Monday, September 2, 2013

Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 12, "Rabid Dog"

This is a sad episode for Walt, possibly one of the saddest of the series, as it shows how thoroughly Walt has lost the trust of nearly everyone to whom he’s closest. He’s manipulated everyone so fully for so long that no one trusts him anymore, even when he’s being genuine. He’s a bizarro version of the boy who cried wolf (bizarro because in his case, the lie is that everything has been normal, rather than calamitous). Admittedly, Walt has been lying a lot lately, as evidenced by the song and dance he does for Skyler and Walt Jr. when he realizes he’ll be unable to completely hide Jesse’s break-in from them. He pours gas on his clothes, splashes it in his car, and then makes up a half-baked story about spilling gas on himself at a gas station. The story isn’t even good enough to fool Walt Jr., who senses Walt is lying, but doesn’t understand why (he thinks it’s to cover up for passing out again). Skyler sees right through the entire story, however, and when she forces Walt to tell her the truth, she encourages him to kill Jesse. Saul does the same thing earlier in the episode, and each time, Walt is shocked and dismayed by the suggestion.

Walt’s problem with killing Jesse is nicely summarized by Hank, who is right about Walt when he tells Jesse that Walt cares for Jesse (as Hank is shocked to realize when he listens to the message Walt leaves for Jesse). Despite all of his abuse and manipulation of Jesse, Walt really does harbor a fatherly affection toward him. Much to Skyler’s surprise, Walt is not speaking in euphemisms when he says he just wants to talk to Jesse; Walt is visibly upset about the idea of killing Jesse in this scene, and it’s not an act. His affection for Jesse also explains the phone messages he leaves, his lying to Skyler about Jesse never hurting anyone, and the dejected look on his face as he leaves Civic Plaza after Jesse calls him and threatens him (Bryan Cranston is great in all of these moments).

Walt finally seems to realize in this episode that there’s a price to pay in becoming a monster, even if he doesn’t think of himself as one: once the people he cares about know some of the extent of what he’s done, he’s no longer in control of how they see him. Skyler can’t understand why he would have a problem killing Jesse, since to her, Walt’s a monster and Jesse is just some drug dealer who deserves to die; Jesse can’t trust anything Walt tells him because Walt has manipulated and lied to Jesse for so long (Jesse even describes him as the devil, one who is smarter and luckier than other people); Saul can’t understand why Walt doesn’t want to consider killing Jesse, because to Saul, Walt is a cold-blooded criminal (who has killed past partners, including Gus and Mike). Walt Jr. is the only one who still believes in the loving family-man part of Walt, which perhaps makes Walt question his own belief in this persona. Now that Jesse has rather baldly declared that he and Walt are now enemies, Walt must deal with the negative consequences of the reputation he’s created for himself, which includes coming to terms with having Jesse killed. It’s a sad day indeed for Walter White, as he discovers the extent to which he is truly alone, and despite myself, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for him.

In other developments, we learn what prevented Jesse from setting fire to the White household: Hank barges in at the last second, and forces Jesse to stop, and suggests they work together to take down Walt. I was surprised at how suddenly Jesse was willing to talk to Hank about what he and Walt have been up to. This isn’t something Jesse would do lightly (and indeed, Aaron Paul does a good job of bringing gravitas to the start of Jesse’s video confession – even Jesse can’t believe what he’s about to do). It was mildly disappointing to see Jesse so readily go along with Hank’s plans to bait Walt into giving himself up; Jesse has only just emerged from under Walt’s thumb, so I wasn’t terribly excited about his immediately succumbing to the manipulation of someone else. Accordingly, I was happy when he decided to deviate from Hank’s plan and initiate one of his own, even if his decision was motivated by a somewhat silly suspicion of a guy standing opposite of Walt at Civic Plaza (Jesse knows Walt well enough to know Walt wouldn’t try anything that obvious). I have no idea what Jesse might be planning, but as usual, I’m excited to find out more.

Other thoughts:

- Interesting temporal structure to the episode: the first half deals with Walt cleaning up the aftermath of Jesse’s abandoned attempt to torch the White household, and then the episode jumps back in time to show why Jesse abandoned his arson. The order created a nice bit of curiosity over what, exactly, happened to prevent Jesse from torching the house (although this curiosity was also solicited by the end of the episode last week, since in both cases, we already knew he wouldn't go through with his plan, thanks to season five's flash forwards).

- Walt tells a second bullshit story in this episode, in addition to the one about the gas station: he meets with Saul and Kuby outside the hotel he’s checked the family into, and when he returns, he makes up a story for Skyler about his key card not working in order to cover for his being gone so long. Little does he realize that Skyler followed him out there (or perhaps even more hilariously, simply watched him through their hotel window). Walt discovers that it’s much harder to bullshit people if everyone knows you’re bullshitter.

- When Walt tells Skyler that Jesse never hurt anyone, I wanted to yell at the screen, “Sure, never on his own behalf, scumbag!” And yet, I still sympathize with him when he realizes he’s past the point of no return with Jesse. It’s to this show’s credit (and Bryan Cranston’s acting) that I can both despise and sympathize with Walt simultaneously.

- Nice touch: when Hank and Jesse are about to leave the White household, Hank realizes Jesse’s too out of it to bother putting on a seatbelt, or even to respond to a request to buckle up, so he simply reaches across Jesse and does it himself.

- Marie’s therapy scene is pretty funny (I particularly liked her staying up late looking up untraceable poisons), but also a nice way of making her more sympathetic: even she’s disgusted by how easily she was fooled by Walt and Skyler. It also sets up a nice moment later, when she’s 100% on board with Jesse staying at her and Hank’s house so long as it’s bad for Walt. Marie is fast proving to be a cool customer, perhaps even cooler than Walt.

- Never noticed this before: above the mantle of Hank and Marie’s fireplace is a photo of Marie – and just Marie – in her wedding dress. It’s a nice touch that provides some subtle insight into Hank and Marie’s relationship.

- Hank is adamant about getting Jesse’s testimony on video because he needs it to counteract Walt’s video confession.

- It seems Hank has clued in Gomez after all. It’s a good move on the show’s part, as it gives Hank someone to talk to and strategize with aside from Marie (whom he tends to keep in the dark), and also throws into relief Hank’s obsession with catching Walt: Hank is perfectly willing to sacrifice Jesse so long as it means catching Walt on tape. At least Gomez has some sympathy for Jesse, and rightly refers to him as a “kid.” To Hank, Jesse is a means to an end, rather than a person; just look at the stream of vitriol he has for Jesse when Jesse abandons Hank’s plan. Walt is extremely effective at bringing out ugliness in everybody.

- “Mr. White’s gay for me! Everyone knows that.” Jesse’s still the best at boiling down other people’s ideas to their purest form. No wonder he made a good meth cook.

- It’s somewhat ironic that Hank is the only one who believes Walt’s affection for Jesse, considering that Hank (and Marie) is the character most thoroughly convinced of Walt’s monstrousness.

- This week in beautiful Breaking Bad imagery: everything involving the Civic Plaza. I greatly enjoyed the different ways the space between Walt and Jesse was depicted here: sometimes telephoto lenses made it seem as though the two were right next to each other, while at other times, wide angle lenses emphasized the space between them. It’s an apt visual representation of their relationship.

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