Monday, 1 August 2011

Extra Careful: Breaking Bad review


Breaking Bad: 'Open House'

Breaking Bad likes to hide secrets and in-jokes in its episode titles. In particular, recall the trick in the second season when all the episodes with foreshadowing for the finale conveyed a message of how the situation would play out ('Seven Thirty Seven', 'Down', 'Over', 'ABQ'). I was having a bit of trouble decyphering this week's episode until I considered the meaning of the title. 

Ostensibly, it would appear to refer to Marie visiting a number of houses which were up for sale, allowing her to imagine a different life for herself than the one she is presently stuck with. Or, at a stretch, it might have been Walt having to let Huell, Saul Goodman's muscle, use his bathroom for a 'stomach thing'. Either way, the central theme this week seems to be the need for these people to open the doors that the action of the past few weeks have made them lock up firmly.
Walter, for example, needs to start putting more confidence in Skylar. For sure, she overreacted when she saw his black eye - but then given how she's deluding herself into thinking that her husband could be cooking meth with zero danger involved, perhaps her shock was understandable - but she's also capable of the sort of long-game thinking of which he is not. Last week, she failed to take into account Bogdan's anger at Walt when attempting to buy the car wash. This week, her homework was more complete: when Bogdan demanded that the 'inspector' (whom Saul, resourceful as ever, had provided) cite every law that the car wash was breaking, Skylar had a list ready to go.

She's not perfect - apart from her possibly deliberate naivety regarding Walt's meth cooking, she takes Bogdan's previous refusal as a personal affront and sets out to bring him down. She's also not above a bit of manipulation either, as she gets Walt on her side by relaying how Bogdan insulted his masculinity. Yet she can cover one of Walt's major failings, thinking ahead, and as they shared a glass at the end of the episode - including a short reminder of why Skylar is so good at what she does - there were signs that just as Walt's dead-end life was reinvigorated by his breaking bad all those years ago, so too is the White marriage looking like recovering its spark through the thrill of criminal activity.

Walt has another door which needs to be opened: his ego. As he has been ever more pushed under the thumb at work and at home, his decisions have become increasingly driven by frustration and desire to recapture the rebellious energy with which he first started out. The cold open with the CCTV camera summed that up quite concisely. All he can do these days is complain ("a violation of the work space") and suffer the consequences of his poorly-conceived actions, as per the shiner he received as a result of his 'business strategy' meeting with Mike last week. His seemingly rekindled partnership - in both senses of the word - with Skylar either be exactly what he needs, a gust of fresh wind to clear away the cobwebs, or only deepen the problem further, should Skylar succumb to her own evident sense of pride.

As previously mentioned, Marie gave a literal example of the need for an open house by visiting real estate and imagining a series of fake lives for herself, none of which involve a spiteful husband lying in bed and demeaning her all day. At home, there's clutter everywhere she looks and a man whom she used to love who now will barely talk to her without an insult. At the open houses, she can be the person she wants to be and chat with people who seem genuinely interested in the stories she tells them. Of course, this is really just a way of closing herself off more than ever and her desire to recapture some of her past happiness leads to the return of her kleptomania. 

Inevitably, the offended estate agent tracks her down and confronts her, leading to her having to make a humiliating call asking Hank to call in a favour and get her out of jail. Yet, even if only for a moment, this resulted in his finally being sympathetic to her when she finally broke down, then later told his partner that he knew his ordeal had been hard on her. He's still a long way from being willing to open up to her, but can now see the consequences of the way he has been treating her and has opened his shell just a little. Perhaps that is what inspired him to pick up those lab notes at the end of the episode. He still loves Marie, and his anger seems based how his condition is forcing her to provide for him rather than vice-versa, so perhaps now the rehabilitation of his soul as well as his body can begin.

Finally, there's Jesse. His house is literally open, an ongoing party where his only way of regaining a degree of control in his chaotic existence is to use his money as a means of making the deadbeats at his home debase themselves at his whim - the 'choking on money' visual was a neat piece of symbolism. The openness he craves is proving as elusive as ever though, and attempts to shatter his mental prison by pushing himself to the edge are only deepening his despair. Where everyone else found a crack in their closed lives this week, be it Walt discovering Skylar's talent or Hank finally seeing how Marie is being affected by his attitude, Jesse's world just seems to be getting darker by the hour. 

This wasn't a particularly good episode, with only incremental advancements in both character and plot, but carried the hallmarks of Breaking Bad deploying one of its most devastating tricks: deliberately holding back the action until the pressure builds to exploding point. What kept it compelling was the feeling that when these houses finally get opened up, all hell is going to break free.



la hoag said...

Great review!

Ed said...

Refreshing take on the ep. - definite departure from the Facebook comments such as "dude they aren't cookin' meth and blasting anyone. Show is boring now"

I'll definitely bookmark your blog

Ed Krimmer

Xander Markham said...

Thanks for the kind comments (and bookmark!), guys - Ed, I'll keep an eye on your blog as well!


St├ęphane said...

What a clever analysis!

Bernardo said...

Fantastic Review! Best I have seen yet. Following your blog.