Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 2
Thirty-Eight Snub
Everyone on Breaking Bad is adjusting to new circumstances this week, and some are doing it far better than others. Each of these characters has been going through some deep traumas over the past few months, and each of them is trying to determine what exactly is the new normal for their situation, and whether they might be able to find a way to make their circumstances a little bit better.

First, there's Hank, who got more screen time this week, which gave us the chance to see just how despondent and bitter he has become. He stays up to all hours of the night examining his rocks (and letting Marie know there are four other bedrooms if she doesn't like being kept awake). He puts on a brave, positive face for his therapist, but when left alone with Marie that faux positivism curdles into anger. Hank resents depending on Marie, and her relentlessly upbeat behavior does not make him feel any better about that. For Hank, the new normal is a state of constant impotence; he has been reduced from a fiercely independent man to someone still using a bedpan his wife has to clean out for him. For Marie, the new normal is putting a positive spin on her husband's misery, dealing with his anger, lifting his rocks and cleaning his bedpan. She seems perfectly happy to help, but Hank seems a far cry from being willing or able to graciously accept that help. Whether this will have long term effects on their marriage remains to be seen, but there may very well be a foil developing here. When Walt got sick, Skyler stayed positive and Walt grew angry, which (along with all of Walt's lies and manufacturing of methamphetamine) ultimately poisoned their marriage. The signs are similar, but I hope the outcomes will be different, and will ultimately serve to show us why Hank is a better man than Walt. Alternatively, we may be watching the dawn of Hank's own drastic changes in the face of his mortality.

Skyler's new normal is one spent neglecting her kids in the service of her criminal enterprise, one that she seems to be operating very smoothly, in spite of a few hiccups. Sure, she left Holly on the floor while searching Walt's place last week. Sure, she didn't make Walter Jr. his breakfast, instead telling him she'd laid out cereal. And sure, she ignores Holly, even while feeding her, in order to spy on the car wash. But she knows what each customer wants when they come in, has a well-reasoned offer for the owner, and deals with Walt's paranoia in stride. She has jumped in with both feet, and though the car wash owner refuses to sell to Walter White after the way that he quit, Skyler seems to already be scheming a way around that. For her, these new circumstances present new challenges, but as of yet she seems to be relishing them. She may be breaking bad in her own way, but she's experiencing a honeymoon period Walt never had. I'm sure, however, that before long the honeymoon will be over and Skyler will start to see some consequences for her actions.

For Jesse, the new normal is far more disturbing. Last week he watched Gus gut Victor (I learned his name when Walt mentioned it tonight) without blinking and had a hearty appetite at Denny's afterward. Tonight, we see that all of that was Jesse's carefully constructed front. He distracts himself with music, with drugs, and with a pathetic attempt to make his house a 24-hour party zone, both because he is likely afraid to be alone knowing that Gus is out for blood (and that he is less essential than Walt) and because he needs something, anything to distract him from his dire circumstances. Jesse took an innocent life and now lives every moment in fear that the retribution he saw Victor take for him will soon reach him. He lives every moment afraid he may die, and afraid of who he has already become to stay alive.

And then there's Walter, who spends the whole episode tonight looking for a leg up and angling for a move he can make to change his circumstances. From the stellar cold open in which Walt purchases the titular gun from a man who tries to warn him off, to the end of the episode, which sees Walter on the floor of a bar, taking a beating from Mike after he suggests Mike behave disloyally toward Gus, the whole of "Thirty-Eight Snub" seems almost perfectly constructed to disabuse Walter of the notion that he has any moves left to make or any hope of gaining control of his situation. Walter White is all about control, and for the moment at least, that control eludes him.

There's a brilliant construction to those two interactions that serves as just another example of why Breaking Bad is the best show on television right now. In the first, the gun man speaks in stylized rhetoric; he's been doing this for a while and he knows the ins and outs. He speaks in carefully guarded phrases ("If you're not a convicted felon, you might be best advised to bear your arms within the confines of the law") but conveys some simple truths: buying a gun with the serial numbers filed off is serious business, and he wants Walter to know what he's getting himself into. In the second, Mike (who continues to be, like the rest of this cast, a perfectly drawn character) attempts to be as stoic and laconic as ever. Mike is a man of few words, but he is a very wise man and he uses his words carefully, usually to try to avoid the violence he has to dole out when his advice is not followed (both to the wife abuser he spoke of in last season's "Half Measures" and to Walt tonight). "You won," he tells Walt, "You got the job. Do yourself a favor and learn to take 'yes' for an answer." But Walt doesn't heed his advice and so, with a sense of weariness, he punches Walt in the eye and delivers a few kicks to get his point across.

Yet in both of these cases, Walt uses words to convey anything but the truth. This has always been the case for him; he would rather use words to lie, to trick, to muddle, to convince, to get defensive and ultimately, to convince himself of his own righteousness. In the first, he insists that he will use the gun for defense, and repeats the phrase as if rationalizing in his mind that killing Gus is an act of self-defense. In the second, Walt knows from the start he is at a disadvantage, which always makes him come off as desperate. He tries to cajole Mike into a mutiny against Gus, but as usual Walt is trying in vain to convince someone who doesn't care about his motives. Mike especially is unwilling to take Walt's shit and seems surprised that Walt refuses to adapt to his new circumstances. Early on, Walt demands to see Gus, saying, "Because of the way we left things, I would like a chance to clear the air" and Mike swats him away, saying simply, "Walter, you're never gonna see him again." Walt thinks he can use words to make things the way he wants them to be; Mike knows he should use words only to convey the absolute truth.

Everyone in this episode is adjusting to a new normal (even Mike now has to deal with Walt's scheming and blathering seemingly on a daily basis, which means he is working way more than he appeared to be before), but as usual Walt is the most resistant to change. Walt always believes that he can turn things in his favor, that the universe works for him and that everything has to work out logically. Over the series so far, he has yet to admit that in the real world, this is not the case. Perhaps this season Walter White will finally learn that he lives, as we do, in a random and chaotic universe, a universe that does not care one iota about our motives or our logic. And perhaps that is what will finally, ultimately drive Walter White over the edge into full-fledged villainy.

Grade: A


-"Either way, you're gonna wanna practice your draw. A lot."

-"This is the west, boss. New Mexico is not a retreat locale."

-I really don't understand Hank's crystal obsession yet. At first, I thought he was buying them for some sort of healing ritual, but that seems unlikely now. On the surface, I see the comparison being drawn between his new obsession with crystals and the new obsession Walt picked up when facing mortality, making meth crystals, but I'm not sure what the deeper meaning is for Hank yet. Keep you posted on my thoughts, though.

-Badger and Stinky Pete's drug fueled zombie debate (Left for Dead 2 vs. Resident Evil 4) was awesome. My favorite line was Pete's incredulous response to Badger's insistence that Nazi zombies are the best: "Zombies are dead, man. Who cares what their job was when they were alive?" Has Jesse been listening, that may have sounded eerily prophetic to him as he fears sliding into death (and by implication irrelevance).

-"I could so use a brain transplant right now."

-"You got some scissors? I will cut this bitch up good." Also, nice bit of continuity, with Venezia's pizzas coming uncut (last season, Walt threw one onto his roof and it stayed intact).

-"So, what's with the piece?" Nothing gets past Mike.

-Looks like the cops are interviewing Hank about the superlab next week. Can't wait.
Tags: Breaking Bad
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