21
Aug
2011
Breaking Bad: Season Four, Episode 6
Cornered
Jordan
This week's Breaking Bad was all about power plays, both subtle and blatant. Some of these were successful, some of them failed, and the outcomes of some remain to be seen. Let's take a look at each in turn.

Gus and the Cartel:

We've been getting hints throughout the season so far that the cartel is ready to get their piece of Gus' profits back after he temporarily shut them down last season. This episode begins with a darkly comic flip flop of the cold open from a few weeks back. Last time, Mike got the jump on several cartel gunmen, but they get the edge this time, connecting the truck's exhaust to the freezer and killing two of Gus' men by carbon monoxide poisoning before stealing the meth contained within it. They don't take it though, instead pawning it off on some easy-to-track local meth heads, ensuring that when Mike tracks it down, he gets the message: "Ready to talk?" Gus isn't ready to retaliate with violence (though Mike seemed almost eager to show the cartel who's boss), but he does agree to set up the meet. At first glance, it appears the cartel's power play has worked out, but when Gus Fring is involved, there's always more than meets the eye.

Gus and Jesse:

We saw last week that Gus was making a move to drive a wedge between Walt and Jesse by giving Jesse more allegiance to the operation, and that continues tonight, with Jesse proving himself useful even without Gus setting up a situation for him to be a hero. Walt quickly picks up what is going on and tries to explain to Jesse that he's being played, but as usual, Walt's arrogance gets in the way. Instead of explaining to Jesse that a wedge between them is dangerous for both of them, he demeans Jesse's skills, asking him, "Are you a former Navy SEAL? Do you have to have your hands registered as lethal weapons?" before angering Jesse further with his self-centered (even if it is correct) diatribe "This whole thing, all of this...It's all about me." Walt's right, but that doesn't mean he isn't an asshole, and right now that's all Jesse is seeing. The bond between Walt and Jesse has always been based less on mutual trust and respect and more on desperate need and the terrible things they have done for each other. If Jesse sees a better relationship in the bond he is developing with Mike, he may not be easy for Walt to win back.

Walter and Bogdan:

This was the most blatant power play of the night. Bogdan knows Walter pretty well, it seems (we knew Walt worked at the car wash for a while, but my guess is he was there for longer than I had originally assumed, considering how well Bogdan plays him here) and thinks he is getting the upper hand on him by hiding the serious leakage problem he believes he has. "As is!" he repeatedly insists as he shows Walter around his former work place. He goads Walter about how tough it is to be boss ("you have to make the cashier wipe down the cars, even when he doesn't want to" he sneers) and tells him if it gets too tough, he can always have his wife do the job. But Bogdan doesn't realize that this is really Walter's power play (and that the serious leakage problem was completely fake). There's no question who wins the struggle when Bogdan goes to remove his framed first dollar from the wall. "As is," Walter reminds him, forcing him to hand over the dollar, and then promptly using it to buy a coke. Man, Walt is a bastard.

Walt and The Laundry Ladies:

When Jesse abandons Walt to clean the lab alone, Walter feels demeaned, and so he makes a power play with "the universal language" of money, hiring some of the laundry employees to clean the lab for him. This is pure pride on display (Walt even toasts the camera as he sits back and enjoys his coffee), but its also one of the dumbest moves we've ever seen him make. Showing anyone the lab is a huge mistake, even a potentially fatal one. Gus clearly recognizes this, sending Tyrus over to put the ladies on a bus to Honduras. Walter, apparently realizing his misstep too late, begs for clemency for the women, asking that he be blamed instead. Walt exerted power over some low level employees to feel more powerful, but he was once again reminded of just how far below Gus he is.

Walt and Walter Jr.:

Walt may have the money in this situation, but it's clear who has the power. After watching his Dad diagnosed with terminal cancer and his parents' marriage fall apart, it has been a tough year for Jr., but he knows exactly how to play his father's sympathies to get what he wants. He's been asking for a car since last season, and now that he knows Dad has the money, he wants a nice one. When Walt drives him to a used car lot, he looks up at the Dodge billboard and says confidently, "I think if you're going to buy me off, buy me off."

Walt and Skyler:

This power struggle has become one of the more compelling aspects of this season of Breaking Bad (though I bet before long the Walt/Gus struggle will be taken off the back burner and placed center stage again), and once again tonight we saw Skyler proving just how capable she is. When Walt shouts her down, deflecting her (completely reasonable) concerns and yelling at her about how dangerous he is, she takes off, clearly considering just running (though she doesn't take Walter Jr. with her, which leads me to believe she always knew she wasn't leaving). She gets as far as the four corners, flipping a coin to decide where to go. When it lands, twice, in Colorado, she turns around and heads home. She knows she should leave while she can, but something is calling her back. My bet is, she's already hooked to the power and the danger she's had indirect access to all season, and her competence at the criminal enterprise excites her more than she's willing to admit. When she returns, she puts her foot down, forcing Walt to promise he'll return the car. She also immediately shuts down his go to argument, that he's "doing all of this for the family," once again showing that she's in control. "Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family," she says, coldly leaving Walter standing alone, once again.

Many people are complaining about the pacing of this season (so many that I feel obligated to bring it up every few weeks in fact), but even this episode, which admittedly moved things forward only incrementally, spoke volumes about each character and reminded us about the main theme of this season so far: power, who has it, who wants it, and what they will do to get it. Tonight was a good reminder of who has the power in each situation. Over the next few weeks, I imagine we'll be getting a pretty good idea about what each of these people will do to keep that power.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-Programming Note: I am moving to Michigan this week for law school. A cursory glance of the channels I will receive in my new residence does not include AMC. I hope this is not the case, but if I do in fact not receive the channel, you can expect my reviews to be slightly delayed for the rest of the season. So if you don't see a review next Sunday night, worry not. One will be on the way as soon as I can see the episode.

-"A guy opens his door and gets shot, you think that of me? I am the one who knocks!"

-"Boss has to be tough." Good advice, Bogdan.

-Awesome shovel's-eye-view shot as Jesse carries it into the yard and starts digging.
Tags: Breaking Bad
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