Breaking Bad: "Bug"

In a lot of ways, Jesse’s a terrible criminal. For one thing, the kid just can’t completely shake his trusting nature. With a little bit of encouragement from Mike and Gus, however self-serving and likely fleeting, he’s able to imagine a niche for himself as a solid company man. Even though this could throw a major wrench into his partnership with Walt, Jesse seems to think he can find a way to reconcile his old mentor and his new ones back to the steady relationship they used to have, before all that ugly murder and attempted murder and so forth. Divorce is always hardest on the kids; they never want to let go of the hope that they can bring their folks back together.

So when Gus demonstrates his own trust in "Bug" by giving Jesse a critical but perilous assignment—a field trip to Mexico to teach the cartel the secret of the blue meth—Jesse runs to Mr. White, taking it for granted that his old teacher will help him pull through. Sure, co-dependency and fear are playing their part, but Jesse still trusts Walt more than anyone when the chips are down—even when seeking a way to help keep alive a man Walt is explicitly planning to kill.

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Now, Walt's a pretty terrible criminal at this stage too (about which more below). His is the opposite problem: the man's pathological need for control and disregard for the intellect of anyone who isn't him have metastasized into an all-consuming paranoia. A healthy dose of mistrust is a good thing in his line of work, but Walt is so certain that everyone around him is working towards his undoing that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When he believed Jesse was double-crossing him, he did what he always does: concealed, lied, tried to buy time and play for an advantage...and dug himself in deeper. Jesse's reaction to being betrayed, on the other hand, is characteristically honest - he lashed out, and rightly so. Walt's failure to preserve even a shred of trust for Jesse, of all people, his failure to give his partner any benefit of the doubt, has delivered the final hammer blow to the wedge Gus and Mike so deftly inserted between the pair.

It's not the first time Walt's deceit has driven away a valuable partner, of course. And one of the consequences of his decimated marriage—Skyler finding solace in another man's arms and cooked books—is coming back to haunt the Whites as well. I'm not sure how plausible it is that the IRS auditor would buy Skyler opening her books and playing dumb—and it may well be that we haven't seen the last of that threat - but it was nice to see Anna Gunn get a bit of light material to work with for once, and she certainly had fun with it. (Who knows, perhaps the auditor believes in the old adage about not attributing to malice what can be equally attributed to incompetence.)

Even if she can fool the feds, fooling herself is a more immediate challenge. Playacting an amiable bit of customer service with every fake transaction she rings up at the car wash might keep her from feeling too much like a criminal. But believing that her uneasy blend of legitimate and illegitimate moneymaking will induce Walt to seek an "exit strategy" goes way past defense mechanism and approaches delusion.

Obviously Walt can't escape at this point, and obviously his amateurism was always going to lead to nothing but disaster the deeper he submerged himself in the criminal world. If I have a problem with Breaking Bad so far this season, that's at the heart of it. Some people (disgruntled Internet types, mostly) have complained that Walt's become too much of an asshole; but that's been the point of the show all along, and if you look back at the earliest episodes when he was still morally sympathetic, he's always actually been kind of an asshole. The difference is, he was at least an intermittently successful asshole

Even when you couldn't root for Walter as a morally righteous protagonist, you could at least root for him as a protagonist who got shit done. This year though, he's been a loser every step of the way. No longer Heisenberg, the man who strong-armed Tuco with a dose of exploding fake-meth, the man who connived his way into the Chicken Man's operation in the first place. Walt is going to lose this game, ultimately, and it will be his own fault, but along the way I hope he can pull off a few wins. Not only would his continued incompetence get uninteresting quickly, it would extinguish the canniness and sense of danger that's made him compelling even as he sank further into the darkness. He may not be the one who knocks, but Christ, couldn't he at least make it to the door without tripping over the front step once in a while?

Other notes:

  • On the heels of Gale Boetticher’s rendition of “Major Tom” comes Hank’s fist-pumping take on “Eye Of The Tiger.” Underappreciated theme, or case of Glee envy?
  • “Ice Road Truckers. What happens in that one?” “Guys drive on ice.”
  • “Whaddya mean, like ‘taking a dump’ indisposed?"
  • Gus Fring striding head-on into the sniper fire is the single ballsiest moment on this show since…ever? At least since Hank took out the twins.
  • “Should I even ask?” “I wouldn’t.”
  • “Is this going to be a regular thing now? Meth cooking and corpse disposal?”
  • Another one-on-one dinner, another shot through a window with the pane dividing the diners. Something of a Breaking Bad staple.
  • “You want my advice? Go to Mexico and screw up like I know you will, and wind up in a barrel somewhere.”

Filed under: Breaking Bad

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    Excellent review as always. Can you do a retrospective review of "Hermanos?" It was the episode of the season thus far (IMO).
    Don't forget about:
    "what if the equipment is, like, in Mexican instead of English?"

    Jesse is constantly reverting to his old "slacker student" role whenever he's around Walt. I mean, c'mon - we are know he's much smarter than he appears.

  • That's a great point about Jesse's reversion around Walt. His self-perception seems to be highly molded by who he's interacting with - he's able to be tough and savvy around Mike, knowing that's what Mike responds to (think of his smart read on the set-up when Mike threatened to kill the blindfolded guy in Jesse's house), but around Walt he can't help but interpolate and reflect so many months of belittling and chastisement.

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