Monday, September 2, 2013

What I Watch: Breaking Bad 5.12 - "Rabid Dog"

Loyalties shift like tectonic plates in the universe of BREAKING BAD, and as the landscape undergoes these chaotic koyaanisqatsi-esque transformations, it becomes apparent that these changes also influence the viewer. We shake our fists in imagined fury at the million and one manipulations employed by Walter White, while we have been entranced by the show's machinations before he ever even got that fateful diagnosis. Perhaps we are Jesse, and Vince Gilligan is the true Heisenberg?

The series has long been a test of our own loyalties. How long do we stick with Mister White before we realize he's become more monster than man? From the second season on, that train has stopped at several stations, daring us to disembark. For some, it was the depraved indifference of allowing Jane to die. But those who stuck with Walt could point out it was hardly either depraved or indifferent.  The tears that rolled down his face as it happened were for no audience other than us, and the guilt that steadily ate away at him and almost led to a confession of his sins to Jesse the following season was also not staged for anyone else's benefit.

Then there was placing Jesse in a situation where he had to kill an essentially innocent man. I use the word "essentially" due to the inescapable fact that Gale WAS still involved in a criminal enterprise that does have an end result of ruining people's lives -- I think the impact of crystal meth on users has been forgotten since Spooge's head was crushed by an ATM. 

But one could say it was a necessary evil. And didn't Walt save Jesse's life days earlier by mowing down and shooting two dealers who almost certainly would have gotten the best of Jesse that night?

The increasingly diabolical nature of Walt/Heisenberg is more evident from that point on. His relationship with his family and especially Jesse often seems more about his own self-preservation than anything else. Lies are layered like a bologna sandwich, and even though we may root for Walt against Gus Fring (especially after Gus threatens to murder his infant daughter), we become increasingly appalled by the Machiavellian lengths Walt will go to in order "to win".

While Walt's unabashed arrogance and pride (that ego of his has been a greater enemy than Crazy Eights, Tuco and Gus Fring combined) also led to viewers hopping off the Heisenberg Unlimited, many felt the locomotive took a merry-go-round broken down lurch when we learn that Walt poisoned a child simply as a way to get Jesse's assistance in vanquishing Fring. 

A truly despicable act, made even more so by one more overlooked fact: other than telling Walt about Hector Salamanca, once the original plan to blow up Fring's car goes awry -- Jesse has no involvement in the final denouement of Season Four. So one can wonder if Walt might have been able to get that one piece of information without resorting to such a heinous act.

By the beginning of Season Five, Walt's conversion to a true villain seems apparent to even the most loyal disciple of Heisenberg. From his interactions with an increasingly horrified Skyler (who has the earth shift right out from under her with the realization that her husband is not merely a manufacturer of an illegal substance, he's now a mass murderer with little indication of remorse or guilt) to his implied threats to Saul Goodman to his further string-pulling of Jesse -- there is little trace of the man many felt such empathy for when this journey to Hell began. The needless murder of Mike Ehrmantraut shows that no matter how smart and calculating Walter White may be, his emotions and ego will still get the best of him. Perhaps that which makes him human is also what often leads to such acts of inhumanity?

As we delve into the final eight episodes of BREAKING BAD, we are reminded of the man Walt once was. His cancer has returned, and in one of his few sympathetic moments since Season 1, we see that his fractured relationship with his wife is on the mend. His original motivation that was shoved aside due to realized delusions of empire-building -- has returned. All that work, all those horrible decisions and all those lies -- it comes back to his family. 

Of course, at this point, we catch ourselves.  Is he just trying to manipulate Skyler?  Or are Gilligan and the gang trying to manipulate us?

But that train is now a roller coaster, and just when we're ready to allow a little Heisenberg back into our hearts, we again see what he is truly capable of with the video he gives to the Schraders. As Walt ticks off fact/lie after fact/lie, it's not simply fascinating because the lie is far more plausible and believable than the truth; it's hypnotic because one has to wonder if this had been a contingency plan all along. To think everything was a matter of coincidence and happenstance -- may mean we were played like a grand piano by the Maestro Gilligan. And we like it.  No, we LOVE it.

By the end of "Confessions", Jesse's unswerving loyalty to Mister White is finally shattered by the realization that Walt was behind Brock's poisoning. Let's take a quick look at what Jesse does:

~He attacks Saul, leaving him bloodied and bruised.
~He nearly burns down Walter White's house.  Bear in mind, such an act wouldn't only impact Walt, but his wife and two children.
~He turns snitch. Rat. Squealer. There is no honor among thieves. Then again, Mister White hasn't exactly been Mister Honorable either.

