11
Sep
2011
Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 9
Bug
Jordan
Breaking Bad knows how to use a flash forward. Throughout season two, we were treated to glimpses of the hellfire that would rain down upon Walter White by season's end. Tonight, we were given a brief, ominous cold open that showed us Walter White, bleeding profusely and groping for his glasses on the floor. Some of you were probably disappointed with the pay-off of that flash forward, and I can completely understand that. Yet this show always uses the flash forward to denote something big that is about to happen. And while it might not have been the big event you expected, several huge things happened tonight. True to Breaking Bad's tendency to mess with our perceptions and keep us guessing, "Bug" is an episode filled to the brim with events and an episode that plays out like nothing big is going on. Most of the cinematic flourishes are left aside tonight, and most of the big developments are underplayed. To recognize the import of "Bug," it is important to look one by one at the massive decisions characters made over the course of this hour.

First off, Gus caves. This is played out very simply, in a scene in which he quietly picks up the phone and says, "tell them the answer is yes." After a flat out bad ass stand in which he strides into sniper fire, daring the cartel to take him out, Gus deflates almost immediately. He knows the cartel won't kill him, but they will make it impossible for him to do business, and Gus is nothing if not a business man. The cartel is after Walter's formula for meth, but Gus is no idiot. He concedes, at least in appearance, but he has no intention of giving Walter to the cartel. He may not like Walter, but he needs him. So he offers Jesse up instead, aiming to send him down to instruct the cartel on how to make the blue stuff that everyone loves so much. It may appear that Gus is conceding something here, but I have to assume he is playing a long game (isn't he always?). Gus knows he's beaten for the moment, but he isn't the cartel's lapdog anymore; he is their competitor. And there is no way he plans on sharing his edge in the market with them.

Secondly, Skyler realized just how deep she is in Walter's business, and just what that means for her past indiscretions. I have to admit that when I saw Ted Beneke pop up in the "previously on..." segment, I groaned internally. I understand that this subplot played an important part in Season Three, but that doesn't mean I was looking for it to come back. Yet just like another subplot I hoped never to see again (Marie's kleptomania), the writer's used it in such a fantastic way that I couldn't help but be amazed. Skyler spent some time cooking the books for Ted Beneke, but we all know Ted isn't the brightest guy around, and now he is being audited. At first Skyler tells him off about his carelessness and seems disinclined to help him out. But then, she realizes her ass is on the line too and jumps into defense mode. Her little act at the audit is a bold move, and playing her stupidity as a defense could easily have backfired. For now, at least, Skyler is safe, but the show has reminded us very effectively that she could be brought down just as easily as Walter for previous wrongdoings (and maybe even more easily). Also, I think it's important to note that Skyler dealt with this entirely on her own, not even informing Walt of the trouble she is potentially in. She may not like it when Walt conceals information from her, but she is perfectly willing to do the same when it serves her interests. It must also be noted, of course, that when Ted tells her he can't pay, Skyler takes a look in the crawl space at the mounds of unlaundered money, and clearly contemplates going down a very dangerous path.

Yet the most important development in the episode is likely the one that some of you were underwhelmed by. Throughout the episode, we get every indication that Jesse has yet to make up his mind about where his loyalties lie. Jesse digs for information about the fate of Hank while scrubbing the floor, but then Mike saves his life. He goes over to Gus', looking for a chance to slip him the risin, but ends up having a business talk with Gus. And he calls his former father-figure for advice about his potential relocation to Mexico, and the almost definite death that awaits him there, but then ends up in a flat out brawl with Walt that has been four seasons in the making.

Throughout the episode, we see evidence of Jesse's White-like transformation that I discussed a few weeks back. He digs for information with Mike just like Walter would, plays up his moral indignation with Gus just like Walter would, and thinks through the consequences of his move to Mexico as well as he can before calling in Walter to bail him out. In many ways, Jesse has adopted the Walter White Strategy of Crime. Yet Jesse also sees just how far that strategy might take him tonight when Walter stupidly tips his hand. Walter bugged Jesse's car (is that really accurate? It wasn't a wire, it was a tracker...) and knows he spent time with Gus. Jesse is probably used to the two of them operating behind one another's back at this point. That's always how its worked. Yet when he discovers the depth of Walter's treachery, he is clearly hurt. "You bugged my car...after everything I've done for you?" Jesse knows full well how much he sacrificed when he killed Gale, but Walter still fails to recognize it, going ape shit at Jesse's failure to assassinate someone else for him and pummeling Jesse. Walt, of course, gets his ass handed to him again in a fight, and burns his bridge with Jesse. "Can you walk?" Jesse asks after beating Walter senseless. "Yeah," Walter replies. "Then get the fuck out of here and never come back." We know where Jesse's loyalty lies now.

As for Walt? He's still playing a short game. "We're both dead men anyway," he tells Jesse in an early conversation. He declines to help Skyler pick out a car, taking a passive role in that decision just like he does in every other. And he acts indignant when Mike delivers another corpse for disposal, but he toes the line right quick when push comes to shove. He is still acting out like a child (like Jesse might have a few seasons back), calling the cops on Tyrus just to piss him off, but none of Walt's actions does anything more than annoy the current powers that be. He has lost his way, lost his drive, and lost his will to act. He isn't looking for the control he usually seeks, he is just trying, desperately and perhaps futilely, to survive another day. Whether his fight with Jesse reignites the fire he has been missing of late remains to be seen. But something has to if Walter White wants to stay above ground.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-Hank singing "Eye of the Tiger" was just awesome.

-"A guy this clean has to be dirty."

-"Ice Road Truckers. What happens on that one?" "Guys drive on ice." The coldness of their relationship here shows early on how far they are from a true partnership.

-"Who really cares what I think?" Jesse is learning how to play his "washed up junkie" card to his advantage.

-"Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you...and if you ever plan on calling the cops on one of my guys again, you go ahead and get two barrels." Mike continues to be a bad ass.

-"You know what they say about opinions, right? Everyone's got one..." Skyler's dumb act was pretty fun.

-"I hope you brought an appetite." Gus love mixing food with his business.

-"You look me in the eye and you tell me you weren't at his house last night." After everything he has been through, Jesse is still incapable of telling Walter a simple lie. The goodness deep inside him is going to be very tough to rot out.

-"You've killed me. You've signed my death warrant." Really, Walter, you've signed your own by burning the only bridge you had left.


Tags: Breaking Bad
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