Breaking Bad episode review: Watching the world burn, one hug at a time

Breaking Bad episode review: Watching the world burn, one hug at a time

You should be rooting for Hank, right?

If Breaking Bad happened inside our own reality, Hank would certainly be the one we’d want to see “win.” Walter is adept at using people until there’s nothing left, and then throwing them away. He ruins lives, kills when it suits him, and the consequences rarely slow his ascent to the highest ranks of the drug game. But of course, we want to see him continue to operate, and to succeed in his goals.

Hank putting Walter behind bars may be the best outcome for civil society, but it would make for an incredibly boring show, at least at this stage in the game. So we’re happy to see Walter get the upper hand with the taped “confession” working as a perfect means of black mail. Add in the fact that Hank only now finds out that the White’s paid for his medical bills, and he knows that’s he’s in check.

The version of events in Walter's confession, complete with the ride-along, the medical bills, and Hank’s knowledge of the drug trade and his often reckless behavior, makes much more sense to the casual observer than the “real” story of a chemistry teacher and a low-level thug who cook the world’s best product and then proceed to cut a bloody swath through the drug game.

Walter’s acting in the video may be melodramatic in places, but the writing of the little one-act show is perfect. He’s provided a narrative that will make more sense to Hank’s co-workers, and Hank knows it. A dirty cop is much more believable than a simple man breaking bad as he dies of cancer.

I went back and watched the tense conversation between the two families in that absurd restaurant to see if the wording there could be released as a taped conversation “confirming” this version of the story. It doesn’t really work, with Walter stating that there’s nothing to confess. “You have no evidence to support you claims,” Walter states. “Why tear this family apart?” If Hank were recording the conversation, it would sound like he’s harassing his own family in the course of yet another Quixotic investigation. Hank has no credibility left, and that’s his blind spot.

The restaurant conversation is nail-bitingly tense. You expect Hank to erupt in violence, but that explosion never comes. We watch the video with Hank and Marie in the next scene, and the director of the episode simply lets everything play out. We watch the video. We watch Hank and Marie’s reactions. There’s no movement in the scene, it feels like we’re in the room with them, trying to stay out of the way. Hank may be the person who “should” win in a just world, but watching Walter handle the situation with such control and elegance is fun, isn’t it?

A pack of smokes

The Pinkman story this week is just as good. Jesse doesn’t want to turn Walter in, giving away the money is now out of the question, and so the decision is made to cash the young man out, give him a new identity, that’s that. Jesse is often a shivery mess in this run of episodes, and he can’t even get Walter to break down and admit who, and what he is during a tearful confrontation.

Walter simply gives him a hug, morphing briefly in the man he thinks Jesse needs him to be. While watching Walter bumble around can be enjoyable (check out the moment he takes to compose himself before running into the car wash to grab the dusty gun) but the truth is that he has gotten way too good at changing his skin to suit the people he’s trying to manipulate. Jesse may want to break through that shell to get at the real Walter, the person who is honest about what he wants and what he’s willing to do to get it, but that person is all but dead.

So Jesse is cashing out, but an ill-timed bit of pick-pocketing by Saul’s henchman puts him back in the game. This is the moment where Walter’s true nature is revealed, and there’s no turning back. Walter poisoned Brock, Walter manipulated Jesse, and Walter used Jesse’s affection for the child as a weapon. Now that the true face of the devil has been revealed there’s no going back, and the enraged Pinkman now has a mission and a purpose, even if it seems unfocused. Burn down the house? Sure.

With so few episodes to go, things are now moving quickly. Hank may have been put back on his heels for now, but Jesse knows everything and has nothing left to lose. Don’t expect a happy ending, but an ending is coming. It’s going to be a long wait until next week.