But at this point, Jesse has become the last great hope for the viewer. Many who had flocked to Hank's side were undoubtedly dismayed by his callous disregard for Jesse. Calling him a nutjob meth-head junkie murderer is one thing; not caring if he becomes collateral damage in his war with Heisenberg is another. Say what you will about Walt, up until the final minute of "Rabid Dog", Walt cares about Jesse.

So as allegiances change like a dog turning on its master -- so does our perspective.  Some of us may be recent converts and others may be longtime loyalists, but most of us have now shoehorned our hopes into Jesse. The truly terrifying but inescapable notion must then be voiced: if Jesse dies, what then?

- As smart as Walt is, his attempts to hide the truth from Skyler take on delightfully ludicrous and comical proportions. Once again, she's the one person he can't lie to. Only now, his son is catching on as well. But what's heartbreaking is Junior's assumption that this is all about the cancer. That poor kid. Four episodes remain to see when his heart gets truly broken.

- So Hank left to take over the Pinkman surveillance himself.  Of course, why didn't I think of that?  Major kudos to most people who correctly guessed it would be Beermeister Schraderbrau who would stop Jesse after he went all smashy smashy splashy splashy. 

Aaron Paul's Emmy sizzle reel time:

- Saul suggests Jesse may need to be put down like Old Yeller.  Later, Skyler implies the same thing. And Hank makes it clear he doesn't care if Jesse takes a bullet if he can catch Walt pulling the trigger. Until the closing minute, the bizarre truth is that Walt might have been Jesse's best ally.

My vote for favorite piece of dialogue was one that veers from funny to downright scary:

"You're full of colorful metaphors, aren't you Saul?  Belize, Old Yeller…just brimming with advice.  DO NOT FLOAT THAT IDEA AGAIN. Find him."

- Marie's spending more time dreaming up ways to poison Walt.  Hey Marie, there are these beans called Ricin, and...

- Speaking of Marie -- we get the very first Marie/Jesse scene EVER on the series.  Still expect Jesse and Junior to meet.  Perhaps that's part of Jesse's new plan, using Junior against his dad? 

- Of all the family photos to catch Jesse's eye, it's the one where Walt is dressed as Santa that grabs his attention.  Perhaps because that's such a "dad" thing to do, and Jesse is mourning the loss of yet another father figure?

- Another videotaped confession, only this time, it's Jesse, and it's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. But as he points out -- just his word against that asshole Mister White.

"Look, you two guys…are just guys, OK?  Mister White -- he's the devil. You know, he is smarter than you.  He is luckier than you. Whatever, whatever you think is supposed to happen, I'm telling you the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, OK?"

- As Jesse slowly makes his way across the plaza to meet Walt, it's hard not to notice that he's literally caught in-between two titanic forces that are both using and manipulating him. One can only wonder what may have happened if he hadn't erroneously assumed Walt had a goon waiting a few yards away. Although in a rare telegraphed moment for this series, it was obvious the guy was not a new Heisenberg-ian henchman. 

- Also, it was a mite frustrating for Jesse not to simply say something into the wire so Hank & Gomez would know what was happening. But Jesse's running on pure adrenaline, fear and rage, so he chooses to give Walt a call from a pay phone instead.

- The final minute: Jesse's got another way to get Walt, "a better way".  Meanwhile, Walt may have another job for Todd's uncle -- so much for loyalties and allies.

There were a LOT of laugh-out-loud lines in "Rabid Dog".  Here's a few:

- "Jesus…Jesse did that?' "Yeah, but you gotta understand.  Deep down, he loves me."

- "For three hours straight all he did was talk about was something called Babylon Five."

- "But say, you know, just for the sake of argument, the kid's not in the mood for a nuanced discussion of the virtues of child poisoning. His plans are running more towards stabbing you to death with a pointed stick. In THAT scenario, then what?"

- "I'm sorry, were you spying on me?" "Yes, and I feel just awful about it too."

- "Just answer me this one question: is this bad for Walt?" 
- "Yeah, very." "Good. I'm staying. I'll heat up lasagna."

That's it for this week's episode. Until next time, be good even if BREAKING BAD is better!

1 comment: