Two major questions concerning “Shotgun,” last night’s episode of Breaking Bad, after the jump.
1. What is Gus’s endgame?
Gus Frings does not seem like the kind of man to take insubordination lightly. I highly doubt that he is planning to let Walter keep cooking for him indefinitely after the string of recent betrayals, disobedience and colleague-killing. He must have a plan to lessen his dependence on Walter’s skill, and it’s likely a plan that ends with Walter no longer breathing. Walter is too arrogant and too caught up in the daily details of survival and car wash purchasing to see it, but Gus is not satisfied with the current arrangement.
Specifically, why is Gus going to the trouble of boosting Jesse’s ego? Obviously, Gus and Mike couldn’t let Jesse keep on going the way he was going. His drug palace would have brought unwarranted police attention to their operation sooner rather than later. But why don’t they just kill him? He’s not invaluable to the cook like Walter is, and Walter has no leverage with which to keep Jesse alive. He’d be pissed, sure, but what’s he gonna do? If he stops cooking or tries to run, Gus could just have him killed too. In Gus’s view, Jesse has always been an unwanted appendage to Walter, and one would think he would take any opportunity to remove it. Jesse Pinkman, in his dark, sprialling state, is more trouble than he’s worth.
Unless Gus has a longer-term goal in mind. The chicken man has almost always been several chess moves ahead of Walter, so it seems logical that his gambit to build Jesse up will pay dividends for him down the road. And I don’t think Gus merely wants to stabilize Jesse for the short term. I’m guessing that he ultimately wants to drive a wedge between Jesse and Mr. White, with the aim of ending his reliance on Walter’s particular brand of genius. The specifics of Gus’s plan remain unclear, but if Jesse is alive, it’s for a reason; and if Jesse is allowed to swoop in and save the day, that’s for a reason too. The Mexican cartel is on the prowl, making moves on Gus’s business, so Frings wouldn’t distract himself with young Pinkman were it not worth his time and resources.
2. Do we buy Walter’s drunken rant?
Walter White is a prideful, ego-consumed man, and that pride has led to significant mistakes in the past. And, as Alan Sepinwall points out, Walter has shown himself to be susceptible to inconvenient candor when alcohol and drugs are consumed. Moreover, Walter likely sees Hank as less of a threat than ever before, due to his physical limitations and his distance from the DEA and the Heisenberg case.
But I’m still not sure I buy that Walter White, motivated by nothing but his own arrogance, would intentionally imply to Hank that Gale was not the man he sought.
The way the scene was set up and shot, as well as its immediate aftermath with Hank finding a key clue, show that Walter’s drunken indiscretion is meant to be a key turning point in the series. I have little doubt that the events in the last five minutes of “Shotgun” will start a chain of events that will lead to Walter’s eventual demise or incarceration — or at the very least, massive fallout and casualties among the people he professes to care about.
Yet I’m having some trouble with such a crucial moment being so lacking in plausibility. I need some more time with this episode, to decide if the “confession” stayed true to character, or if the Walter of season four still has enough of a self-preservation instinct to stop himself from being so stupid. I know he’s feeling emasculated (as is his norm) with Skyler pressuring him to move back in, and with buying the car wash, and with feeling utterly powerless in the Jesse-gone-missing situation, but even so, this was a ridiculous turn, even for Walter White.