'Breaking Bad Deconstruction, Ep. 12: 'Rabid Dog'
Don't say "nothing happened" on "Breaking Bad." Something always happens on "Breaking Bad." It just might not be what you want to happen. Although that's coming in due time.
As I mentioned last week, the curse of knowing that a big explosion is coming is in the waiting for it. And as I watched "Rabid Dog" the feeling came over me that some people were going to complain that "nothing happened" on Breaking Bad, simply because nothing blew up (and nobody was killed).
And an episode like "Rabid Dog" further strengthens my belief that weekly deconstructions of a series don't do justice to the storytelling and often either get ahead of themselves with predictions (guilty) or end up having to lecture people (guilty again) who believe "nothing happened" since even series built on tension and action – like Breaking Bad – always have multiple important storytelling elements in play even if you'd prefer someone's face being blown off.
But here we are, and until the brilliant and wondrous Breaking Bad and Mad Men end, here we remain.
Episodes such as "Rabid Dog" have been littered throughout the great run of this series, so defending new character developments, essential storytelling structure to create a final resolution and numerous instances of excellent writing and acting against the notion that "nothing happened" is something too tedious and reductive to engage in.
So, moving on.
Since Walt (and by extension Saul and the other working parts of Walt's former "empire") have themselves "an Old Yeller situation," which, if you haven't read the book or seen the movie is akin to a trip to Belize, then an episode with We Need to Talk About Jesse as the main focus was predictable. In many ways, the how-far-will-Walt-go theory has been out there forever – part of that is the backbone of the series – and the writers of Breaking Bad handled the answer deftly. Walt wouldn't have gone there – and we're assuming he won't go there with Hank or Marie – unless pushed. And by protecting himself from what he rightly feared was a trap, Jesse gave Walt the shove he needed. The episode ends with Walt calling on Todd to get his creepy relatives involved in more dirty deeds. Like killing Jesse.
What I liked about this episode was that it woke up Jesse, who has, even in the first eight episodes of this final season, been spiraling. As we entered the final eight, Jesse was nearly catatonic with depression, self-loathing and an unwillingness to keep facing the darkness that has been slowly surrounding him since his association with "Mr. White" (still one of the greatest consistent character traits of the series – he'll always be Jesse's teacher, as the tape made for Hank so perfectly captured).
The two essential shifts in this episode were Jesse waking up and taking control and, to a lesser extent, Skyler's continued collapsing morals. (Though it was also nice to see Marie voice her desire to kill Walt and even more thrilling to have her stay home and help propel Jesse in the right direction if it will hurt Walt.)
Let's work backward for a second. I think Skyler's "acceptance" of Walt's lifestyle has been murky at best. And by that I mean Anna Gunn and the writers are either working something very subtle – showing us Skyler going along with it while also portraying that decision as less than "all in" and filled with glances and actions that suggest she could flip back if necessary. Obviously the recorded "confession" that she made with Walt, framing Hank, deeply troubled her last week (the scene where she stares into the light, with Walt captured in darkness). And this week she called it "that awful tape."
But I'm not sure she made an "endorsement" of killing Jesse this week so much as she was shrugging her shoulders and saying "We've come this far, for us, what's one more?" as an illustration to Walt that it's all moral-less madness. She's drinking – not nearly enough, in her estimation – to dull the senses of what's happening. But if you only look at what's happened on the screen – what Skyler has indicated with her actions (not what anyone else has said or written) – she's going along with "the plan" only because she hasn't seen an alternative and she can't get out of the spiral. If the plan, on paper, was to have Skyler be "all in" as an accomplice, I'm not convinced that Gunn's performance indicates that. I see doubt in all of her actions, even when she's going along. I didn't read that scene as "we need to kill Jesse right now." The "what's one more?" defeatism is telling. I still think she's vulnerable to turning on Walt and that may eventually come with something happening to her kids (and this episode, with Walter Jr.'s concern for Walt fainting at the gas pump – even though he didn't – and hugging his father at the hotel pool, only makes me more certain he's going to die, as I've stressed for ages now).
But with all the essential pieces pushing, at some level, for an Old Yeller ending to Jesse, him waking up in this episode is all the more telling (and in some ways triumphant – longer dialog from Aaron Paul, beyond despondent mumbling, is always a welcome thing). How great was that scene with Hank where Jesse's crying and yelling "He can't keep getting away with it!"
It's Emmy great. That's how great.
For Jesse, that's the waking up moment. But it really crystallizes when he calls Walt and says, "This is just a head's up to let you know I'm coming for you. See, I decided burning down your house is nothing. Next time I'm gonna get you where you really live."
Whereas I read the Skyler scene at the hotel as indeterminate, the scene post-phone call where Jesse tells Hank that there's another way – that I read as dead-on enlightened. "There's another way. To get him. There's another way. A better way." And as the camera pans in on Jesse, it's the look we've seen before. He knows. He absolutely knows a weakness (my guess is that Jesse will figure out the proximity of where Walt hid the money, and if there's technology or luck or whatnot involved in scooping that up, well, now he's got Walt exactly where he lives – for the future of his family). That will get Walt in the way he needs to be gotten. And that's also partly what this episode was about – Jesse knows a videotape of him recounting events is just his word against Walt's. But that shot in the car – that was an exclamation point that Jesse really does know a better way.
Yeah, bitch – MAGNETS times 100 is my guess.
So yeah, something did happen. A lot of things happened. Hank stashing Jesse at his house. Hank involving Gomey. Hank getting Jesse to put it all on videotape. Walt's call to Todd. Listen, it's all going to blow up spectacularly in due time. Just don't ever say "nothing happened" on Breaking Bad, OK? This isn't a two-hour movie with anvils and short cuts. Great television has a story to tell. The end will come. Relax.