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Brains in the garbage can: PAR talks about the latest episode of Breaking Bad

Brains in the garbage can: PAR talks about the latest episode of Breaking Bad

Jesse Pinkman may be Walter White’s greatest weakness.

It doesn’t seem to add up. Jesse has been lied to, manipulated, pushed around, and he’s lost just about everyone he’s cared about in the course of his relationship with Walt, sometimes by Walt’s own hand. On the flipside, Walter has kept Jesse alive, made sure he had more money than he’d ever need in his life, and stressed the young man’s importance to the meth empire on multiple occations. Walter, in his own sociopathic way, has a soft spot for the kid.

In fact, Walter seems shocked that Jesse would double-cross him in favor of Hank, and the two get into a shoving match after Walter calls Jesse a coward, and is spat on for his troubles. Hank seems to be the only character on the show who has an accurate idea of the relationship between the two meth cooks.

It’s an old cliché that ambivalence is the opposite of love, not hate, and Walter is not ambivalent about Jesse. The two men share a deep bond, and Walter has contorted himself into some awkward situations trying to keep Jesse close to him. This relationship made that final scene in the desert so riveting. Finally, Jesse has surprised Walter, and has the upper hand. Heisenberg is in hand cuffs, his rights having been read, and left without a move, shoved in the back of a police car. Bryan Cranston spends this scene looking, at turns, both completely broken and defiant.

And then the bullets begin to fly, but we’ll get to that in a second.

The Tao of Todd

Lydia wants the Heisenberg product. The meth should be pure, it should be blue, and it should be ready by now. Todd’s cook isn't bad at 76 percent, but it’s a drop in quality from what was being sold previously, and it’s white. White! The famous meth is supposed to be blue, as that color has become something of a trademark.

“You burnt it,” she repeated when Todd explains what he believes went wrong with the cook. The rest of the team doesn’t seem worried. In their world, this is a killer product. For the buyers overseas? This inferior product is an insult, and it sure as shit isn’t what they were paying for. 

Todd is one of the more fascinating characters in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, as he feels like the dark side version of Jesse. He doesn’t care about killing innocent people if that’s what the job requires, he doesn’t seem to be getting high on his own supply, and he doesn’t react in the slightest when Walter finally decides that Jesse needs to go. Todd seems to be completely soulless, willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead in the drug trade. Even his awkward attempt to… hit on? Comfort? Lydia is hilariously creepy.

So what’s Walt’s relationship to this new meth crew? He needs them to take out Jesse, and they need him to cook and show Todd the proper technique. The struggle for power and dominance is at the heart of this episode of Breaking Bad, as Walt tries to flush Jesse out in the open by what amounts to a threat to Brock and his mother, and Hank and Jesse do the same thing by appearing to put Walter’s money at risk.

Hank’s ability to stage elaborate fake images of Jesse with his “brains” blown out and money about to be burnt are played for both gravity and laughs, depending on how dark your sense of humor may be, and the added kick of taking the picture near the grill was a nice touch. You know, where the family used to eat.

Everyone wants something, and they’re willing to burn down the world to get it. Walter only cares about his money, and the idea of his ill-gotten gains under threat led him to scream details about his crimes on a cell phone while speeding recklessly to the hidden cash with a gun in the car. Hank only wants Walter, and Jesse’s life is just a chip he can cash in to get his brother-in-law. Todd’s white supremacist uncle just wants to make meth he can sell for the highest price, and that’s why he’s going to come running even after Walter tells him not to.

Walter thinks these men are working for him, when they don’t give a shit about what Walter does and doesn’t want. What’s important is that Heisenberg stays alive and out of jail long enough to give up the secrets to the blue meth. Jesse just wants to see Walter humbled, and he finally gets a moment’s victory when he spits in Walter’s face. It's all about what these people want, what they're willing to do to get it, and the people around them underestimating those ambitions.

I’ll admit that I spent the last few minutes of the episode expecting to watch Hank’s head explode as Todd’s crew takes him out via a well-placed shot from afar. We know that the bad guys are on the way, we know that everyone involved with grabbing Walter is spending too much time on their figurative victory lap, and the two agents are dreadfully outgunned when the shooting begins.

Still, Hank has a chance to walk out of this situation, however small, and that’s more than I was expecting.

It’s become a cliché to talk about how an episode of Breaking Bad is the best yet, but this was a tense, tightly edited hour of television. It’s hard to see how Hank will get out of this one alive, or even if that’s something worth hoping for. Jesse sees the trouble coming, and is already pawing at the door handle before the guns come out; he has a street junkie’s survival instincts, and knows when to run.

Walter and Jesse are likely safe for at least the short term, but everyone who is holding a gun? I wouldn’t bet on their survival.