July 25, 2011 7:44pm PT by Tim Goodman
'Breaking Bad' Spoiled Bastard: Season 4, Episode 2: 'Thirty-Eight Snub'
This is a Spoiled Bastard. It contains spoilers. That's the point. If you haven't seen the episode, come back once you have.
Sorry for the late post -- had to fly down to Los Angeles for the beginning of the Death March With Cocktails (aka the Television Critics Association summer press tour).
Isn't it amazing when everyone around him -- particularly Jesse -- seems beaten down by life or the turn of events that took place in "Box Cutter," Walt is still unaware, just shy of blissfully so, of all the danger afoot and angst that abounds? Despite all of his changes since Season 1, there's still a very naive -- dangerously naive -- part of Walt that allows him to think he's a badass now. That ever since he broke bad, no matter how scary and awful things got, he could take care of himself. Here are three examples from this last episode:
1. Only Walt appears to miss the fact that the .38 special, the "Thirty-Eight Snub" of the title, is something that can get him killed instantly. Him buying it is absurd. He's going to try to kill Gus? What level of clulessness must one man attain to get to that point? And as much as he practices -- perhaps he looked fast and rushing long the learning curve to you -- it's unlikely he'll ever get it unholstered.
2. When Walt talks to Mike in the bar, it's like a teenager talking to a con about plans for a big score. The gap between what Walt thinks he can do and what Mike can actually do is immense. The only thing larger? The gulf between what Walt thinks he can do and what Mike knows Walt can't do. So when Mike smacks him -- and it looked like he held back a lot -- Walt curled into a ball like a frightened boy. Like some bully just knocked his glasses off without really trying.
3. When Walt showed up, with the gun, at Gus' house, he exhales a moment to put his badass face on and then slowly puts on the Heisenberg hat and runs his finger along the brim. See, Walt's playing at this tough guy thing. And when he walks toward Gus's house, he gets the call from Mike. Go home, Walter. This is how you speak to a child when their plans seem so ridiculously ill-fated that an adult needs to step in before it ends in tears.
Much has been written about creator Vince Gilligan's go-to phrase describing his intent with Walt -- to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. And there are so many examples of how this is happening -- from running over rival thugs to avoiding saving Jane's life, etc. I have no doubt that Walt will get there. He's broken bad. He's embraced some dark elements. But I'm not sure that Gilligan will present us with a wholly transformed Walter White. By that I mean, you can break bad but it's not like you can master it. I doubt we'll ever see Walt string together a bunch of those blow-up-Tuco's-clubhouse type moments.
A man like Walt has to be pushed to those extremes. His are always reactions. Any time he tries to think of something on his own, like purchasing and concealing a weapon to kill someone as ruthless as Gus, or to walk toward Gus's house without thinking that Mike will be guarding it, Walt stumbles and looks both pathetic and way out of the arena in which be believes he resides.
To me, the most intriguing part of these early episodes is Walt's indifference to what's going on around him. Namely the impact on Jesse. The numbing down -- and down, and down -- of Jesse that we witnessed last week just took a strange turn this week. He feels nothing. He wants to connect in a way he can't. For the people who believe that Jesse wants to feel numb, rewatch the episode. His psychological disconnect is really taking a toll. He doesn't want this life. He doesn't want to be numb. What he really wants is what he almost got with Jane -- something that approximated a tolearably normal existence with someone who got him, who understood he wasn't the druggy screw-up his parents thought he was....Now Jesse's a killer. In his short life he's already dissolved two human bodies in acid. He's trapped in a "profession" that lost its allure for him a long time ago. What's the upside with being owned by Gus? Staying alive -- if you can call that living.
This is why Jesse wants people around. A guy could go crazy just watching a Roomba. And if you're going to be locked away doing the devil's work, might as well buy some sweet speakera and a sound system to rock your world (and maybe make you feel something).
Here we are four seasons into Breaking Bad and I shouldn't still be amazed at the innovated visuals or perfectly honed sense of sound. These are masters at work, people. Professionals in the industry love what Breaking Bad is doing with its look and feel. High quality artistic achievements tend to garner that respect. So from the Roomba to the throb-out house parties that Jesse puts on to be both not alone and to feel -- excellent across the board.
Anyone who thinks Jesse's going to get better soon better think again.
I had some thoughts on Skyler, but it's late. And her foray into breaking a little more bad is still too early (though I did like that steely look she gave when being rebuffed about the car wash). And for those of you thinking there's a methage (see what I did there) in the madness of Hank looking at minerals, I'm not sure the connection is there. They might be a metaphor for something, but probably not meth. And Marie ... oh, Marie. More in later posts on that B storyline.