Breaking Bad: Guys Drive on Ice

Me, while watching last night’s episode of Breaking Bad:

“It’s ridiculous how this show just builds and builds tension and never gives you any release. It’s like if you were able to have sex indefinitely but could never have an orgasm again.

(beat)

Speaking of never having an orgasm again, can Skyler please put away her cleavage?”

More discussion of the terrific “Bug,” with spoilers a-plenty, coming right up.

The most important visuals of last night’s Breaking Bud were epitomized by the scene with Jesse pouring paint (or some other goop) on a batch of meth before transporting it from the Pollos Hermanos distribution center. The episode’s director, Terry McDonough, positions the camera beneath Jesse, so he’s pouring the paint directly on top of our sightline — and we see the paint slowly filling up our TV screens until there’s just a window of space left in the corner, and Jesse’s face (and all light) disappear.

That motif is repeated throughout the show: light, space and breathing room are vanishing as our characters are becoming progressively more trapped by their circumstances and their choices. We see an overhead shot of the corpse of Gus’s henchman in a laundry bid, with only his head visible pushed against the corner of the bin by linens. We see the back of a truck door being pulled closed, obscuring what lies beyond. Breaking Bad right now is about suffocation, as layers upon layers of obstacles conspire to make our characters increasingly desperate to survive.

And one of the series’ most impressive traits is that once it moves the plot and the characters forward, there’s no going back. There’s no return to the status quo. So those of us yearning for the days when Walter and Jesse were truly partners, who had each other’s backs and could even feel some affection for each other — well, we’re now shit out of luck. As are those of us who want Walter to be this show’s hero. We can’t return to those simpler times any more than Hank can un-break his bones.

The fourth season of Breaking Bad has been a slow-building symphony of tension, moving inexorably toward some kind of apocalyptic conclusion. The cartel is after Gus, and we know from Gus’s flashback that his capitulation to their aggression is probably not what it seems. Gus and Walter both want each other dead. Hank continues his dogged pursuit of Heisenberg and Gus’s operation. And now Skyler has probably made Walter’s situation much worse by getting involved in Ted’s criminal tax issues (and likely giving him some money in the near future to pay off his bills).

Now, on top of all that, we have the permanent dissolution of Walt and Jesse as a functioning unit. Their partnership has been developing fissures for seasons, but things came to a head in “Bug,” as both men, feeling betrayed, insecure and mistrustful, beat the shit out of each other in one of the best TV fights since Dan Dority took it to Hearst’s head thug on Deadwood’s thoroughfare.

Jesse’s spat delivery of his final line, “Can you walk? Then get the fuck out of here and never come back,” shows that this too is a place from which there is no coming back. Jesse wants no more of “Mr. White” in his life — and why would he? He began that scene genuinely seeking Walter’s advice and tutelage, only to find out that his ostensible partner — the man he had become a first-degree murderer for — had bugged his car in his ever-eneveloping web if paranoia. Through his obstinacy and myopia, Walter has driven Jesse straight into the arms of Mike and Gus — the exact result he most wanted to avoid.

So Breaking Bad moves forward yet again to a new and darker place. And the light keeps disappearing.

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2 Comments

Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

2 responses to “Breaking Bad: Guys Drive on Ice

  1. While I agree with your father/son analysis, I still think Jesse was being genuine in the build-up to the fight. I think he had been on the fence for a while, but his true loyalties still lay with Walter. I read his panic as legit, and I think Jesse is smart enough that he knows Walter would get suspicious about any story in which someone learns his recipe, after Gale, and wouldn’t even attempt that ruse.

    Plus, I think Jesse could cook Walter’s recipe right now — he was asking for general help more than the secret formula.

  2. Wow… I totally disagree with your assessment of Jesse’s motivations in the fight scene. We leave him with Gus, who he chooses not to poison. Next thing we know, he wants Walter to write down his recipe, the secretness of which is the only thing that has kept them alive up to this point.

    Plus, his rambling “panic” seemed fake and consciously stupid (“What if it’s in Mexican?”), more like the character from a couple of seasons ago that he knows Walter still sees him as, rather than the more seasoned guy he’s become. He wasn’t asking Walter for his advice, he was playing him.

    I’m starting to think that all Breaking Bad has ever been about is window dressing to play out the father/son archetype. Walter is both exasperated at Jesse’s immaturity and incapable of seeing his growth. Jesse both needs Walter’s acceptance and is insulted that he thinks Jesse cares what he thinks. There’s really no other way to explain Walter spending so much capital saving the life of a business partner he doesn’t need.

    I think Jesse had already decided to kill his father at Gus’… let’s just hope he doesn’t try to fuck Skyler.

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