Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 5
So far this season, we have seen Walter White at his most impotent. Usually a man with a plan, a few steps ahead of his enemies, this season so far has seen Walt plan-less and powerless, bested at every turn. Tonight we watched him spring into action, panicked but also alive as he careened through the streets of Albuquerque on a suicide mission to save his surrogate son. Sure, Walt was terrified, but there was also a note of excitement in his actions; he was happy to have a plan, happy to seize back control. Yet instead, he was shown once again how impotent he has become. He failed to see Gus, failed to find Jesse, and without even noticing it, played right into Gus' brilliant next step.

Last week I talked a lot about Walt's tragic flaws and how they are currently keeping him from further moral degradation (but will clearly soon sow his permanent downfall). This episode begins by showing Walt at what he must think is the top of his game and once again spends its runtime chipping away at him until he goes from his most constructive to a moment of drunken self-destruction. Everywhere Walt turns in this episode, he is failing, and every role he is used to playing (and playing well) has been usurped.

Walt is used to playing the role of Heisenberg, untouchable and brilliant drug kingpin. Yet at every turn he is bested, and effortlessly so, by Gus. Walt thought he was taking a moral position and saving Jesse's life when he killed Gus' dealers. He thought he was showing he stood by his partner and (probably) that he was able to think quickly in a bind (not that Walter ever thought he was impressing Gus, but he was certainly impressing himself). Yet Gus has shown just how much more in control he is, killing the one loose end in Gale's murder and disappearing completely from Walt's life. Walt can't even try to argue Gus out of any courses of action, because when he tries to force his way into Gus' life, Mike will be there, and Gus' office will be empty. Point Gus.

Walt is also used to being the family breadwinner. He temporarily seizes back the "doing this all for my family" narrative when he gives a frantic "last words" call to Skyler (which she misinterprets as a spontaneous declaration of love and uses to break the sexual tension that has been building between the two all season). Walt is gaining leverage toward a modicum of control in his relationship with Skyler (again, in his mind) when he gets to reassure her about the car wash. But look who is on top when they get to the sex, and look who also effortlessly outmaneuvers him on the question of whether he'll move back in. She wants it, and when he hesitates, she just tells Walter Jr. he's moving back in Tuesday. Point Skyler.

And Gus' brilliant move I mentioned earlier has already started the wheels turning on an effort to take away Walt's role as surrogate father to Jesse. You might argue that Gus set up Jesse's "act of heroism" to give the guy something to live for and to get him more invested in the Fring Empire and less so in his train wreck of a private life, and I'm sure Gus sees that as an added bonus. But the real move here, the big picture angle, is the cutting of the tie between Jesse and Walt. Gus wants the two of them at odds, and if Jesse happens to be on his side at the same time, that's all the better. Walt starts to catch on at the end there, when he tries to interrogate Jesse about the events of the prior day and is regarded hostilely, and then ignored. Point Gus.

After taking so many lumps, its no wonder Walt isn't willing to take another one, even indirectly, from Hank. As Hank grouses over the genius of Gale, Walt takes another deep gulp of wine and comes out with it: Gale isn't a genius, Gale is a plagiarist. Citing his authority as a former teacher, Walt argues that Gale copied from someone else and gives Hank a reason to get back on the case (and thus a reason to live). In the mind of Walter White, this is finally Point Walter. In reality, however, he was home free and just put Hank back on his track. And after redoubling his efforts, Hank quickly finds the clue that is going to give the Fring Empire some trouble: a Los Pollos Hermanos wrapper in the home of a vegan. Point Hank.

Walter White is on a pretty bad losing streak so far this season on Breaking Bad, but he is not a man that goes down easily. In the near future, I'm expecting we'll see Walt scoring some points, and getting back a little of that fire we saw in the cold open tonight. Let's just hope that when he reclaims that fire, he doesn't burn the place down in the process.

Grade: A-


-"Hello again..." Mike's delivery of even those two words was pitch-perfect.

-"What you told Mr. White...That's just bullshit, right?" When push comes to shove, Jesse learns that he does give a crap. Jesse Pinkman wants to live.

-This show remains great at montages. The time-lapse of Mike and Jesse's day together is awesome.

-"You got me riding shotgun to every dark anal recess of this state, be nice if you clued me in a little."

-You're not capable of being the guy." But Mike is happy to let Jesse believe that he is, by the end of the day, if only because he's following orders.

-"Go ahead, kid. Smoke up." It may sound like a moment of congratulations, but read into it a little deeper and its clear that Mike isn't too concerned for Jesse's longterm safety.

-"Questions?" "More than a few, yeah. But I know better than to ask." Mike remains a consummate professional.

-"This genius of yours...maybe he's still out there."

-"Since when do vegans eat fried chicken?"
Tags: Breaking Bad
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