'Breaking Bad' Spoiled Bastard: Ep. 3 'Open House' and Ep. 4 'Bullet Points'

Season 4 deconstructions continued

This is a Spoiled Bastard. It contains spoilers. That's the point.


Having these Spoiled Bastard deconstructions delayed because I had no time do them at The Death March With Cocktails at the very least had one beneficial side effect. It made me reconsider "the puzzle" that showrunners and their writers put together for a season (an act that, fulll considered, relegates the weekly dissection of a show to smaller importance). I think crafting the overall story arc is interesting on a number of levels (is it super detailed with no room to spin off; is it crafted loosely so a writer can flesh out characters in unexpected ways, thus changing the direction of the series and/or arc even slightly?). 

I've used Breaking Bad as part of a visual studies class I teach at an art college for two semesters now, and rewatching never gets old -- and reaffirms original insights. For example, I still believe Season 2 of Breaking Bad had zero missteps and was the impetus for my assertion that Breaking Bad was a series that reached greatness faster than most other great series. And Season 3 speaks directly to this point of dissecting/deconstructing episodes weekly. While it was engaging and fun to analyze the morsels that Vince Gilligan dropped along the way -- from the opening segents until the last episode, there was no way to guess until that final episode the enormous finale he planned with the plane. Which is a long way of saying that sometimes each individual piece of the puzzle doesn't tell much about where it all goes and navel-gazing at it doesn't always lead to entlightenment.

And yet, that's why I've tended to stick to the really great series when doing this, like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Those creators are attempting so much more than any other showrunners out there. And they are all vastly different. David Simon liked the long story. David Chase treated every Sopranos episode like a movie (and thus, there were far more loose ends or red herrings, if you will, than the other series). Matt Weiner is similar to Chase (partly because he wrote for The Sopranos) in his approach to Mad Men. And Gilligan's singular vision for Breaking Bad is to go maximum volume on the storytelling/pace, but with a deft touch when it comes to absorbing emotional fallout (see Jesse after Jane's death), which is really what the beginnings of Season 4 are about.

Certainly "Open House" was focused squarely (again) on the domino effect that Walt set in motion in Season 1. Hank isn't in a wheelchair without Walt's foray into meth making. Everything connects. And to have him cope with his personal perception of being a half-man by taking it out on Marie only sped up the recurrence of her kleptomania but also her need to create an alternative universe where she was someone else. She reveled in the making up of names and husbands (or not) and the freedom of being someone completely other than herself -- which I would argue is what's happening in smaller doses with Skyler, even though she's much less aware of it than Marie is.

"Open House," of course, also cleverly used the title to refer back to Jesse, who has become a supernova of internal rage gone unexpressed (which has morphed, through these first four episodes, into a kind of dying star moment best expressed in "Bullet Points," where his utter lack of fear of Mike and lack of fear of dying are meshing into a horrible vacantness that all of that decadent open-house partying couldn't jump-start).

"Open House" also appeared to be Jesse's last great attempt to feel anything after killing Gale.  The level of contempt he has for the smoke-em-up husks of humanity in his house and his uttter need to have them around to keep his mind from fixating on morality is a superb conceit by Gilligan and his writers. The Go-Kart experience was both simultaneously real and like some strange hallucination. For a series that uncovers ever more creative ways to position a camera, that scene was like sticking a mini-camera into Jesse's dead soul.

I kept thinking that Jesse's interior rage was going to blow up on Walt, but it only manifested itself in that way during a brief scene in "Bullet Points" where Walt forces him to rethink every small step in the Gale killing (the pain evident on Jesse's face -- he's held basically the same "whatever" look on his mug for few episodes, but this was one of the few cracks). No doubt there will be (or should be) more on this. Because I'm fascinated with how the writers are very subtly pinpointing Walt's selfish inability to see what he's done to Jesse. Is he worried that something happened to Jesse in this last episode? Sure. But only after being pissed that he was late for work. The sad unspoken element here has been Walt's ability to swallow his own morality while missing out on Jesse's inability (until Season 4) to do the same. He dragged him further into the business each season and has scantly paid attention to the toll -- which is what Gilligan did in those early Season 3 post-Jane episode and is doing now in the post-Gale killing episodes. The difference between the two, of course, is that Jesse didn't know Walt's role in the first one, but very much understands it here, plus Jane's death pinned Jesse to the floor in depression while killing Gale has sent him over the edge, mentally.

I think we're going to find, in Ep. 5 and beyond (which I haven't seen and I never watch promos) that Mike/Gus or some other force will shake Jesse back to some semblance of normality. Partly because, as the bullet-riddled chicken truck will attest, Gus' territorial drug expansion has caught the attention of a major rival. To further that storyline, it will be difficult to have Jesse in this state of emotional implosion. And too early in the series to kill him off, though I think Gilligan is unafraid to do anything to any character (plus, I believe Jesse, conventional wisdom's most likey to die first, could eventually be the last person standing, relative to impact, when the series ends; Walt Jr. being, in my mind, the chess piece of death that Gilligan will use to hurt Walt and Skyler when the story demands it). 

In any case, I think the fallout we've witnessed in the first four episodes of Season 4, as it pertains to Jesse, will ratchet back a notch. I still think there's more to mine in the newfound explorations of the female characters, Marie and Skyler, and how they're changing, as the season progresses. No doubt Skyler's own moral compass is now suspect and rationalized -- and that should be great fodder.

Unrelated, I'm enjoying how the writers/Gilligan are using Gale as both tragedy and comedy, which is the definition of deft. (And if I'm not mistaken - because I forgot to go back -- when Walt was flipping through Gale's lab notes that Hank has, there appeared to be a Ron Paul sticker in there; which, combined with the recipes and other as-yet-unfound elements, was hilarious and noted-detail-perfection for the character).

Also, we're four episodes into Season 4 and Walt has only had a minor presence. That speaks well to the series and how it has blossomed. But it's pretty clear that Walt will be front and center again soon (loved the two moments of him stepping up: reiterating with firmness to Skyler that everything he's done has been to take care of the family; and yelling at Gus, via the lab camera, asking what the hell has happened to Jesse).

I figure most of the extraneous stuff has been picked over anyway, so that should do it and I'll be back on the ball for this Sunday's episode (but again, I don't look at this as some kind of race to get it posted quickly; I'd actually like that rare interweb allowance - a chance to think, critically, about something before spouting off).

Can't wait for the next episode. 

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine