coming in just at the right time (convenient) to stop Jesse was a shocker! Flashbacks? In Breaking Bad? The series has used one of the most overused devices in television sparingly in its time, and I can't think of many that directly referenced the action in the immediate episode. Yes, we saw Walt figuring out the composition of the human body with Gretchen years ago, we've seen how Gus' friend was murdered by the cartel, and we saw Skyler and Walter house shopping, but structurally this felt a lot different. This gave us an answer to a question that had just been asked (why did Jesse change his mind?), and it was pretty awesome. Even better? It put Hank and Jesse together.
In "Confessions," Jesse wouldn't rat out Walter to Hank because no matter how upset he was with Walter, he hated Hank even more. That and the criminal code, I guess. But after the late revelation that Walter poisoned Brock, Hank and Walter didn't so much change places in Jesse's hierarchy of hatred as Walter plummeted well below Hank. Now the idea of working with Hank didn't seem so bad to Jesse, and we got one of the most anticipated pairings the series has ever given us. Okay, I'm partially talking about Marie handing coffee to Jesse, but I really mean Hank and Jesse, too. And it was just as awkward and weird as we hoped it would be. Former mortal enemies working together to take down Walter? I am so into this. And the idea of Jesse staying at the Schraders'? It's hilarious.
Jesse told Hank and Steve EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. I repeat: Jesse told Hank everything. Drew Sharp. Mike. Declan. There's no going back for Jesse, he's officially turned against Walter. But it's "just the word of one nutjob meth head against Mr. Rogers with a lung tumor," which would not be enough to cuff Walter, hence marching Jesse off into a meeting with Walter with some of the finest federal surveillance equipment money can buy taped to his chest.
And though Jesse never made it to Walter in the plaza, he did come up with a new plan to get him even better. And I have no idea what that plan is. Zero. "I decided that burning down your house is nothing," he said. "Next time I'm going to get you where you really live." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? I've emptied out all the contents of my brain trying to figure out what that means and I've got nothing. I have to assume that Jesse is trying to lure Walter into some sort of trap by inciting a reaction out of Walter. But I will say this, seeing Jesse's evil grin when he was talking to Walter was so damn rewarding. We may not have gotten that explosive confrontation we were looking for, but Jesse flipping over the tables and then turning them on Walter? This will be good. Anytime Walter has been out of his comforts and acting out of his ass, Breaking Bad has been extraordinary.
Walter's first reaction was ring up Todd's uncle Jack for another job, and the obvious implication is that Walter wants to put Old Yeller Jesse down. If Jack can handle 10 guys in prison in a two-minute window, he can handle one overly sensitive junkie living an empty life. But is that what Walter is setting up? Walter spent a lot of "Rabid Dog" convincing others, Saul and Skyler, that killing Jesse was off the table. But Saul and Skyler saw Jesse for the actual threat he is now. Walter was blind to it, probably internally reminiscing about their fun times dissolving bodies, stealing chemicals, and that night Jesse had a gun to Walter's forehead. Ahhh! Good times! And now, old times. The new Jesse made a threatening phone call with a very clear message: "I'm coming for you..." Now Skyler's demand for Walter to "deal with this" and Saul's Old Yeller metaphor make a lot more sense to Walter.
Guys, I don't think is trickery. I think Walter might try to have Jesse killed. And I'm scared.
– What did you guys think of Skyler in this episode? We have to remember that she's a few steps behind Walter in this business (and all the hazards that come with it). I got the sense that she is trying to be in it all the way because she's in a mode of self-preservation to keep her family together, but there's still some small part of her that sees there's no good way out of this. I'm still convinced she'll bail on Walter by the end of the season.
– How did Skyler NOT do a Cylon or Darth Vader voice when she was staring into the fan that was blowing in/out of Walter's car during his gasoline cover-up plan? I can't be anywhere near a box fan without saying, "Luke, I am your fatherrrrr!" Tommy Boy-style.
– One thing I loved about this episode is that it didn't make Skyler and Walt Jr. so stupid that they would believe Walter's awful lie about the gas pump. That's respect for their characters. Even Walt Jr. was able to quickly call Walter on his bullshit.
– At the same time, we're seeing a Walter who can't pull off these lies, not even close. And I think this is very important. Walter always survived thanks to everyone else's self doubt. No one figured him for the bad guy. But now everyone knows and his old "Who me?" game isn't working anymore. It isn't working on Hank, it isn't working on Marie, it isn't working on Skyler, and it isn't working on Jesse anymore. Now he's more desperate than he's ever been. And desperate people call white supremacists to do their dirty work.
– Saul, looking at the mess his face became after Jesse pummeled him: "I never should have let my dojo membership run out."
Beaver Badger and Skinny Pete talked about Babylon 5 for three hours and we DIDN'T GET TO SEE IT!? Put that on the DVD extras, Mr. Vince Gilligan. I want all sci-fi television conversations between those two stoned-out dudes made available to the public.
– Let's critique Hank and Marie's book collection, or at least the ones I could identify on the screener version of the episode: Dutch, the memoir of Ronald Reagan. I'm guessing that's Hank's, and I got a chuckle out of that one. The Deadwood complete series DVD set! Awesome to have in any collection, but why is it on the bookshelf? Big Secrets, about hidden messages. Where's the hidden message on this shelf? The Money Harvest, described as "Investigator and ladies' man Jake Pope is out to discover what shocking secret Crawdad Gilmore was planning to reveal before he was shot to death." HMMM! Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929, about the big stock market crash. Seems fitting given the weight of this season. Crazy Rhythm, a humanistic look into the life of Richard Nixon. Nods to the King with Stephen's Bag of Bones and Four Past Midnight and one more unidentifiable book (it ALSO looks like Bag of Bones, but a different edition). In Bag of Bones, a man grieves his dead wife, so let's just call this foreshadowing that Skyler will die. Four Past Midnight is a collection of short stories. Basic Horsemanship, Horse Sense, and The Body Language of Horses which... are horse books. Let's hope those belong to Marie.
– Jesse drinking out of a DEA mug is hilarious. But you know what other word starts with DEA? D-E-A-D! Obviously Jesse is going to die. And if you really want to go nuts with this, when Hank is trying to convince Jesse to wear a wire and go to the plaza, the letters on the mug slowly read out as the camera ever so slightly pans right. It's not quite a full "D-E-A" situation, but let's say the director here at least wanted to put the word "dead" in our mind as a possibility from this dangerous mission.
– Hank's codename is "Salma Hayek." Steve's codename is "Pancho Villa." Obviously those names came from Hank, the boss. So I'm guessing Steve's is the most accurate one. Which would make Hank Pancho's partner "Don Quixote," the lunatic who fought windmills because he thought they were giants. Is this a nod that Hank's running a fool's errand trying to capture Walter? Or does Hank really think he's a sexy Latina actress?
AIRED ON 9/29/2013
Season 5 : Episode 16