BREAKING BAD: 'Thirty-Eight Snub'
In my review of Breaking Bad's fourth season premiere last week, I speculated that the pieces were being put in place for a major power-shift between the footsoldiers and the generals. As Walt and Gus were busy trying to beat each other down in order to secure their own positions, Jesse seemed the calmest of everyone who had witnessed Victor's death. Hank, slowly but surely, was getting stronger. Skyler was becoming increasingly confident in her ability to break bad. Mike The Cleaner saw what his boss was truly capable of.
That may not yet come to pass, but one thing which is definitely true this week is that everything that went down in the meth lab last week has thrown the programme's characters and relationships into turmoil. If last week's theme was one of powerful men losing their grip on the worlds they ruled over, this week concerned itself with the aftermath of what those men do when threatened, and what makes one man run and another fight back. Gus went into hiding. Walt bought a gun that wasn't strictly for defence. Where previous seasons have Breaking Bad have predominantly dealt with Walt alone trying to manage the demands of his unstable kingdom, the two episodes of this fourth season are hinting at a four-way game of chess where one player's bad choice can destabilise the entire board.
If Jesse is indeed set to make a power grab of sorts, he's going to have to go through a major Hamlet arc to get there. Whatever sense of perspective he may have gained from witnessing Gus cut Victor's throat seems to have been pushed to the back of his mind as he desperately tries to battle his own demons after having taken a life for the first time at the end of Season Three. That means a big-time relapse into drugs, booze and endless partying. When faced with the fact that a terrible thing has been done, it's often easier to try and deny it than to face the truth which can ultimately lead to acceptance and recovery.
Jesse isn't anywhere near that step yet, but we know he has the ability to get there. He may not have Walt's extensive knowledge, but his stint in rehab last season gave him a clearer vision of who he is and what he stands for. His murder of Gale might have sent that into a spin, having been forced to descend to greater depths of evil than he ever thought possible, but somewhere in the haze of drugs and loud music he's using to suppress his pain, Jesse Pinkman still lives. The tragic scene with Andrea, the on-off girlfriend whose son was turned into a killer by one of Gus' street gangs, proves that he still wants to believe in the idea that people can recover. If Jesse is going to snatch power away from his overlords Walt and Gus, he's going to need to find that strength for himself - or perhaps that strength will instead tell him to just walk away.
As for the overlords themselves, those who performed defensive moves in reaction to the events of last week's episode were the ones who came out on top this week. Walt, as usual, made a bid to take action to save his own life, but failed to think through his plan or the consequences it might have - proof, as if any more were needed by now, that his talents for survival are continually being pitted against his lack of forethought creating ever more terrible obstacles for them to overcome. His arrival at Gus' house was easily dismissed by a phone call - how that porkpie hat, once symbolic of Walt's seeming ability to turn into Heisenberg and control a situation, now represents Walt's delusions and increasing lack of control. He then pitched a coup against Gus to Mike, who responded by giving him a beating. Both he and Gus, the most calmly rational characters in the programme, chose to retreat and give careful planning to their next moves.
That might mean taking a short-term hit - Gus has gone into hiding, while Mike is drowning his worries in booze - but also means that they are both alive and unharmed by the episode's end, and seem to have a clearer view than Walt of the board on which they are playing. Had Walt thought his plan through, he'd know that taking down Gus would barely even solve his current problem: his target is a man with huge connections in the meth cartels and on whom many dangerous people rely. The death of Tuco resulted in the arrival of the killer cousins last season. Walt may have forgotten that, but Mike knows that there's no point in compromising his position for such a tenuous benefit. There's also the question of whether Victor was killed solely to send a message, as Walt tries to assert, or to punish him for his failing elsewhere - getting to Gale's body before witnesses moved in, for example.
Eventually that may change, but Mike knows the dangers of acting rashly. Gus, meanwhile, has to work out a way of eliminating the dangers posed by the increasingly large number of people for whom he has become a possible target - not just Walt and Mike, but the feds as well, who now have access to Gale's notebook, don't forget. That could mean that when Hank's back in action, he'll have as big a lead as he's ever had to continue his quest to bring down Heisenberg and the blue meth producers.
Hank was one of the attackers this week, pushing himself further and further towards being able to walk again, yet that testosterone-fuelled determination is also making him increasingly hateful towards Marie's attempts to help him. Their marriage has never been calm, but he is focusing so much on proving to himself that he's man enough to beat his injuries that he sees those who love him and want to aid his recovery as challenges to his manhood. His new hobby of examining minerals has come rather out of left field - although presumably will link in some way with Walt's story, especially given the emphasis on a blue mineral this week - but for now is a sad reflection of how he is neglecting his marriage for his own personal interests. I never thought Marie, naggy and obnoxious at the best of times, could become a sympathetic character, but Hank telling her to get out when she wanted to reward his progress was an undeserved punch to the gut.
Skylar's attempt to buy the car wash from Walt's former boss also had her on the offensive, but ultimately knocked back. Unlike the two men, she had a specific plan of attack and took the time to prepare her move in advance, but fell down on her certainty that she could get the deal done without considering the other side's perspective. Walt's old boss - whose name is Bogdan, I think, so I'll go with that for now - was less than impressed at his old employee's behaviour and his leaving without giving notice. The idea that the same man now wants to buy the business that Bogdan had put thirty years of his life into building, and sending 'his woman' along to do the deal instead of turning up himself, was taken as the worst kind of affront to his dignity.
Judging by Skyler's angry stare at the end of their meeting, this looks like this is being set up as the moment when she takes her first major step over the morality line in acquiring the car wash through devious ends - yet Bogdan is clearly the type to hold a grudge, and surely wouldn't take any such pressure lying down. As her husband has repeatedly discovered, her short-term gain may end up endangering their chances of winning the bigger game. With every piece on the board having so much at stake, these poorly-considered offensive moves by her, Walt and Hank could end up doing nothing more than leaving them vulnerable to a swiftly executed counter-attack.
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