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3 YEARS

'Breaking Bad' Spoiled Bastard: Ep. 9: 'Bug'

An epic fight, but not the best episode so far...

Breaking Bad Episode 409 - P 2011
AMC

While “Bug” may go down as one of those episodes with an ending that knocks the wind out of you – Walt and Jesse in a knock-down, drag-out, friendship-damaging brawl, I was probably less enamored with it than most, simply because it served mostly as an episode that resets the storyline.

Nothing wrong with that – four or five of these episodes happen every season. But outside of the epic ending, “Bug” left me a little cold because it stopped moving forward at the clip I was hoping for and set up two intriguing but curious new possibilities for the story (so that if neither really pan out, “Bug” ends up being an episode about a fight and little more).

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Since this episode is bookended by the fight – alluding to something bad, as usual, in the opening scene and then a roughly five minute brawl to close it out – the elements of what happened between the two might be (or should be) more important.

Central to the ongoing story is that Hank, still tenacious on the old Internet, is closing in on Gus. And by closing in, I mean he’s an annoyance, not a super legitimate threat just yet. But tipped by Walt to the fact that Hank has found a possible distribution outlet, Gus starts moving all the meth (camera in the batter alert!) and has Mike clear all traces of drug-making. In the process, the cartel has a sniper take out one of Gus’ men (and almost Jesse – camera in the sniper lens!), but the message attack ends when pulls some “Terminator shit” and walks out in the open, daring the sniper to kill him.

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The cartel needs him alive, obviously. Less obvious is who Gus really is or who he’s connected to (probably in Chile) that keeps him alive. The combination of Hank and the cartel eventually leads Gus to change his mind and tells the cartel “yes” – that he’ll work with (for?) them.

But we’ve known that already, so that’s not real movement.

No, the key elements were:

  1. Ted Beneke emerging from nowhere with the IRS on his back.
  2. The cartel wants Gus to send his meth maker to Mexico to train its people and he wants to send Jesse, an act that sends mixed messages on the surface.

Everything wrapped around this was just a fight – a damned good one, mind you, and one that needed to happen. Jesse has been boiling since the first episode and Walt’s selfish cluelessness to what he’s made Jesse do (and his lack of appreciation for that) is what, combined with tracking him via the “bug,” sets off the fight.

But let’s look at that Ted Beneke situation. I certainly hope it goes further – like Skyler using the drug money to pay off his debt, which would (or should) unleash an enormous shitstorm with bigger ramifications than either the cartel or Gus. Her peeking down into the money under the house certainly suggests she’s thinking about it.

Otherwise, the Skyler-as-dimwit-sexpot ruse may be the least believable thing that’s happened on Breaking Bad. Despite what she says after the fact, ignorance of the law doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free pass. The criminal division of the IRS isn’t going to give up just because Skyler put some slutty make-up on and wore a pink push-up bra, then claimed ignorance via Quicken. Come on.

The Gus and cartel issue is much bigger (or equally as big if Skyler does help pay off the Beneke debt, which she’d surely have to do without Walt’s knowledge). Until we find out why they’re not killing Gus – and haven’t for years – then we can only assume whatever he’s trying to pull on them is risky. Sending someone to Mexico to help them cook Walt-grade meth is a suicide mission. If it’s not – and we’d have to assume that Jesse would be the central figure in surviving such an excursion – it would have to be awfully trick (or funny, or violent – like when Gus easily got to the leader of the cartel in the leader’s own heavily-fortified house) to be believable.

My faith in the Breaking Bad writers to pull that off is enormous, given what they’ve delivered on in the past. It would just be complicated (as would an IRS investigation).

So those two strands – Beneke and Gus’s plans to send someone down to Mexico – bear watching. The fight, which gave this episode its reason for being (and of course ties all the way back to Hank singing “Eye of the Tiger” in the car with Walt), could end up going in a number of directions.

It could signal the beginning of a much bigger rift between Walt and Jesse that exists now (did you notice that Jesse seemed to use the “Mr. White” phrasing a lot more in this episode, to ostensibly heighten the impact of the fight and the split, since Jesse, deep down, really does see Walt as both father figure and authority figure)? By creating this chasm between the two, it makes Walt’s survival more perilous. But by simultaneously putting Jesse in danger by sending him to Mexico, there could be a sympathetic scenario in the future where the past is just forgive.

Or maybe this dust-up will not be an enormous rift. Maybe it’ll blow over – bygones. Granted, it’s hard to see that. But maybe the fight literally knocks some sense – or maybe compassion – into Walt’s bald head.

Why has Jesse been a mess? Because Walt has used him to do the dirty, evil work for so long – culminating in killing Gale – that Jesse is buried under scars. It might be nice for Walt to acknowledge that, but part of Jesse’s spiral this season is due in part to Walt’s ignorance of the emotional damage he’s caused. It’s why Jesse started the “after all I’ve done for you” speech that led to rage and why, in turn, Walt cut him off with, “You’ve killed me is what you’ve done!”

So that had it out. You could say it was a long time coming, but you could hardly call it expected. It was the kind of scene that Breaking Bad excels at – exploding on the screen, a turn taken that’s always a bad or dangerous idea.

I guess we’ll see what the overall damage is between these two “partners,” and that will go a long way in ultimately judging (along with the Beneke and Mexico demands) just how major this episode was. But on its surface, “Bug” (and yes, I think its conceivable the IRS is already bugging Skyler’s phone) was the least interesting episode of Season 4, for me.

Add ons:

Is that the first time we’ve seen Walt in desert boots? Gonna be hard to get that blood out.

Advice: Don’t let anyone sing “Eye of the Tiger” that long in your car – ever.

“A guy this clean has got to be dirty.” – Hank on Gus.

What Jesse watches when he’s just chilling out at night: Ice Road Truckers. What’s it about, Walt asks? “Guys drive on ice.”

Jesse on Walt smoking (but not inhaling): “Don’t you have enough cancer already.”

Walt, somewhat ominously (or maybe that’s just is increasing paranoia): “What does it matter. We’re both dead men anyway.”

“Maybe you can start thinking of an exit strategy.” – Skyler to Walt when, to her surprise, it looks like the car wash will soon make a profit. But she’s unclear on the concept when it comes to the drug game.

“Tracking” magazine at Walt’s house. A little light reading on surveillance?

Gus owns all 14 restaurants of Pollos Hermanos. But he really favors the one with the built in cameras.

Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive” was in the background, but I didn’t find an exact correlation to events on the screen. But I did laugh.

 “Meth cooking and corpse disposal.” – That might make a good slogan, especially if you add something about dry cleaning as well.

 “Next time, don’t just stand there. Move your feet and stuff.” – More savvy advice from Mike for staying alive.

 “It’s like what you call a rock and a hard place type of deal.” – Jesse to Walt, who I believe has used that exact same line himself, or something close to it, in previous seasons.

Although the fight was epic, Aaron Paul’s pre-fight scene describing what Gus was asking him to do in Mexico – and how the danger in pulling it off was so readily apparent – was another great performance from him. The staccato delivery and confused sense of trying to figure out all the dangers while explaining it – a fantastic scene.

In the end, post-fight, it was a good break-up line from Jesse to Walt:  “Can you walk? Then get the fuck out of here and never come back.”

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine